So, the Lib Dems are surging. I have to say I have seen Liberal and then Lib Dem surges before! Normally we have surged and then retreated a little then surged and retreated a little. That was the pattern until the elections of 2015 and 2017. Why will this be different? How can you make it different?
Firstly, there is clearly one big difference between now and what has gone before. That is not just the mass exodus of Labour and Tory voters from them to other Parties but the mass exodus of Labour and Tory members to other Parties in the ballot boxes of the European elections. When it would appear that a majority of such members, never mind former members voted outside their tradition it is really is time to reflect on what that might mean.
So, there are two things that I would ask you to reflect on and answer in all the hustings meetings that you will be attending.
How do we make our policies work for the people who are most disadvantaged in our society? I have laboured for more than 45 years in one of the poorest cities in the UK. It didn’t matter too much which Government was in power in London places like Liverpool 8 always had high levels of poverty and benefits dependency. This was and is often accompanied by low aspiration and low educational standards.
How can we take our campaigns into those areas of disadvantage? Like all Parties we are largely a middle-class Party. We used to represent huge swathes of economically poor areas but, even in places like Liverpool, have largely retreated to the middle-class areas of our conurbations. In Liverpool the Labour Party are replacing authentic hard working, working class councillors like Sharon Sullivan, with Momentum warriors but they do, at least, still aspire to represent those economic deserts.
To me this is not a matter of tactics, electoral or otherwise, it is a basic representation of what I believe in. If our policies and actions don’t reach to those that need them most then what are those policies and our actions really for?
Our policies probably don’t need all that much change. After all the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointed out that our last manifesto for the 2017 elections was the most redistributive as it aimed to put back all the benefits cuts that the Tories had taken out from 2015/17 whereas the Labour Party after failing under Ed Milliband to vote against those cuts, refused to reinstate them under Jeremy Corbyn. Schools were largely protected under the coalition at the behest of the Lib Dem element and schools were targeted for extra support by the ‘pupil premium’.
The question to my mind is how bold we will be in picking out the elements of our housing, economic, environmental and education programmes, and others, to ensure that our commitment to the under privileged is clearly understood. This can be a win-win situation for all. It is actually cheaper to move people and communities from poverty than it is to keep them dependent. The problem is that this cannot be micro managed by macro managed and that macro commitment must be engaged in the long-term. The Blair Government tried and tried through a range of programmes with a plethora of initials such as SRBs CCs; CATS; DCs to change in 7 years problems that had taken 70+ years to build up.
Organisationally the bigger challenge is how do we move back into disadvantaged areas? I spent my first 21 years as a Councillor in two deprived wards before the boundary commission took away my ward and I was left representing the ward that I live in which is relatively affluent.
Until now we haven’t been able to even consider putting resources both financial and human as a Party into those areas in Liverpool or elsewhere. Being an inner or outer city councillor is extremely hard work and emotionally taxing. Lib Dems or councillors of any Party need practical support both politically and administratively when elected. We need to properly support the people we put I to such areas where the drains on people representing hard, deprived areas is even greater.
What help could and should the Party provide to Lib Dems venturing into those areas for what will be a bruising and long-term campaign? Are there any places where we can go for support as a Party which can in turn be passed through to these areas?
Lastly, there is a third question that I want to ask which I believe is directly relevant to the first of these questions. Can the poverty of places like Liverpool ever be solved if we are run by an elite in Westminster and Whitehall? If I look at every indicator of Government capital spending and tax breaks London and the South West get the cream and the rest of the Country gets the sour milk.
What will you do to spread the wealth and opportunities of the Country around so that we can all bot create and share in the wealth? The UK became strong because of ship builders in Glasgow, seamen in Liverpool; engineers in Birmingham; wool manufacturers in Yorkshire and cotton manufacturers in Lancashire. Traders and people all over the Country made huge contributions to our pre-eminence as a nation?
What do you suggest as the Lib Dem way to ensure that the Country moves forward because its regions and nation states move forward?
I am sure that you will be very busy in the next few weeks but if you did have time to respond to these questions I will guest blog your responses and try to get them as widely circulated as possible.
In the meantime, it’s been a great start to the contest. May the best Lib Dem win!