Has Norwich North become the forgotten by-election?

Has Norwich North become the forgotten by-election?

Is it really less interesting than mange tout?

In little more than a fortnight, the voters in Norwich North will go to the polls to (probably – see below) elect a successor to Ian Gibson, the Labour MP who resigned following his effective de-selection by Labour. The first postal ballots will be going out in a matter of days.

Yet despite the prospect of a direct loss from Labour to the Conservatives, which would be only the second such Tory gain in over a quarter of a century, just a few months before the general election, next to no coverage in the media is coming from Norwich – a far cry from Crewe & Nantwich or even Henley (which was always a nailed-on Conservative hold).

It’s not even as if the only interesting story is the headline bout between two telegenic twenty-somethings, either of whom would be the youngest member of the House if elected (although they are relative veterans compared to the Libertarian Party’s 18-year-old candidate).

The Green Party, whose candidates topped the European Parliament election poll in the Norwich council area, start in fourth place and will be looking to finish at least third: something which should give the Lib Dems, historically strong by-election performers, cause for concern – as should their odds of 33/1, longer than the Greens with both Ladbrokes and as the last matched price on Betfair.

The constituency boundaries do run outside the council area and they’re stronger in Norwich South but this remains their best chance to make a real impact for many years. They did finish second in Haltemprice & Howden but there were no Labour and Lib Dem candidates there and they still polled just 7.4%.

Craig Murray – Britain’s former ambassador to Uzbekistan – is standing on an anti-sleaze ticket, something which has clearly had a high profile over the last two months and which unlike many independents he may be able to convert into votes given the moral capital he built up in his spat with the Foreign Office regarding relations with dictatorships. Even so, and despite his local links, he should struggle to break into the top four positions though he may match the two thousand votes he won when he stood against Jack Straw in the 2005 general election.

Even the BNP have managed to generate something of a human-interest candidate, picking as they have a churchman in Rev Robert West (who topped the BNP’s list in the East Midlands for the European election, where they won a share that would have seen him elected had the region seven or more seats, as some have).

But all this seems to be for nothing. Even the Norwich Evening News has the story no higher than seventeenth on the newspage, behind an article on the world’s biggest mange tout.

Two other possible candidates have been touted and with nominations due to close at 4pm tomorrow, still have time to join the race: former boxer, Terry Marsh, aiming to attract the same anti-politician vote as Murray, and – much more interestingly – Ian Gibson himself.

Gibson did initially consider standing at the by-election before ruling out that course of action but a poll in today’s Eastern Daily Press might just be enough to change his mind.  Their survey found that “nearly 40% would vote for him if he stood”.

I don’t know how scientific that poll is and even if it is properly balanced and weighted, he may be benefitting from a significant element of name recognition that the subsequent election camapaign would diminish.  Even so, 40% should be enough for any candidate to win and if he did have doubts about whether to stand or not, this might just be enough to tempt him to stand.  That said, I don’t believe he will.

Norwich is a long way from the motorway network which may put some London journalists off but for goodness sake, surely a by-election with so many internal contests as well as the main one, so many interesting characters and so much media potential is worth more coverage than it’s currently getting.

In the betting, the Conservatives are clear favourites, best-priced at 1/6 with William Hill ahead of Labour, at 13/2 with Paddy Power. Ladbrokes offer the best for the other parties with the Greens (16/1), Murray (25/1) and Lib Dems and Ian Gibson (both 33/1) following.

David Herdson

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