Lib Dems – The Party of stubborn eccentrics!!

The deaths and impending death of people I have known for more than 40 years in the Party has made me realise why I’ still going when easier paths were available.

I will be going to two funerals of long-standing Lib Dems in the next couple of weeks.

On 4th January it will the service at St Barnabas, Penny Lane, for Martin Hudson whose biggest claim, in my view, to distinction is recruiting my wife Erica to the Party. At a date to be determined it will be the funeral of Roger Johnson who was part of the original Liberal breakthrough on to the council in 1973.

Earlier this year I could not attend the funeral of just about the first ‘important’ person that I met as a Young Liberal, (Lord) Tony Greaves. On Monday we were told by Erlend Watson on Facebook that he had between 3 and 6 months to live.

Two of these come from Liverpool, one from the Pennine Hills and Erlend from Orkney where he has asked to be interred. One was a book seller, one an architect, one was a lecturer and Erlend worked for the Party professionally for most of his working life.

So, they lived in different areas, earned their living in different ways. Two of them had been elected. Tony to Lancashire County Council and Pendle District Council and Roger to Liverpool Council where he then became Lord Mayor. Two were content to be behind the scenes people. Martin in Liverpool 15 and Erlend travelled the Country in a variety of roles.

What they had in common was a fierce belief in liberalism where each of them worked on our behalf for more than 40 years and the cases of Roger and Tony for more than 50. Each one of them could have had an easier and more successful political life if they had chopped and changed their views and supported another political party.

But not one of them wavered an inch. It wasn’t a case of ‘my way or the highway,’ but rather a fierce determination that, ‘my way’ was right. That there was no point in joining another Party that was not committed to our own liberal core beliefs of people power, environmental action, internationalism, civil liberties and the fair distribution, of the Country’s and the World’s resources.

In practice, we are one of the most successful Liberal Parties in Europe, but our electoral system holds us back. For example, our sister Party in Germany, the FDP, got the same 11.9% of the vote at their last Federal election as we did in 2019. Yet they have 4 key Ministries including the Finance portfolio. In Liverpool, we get 20% of the votes but only 13% of the seats.

There is occasionally an advantage to being an underdog. When people tell us, ‘you’re all the same. You’re in it for yourselves”. We can easily respond, “What’s in it for us being a Lib Dem?” There’s no easy path to power to greatness and riches. It’s a hard slog to get elected and then a hard slog to continue to be an elected representative.

Our political DNA tells us that getting elected is the easy part. We really do believe in, “All year-round service and action” In fact as I’ve been writing this, I’ve had a phone call about the nonavailability of Covid tests and someone knocked at the door about problems with vandalism!

So, it strikes me that there are two things that unite ‘old lags’ like Tony, Martin, Roger, Erlend and me. We are all both stubborn and eccentric!! Why else would we slave away for such frugal political pickings? Why else would we go out in the rain delivering when there’s no election around the corner, but we need to get information out to our community about a pressing issue? Why else would we sit in Parliament or council chamber continually winning the argument but usually losing the vote.

I’m proud to be a Lib Dem. Tony, Martin, Roger and Erlend are more than just members of the same Party as me they are my political family. People I could trust and rely on. People who shared the same ideals. People who would turn up at the drop of a hat (even a Vince Cable hat!) because we needed to ‘carpet bomb’ a local or national by-election to win a vital ward or constituency.

Even in the dark years of the coalition I knew there was no where else to go. In April I will commemorate 55 years as a Party member and in May 39 years as a Liverpool Councillor. I have only been able to do that because of the support of my related family and my political family. This is the cause that I believe in and for which I will deliver as long as I can get a deliverer’s bag round my shoulder!!

It’s a great place to be. If you share those ideals of people power, environmental action, internationalism, civil liberties and the fair distribution, of the Country’s and the World’s resources there’s a new family waiting for you to join us. You can do so at www.liverlibdems.org.uk. Do as I did 55 years ago. You won’t regret it!

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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