What a Norfolk PM means for Norwich

Welcome to edition number one!

What a Norfolk PM means for Norwich
Our latest PM, Liz Truss. Photo: Office of U.S. Ambassador to U.K. via Wikimedia Commons

Hello and welcome to the first edition of The Norwich Seeker.

Firstly, thanks for signing up and becoming part of our experiment to find new ways of producing independent, in-depth and inclusive journalism for our city.

"There are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades happen." - Lenin

This is certainly one of those weeks where history is on fast-forward. The death of Queen Elizabeth II closes a long chapter in our history and opens a new one under King Charles III. Meanwhile, the rise of Norfolk MP Liz Truss to prime minister also marks a major, albeit less significant, break with the past.

Today, we’re looking at what having a local(ish) prime minister means for Norwich, plus at the bottom you’ll find three ideas for the weekend.  

Future editions of this newsletter are going to look at problems and solutions around the environment, housing and the health system, so if there are stories you'd like us to cover then please get in touch.

Thanks for reading and please forward this newsletter to anyone you think might be interested.

Until next Saturday,


Truss me, I’m the PM

A Norfolk politician is now leading the country for the first time in 300 years - the last one was this guy in 1721.

Painting by Jean-Baptiste van Loo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

(Kudos if you can name him - the answer is at the end of this newsletter for the rest of us.)

Why it matters

Liz Truss’ allies claim the elevation of the South West Norfolk MP to prime minister is great news for the area.

As the most powerful person in the country, she could energise the many projects Norwich has long been waiting for: the dualling of the A47, improvements to the local NHS and building more affordable housing.

Last month, while campaigning for the top job - and proving she is not one for understatement - Ms Truss said she would be "the greatest champion Norfolk and East Anglia have ever had in office".

Norfolk's greatest champion? Photo: Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street, OGL 3

But we hear something similar every time a politician needs votes. Prime ministers have been visiting Norfolk on the campaign trail since the 1990s pledging to dual the A47, something that is still yet to start, despite progress on funding.

And busy with global and national crises, Ms Truss is hardly going to have upgrading Norwich’s buses, for example, at the top of her agenda.

Two weeks ago, we asked Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, an early supporter of Ms Truss’ leadership campaign and long-time friend, what specific benefits the new PM could bring to the area. She has not replied, but has been vocal on Twitter with her support:

During her campaign, Ms Truss also revealed little about what she would actually do if she became PM.

But regarding the areas The Seeker is focusing on, we can already draw a few conclusions from past comments, her new cabinet and announcements this week.

🌳 Environment: Green campaigners are nervous. There is a strong streak of climate scepticism running through Ms Truss' cabinet and this was backed up with announcements on Thursday that the ban on fracking would be lifted and North Sea oil and gas drilling would expand. She has, however, said the UK will keep its commitment to net zero by 2050. Locally, expect some progress on the A47 (see below).

🏡 Housing: Ms Truss' instincts are to cut regulation and that applies for housing too. She has pledged to scrap house-building targets, criticised the lack of new homes and is likely to make it easier to build, build, build, with an overhaul of planning policy. That could be good news for those trying to get on to the housing ladder, but is unlikely to go down well in Tory suburbs.

👩‍⚕️ Health: Locally, Ms Truss has not been one to speak out about the parlous state of Norfolk's NHS during her 12 years as a MP. In that time the mental health trust, ambulance service and local hospitals have all been rated inadequate by the health regulator. However, in 2020 she did call on the then health secretary, Matt Hancock, for a new hospital in King's Lynn to replace the crumbling QEH. Now she is PM there is no excuse for not rebuilding it.  

A leader in your local? 🍻

But maybe simply being a Norfolk MP is enough to benefit the area by raising its profile?

Former North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham thinks so, writing in the Eastern Daily Press last month:

"Nothing can surely match Ms Truss' huge advantage in actually representing a Norfolk seat?’
"Look no further than the constituencies and counties represented by the last six PM’s."

However, Sir Henry didn’t offer any examples, so let’s do that quickly.

Prime ministers seem to enjoy taking their fellow world leaders to their ‘local’ for a photo-op.

Tony Blair did it for George Bush in 2003 in his Sedgefield constituency. David Cameron and French president Francois Hollande met in an Oxfordshire pub in 2014, while their successors, Theresa May and Emannuel Macron, repeated the stunt in 2018 in Mrs May’s Maidenhead constituency - so watch out next time you’re enjoying a quiet pint.

What to watch next? 🧐

A general election is coming in the next two years and Labour have a good chance of winning back Chloe Smith’s Norwich North, according to recent polling.

Ms Smith needs something concrete she can take to voters. At the last election she highlighted the airport aviation academy as a success story and hosted Boris Johnson there.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has been promoted by Liz Truss to DWP minister. Photo: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, via Wikimedia Commons

But the only thing taking off at the moment is our bills. With a recession likely and Norwich left out of the ‘levelling up’ agenda so far, Ms Smith needs to be able to say, ‘look how my close relationship with Liz has helped us get this, see how having a Norfolk Conservative as PM benefits us’.

It is in the new PM’s interest to help her friend, and with a seat at the cabinet table as minister for work and pensions, it shouldn’t take much lobbying from Ms Smith to get some more support for Norwich.

If I had to bet on what that would be, look out for progress towards finally dualling the A47. During her campaign, Ms Truss said she would "look closely" at the scheme.

At the moment, funding has been provided for two small sections between North Tuddenham and Easton, as well as from Blofield to North Burlingham. More will surely follow and it could become a big part of local Conservative MPs’ push at the next election, especially with Great Yarmouth MP, Brandon Lewis also in the cabinet as justice secretary.

Something for the weekend 🤗

-Great food meets early Noughties music: The Foodies Festival in Earlham Park mixes top chefs with some popstars you'll remember from when everything was great in the 2000s.

-Say hi to ancient Egyptians: A new exhibition launched at the Sainsbury’s Centre last weekend looking at how “ancient Egypt has shaped our cultural imagination”. It runs until January 2023 with tickets at £14.

-And bye to dinosaurs: The city will be a slightly less fun and colourful place after this weekend when the GoGoDiscover Trail packs up. The dinosaurs and mammoths will be auctioned for local charity Break on September 28.

P.S. The answer from the top is Sir Robert Walpole. He was also Britain’s first prime minister (in case you have a pub quiz coming up)