I’m off to Sleaford on Friday


Ross Pepper and team whose campaign I will be joining in Sleaford on Friday

There are two bye-elections taking place at the moment but you would be forgiven for thinking that there is only one. The metropolitan elite are very cosily looking at the one just 10 miles from the hubs of world communications in central London. It is an area that they understand, feel comfortable in and where they feel confident in talking about and predicting the future. This is all great news for the Lib Dems because there is every chance that we can take the seat from the so-called Independent candidate backed by the Tories locally and UKIP, Zac Goldsmith.

Zac, if you remember, is actually a typical Tory Posh Boy. His pater was Jimmy Goldsmith the Leader of the Referendum Party. Zac is slightly different because he, at least in theory, is an environmentalist. That is not particularly apparent in his voting record in the Commons where he has loyally trooped through the lobbies with his fellow Tories on a range of issues. No matter what he says on Heathrow, where the Lib Dem Candidate Sarah Olney represents a Party with a much longer pedigree of Heathrow opposition, Zac is really a Tory at heart. Whether as an Independent or a Tory MP he will vote for Brexit, for cuts in social care – in other words on every issue except Brexit the Tories are sure of his vote. That’s why they haven’t had the guts to oppose him. And all this, of course in a constituency with a huge Remain vote in the June Referendum.

The second bye-election is 200 miles North (I always like putting a capital N on North even though it is not grammatically correct!) and you will find the Sleaford Constituency. They too had a heavily Brexit supporting MP but in this case for a constituency which was also heavily Brexit. He too resigned on a matter of principle – the sovereignty of Parliament. He strongly believed that Parliament must make the final decisions because – well that’s why we elect a Parliament.

I decided from the start that with a limited amount of time available I would go to Sleaford not just because I want to campaign for our excellent candidate, Ross Pepper and our excellent polices but because I want to listen to what people are saying. When I talk to people who wanted Brexit they have always been very imprecise on facts. In fact in many cases they had no facts at all to go on. I well remember telling people during the referendum that the EU employed less people than Lancashire County Council to be shouted at as a liar. When I asked the people shouting how many people worked for the EU and the Council they didn’t have a clue but they knew that I must be lying!

So I don’t expect to listen to many facts although I will probably hear a number of none facts in the factless society that we now seem to exist in. I expect to hear sentiment and it is vitally important that we understand and respect that sentiment if we are to tackle it head on.

There’s nothing the matter with sentiment and belief in politics. I would prefer to work with people with sincere beliefs than with people who decided what their policy is based on what people said in a tightly controlled Focus group. Much of my own political belief is based on sentiment. I know that men and women, black and white are born equal but don’t always have the same opportunity. In my case that sentiment can be backed up with facts. So I lead with my heart and follow with my head! But that is not true of Brexit where there appears to a huge amount of heart but very little head!

The sentiments seem to be based on a past which appears to have very little contact with the reality either of the past or indeed the present. I suffer from asthma, for example, because when I was a little boy I lived in London where the smogs and fogs and smoking meant that I missed school for one week in three during the winter. When I first came to Liverpool and became a councillor in 1975 more than 5% of people still had outside toilets. This was not for many a golden past.

Changes came thick and fast from the 50s onwards. The great Liverpool foreign holiday in the 50’s was a trip to the Isle of Man. By the 60’s it was becoming the Costas and the golden beaches of Spain and Italy. Technology made massive changes. In the 70s and early 80s it took weeks to get the GPO to install a landline. By the end of the 90s many people had mobiles and now more people have mobiles than fixed landlines.

These are huge changes indeed and I can understand that people look to the certainties of the past rather than try to cope with the uncertainties of the future.

Perhaps some changes are reversible. We could plan our housing better so that the all-important community can flourish within it. We can use new technology to help people make new friends in new ways. But we cannot reverse technology and communications. We cannot bring back jobs like coal mining and mass manufacturing.

So we need to treat the Leavers of Sleaford with respect. We need to recognise the huge gap between what young people who are born into travel and the internet think and what older people who struggle to grasp new technologies and new ways think. It was probably always thus but the speed of change is now ferocious.

We also need to remember that change is exciting if you are riding the surface of the wave but dreadful if you under the water. The changes have meant that the progression through wage groups and classes has at best stalled and at worst gone into reverse. Social mobility is decreasing. The gig economy is creating jobs but not of a nature to provide a decent living which means that a couple can decently bring up their children. Providing we are prepared to work we all deserve a decent house, a decent job, a decent education and decent old age. For many that is now an unattainable dream.

So when I hit the streets of Sleaford on Friday, no doubt buoyed by an excellent result from Richmond Park and some promising local bye-elections I will be in discussion and not persuasive mode. I am going to campaign but also to learn.


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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