Meet Sonia Barker – the Labour hopeful aiming to topple Peter Aldous as Waveney MP
PUBLISHED: 13:06 16 September 2019 | UPDATED: 13:06 16 September 2019
If at first you don’t succeed, try again might be an apt motto for Labour’s Sonia Barker as she prepares to mount her second challenge to become Waveney’s MP.
The former councillor, who for several years served as the main opposition leader on Waveney District Council, stood to be the area's MP in the general election in 2017 - losing out to Conservative Peter Aldous.
But she hopes to overturn Mr Aldous' 9,000 majority after being chosen in what she described as a "rigorous and democratic" selection by Labour to fight the seat for a second time.
Mrs Barker, who thanked the Suffolk Fire Brigades Union for its support during her selection, was standing against long-serving Labour councillor Louise Gooch in a hustings held at Lowestoft's Hotel Victoria on Friday.
She might not have much time to topple Mr Aldous - although the Fixed Term Parliaments Act officially puts the date of the next general election at 2022, prime minister Boris Johnson has called for a national vote to solve the ongoing Brexit crisis.
It means the timing of the next UK-wide poll is anyone's guess - but Mrs Barker, who lives in Lowestoft, believes promises of investment by Labour - alongside what she sees as a lack of investment by the Conservatives over the past nine years, will help her to win.
"We must campaign, and will campaign, on issues to do with people's lives," she said.
"I think people can see all around evidence that Waveney has suffered through lack of investment.
"They feel totally left behind. We have to fight to show people that Labour will improve their lives and support their families."
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Mrs Barker believes Lowestoft has been hit by a double and triple whammy of problems since 2010, with the closure of Blundeston Prison, Lowestoft Hospital and Lowestoft Magistrates' Court having a knock-on effect to footfall in the town centre.
That in turn has contributed to shop closures while cuts to council funding have led to rises in areas such as parking charges and business rates, she said, exacerbating the problem.
"Lowestoft has suffered greatly from the austerity programme," she said.
However areas like Beccles and Bungay have suffered too, she said, with Bungay being left without a bank.
She points to a regional fund promised by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, which she hopes will help to pump in much needed investment.
"Fighting for the NHS against cuts" is another priority of hers, particularly plans to cut the budgets of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) which buy health services in their areas.
Labour has been criticised by some for having an unclear Brexit policy.
Mrs Barker said she would "fight against a no deal Brexit" first and foremost.
She added: "I'm a democrat and totally support following the line that we can't overturn a democratic decision" - but added that the outcome of a general election could change that position, if it showed people wanted to change their minds.
Mrs Barker said it was a "privilege and an honour" to be selected as Labour's candidate.
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