Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 17:39 UK

Norwich braced for key by-election

By Carole Walker
Political correspondent, BBC News, Norwich

Sitting MP Ian Gibson
Outgoing MP Ian Gibson's role in the campaign could prove crucial

Basking in the glorious July sunshine, it is hard to detect any election fever in Norwich North.

So far there are few posters or campaign leaflets to be seen.

But the by-election here on 23 July is likely to be a closely-fought contest.

Ian Gibson decided to stand down and force the by-election after Labour's disciplinary panel investigated the revelations over his expenses and barred him from standing as a Labour candidate.

Dr Gibson - a maverick left winger - believed he'd been treated harshly and considered standing as an independent.

But he told me he has decided to back the official Labour candidate Chris Ostrowski, a 28-year old party activist from London.

Dr Gibson was a popular and well-respected MP.

Voters I spoke to divided between those who were angry at the way Dr Gibson had been treated and those who were even angrier at the entire political class for behaviour they described as "disgusting" and "corrupt".

Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, MP for the neighbouring constituency of Norwich South, dismissed the suggestion that voters might punish Labour for forcing out Dr Gibson, though he acknowledged the anger of many in the local community.

"I think people will judge in the by-election not simply on that kind of issue but on the overall record of Labour in Norwich," Mr Clarke said.

The Conservatives hope to benefit from Labour's problems, both locally and nationally, and clearly believe they have a strong chance of seizing the seat.

Tory leader David Cameron and a stream of shadow cabinet ministers have been here campaigning for Chloe Smith, a fresh-faced local candidate.

Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Philip Hammond said this was an opportunity for voters to send a message to Gordon Brown that they want him to come clean about Labour's spending plans.

Green hopes

The Greens made significant gains here in the local elections and are now the main opposition on Norwich City Council.

They've chosen one of their councillors, Rupert Read, to fight the by-election.

Though they appear to be fighting it out for third place, they are hoping to pick up support from voters disaffected with the main parties.

The Liberal Democrats have chosen local businesswoman April Pond - though they'd have liked a higher profile candidate.

It is a crowded field with the former ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray standing as an independent, UKIP fielding former army medic Glenn Tingle and Robert West standing for the British National Party.

Gordon Brown has a pretty poor track record when it comes to by-elections - remember those disastrous losses in Glasgow East and Crewe and Nantwich.

Labour undoubtedly faces a tough battle to hold on to Norwich North and another defeat here would revive all those questions about his leadership.

The full list of candidates (in alphabetical order):

Peter Baggs (Independent)

Thomas Burridge (Libertarian Party)

Anne Fryatt (None of The Above Party)

Bill Holden (Independent)

Laud Howling (The Official Monster Raving Loony Party)

Craig Murray (Put An Honest Man into Parliament)

Chris Ostrowski (Labour)

April Pond (Liberal Democrat)

Rupert Read (Green)

Chloe Smith (Conservative)

Glenn Tingle (UK Independence Party)

Robert West (British National Party)



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SEE ALSO
Parties gear up for by-election
05 Jul 09 |  Norfolk
Norwich poll set for end of July
30 Jun 09 |  UK Politics
Gibson barred from standing again
02 Jun 09 |  UK Politics


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