"It is a steep learning curve" - Clive Lewis on the highs and lows of his first year as an MP for Norwich
PUBLISHED: 11:51 03 May 2016 | UPDATED: 11:51 03 May 2016
Archant Norfolk 2016
Labour MP Clive Lewis' introduction to Westminster has not been gentle.
The highlight of his year – the election of veteran left-winger Jeremy Corbyn as leader – was quickly followed by months of civil war in his party.
In December he hit the headlines and was forced to apologise for swearing at his colleague John Woodcock in a heated exchange ahead of a vote on extending air strikes into Syria – a move he was against.
As he reaches the end of his first year in post he says he regrets allowing his “buttons to be pushed”. But he said it was a “tense time and unpleasant time”.
“I think sometimes tactics of intimidation and aggression work in highly stressful situations. There are people who think if they push certain buttons you will respond in a certain way,” he added.
“Can I say no-one will push my buttons again? I am human and we have buttons to be pushed. I do know that when you add stress and pressure and button-pushing you don’t know what the outcome will be.”
But it is with the Conservatives that he lays the blame for the damaging row around Syria in his party.
He claimed the timing of the contentious vote had been a calculated move and more about sowing dissent in an already troubled party, pointing to the very few air strikes that have actually taken place over the border since parliament gave its approval.
“You can see clearly it was about tearing us apart. He [David Cameron] wanted to get his own back. He could make the case for war and give the Labour Party a helping hand in tearing itself apart.”
Mr Lewis was thrown pretty much straight onto the front bench as the party’s shadow climate change minister – an unusual promotion for a novice MP.
“I am doing my best. I am also still working out how to be an MP and merge the two together. It is something that I am still working out. It is a steep learning curve.”
But he remains upbeat and buoyed by the landslide victory of the left in his party, which he claimed had challenged the naysayers who claimed his leader “wasn’t going to survive and would crash and burn”.
He added: “At at national level we have won the debate on austerity. It is one of the areas where there is a growing consensus that there needs to be a reckoning of the economic system. That wasn’t something that was being given serious consideration until now. That is a massive achievement.”
But as the sole Labour MP in Norfolk surrounded by vast swathes of blue, how has he found his Norfolk colleagues? He singles out South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon as someone he admires for speaking his mind.
And he describes his relationship with neighbouring city Conservative MP Chloe Smith as “amicable”, although he claims there is a “natural political tension between us”.
“On the digital economy, there are areas we agree. Better trains we can all agree on that. It is just how you go about doing it,” he said.
But he said he was “dubious about the motivation” of the Norfolk MPs when they operate as a pack. He recently stayed away from a summit organised by Ms Smith into social mobility and said he was dubious about campaigns on issues such as local health services and elderly care.
“They are campaigning, but at the same time they are responsible for voting through cuts to local authorities. There is a discrepancy.”
And what does the next year hold?
He said he wanted to step up his constituency work “into a new gear”.
“I think it is about the time now to consolidate and learn from those experiences.
“It would be nice to have a year that is less manics and hectic and rollercoaster-like.”