Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Will Dr Gibson Scuttle Labour's Chances?

As the closing hour for nominations for the July 23 by-election approaches, there is some speculation about whether Dr Gibson will stand as an independent. Such a decision would most likely take votes away from the Labour party and ensure Tory success, so Ian Gibson's decision could decide this by-election.

The following is from today's EDP24:

Labour outlines green message to Norwich voters

Hilary Benn visited Norwich to give his support to Labour's Norwich North by-election candidate Chris Ostrowski

Environment secretary Hilary Benn stopped off at the Waffle House to outline Labour's green message to voters - but ducked a question on whether Ian Gibson had been harshly treated by his party.

Mr Benn joined Labour candidate Chris Ostrowski at the popular city centre eaterie as part of a bid to neutralise any drift of support to the Greens.

Labour lost two county council wards in the Norwich North constituency last month, in Mile Cross and Sewell, and took seats from the Lib Dems, while also finishing top of the polls across the city in the European elections.

While the Tories remain favourite to win the seat, the Greens would settle for second place as a tremendous result for the party - which could be behind the Labour initiative.

All three main parties insist they hold the key to getting green policies enacted at Westminster. But the Green vote has ballooned in the city council elections, where they are now the official opposition.

And the Greens are happy to contrast their record of consistently opposing policies like the building of the Norwich northern bypass and moves to build more than 30,000 homes in and around the city largely on greenfield sites, and expansion of Norwich International Airport, with the other three parties.

Mr Benn said a vote for the Greens would seal a Tory victory in Norwich North and the party could not deliver on the national and international stage. "On the big environment issues that the world faces, such as the threat of climate change, Labour is leading the world," he said. "We are one of only a small number of countries that will meet its Kyoto commitments and we are the first country in the world to have a climate change act and a climate change budget," he said.

He also pointed to the increased recycling rates in the city as proof of Labour's commitment to green issues and said the key to meeting housing demand was to ensure stringent environmental measures were in place. "It's not a competition between brownfield and other sites because we have got to make the most effective use of the sites we have got," he added.

Mr Ostrowski said he backed the northern bypass and the housing growth because a balance needed to be struck between delivering new homes in an eco-friendly way and relieving city centre congestion.

"We are not about increasing the amount of traffic," he said. "What we are about is reducing the amount of congestion. Housing is a big issue. We are not casting environmental issues aside, we are being very rigorous about them."

And like every other visiting politician to the city, Mr Benn would not be drawn on whether Dr Gibson had been unfairly treated by the party in his de-selection. "I have known Ian for a very long time and have the upmost respect for him - he was an exceptional constituency member of parliament," he said. "The Labour panel took a decision, looked at the evidence, which I haven't seen, and they formed a judgment. What we are concentrating on now is getting Chris returned."

Candidates have until 4pm tomorrow to get their nominations in for the July 23 by-election. And although all the official signs are that Dr Gibson will not stand, there is still a huge amount of public affection for him, which could see him home if he were to go for it. The veteran backbencher previously pledged to support the Labour candidate, but he has not been seen on the campaign trail, and it is not clear if he has offered his services or been asked to take part. Mr Ostrowski said:

"He hasn't been part of the campaign to date. He has been very supportive, but it's obviously been a very difficult time for him."


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