When I joined the Liberal Party in 1967, I did not do it because I wanted a career in politics or a safe seat. Just as well really as I would have been doomed to eternal disappointment. I joined because I wanted to ‘march to the sound of gunfire’ as Jo Grimond wanted us to. I wanted to see radical alternatives to the tired establishment Brylcreemed and three-piece suited men of the Tory and Labour Parties of the time, most of whom defined their view of themselves and society through the prism of the two world wars that shaped the 20th century.
Politics then was quite different than it is now. It was much more genteel and respectful and of course, did not have the 24 hour a day exposure of modern media. But it was far more tribal than it is now. (95% plus voted for the main two Parties. Liberals, if we were lucky got to a whole 3% in the opinion polls, the Green Party didn’t exist and the Scottish and Welsh Nationalist Parties were thought of as a fringe of Celtic extremists.
We started to move upwards then because we dared to be different. I joined the Young Liberals who were often described as the ‘’Red Guard’ and in some ways were more influential than the Party itself. We campaigned then for gay rights, when no-one else did, we campaigned to join the European Economic Community from day one. On these and others issues we began to create a distinctive niche in politics which was not centre ground in terms of lacking a radical edge but it was centre ground in the context of not being on the loony extremes of either the Labour or Tory Parties.
What also made us distinctive was our approach to the business of politics. We started to pound the pavements. We started to make policies discussed in remote Town Halls and the even more remote Parliament in Westminster relevant to the day to day life of people we aspired to represent.
Since the sixties there have been many surges in Liberal and then Liberal Democrat fortunes. In 2015 and 2017 we went down further than in most of my 52-year political lifetime. In 2015 we were within a few thousand votes of losing our Parliamentary Party (with the exception of Alistair Carmichael in Southern Scandinavia!) If that had happened, we would have become an irrelevance. We would, quite simply have died.
I am not going to recount the last 4 years but I simply want to say that it was the thin orange line of Lib Dem Councillors that held the line. In Liverpool it was a very thin line indeed. Just Erica and I with a very small team of supporters who turned the Party around.
Yes, Vince and our team did great things in Parliament but it was a resolute, tiny and very bloody stubborn core team that both held the line and then began slowly to move us forward leading to the situation now where we have a whole 10 councillors!
Our advances in parliamentary terms are always preceded by an advance in council seats and influence. That is why we will win EU seats tomorrow and why I have no doubt that former Lib Dem Councillor in Liverpool, Chris Davies will retake his seat in Brussels.
We have set ourselves some targets as a Council Group and as a Party in Liverpool.
- We must take our radical policies and be confident enough to shout them out in communities all over the Country. We don’t need new policies. Our policies are good. It’s just that we don’t tell people what they are!
We want to give greater powers to tenants in both the private and public sector. We want to push forward the public health agenda so that our NHS concentrates on keeping people well rather then getting them better. We want to make all the polices that the Council pursues include elements that contribute to a fight on the Climate Change Crisis which is the most important challenge facing the entire planet. We want to de-layer the bureaucracy which pervades our systems in Liverpool and the City Region. We want to provide Council tax payers with value for money for the huge council tax that they pay.
2. We must be angrier than we have been about the way our City is.
We’ve been a city which encompasses great poverty for most of the time that we have been a city. That poverty is getting more entrenched. There is too much inequality of opportunity with parts of our community almost giving up any aspiration to a better life.
It is absolutely unacceptable that there is a 12-year difference in life expectancy in the three miles that separate Liverpool 8 from Liverpool 18. We must mobilise our own and other resources from within the NHS; housing associations and other deliverers of services to address this scandal.
We must cut back the bureaucracy which is stifling innovation and the talent of local communities
We must urgently deliver a better education system than many of our children receive in the state system within our City. If you have a poor education you are highly likely to have a poor life and not just in financial terms.
These and more are the challenges I am setting myself and our team in Liverpool. That’s what I believe the Party needs to do nationally; and that is what I hope our national Leadership contenders will live up to in their campaigns.