Norwich MP reflects on a rollercoaster 12 months after sudden promotion to shadow cabinet

Clive Lewis speaks in the House of Commons in London. Picture: PA Wire

Clive Lewis speaks in the House of Commons in London. Picture: PA Wire - Credit: PA

It has certainly been a busy year for Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. One month after his sudden promotion to the shadow cabinet, reporter Lauren Cope catches up with him.

Clive Lewis speaking at Jeremy Corbyn's leadership rally at Open in Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Clive Lewis speaking at Jeremy Corbyn's leadership rally at Open in Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

His career

It's been a little over a year since Mr Lewis took the Norwich South seat from predecessor Simon Wright, his first venture into parliament.

Since then, the Labour MP has leapt up the ladder – with his support of leader Jeremy Corbyn landing him the role of shadow defence minister after last month's wave of resignations.

'It has certainly been quite a rollercoaster – it's been almost a vertical trajectory,' he said. 'I was aware that when I went into parliament my politics were to the left of the party and perhaps not where it was at the time was so, yes, I was prepared to be sitting on the back benches for much longer than I have been.'

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He said he hopes the next 12 months are somewhat more stable, but, with his name whispered as a potential future party leader, doesn't rule out securing the top job in years to come.

'It is flattering to be mentioned,' he said, 'but it's important not to let that go to you head and, for the time being, I'm happy. To be honest, the main thing for me is that I'm in a position where I'm helping people, changing things and asking the right questions. If that's on the back benches, that's fine. If that's somewhere higher up, that's also fine.'

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Jeremy Corbyn

The MP has been a keen supporter of the divisive politician since he was nominated for leader last year and elected with an overwhelming majority.

His backing has remained unwavering despite vociferous criticism of Mr Corbyn from fellows MPs and, in June, a vote of no confidence.

'After the general election and Miliband, people were saying we needed to move our politics to the right,' Mr Lewis said, 'but many felt that wasn't the right thing to do.

'By nominating Jeremy, we were saying we didn't want it to shift back to the centre but, really, I didn't expect all of this.'

He said he had been 'disheartened' by the 'disgraceful' decision by some MPs to launch a vote of no confidence and said describing Mr Corbyn as an 'unelectable leader' had become a 'self-fulfilling prophecy'.

'I think the majority of the [Parliamentary Labour Party] wanted to make a go of it and were excited about some of the changes,' he said. 'But there were a few that, while they said they'd give it a go, just didn't from the start and privately – and publicly – were never prepared to. I was disappointed by that.'

Ahead of the upcoming leadership election, he has again backed Mr Corbyn, describing him as the only candidate with a 'deep desire' for something new and someone who is prepared to 'ask the questions that matter, even if it upset people'.

Labour's future

With Labour's prospects currently bleak, Mr Lewis admitted the party was facing an 'existential crisis'.

He said there was a 'fault line' between party membership and the PLP, which was down to a shift in the power relationship between the two.

'The leadership debate and the criticism of Jeremy is missing the point – it's been a distraction. It is not as simple as saying if we have the right leader then things will turn around. Even if we combined Blair, Attlee, Wilson – it still wouldn't solve our problems,' he added.

'The relationship between politicians and the people is changing. I don't think 20th-century models will work in the 21st century. Certain changes, social media for example, mean voters are now able to express themselves in totally different ways and it isn't the traditional top-down relationship.

'I still think a different type of power should lie with MPs, but today power is more evenly spread between the politicians and the people and we need to adapt to that.'

Taking on the defence mantle

After a year which has seen multiple terror attacks across the continent, fears are rife abroad and at home, with police investigating whether the attempted abduction at RAF Marham was motivated by terrorism.

Mr Lewis described the role of shadow defence minister as 'something of a poisoned chalice' and said: 'You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. But I also think it gives an opportunity to take another look at what we're doing.'

When asked how the government should handle potential threats, he said many recent attacks had been committed by 'home-grown' terrorists and that tackling the root of the problem was more sensible that 'isolating ourselves'.

'Look at it this way, say you live in a beautiful big house but you don't like your neighbours and feel frightened they might cause you harm,' he said. 'What do you do? You can put up barbed wire, build a wall, make yourself feel safe, as some countries do. You'll still have to go out, go to the shops, pass your neighbours – but you think you'll feel safe.

'Or, you can work on the issues – education, healthcare, jobs – and, without having to build borders, deal with those problems.'

Last month, the MP abstained from the vote on renewing nuclear system Trident, describing it as a 'political ploy' to sow divisions in Labour and saying a vote would undermine his work on a review into the party's defence policy.

Work here in Norwich

Having come from a visit at The Garage before meeting us, Mr Lewis was enjoying a rare opportunity to spend time in his constituency.

'I am in London more often that I'd like – I don't really have a life any more. I'd like to get to the point where the roles are sustainable.

'I plan to spend as much time as I can here – I was elected to represent the people of Norwich and that's what I want to do.

'I want to be Norwich's mouthpiece in Parliament.'

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