Clive Lewis is the Leadership candidate that never was. After the excitement of his initially standing for the leadership in the post Jeremy Corbyn vote he failed to get the backing of enough Labour MPs to let his name go through to the final ballot. As a result the Leadership battle was fought out between Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long Bailey and Lisa Nandy with Starmer the clear winner on 56% of the members vote. Today Clive Lewis is a back bencher representing the Norwich South Constituency for Labour since 2015. But Clive stands out for his principled views on socialism, his track record of service whether its with the BBC as a journalist or in the army in Afghanistan and for being fearless in promoting new ideas such as proportional representation, cross party alliances and open borders. On January 20th he kept a promise to visit Bridgwater and spoke with members on zoom.
Cllr Brian Smedley , Leader of the Labour Group on Bridgwater Town and Sedgemoor District councils said “I met Clive at a ‘love socialism hate Brexit’ demo in London and afterwards at an event in Lambeth he promised to come to Bridgwater. He came, and we like a politician who keeps his word. He’s the leader we never had but maybe the leader waiting in the wings.”
Inspiring and Energising
Cllr Kathy Pearce, Deputy leader, said “Having never heard Clive speak before, I was really impressed with his refreshing and candid approach. He certainly challenged some of my previous convictions about the future of British politics and the first past the post system vs PR. A highly informative and interesting evening. In response to the question as to how Labour will push their environmental policies in response to the climate emergency, especially in view of the government ratifying the use of neonicotinoids for growing sugar beet in the UK, only two weeks after leaving the EU. (Neonicotinoids were banned in April 2018 by the EU as they were proved to be harmful to bees and pollinators.) Clive’s response was that Labour would implement its Green Deal programme but also that we should not just leave it to the leadership but that it was up to all members to lobby organisations we are involved with, to campaign for policies to protect the environment. He is a huge advocate of action by members and our discussion with him was both inspiring and energising.”
Bridgwater teacher Irena Brezowski said “I found the conversation with Clive Lewis very inspirational. I was pleased that he was able to answer the question on Keir Starmer’s different leadership style in a comprehensive way which meant that personally I can see a way forward.The branch can certainly build on the fact that what is seen to be done locally, will give a positive impression to potential Labour voters and ensure they are not put off by what is certainly a more technocratic style than Corbyn’s. Also the questions on electoral reform gave much food for thought. It was also good to hear him acknowledge that we could not be thinking about Scotland’s Labour vote as a potential saviour in the elections but well-planned cooperative working with other parties could help to get Labour back into power, along with electoral reform.I was pleased he mentioned he was on the committee looking at a covid free UK Also picked up on how they had worked on the VC at UEA about student accommodation fees….with 5 universities in our area – this could be the focus of local campaigns and working with young people.”
Enthusiastic and Thought Provoking
Cllr Alexia Bartlett, Labour councillor for Bridgwater Dunwear, said “Clive Lewis gave a very enthusiastic and thought-provoking response to all questions. His comments on electoral reform were insightful and I shall consider this issue much more closely in the light of them. In addition, his reply to my question regarding the refund of tuition fees to Higher Education students was really interesting and I thoroughly agree with his opinion that the Government should be putting pressure on Student Finance England to provide some sort of recompense for cases of poorly administered courses.
The meeting was opened up to other CLPs around Somerset. Former PPC for Somerton and Frome, Sean Dromgoole, welcomed the event and the greater co-operation across the county saying “Bridgwater CLP last night convened a well-attended Zoom meeting with Clive Lewis. As has increasingly become the pattern in Somerset, the doors were opened to other local constituencies. There were comrades from Yeovil, Taunton and Somerton and Frome. Prior to Mr Lewis’s arrival there was a convivial cross-constituency chat led by Leigh Redman and Brian Smedley. Might be nice if we always allowed a twenty minutes or so for this as it increases our understanding of each others priorities and constituencies. Clive Lewis started with a short introductory speech. His aim was to prime us towards the sort of questions he was willing to take – which was pretty much anything. He is a refreshingly open speaker. He speaks his mind and that doesn’t always coincide with party orthodoxy or the current leadership. His ability to put things into context is deepened by his familiarity with both the left and the centre left of the party. The impression he gave me is of being in a hurry. We simply cannot allow the Tories a fourth term and should do anything to make sure that doesn’t happen. The Lewis route to this is to offer Electoral Reform as part of an electoral coalition based on co-operation with LDs, Plaids, Greens and ScotNats. In Somerset this would entail Labour candidates standing down in favour of LDs. While older hands related familiar tales of local LD skulduggery, these were dismissed by Lewis, because the goal of replacing the Tories is considered too important. Particularly because of the Tory inability to embrace the climate imperative. Lewis is clearly a talent, and his route to victory in ’24 is the closest to plausible many of us have seen. If it became mainstream however, it would require considerable local sacrifice. Where he is on stronger ground is that we should adopt Electoral Reform is a primary policy objective in the near term. The way to reinvigorate our politics is to make every vote count – not just those in the few seats that might swing. This is something that appeared to have considerable support in Somerset and if we were to act collegiately, as five constituencies unified in finding the right resolution, it might be that we could help get something moving on this with an appropriate motion at conference. Warmest congratulations to Bridgwater CLP and particularly Brian Smedley on successfully convening such a convivial and comradely event during these dark days. More of the same please!”
