I spent about 20 minutes yesterday talking to a BBC journalist giving her background opinions about the state of the Party before the Party Conference in Sheffield. Unsurprisingly I was upbeat.
The cynical would tell me that that is what I have to say. But in fact that is what I really believe.
Let’s face it November and December whilst the tuition fees debates were going on were pretty grim. For us councillors the immediate pain of budget setting is or will zoom be over. The consequences will carry on but at least people will know where they are. Since Christmas the gloom has lifted. We can see this in the opinion polls with even the dreaded YouGov (I think that they ask the question ‘would you be prepared to vote for the Satan loving, baby eating Liberal Democrats) has us at 11% with the latest Guardian Poll (sorry Polly) at 18%.
That hard evidence is supported by real votes where some pretty calamitous declines in votes have been turned round. In Shropshire last week we convincingly took a seat off the Tories. One by-election does not make a General Election but the fact is that since the coalition was formed we are now still 4 seats up.
There’s also a spring in the step of most campaigners. The Focus Newsletters are pouring out in preparation for local and assembly elections. The canvassing and the door knocking are once again in full flow. About 20 councillors have defected from us but tellingly 11 of those were from just 2 groups where there were clearly internal difficulties well before the coalition was formed.
In Wales and Scotland the teams have preformed well in their Parliaments and strong leadership is leading to strong and disciplined campaigning.
On the doorstep in my ward I am getting a mixed reaction. People understand that this government did not create the economic mess that we are in but do not like the solutions that we are putting in place. DCLG have been crass in bringing forward bigger and faster cuts to our grant than any other part of the public sector. The cuts we make are highly visible and are around the services that people relate to most.
So my vote will drop on May 6th but how many of them go to someone else or just stay at home will be a key question. As always with Lib Dems there are a huge number of people who will vote for us because they know us and see us all year round. It really helps being married and having the same name as a very popular councillor – Erica!
Our Ministers are doing really good work. Yesterday I had a meeting with the Post Office on behalf of Ed Davey about ways in which local councils can work with the Post Office to realign Post office Services to match council services and begin to EXPAND the Post Office Counters network. Two weeks ago I met with Steve Webb and Andrew Stunnell looking at the transfer of some DWP funds to councils to act as an ‘emergencies fund’ for individuals.
Nick Clegg is performing well but is doing far too much. I’m going to have a word with Miriam about him staying at home more often. We can all see the positive things that he does – I really liked the mental Health stuff that he and Paul Burstow announced recently. What you don’t see is the things that he and the other Lib Dem Ministers stop happening. They regularly cut off the worst excesses of Tory Ministers. They are a credit to us but they will never be able to show you how creditable they have been!
So as I face my 45th round of local elections since joining the Party what sage advice can I proffer? Keep on delivering! Where we work we win! So being in government actually makes little change except that even at local elections we have to put a little more in our leaflets about the national perspective.
If you are at Conference in Sheffield I look forward to seeing you. As usual there is a massive number of local government events which we look forward to seeing you. If not deliver some leaflets on our behalf but whatever you do keep on campaigning.