Norfolk

Labour leadership election: East party members call for truce

Jeremy Corbyn Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jeremy Corbyn was voted Labour leader for the second time

Unity is the buzz word in Liverpool, but can it really last?

Just under 20 years ago Labour could boast more than 20 seats across the Eastern region.

Some, like Braintree, were Labour held because of favourable boundaries.

Others, like North West Norfolk, had been won because the Referendum Party had split the normally-heavy Conservative vote.

Most were won because of the policies being championed by the party, and that's why the leadership election within Labour was so important to the party's fortunes in the East.

A strong leader, with a united party and the right message could help Labour regain many of the seats which it once held. The question is whether Jeremy Corbyn is the right leader to do that.

As soon as the result was declared, both sides of the party were quick to call for unity.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Clive Lewis said Labour had to get on with "holding the government to account"

"I think most of our members and most of the country are tired of this soap opera," said Clive Lewis, Norwich South MP and shadow defence secretary, who is a key ally of the Labour leader.

He added people were united in agreeing it was time to get on with the "hard business of holding the government to account".

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner, who backed Owen Smith in the election, said: "Most MPs want to make this work, so I say let's get back on board and get back to doing that - challenge the government."

Local councillors joined in the calls for unity, many of them angry that the contest had been a distraction and made their job harder on the ground.

"We are a broad church but there is more that unites us than divides us," said Sonia Barrett, the leader of the Labour group on Waveney District Council.

"That is our great strength and we need to go forward and work really hard to put our views out there."

But beneath the genuine wish for unity, there is still a great deal of unhappiness among a sizeable number of Labour members from the East who have made the long journey to the party conference in Liverpool.

"I'm completely depressed," said one senior figure in the regional party. "All we've got to look forward to is losing the 2020 election with the possibility that after that there may be some changes."

"We are where we are," said a long-serving councillor. "I'm not happy about it but we're just going to have to knuckle down and hope for the best. But I'm not holding my breath."

Labour's outgoing Member of the European Parliament for the East, Richard Howitt, warned that unity meant both sides doing their bit... including Mr Corbyn.

"When Jeremy says that he wants the party to unite and he understands his responsibility to do it, then he must do things to show that, because we did have the same words this time last year," Mr Howitt said.

Despite their differences over Mr Corbyn, it looks like the local party in the East will try to pull together for the sake of unity and make it work.

But you can't help wondering how long that will last.

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