By Alex Stevenson
In recent decades Norwich North has struggled to maintain its loyalty to its historic party of choice – Labour.
Despite Margaret Thatcher’s victory, Labour managed to cling on in 1979 but succumbed in Michael Foot’s disaster of 1983, giving Patrick Thompson a 14-year stint in the Commons. His majority reached nearly 8,000 in the 1987 election but declined thereafter, before finally succumbing in Tony Blair’s landslide.
Since then Ian Gibson’s hold has itself been somewhat equivocal. After achieving a big 10.6 per cent swing with his first win, his majority diminished to 5,459 in 2005, which is what his replacement Chris Ostrowski is defending. Norwich city council remains in no overall control, meaning there is much to play for here. Labour cannot take this constituency for granted.
Norwich North is more residential, more suburban, than Charles Clark’s seat to the south. Many of its inhabitants work in the financial services (Norwich Union) and manufacturing businesses (Lotus Cars, KLM UK Engineering) to be found in the south of what was once England’s second city.
The area is showing signs of growth, too. Nowadays a sizeable chunk find work at the Chapelfield shopping centre, which includes the BBC’s East Anglian operation. And then there’s Norwich International Airport, which had a £4.5 million extension to its terminal completed in 2006. It may no longer boast the Nestle chocolate factor, which succumbed in the last recession, but Norwich North remains well-placed to get through the recession.
The lessons of that recession continue to haunt the constituency, however. Its prosperity ranks slightly below the national average because many of those who work in Norwich’s centre live outside the city. Equally important, though, are social issues you would not expect in this prosperous centre for tourism and leisure.
Crime and anti-social behaviour remain a concern, despite Norfolk as a whole topping the safe-to-live rankings. A shortage of affordable housing has been an ongoing problem. Threatened children’s centres are likely to be a big factor in the by-election. And the relatively prominent role of the Green party reflects its positive reputation as an eco-city.
Norwich has been recognised as the county capital of Norfolk for a good 1,000 years or so, but the historic recognition of its northern half’s loyalty to Labour is much less certain as these issues – and a third-term Labour government – take their toll.