A meeting of minds between Momentum members and supporters and an MP who served a Norwich constituency during the Blair and Brown years may seem an unlikely event, until you realise that the ex-MP, Dr Ian Gibson, was always a noted exponent of rather more left wing views than the then apparent Party consensus. That meeting took place tonight and was a fascinating insight into both past anecdotes and future plans for the Norwich Labour movement.
Momentum is portrayed by some right-wing commentators and politicians as some sort of insidious entryist movement, but in truth it represents a tide of enthusiasm triggered by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Leader and it has re-energised many long term Labour supporters as well as engaging with newer and younger activists. Ian has had an interesting career, first as a Scottish professional football player then as a leading academic and cancer specialist at UEA then in 1997 he joined the tidal wave of new Labour MPs as the Member for Norwich North.
Ian is a relaxed and natural raconteur who tells many tales of Westminster life. He was always on the left of the Parliamentary Party, but many of his strongly held beliefs at the time have been justified over the years, such as his opposition to the Iraq war and his work to try and stop the introduction of tuition fees, which Labour introduced in breach of a manifesto promise not to. He was a friend and ally of Corbyn, McDonnell and other members often dismissed as ‘the awkward squad’ by the Labour Whips at the time.
Ian spoke about the elites both in Norfolk society as well as at a national level, pointing out the revolving doors that seem to appear to allow a certain group of people to effortlessly move around the top jobs in society, and the need to break these circles and allow new talent to shine. He also spoke about the need for dirty politics – I suspect the metaphor of an aggressive football tackle has crossed his mind a few times, and he gave the enthusiastic audience some good ideas for defeating his successor and Tory incumbent in Norwich North Chloe Smith. Ian stressed the importance of community politics, and it is clear that he built a strong and loyal constituency following from across the party dividing lines with his down-to-earth approach and practical problem solving ability.
Ian supports Corbyn enthusiastically, and attended his campaign rally when the first Leadership contest was raising huge levels of interest in the city and across the country, but he wants him to be a bit more aggressive with the Tories, and cited the late Robin Cook as a good role model at the dispatch box. Gibson, now free of any Party constraints, makes a strong case for bringing more industries into public ownership, including the insurance industry that employs many in Norwich but which he considers to work against the interests of younger people.
Ian Gibson is nearly 80 now, but is still an active campaigner and involved in many local issues and organisations, and although having lived in Norwich for only 53 years he does not quite feel accepted as a Norfolker yet he is clearly dedicated to the community that supported him enthusiastically during the New Labour years. We could probably use a few clones of Ian right now, and the meeting touched on the centralised vetting procedures which seem designed to eliminate anyone with a bit of passion or character from playing a leading role in politics these days. He gave tales too, of the ‘gentlemans club’ atmosphere at Westminster which seems to separate the privileged members from the very real concerns of their voters and constituents.
A thought -provoking and entertaining meeting which succeeded in enthusing the packed roomful of people to redouble their campaigning efforts in what is now a key marginal constituency.
© Julian Swainson