Our New and Newbie MP, Sarah Olney
Apparently Sarah Olney (MP!) had a bad TV interview somewhere on Friday and at one of the hustings meetings had not answered a couple of questions brilliantly. I only raise this because this has led to one or two sneerers raising a headline something like, “Lib Dems learn a day late that you have to get good people elected”. Well let me let you into a little secret. I haven’t always given perfect interviews. I haven’t always given perfect answers at hustings or other meetings. An even bigger secret is that everyone else has made mistakes as well!
Let’s consider the relative positions of Sarah Olney and the journalists. She has spent the last 6 weeks on a knife edge of exhilaration and exhaustion. The mood swings will have come and gone and having been declared the MP for Richmond Park at 02.00 was back on the streets at 7.30 with Tim Farron (who according to Radio 4 was even at that time leaping round the constituency like a gazelle). The journalist who sneered at her will have been nice and warm for those 6 weeks. Perhaps sallying into the constituency at noon when it is warmest for a bit of a vox pop. No strain, no tiredness there then!
So Sarah isn’t a fully accomplished and practiced politician then. Well I think that is bloody good news. You might expect someone who has been around a long, long time like me and others to feel jealous or upset that a newbie of just 18 months standing has been elected as an MP. Far from it. We are delighted that people like Sarah, Liz Leffman (not really a Newbie but young and committed) and Ross Pepper in Sleaford are coming forward. For too long our Party got older and older. To go to bye-elections and see hordes of young people who we don’t know is an absolute delight. To hear them demanding three delivery rounds and then coming back for more when we can only really manage two rounds is absolutely marvellous.
I believe that this also fits the public requirement. The word is continually heard that we need a change for the old metropolitan elite who have been round for years and are part of some sinister club. For some reason that leads some people to support Farage who is the epitome of a metropolitan old guard elitist. For too long politics, even to a small extent Lib Dem politics has been the preserve of the old and wise and the cognoscenti. You don’t get that if you vote Leffman, Olney or Pepper. You get people with rough edges that need knocking off them a bit but more importantly you get people who joined us and campaign for us because of their beliefs and their convictions in our principles.
Our Party used to run training courses in what to wear; how to behave; how to appear. As will be patently obvious to anyone who knows me I attended none of these courses! We are what we are. If we stick to that we remain authentic politicians and not people who look plastic and sound house trained. The one thing I would say in favour of Farage is that he speaks his mind. Of course I don’t like what he says but no-one can doubt that he means it!
So where does Richmond Park leave us? Well no-one really knows except to give a very obvious answer that bit leaves the Lib Dems better off than we have been for 6+ years. Council bye-elections are important. The fact is that we will end the year with about 65 more councillors than we started. But it’s MPs that journalists count; its votes on parliamentary issues that excites them. What Richmond Park has done is ensure that Lib Dems cannot be ignored as we largely were for the 15 months after the 2015 General Election. The Lib Dems are once again part of the national story. Our new MP, councillors and about 20,000 members this year place us very well for the future as a united party campaigning on key issues which resonate with a very large proportion of the population. This is a base that we can build on.
This is not true for our Opponents. Let’s start with that party which has become the epitome of 1970’s Dave Spart, Socialist Worker Party nonsense. Step forward the Labour Party. Well isn’t it interesting how they vary their policies? In Richmond Park they were anti-Brexit. In Sleaford they are pro-Brexit. How can you trust them when they say one thing in one part of the country and something the exact opposite in another part of the country? They’d do and say anything for a few votes. Meanwhile back inside the Party desperate battels are being fought out by reasonable Labour members fighting of the Momentum theorists. I have seen it all before. What is happening to Labour nationally now is what happened to Labour in Liverpool in the 80’s.
The Tory Party are also split but they are much better disciplined than the Labour Party! It is clear from the local and national bye-elections that some of the more reasonable Tory voters are peeling off from the Party. A large number of Tory Remainers obviously feel some empathy with us. What is more surprising is that in Richmond Park a large number of Tory Leavers also moved to the Lib Dems because of the lash up that May & Co are making of the Brexit process. This is reflected in the parliamentary party. The fact that there is a Sleaford bye-election is because a Tory Leaver gave up in despair at the lack of leadership and failure to abide by Parliamentary democracy.
The Greens have all but disappeared from the scene. Well done to their 50% Leader Caroline Lucas for persuading her local colleagues not to field a candidate in both Richmond Park and Sleaford. In some constituencies and wards it may well be right for us to do likewise. This will not be an easy process. It is easy to say what we don’t like rather than we jointly agree on. Somewhere however there is sufficient common ground for some joint working between us.
Lastly what do we make of the pantomime donkey of British Politics, UKIP? Well I chose the Donkey analogy because the front legs and the head are always going to be Farage. This month’s back legs and tail is someone called Paul Nuttall. Let me make three things clear. He doesn’t come from Liverpool; he wasn’t a professional footballer and he hasn’t got a PHD all claims that seem to have been made by him or for him in the very recent past.
In fact he comes from Bootle and appears to be making a pitch to become the MP for Leigh. This is a constituency which Labour expect will be vacated when Andy Burnham becomes the Metro Mayor. But it is not the only seat where such expectations are held. Next door to his home turf in Bootle is the Walton Constituency part of which will be added to by Bootle wards if the boundary changes take place. Labour expect to hold a bye-election there if they were to win the Liverpool Metro-Mayor contest. If Nuttall had any guts how would fight his home patch. But of course he won’t. UKIP got 2% of the vote in Liverpool last year although they almost beat the Tories which really is not difficult to do here!!
So that’s my summary of the political scene as I sit around WITH NO DELIVERING TO DO on a crisp, cold Sunday. But we have got 40,000 Christmas Cards just arrived which need stuffing into envelopes and delivering so I’ll get on with that.
My message above all to Sarah Olney MP and the 40,000 other people who have joined our Party since May 2015 is get on with it. This is your Party and the future and its beliefs look to me to be very safe in your collective hands! As I look at people like these candidates, Daisy Benson and Daisy Cooper and in Liverpool Joe Harman; Steve Atkinson; Leo Evans and Kris Brown I know that I can last aspire to one more job in politics. Elder statesman!!!