Steve Norton profile: Happy to turn blue
Four years after losing his seat in Labour's catastrophic 2003 election defeat, a seafood boss returned to local politics wearing the blue rosette of the Conservatives. In the latest in his series profiling our ward councillors, Local Government Reporter Simon Faulkner speaks to Humberston and New Waltham's Steve Norton.
EVEN before Steve Norton lost his Yarborough ward seat in 2003, he had grown disillusioned with the party for which he had first stood back in 1982.
"It was not the party that I joined", he says, recalling the direction Labour took following the election of Tony Blair as Prime Minister in 1997.
For him, as with so many others, the final straw was the decision to go to war in Iraq.
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But he admits that his conversion to Conservatism began as far back as the 1980s.
"I suppose I had always been on the right rather than the left. I think my conversion to Conservatism probably started in the 1980s with the late Tony Rowse who was a Conservative councillor and mayor, and the late John Colebrook.
"I did have approaches over the years to cross the floor, but I wouldn't do that as a matter of principle. You are elected by the people because of the party you represent and I think it would be unfair to them to do that."
But even though two years had elapsed between Steve losing his seat and joining the Tories, the move still upset some of his former Labour colleagues.
"Some people in the Labour party took it very badly when I moved over but that's up to them. I've still got some very good friends among the Labour councillors. It was just that I wanted to go in a different direction and the Conservative party ticked more boxes in what it was doing and what it stood for."
Initially Steve had no ambitions of becoming a councillor again. But then after a chance meeting with Conservative group leader Keith Brookes, he was persuaded to stand in the Humberston and New Waltham ward – a seat he took from long-serving independent Margaret Solomon, and retained four years later.
It was through his involvement in the trade union movement that Steve first joined the Labour party.
But he observes that even here there was a paradox, as he was in a "white collar union" – the old Association of Scientific and Technical Managers (ASTM).
Steve has enjoyed a long and illustrious career in the seafood industry, with spells at Ross Fish, Findus and Young's preceding his current role as chief executive of Grimsby Fish Merchants' Association (FMA).
Born in Grimsby in 1951, Steve was educated at Welholme School and Hereford Comprehensive.
Steve's mother was adamant that he would not follow his father, the fish merchant James Norton, into the seafood industry.
"My mother's side of the family had been builders and she thought I should have gone into the building trade and had a proper job but circumstances dictated otherwise.
Initially, Steve entered the industry in an admin role with Ross Fish. It was a move borne out of necessity due to the sudden death of his father at the age of 52.
"I had a half brother who worked for Ross Fish and he got me a job doing admin in an office. It paid its way and I enjoyed it, but I thought there's more to life than doing clerical work."
But having curtailed his education sooner than planned, Steve went to night school at Grimsby College to improve his maths and English.
Thanks to this, Steve was taken on by Ross as a management trainee.
His career later took him to Findus Nestle and Young's, and saw him travelling extensively throughout northern Europe.
"It was an exciting time because there was a lot of innovation going on in the food industry. There was a buzz about the industry and I really enjoyed my time in manufacturing."
But in 1999 Steve was one of the many workers to lose their jobs as a result of Young's merger with Bluecrest.
"There I was at the age of 48, being made redundant on the cusp of the new millennium, but I always see these things as an opportunity rather than a threat."
After carrying out consultancy work in the seafood industry for a couple of years, Steve was offered the top job at the FMA.
"I joined in June 2001 and I'm not looking to go anywhere else. I enjoy the role within the industry. In many ways there are synergies between my role here and that of a councillor. Both roles are representative – the only difference is I'm not elected to the FMA, but I'm still accountable to the members.
Steve was first elected to the Willows ward on Grimsby Borough Council in 1982.
Now as ward councillor for Humberston and New Waltham he is determined to help residents fight the spate of large scale greenfield housing developments being put forward for the area.
He has no ambitions, however, of taking on greater responsibilities.
"If the Conservatives were to take control and I were offered a Cabinet position I would refuse it. I refused a Cabinet position in my Labour days because I couldn't do it.
"I'm not a big fan of the Cabinet system. I much prefer the committee-style of local government that I was brought up with. I have never been a full-time councillor and I don't believe in it.
"I believe if you have got a good mix of working people it is better for the community and better for the council as a whole. The Cabinet system is such that it makes it very difficult for someone who is working to become a member."
In his spare time, father-of-one Steve enjoys travelling with his wife Kath.
"We travel a lot in Europe, particularly the Mediterranean countries. Italy is one of my favourite destinations and there's a lot of Italy yet to explore.
"I would like to go a bit further afield and spend a bit more time in America and South America. South Africa has always had an allure as well – and they do produce some excellent wine!"