Norwich is a pretty exciting city when it comes to this year's General Election. Both seats are very competitive and it will be hard to predict the outcomes…but I'll try anyway! To start with, the council seats in the city begin to show the unique nature of politics in Norwich. Of the 16 Norfolk County Council seats which are fully within the two Parliamentary constituency boundaries the Greens lead with 6 with Labour and the Conservatives behind with 4 each. And on the Norwich City Council the Greens hold 13 seats and form the opposition to Labour's minority administration, who have 15 councillors in their group. The Liberal Democrats have 6 councillors and the Conservatives 5.
To complicate matters further the Conservatives won the Norwich North by-election which was triggered because the Labour MP Ian Gibson stood down. Gibson had been letting his daughter use his second home as her main residence and claiming for her bills, council and mortgage interest on his expenses. He then sold the flat to her at half the market value. Gibson was deselected as a Labour candidate and so he then resigned with immediate effect. Because of the circumstances it was always going to be tough for Labour to hold this in the by-election but the swing of 16.5% which the Conservative Chloe Smith achieved to become the new MP was way and beyond what she required. Smith is now defending an altered Norwich North and the boundary changes have gone against her. The loss of a couple of rural wards to the new Broadland constituency has resulted in an increased notional Labour majority, but Smith still needs only half the swing she managed in the by-election. Although Labour dominate in the city wards of this seat, it will be the rural wards to the North of Norwich which will help the Conservatives in their bid to hold onto this seat at the General Election. This is certainly going to be close but with the expenses scandal emerging as a campaign issue it's going to be tough for the former councillor John Cook to win this race for Labour. I can see Smith hanging on in May but she'll have to work hard to keep hold of what is likely to be a marginal seat in future elections; Tory 'Gain'.
If you just look at the numbers Norwich South looks like the much harder seat for Labour to hold. However, this is another genuinely unique seat in which the national swing will struggle to predict the correct outcome. In theory, Charles Clarke should be in serious danger of losing his seat to the Lib Dems. But a recent constituency poll (by a reputable company) indicates he is cruising to victory and the Lib Dems could end up in fourth place! Although I think the actual result will be a lot closer than that snapshot suggests, it does aptly illustrate the strange dynamic in the constituency. The Greens are the party in the ascendancy in Norwich South and they hold 13 of the 27 City Council seats as well as a majority of the County Council seats in this constituency. This is one of the Green Party's top targets and they have selected their Deputy Leader, and Norwich Councillor, Adrian Ramsay for his second run in this seat. This is all bad news for the Lib Dem PPC Simon Wight, who is probably on a damage limitation mission. The Conservatives are sticking with their 2005 candidate Antony Little, but their numbers are thin on the ground in this constituency and they are likely to divert resources to holding Norwich North. So I expect this all to leave Charles Clarke as the MP for a seat he has represented since 1997. It's worth remembering in all this that the former Home Secretary will enjoy name recognition and he has been a stanch critic of Gordon Brown from the backbenches. This is likely to keep his vote hovering above the dogfight between the other parties for now, but in the future he can expect the Greens to emerge as his main competition; Labour Hold.