As some of us set off for the Lib Dem Conference in York for the next two days we were met with the e-mail from Vince saying that subject to there being no snap election he would stand down as Leader in May to allow for an early election for a new Leader. This was the right decision for him and the right decision for the Party.
Vince has played an incredible role in re-establishing the Party after the problems of 2015 and 2017. We are once again on the attack after Vince and his team stabilised the Party both politically and organisationally. Vince has appeared so often as the reasonable and knowledgeable voice of British politics as the House of Commons has descended into a political quagmire.
But now we need a new Leader to build on this great base. We are confident about making a good number of gains in the English local elections on May 2nd. We are adopting first rate candidates, at least half of which are women, for key parliamentary seats but we need a new face. The emergence of the Tiggers just might open up a new opportunity for those of us on the Centre-left to work together to change the system which has clearly broken down through the stresses of Brexit. A person who can build up national credibility and take us forward for at least two General Elections.
I hope to play my part in that revival by becoming the national President of the Party, following once again in the steps of my old friend and mentor the late Sir Trevor Jones. The President of the Party is responsible for the running of the Party largely in England but with important functions across the whole of the UK. I won’t be devoting a lot of time to this in the very near future because there are three more important things to do:
The first and most obvious one is that we either have to resolve not to leave Europe or work out how to deal with the consequences of having left. Of course, this all might have changed in the interval between you reading this and me writing it! Brexit will cast a long shadow over both our Country and politicians because of he way that it has been handled. Well done the Lib Dem First 11 for the splendid way they have thought and acted and our second 100 in the Lords have acted superlatively well but we will all have much to do in the coming few weeks and months whatever happens.
Secondly, we have the English local elections coming up on 2nd May and nothing but nothing should distract us from maximising our vote and maximising our number of councillors. In Liverpool we have already brought our numbers up from the absolute nadir of 2 to a more credible 8 and we are confident that will make more gains in May to enable us to challenge even more the incompetence and poor behaviour of Liverpool’s Labour Party.
Lastly what about those Tiggers. I’ve been through all this in the 80’s with the SDP and what we do in the next few weeks will need to be carefully handled. I have welcomed the formation of the TIG and have suggested that in Liverpool, we should step aside for Luciana Berger BUT they have not done well so far. They launched at the wrong time with insufficient preparation and are making little impact.
So why would I want to become Party President when I have never been a back-room boy before? Yes, I have been around the national scene for a long time having served on the FPC and still sit on the FPC for local government issues. I have been around Westminster politics for 22 years since I first took a leading role in the national body for local government. I was, of course, the Leader of the Lib Dem Councillors in England for 8 years which took me all over the UK and even further afield.
I don’t think that the Party President should be a back-room boy or girl. With only 11 MPs the Party President needs to be highly visible and I would pay tribute to the way that our Current President Sal Brinton has achieved that visibility despite tremendous challenges and difficult times.
There are three principal reasons that I will stand in October:
- I am angry that our Party is not as angry about the state of our Country as I believe we should be and not aggressive enough in promoting the policies which could cure those ills. Our policies are hugely radical. An education policy which puts learning before examinations; a health policy which puts prevention before cure; a housing policy which talks about homes and communities not buildings and estates; a drugs policy which talks about cures not retribution. Above all a policy of devolution which would rescue us from the metropolitan elites in Westminster and Whitehall.
- I believe that our Party needs to be delivered from our own metropolitan elite. Just look at the mess the Party has made about supporters etc. We seem unable to learn from the mess created by the £3 a vote scheme in Labour. There a huge number of new members have joined but most of them do nothing with a few engaging in extreme left politics whilst driving out the long-established and experienced members that keep the Party going.
- I believe that our Party will only become strong again on the backs of councillors. Both locally and nationally I have seen our Party ebb and flow. When times were bad it was the thin orange line of councillors who stood firm. When things went well the barricades from which we advanced were manned by the self-same councillors. Our Party HQ is too much a part of the Westminster bubble to appreciate the strength of the way forward led not just by PPCs but underpinned by councillors.
Some might think that as I am now of retirement age, I should get out the slippers and cardigan. Some in Labour might even hope for that! But I am not a retiring sort of person. Whilst I am still angry about the way our City and our Country is run I still be there fighting for our great liberal cause and working for a new, better liberal society.