Today – August 31st 2011 is my last day in office as both the Vice Chair of the LGA and the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Local Government. At one second past midnight a new broom will sweep in fromPortsmouth and CllrGerald Vernon-Jackson takes over both positions. I have been the Leader now for 6 years 4 months beating everyone in longevity except for Jeremy Beecham. I have been some sort of office holder in the LGA since the day it was formed and will continue to be so as the Vice Chair of the European and International Board for the next 2 years.
Moving on is always an opportunity for both reflection and thanks.
It has been a tremendous pleasure to have been the senior Lib Dem office holder at the LGA and to be able for 99% of the time to cast party politics aside and work with men and women from all parties whose commitment to their communities and the services that they provide to them is so obviously manifest. It isn’t dogmatism that rules the day inside the LGA or for that matter most councils its pragmatism. We just want to make sure that our people, especially the poorest people, get the best possible services and support and we want to see our areas thrive.
Sometimes I have described myself as one of the Leaders of the national local government party as we have unitedly fought the national central government party in the posh old folks home on the banks of theThames. That spirit will I hope endure. Central government never has and never will get it right. There will always be those inWhitehall, especially civil servants, who think that they know better than the collective judgement of 23,000 councillors and their staff. Too many MPs and Ministers have little experience of the real world. Straight from Uni into a think tank, into a party office, into Parliament and into power without ever having done a real job or having real experience of life.
But of course for me it has been an even greater honour to lead the Lib Dem councillors in the country. Ironically I have never been elected to the position. I first became leader when my predecessor Sir Chris Clark failed to gain a new seat. Then I was returned unopposed three times. The last 16 months have been absolutely gruelling but still rewarding. To see my Lib Dem friends and colleagues settling into Ministries and beginning to deliver things that I have fought for during many wilderness years has been great. Yes I know we have not delivered the whole of the Lib Dem manifesto but we do have only 16% of the Government’s MPs. I know that they have stopped many things happening that a Tory Government would have wanted. I know they have made many things happen that Labour just couldn’t do.
Sometimes I have been asked whether I intend to defect to another party. Well where would I go?
To me the Tories are still at a national level the Party of the greedy and grasping. They are not Thatcherite – they have moved on from there but noblesse oblige is still noblesse oblige.
The Blair/Brown Labour Party was little better and it is now led by an insignificant rootless pip squeak. They failed in so many ways but let me give you both a national and local example:
Nationally, they failed to restore the earnings link between pensions and earnings. Instead they resorted to complicated tax credits instead of simple mechanisms of fairness. This Government has done better than restore the link. In some years like last year and this year pensioners will actually start to catch up with earners.
Locally, they failed to lance the boil of Hillsborough. For 13 years they refused to make public all files and reports related to this tragedy. It took Nick Clegg as deputy Prime Minister to ensure the release of documents that might finally give some families closure.
As I said once on the telly, “you will have to drag my Lib Dem membership card from my cold dead hand!”
And so to my thanks:
Firstly to all the staff at the LGA who have provided support and advice at all times (even though I didn’t always take it!) Our staff, led by the indefatigableJohn Ransford, are superb, professional, knowledgeable and supportive. We are lucky to have them.
Secondly, to my own staff in the Lib Dem Office. Working with me is not easy. Early mornings, late nights, peremptory demands, querulous suggestions have been the order of the day and they have worked like Trojans for the cause. So thanks Rob, Jake, Oscar, Ben, Anat and Evelyn and especially thanks to my heads of office Bridget, Ed and Alanna.
Thirdly, my thanks to all councillors of all Parties who toil for their communities but especially those who have served in the LGA for the past 6+ years. You don’t deserve the press you get from over paid journalists who have no concept of the service that you provide day in and day out to your communities. Particularly I would like to mention Lord Beecham and Baroness Eaton. For 5 years we were an indivisible team here at the LGA and they are two people whose judgement I respect tremendously.
Lastly, I want to publicly thank Erica (known universally as the nice Cllr Kemp) and my family. Are they joking when they say that life has been easier for them when I have been away such a lot? I hope so but we are all looking forward to spending more time together and I could not have done what I have done without their love and support.
What am I up to now? All sorts! People have been very kind in making suggestions about things I could do as I ‘retire’. Some of them are even paying me to help them! So being Deputy Leader of theLiverpool group, Chair of an RSL and Vice Chair of the E&I Board at the LGA plus some positions that I will tell you about shortly will keep me quite busy! I will also be able to be less diplomatic than hitherto on my Blog so stand by for some cutting comments!
So that’s it folks. Thank you and goodbye