6:00 AM August 3, 2022
As a new contender for the Norwich North constituency enters the political fray, local democracy reporter NOAH VICKERS spoke to Alice Macdonald about the challenges that await her
She’s recently been selected as Labor’s candidate to face Tory MP Chloe Smith at the next general election but, so far, Alice Macdonald’s biggest public criticisms have come from within her own party.
The 39-year-old, who is currently splitting every time between London and Norwich, and serves on Southwark Council, was selected to be the party’s candidate on Saturday, July 23, beating out competition from three others vying for the position.
Ms Macdonald said: “It was brilliant to have the support of Norwich North members, but it’s obviously a big responsibility as well…
“We have to win a seat like Norwich North to get Labor back into government.
“So it’s really exciting. It’s something I’m really proud of, I love this area and I’ve spent a lot of time here.”
Ms Macdonald added she was keen to speak to as many voters as possible from across the seat’s geography, which ranges from the inner city area just north of Anglia Square, right out to Sprowston Wood, near Rackheath.
The run-up to her selection was marred by controversy when Labor county council Emma Corlett, who represents Norwich’s Town Close ward, suggested in a tweet that Ms Macdonald’s local knowledge could fit “on a postage stamp”.
Asked for her response to that criticism, the candidate said: “All I want to say on it is that we are a united Labor team and our focus is on winning.
“I was selected by Norwich North members and it was ultimately their decision.
“So I’m really focused on securing a win here, and that will only happen with a united Labor team, which is what we are, totally.”
Pressed on whether she understood the concerns about her being London-based, she said: “I don’t want to spend too much time focusing on it really, because I do think it is about the future and there’s been lots of people coming together , campaigning – that’s where we are.
“I’ve set out how I grew up in Norfolk – my mum [Irene Macdonald] was the leader of West Norfolk Council and that’s part of the reason I’m in politics, because I saw the difference a Labor council makes.
“My friends and family are here. Covid changed a lot of things for people. I spent a lot of time here with my niece, who was born in the N&N.
“I want to spend more time here and it’s a place I’m passionate about.”
Ms Macdonald grew up in Marham and was educated at Downham Market High School until the age of 16, followed by commuting to attend a sixth form in Cambridge.
She went on to study French and Italian at the University of Bristol and a masters degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.
Her early career was spent working for the Labor party, finishing as an advisor to MP Harriet Harman during each time as shadow international development secretary in the early 2010s.
She now works with a non-profit organization partnered with the United Nations, and has lived in South Africa, Ethiopia, Senegal and Rwanda.
“The common theme that I found – and then I became a councillor, a few years ago – is that no matter where you are, the poorest and most vulnerable are always impacted the most.
“That’s what I’ve focused my energy and passion on, tackling that, in whatever I’ve done.”
She added: “I think that’s one of the reasons I left Norfolk, like a lot of people do, because the jobs that I wanted to do weren’t available here.”
On the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda to spread opportunity beyond London and the south-east, Ms Macdonald said: “I think it’s a phrase that doesn’t really mean that much… I don’t think it’s working – and part of that is that you can’t do leveling up without investment going to the right places”.
She added that with Labor in government, there would be an opportunity for a “proper Eastern deal” to improve infrastructure across the region.
“I think there’s a real opportunity for Norwich North to become a green jobs hub,” Ms Macdonald continued.
“We’ve got wind power off the coast, and on-shore as well, in places like Swaffham.
“We should really be investing in the jobs and skills of the future – and building those things here.”
Ms Smith won a majority of 4,738 in the December 2019 general election, when Karen Davis stood for Labor, which was a big increase from a majority of just 507 votes over Labor’s Chris Jones in 2017.
Asked why Labor had failed to win the seat back since losing it in a 2009 by-election, Ms Macdonald said: “I think it’s on the Labor party to offer what is a bold vision of hope for the future and to show people that we ‘re on their side.
“I do think people are questioning why we’re in in a cost of living crisis, what is the government’s plan? And it doesn’t feel like there is one.”