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Norwich gears up for key election

Deborah McGurran | 10:35 UK time, Tuesday, 31 August 2010

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Just when you thought it was safe to open the door ... the politicians are once again out and about looking for votes.

But only in Norwich.

Four months after the the last election, voters in the city will go to the polls on 9 September in an election the result of which (and we don't often say this in council by-elections) could be fascinating.

The facts:
13 of the 39 seats on Norwich City Council are up for grabs. They should have been contested in May but the elections were postponed because Norwich was about to become a Unitary Authority. Now that those plans have been scrapped by the new government, the elections have to take place as soon as possible.

The council is in no overall control. It's run by a minority Labour administration. Labour have 15 seats, The Greens are the main opposition with 13, the Lib Dems have six and the Conservatives have five

Of the seats being contested six are Labour seats, four belong to the Greens, two to the Lib Dems and one to the Conservatives.

Why is it so interesting?
First of all, it is the first time since the General Election that so many people will be voting. Will they use this as an opportunity to pass judgement on the coalition? Secondly, can the Greens, after years of steady success, gain the two or three more seats that they need to run the council and form the first Green administration in the country?

What all the parties are agreed on is that there's little public enthusiasm for these elections. It's been summer, so many people have been away and those who have answered the doors have expressed surprise (and more) to discover that there's another election campaign under way.

Labour are putting in a lot of effort. They are keen to fight on their local record but also hope that public concern about the coaltion government's forthcoming cuts will win them votes and perhaps some more seats. The party says its local membership has increased by 150 since the General Election. Some of the new support is coming from defecting Liberal Democrats, the rest from former Labour supporters returning to the fold. Big names like David Miliband, Harriet Harman and other front bench spokesmen have been to Norwich to press the flesh. They're taking these elections seriously.

The Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats probably have most to lose in this election. Norwich was one of the party's few successes in the country when Simon Wright unseated Labour's Charles Clarke. His wife, Rosalind, now leads the small Lib Dem group on the city council. Will her husband's dramatic win mean more Lib Dem seats, or will (as Labour believes) her party's controversial role in the coalition cost her votes? It's interesting that in their campaigning the Lib Dems are focusing entirely on local issues and what they see as Labour's poor running of the council.

The Conservatives
The Conservatives are also small in number on the council but they gained two more seats in the last set of elections and are hoping for some sort of "in government" bounce this time round. On the face of it their campaign is fairly low key, they're not bothering to ask people to put up posters in their windows, there doesn't seem to be many activists out and about but the party insists it is working hard. There has been unofficial talk of a possible Lib Dem/Tory coalition on the council if both parties gain a few more seats.

Green Party
And what about the Greens? In recent years they've gone from strength to strength in Norwich, for a while they appeared unstoppable. But despite all their efforts they failed to do well in last year's Norwich North by-election or this year's election in Norwich South. And in September they won't be able to rely on the student vote. If they can get a few more seats they'll make history, becoming he first Green administration in the country but if they lose seats (which the other parties believe possible) people will start asking if the Green bubble has burst.

So you can see why the outcome - whatever it is - is so eagerly anticipated in political circles. One thing is already certain - the turnout will be low and that will provide convenient excuses for whoever doesn't do well.


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