Impressed New Members
Clive reached out to new members, and one of them, Bridgwater Westover resident Liz Marsh was particularly impressed saying “I have to admit that I didn’t know that much about Clive Lewis before I attended the Zoom meeting on Wednesday evening. I realised he was a Labour MP and that he was considered to hold views that placed him in the left of the party but that was about it. However, just from the chat on Facebook I soon began to appreciate the feeling of excitement in having him talk to us from other members and within 5 minutes of hearing him speak I soon found out why. His tone and enthusiasm for what he was speaking about was lively and engaging. He was genuinely interested in what the members were saying and asking and gave really thoughtful and thorough replies to each one. He was friendly and engaging but also realistic and honest with people which is pretty refreshing for a politician lets be honest. Two of the things that really stood out to me from the evening were his views on student loans and I learnt about how we tend to blame the Universities and not the Government and the Student Loan companies who monopolise these loans and make huge profits on the interests. I thought his suggestion of freezing the interest on these loans and a refund for the weeks of learning missed was a good and realistic solution in the face of the fact that the fees are not likely to get scrapped completely any time soon unfortunately.The second thing that stood out to me were his feelings on electoral reform and proportional representation. I agree completely that every vote should count. I think if every vote did count the percentage of people voting would also increase and that our current system is at least part of the reason why we have such voting apathy at present. What was particularly interesting was that he recognised that this may mean that he would lose his own seat and yet he still felt that this would be worth it to have a much fairer system in place. I was already impressed by this point but that simple statement really made me think wow now that is admirable and what we should be looking for in our elected officials generally; people who put what is best for the country and our communities ahead of their own personal gain and ambition. “
Confident and Knowledgeable
One of Bridgwater’s longest serving County Councillors Dave Loveridge confronted Clive about his proposals to work cross party and challenged him on ‘deals’ with the Lib Dems concluding “I thought that Clive was a very likeable person, he spoke with confidence and was knowledgeable on all matters. However, I will never agree with his stance on working with the Lib Dems and other parties, although the Greens don’t seem too bad. But all the time he takes this view I could never vote for him as a future party leader sadly to say. But I can see him as a hardworking MP and he seems to be in touch with the rank and file members, so all and all I thoroughly enjoyed the whole session.”
Retiring CLP Chair and local Head teacher Gary Tucker was very positive about the meeting saying “Clive Lewis was an excellent speaker. In my mind, he should have rightfully been the leader. I support Keir and his leadership but my goodness, hasn’t he been vague?! I don’t know what Keir stands for nor do I know what the plan is to win in 2024. Clive showed a possible route to victory. His ideas on ultimately changing policy to commit to electoral reform showed a way out of this mess. Our CLP has already backed this and I am happy to also move with the times. The second part of his proposal was more controversial. Drop the rule banning us from working with other parties. Having electoral pacts is in reality the only way we are going to be able to defeat this awful, very right-wing version of the tories. The party has got to get real. If we don’t work closely with other parties then it is over. As Clive said, victory in 2024 is looking impossible. This now requires a radical plan. If the party doesn’t adapt and agree to work with other parties, then it is indeed game over for Labour.”
Engaging and Dynamic
Donna Williams, the Regional co-ordinating officer for UNITE the Union said “I thoroughly enjoyed the meeting and felt that Clive Lewis was an engaging and dynamic speaker. I was impressed with the candour of his responses which was a breath of fresh air. What was particularly interesting was his thoughts on electoral reform and proportional representation. Thank you to all who facilitated the event”
Brian Smedley concluded “Clive Lewis was clearly a hit with Labour members in these parts and the Party plans to have other speakers on a monthly basis.
It’s great to know that senior party figures are starting to recognise little Labour outposts like Bridgwater as being important.
The next one scheduled is Deputy Leadership candidate and Leeds ambassador to the world, Richard Burgon. Watch this space!”