Rt Hon Jo Grimond. One of the finest orators I have ever heard and a huge liberal in thoughts, principles and practice
Okay it is confession time. For the past 18 months I have been lurking in the Lib Dem Newbies Facebook page at the request of the notorious Daisy Benson. Some of you might have guessed that I am not quite a Newbie but because I look so youthful you might not have appreciated just how long it is since I joined the Party. In fact today is the 50th Anniversary of my going to a meeting at the home a quite remarkable woman, Cllr Mrs Neva Orrell and signed up to be a Young Liberal. Do you know that although it has not been the easiest of paths to be a Liberal there is not one day in those fifty years (well perhaps just the odd one or two) that I have regretted joining up and serving my country by fighting for the liberal, democratic ideals which even Theresa May realises are at the heart of a successful UK.
Tim Farron and I have something in common. He too joined the Party at 72, Turpin Green Lane, Leyland. When I asked him recently how old he was when I joined his answer was minus 3! My revenge on him will be assured! But what a woman she was. It’s not too easy being a Lib Dem Cllr now when at our worst levels there have been 1,800 of us out of about 22,000 in England. Just imagine what it must have been like being one of just 300 Liberal councillors out of more than 50,000 which was the figure prior to the local government reorganisation in 1973.
The Liberal Party almost disappeared then only clinging on in a handful of seats because of local eccentricities or pacts. The greatest orator that I have ever personally heard Jo Grimond hauled us back from the brink of disaster and led our predecessors to the ‘sound of gunfire’.
My own personal highlights are linked to so many other people and events.
I went to my first Young Liberal Conference and got told off by Tony (now Lord) Greaves for being too noisy. He was a grumpy old bugger even then!
I rapidly became a “Jones Boy!” I was one of the earliest converts to the concepts and practices of Community Politics which I had voted for at a Young Liberal Assembly and then helped Sir Trevor Jones put into practice in Liverpool and elsewhere.
I was the organiser for David Austick when we won the Ripon by-election in 1973 on the same day that Clement Freud won the Isle of Ely.
I spent many hours helping Graham (now Lord) Tope become the MP for Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park. Printing leaflets for him and then sleeping on them on the back of a van taking them down to be delivered the next day.
I moved to Liverpool between the two General Elections in 1974 to become David (now Lord) Alton’s agent. Edge Hill was one of the three constituencies in the Country where the Liberal vote increased between the two elections.
Having arrived in Liverpool at the end of May 1974 I became a councillor at the beginning of May 1975. I gained a seat back from the Tories by 56 votes that we had lost in a by-election the previous summer. Just think there used to be Tories in Liverpool.
As a new councillor I was shocked by what I saw when I became responsible for the homeless. Liverpool was the first city in the Country to close the Common Lodging Houses exemplified in Orwell’s ‘Down and out in London and Paris’.
When I became responsible for housing as a whole we had the biggest housing cooperative programme in the whole of Western Europe. Every one of them forced through in the teeth of Labour opposition.
In 1998 we took overall control for the first time of Liverpool City Council. I remember following Mike (now Lord) Storey as he left BBC Radio Merseyside to go to the victory party leaving me to respond to a series of questions about policies that he announced that none of the rest of us knew anything about.
I then got my best ever job in 2005 when I became the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in local government and Vice Chair of the LGA. At 9.15 I was copied into an e-mail from the LGA. At 9.30 I got another e-mail in which I was an addressee and not copied in. That could only mean one thing, the previous Leader, Sir Chris Clark, had failed to gain a seat after moving to live in another County. Such is the brutal nature of electoral politics you are either definitely in or very definitely out! I was never actually elected as Leader at the LGA as the 4 times I was up I was returned unopposed.
And so it goes on to this day when a young man called Joe Harmer, has literally just knocked at my door to go delivering. We are going to get him elected to the Council in a bye-election on May 4th for Wavertree Ward.
Of course there have been downs. The elections where we didn’t make it. Going down to just 2 members of the Liverpool City Council from a height of 68. Until last May you had to be called Kemp, represent Church Ward and have a CBE to be a Lib Dem councillor. Now we are up to 4 councillors and whilst not yet firing on all 4 cylinders we are certainly looking forward to any elections in this City much more than the Labour Party.
As Frank Sinatra sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention”. So I won’t!
This Party has given me great friendships; great opportunities; a place from which I could do things for people and a spirit which has been unquenched in even the darkest times.
Even now I can deliver faster and longer than most 20 year olds and love the doorstep. Even now I look for new challenges within the Party and have just suggested new way of developing quick responses to Government Policy that seems to meet general approval.
Who knows what the future holds? Providing I’m healthy I will continue to look for new challenges in the Party I love to do good things for the City I love. As long as I have the person I love (the gorgeous and ever forgiving Erica Kemp) beside me I’m up for the fight.
I hope that all those 45,000+ people who have joined our Party recently will be able to look back in 20 years or even 50 and also say that they made the right decisions for themselves; their community and their Country as I am able to do today.