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Election 2017: Battle in Norwich South could go either way

PUBLISHED: 14:47 30 May 2017 | UPDATED: 14:47 30 May 2017

Lana Hempsall, Conservative, speaks at the Norwich South election hustings, held at the City of Norwich School. From left, Richard Bearman, Green; James Wright, Liberal Democrat; and Clive Lewis, Labour. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Lana Hempsall, Conservative, speaks at the Norwich South election hustings, held at the City of Norwich School. From left, Richard Bearman, Green; James Wright, Liberal Democrat; and Clive Lewis, Labour. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2017

Norwich South is a key Conservative battlefield - the Tories desperately want this seat. But although they can smell blood, Labour will be no pushover in this city constituency.

Richard Bearman (Green) speaks during the Paston Sixth Form College Question Time political debate. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYRichard Bearman (Green) speaks during the Paston Sixth Form College Question Time political debate. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The patch is diverse, taking in large residential areas as well as swathes of the city centre with its retail and offices.

It also covers the University of East Anglia meaning Norwich South has a sizeable student population. Those students have proved pivotal in the past and could again in 2017.

The last time the Tories won Norwich South was after Margaret Thatcher’s 1983 landslide but defeated Labour man John Garrett stood again in 1987 and snatched it back. He passed the baton to Charles Clarke ten years later as Labour swept to victory across the country. Mr Clarke more than doubled the majority.

But a Lib Dem pledge to scrap tuition fees saw Mr Clarke defeated by just 310 votes in 2010. It was a promise that was broken by the Coalition Government and this was key in Clive Lewis grabbing the seat back for Labour two years ago.

Labour candidate Clive Lewis. Photo: Mark TillieLabour candidate Clive Lewis. Photo: Mark Tillie

But how will a new batch of students vote this time around? Labour have similarly ambitious plans for stopping tuition fees as soon as this autumn – but do young people believe the promises after being let down before?

Another worry for Mr Lewis is how many students will actually be left in Norwich South come the time of the vote. Usually, general elections take place at the beginning of May before the exam period at most universities is under way.

UEA’s began on May 22 meaning many who don’t have exams or who finished early will have already started to drift off back to their family homes for the summer. What was already a tight battle with Broadland councillor and Tory candidate Lana Hempsall could be even closer for Mr Lewis without the student vote.

But for all the visits by Government ministers Labour has mobilised a large team on the ground - Norwich South has proved to be a good, old-fashioned election campaign and who wins is anyone’s guess.

James Wright, Liberal Democrat, speaks at the Norwich South election hustings Picture: DENISE BRADLEYJames Wright, Liberal Democrat, speaks at the Norwich South election hustings Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Candidates:

Richard Bearman (Green): The former leader of the Green Party county councillors lost his seat at the recent local elections. His home boasts solar hot water, PV panels and fruit and vegetables growing in the garden.

Lana Hempsall (Conservative): Broadland councillor Mrs Hempsall grew up in Slovenia and said the experience of a “social utopia” formed her political views. She uses a guide dog because of a condition called Stargardt disease which has left her 99% blind.

Clive Lewis (Labour): A former journalist and Sandhurst graduate (he did a three month tour of duty in 2009), Mr Lewis nominated Jeremy Corbyn for leader but later quit the shadow cabinet over the party’s stance on triggering Article 50.

James Wright (Liberal Democrat): As his party’s leader on Norwich City Council, Mr Wright knows the patch as well, if not better, than his political rivals. He has been campaigning hard against Brexit.

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