I have been out and about all this week doing work for some of the Party’s controlling Council Groups but also helping at the Tiverton & Honiton by-election. It was in the Tiverton HQ that the person who first recruited me to the Young Liberals, Dave Hewitt formally accepted responsibility for the havoc I have created since. I think (hope) that he was joking!
I have always thought that the ‘family’ aspect of our existence is unique amongst the British political parties. If you want to climb the greasy pole to great office, you do not join the Lib Dems. That means that we do not look upon each other as a potential internal opponent. By and large we like each other’s company and remain committed to a set of core beliefs that are also unique.
The ‘family’ has held us together in the unsuccessful times. Let us face it there have been far more of those times than times when we could think, hope or dare that we might be the next Government. At these times we are a bit like the Millwall supporters’ club with their motto, “no-one loves us, we don’t care”
The Tiverton and Honiton by-election has brought Lib Dems from literally all over the UK to help Richard Foord across the line. My venture south-westwards was a minor effort compared to the people who had come down from the North of Scotland. People have given up their holidays, paid for travel food and accommodation to be here at this family gathering with a purpose.
It was a delight to see people I have known for decades still turning up. Less hair and less teeth perhaps but still the same determination to bring liberalism to the British people. “How are you? “Where did we last meet?” questions peppered the air along with “Remind me, when your first by-election!?” Mine is 1969 by the way when we got Alderman Wallace Lawler elected for Birmingham Ladywood.
But for most of the week I was working with the Cabinets of three Lib Dem led councils. Teignbridge District, Torbay Borough, and Wokingham. Last month I was in Durham with the Lib Dem led Group there. All four are in very different stages of the control cycle.
In Wokingham, the new Lib Dem Cabinet was voted in only three weeks ago with the passive support of Labour and Independents. Clive Jones leads them. In Durham, a four Group Durham Partnership has Amanda Hopgood as Council Leader. They have been running the Council for a year. In Teignbridge District they are now in the last year of a four year and Alan Connett leads a Lib Deb Dem Cabinet with one Tory in it. At the same stage are Torbay Borough where Steve darling leads a formal partnership with the Independent Group.
Torbay is a notable example of the Lib Dem family. Steve has minimal sight and a Guide Dog. Mandy Darling, his wife, has no sight and a Guide Dog. She has just taken on the minimal role of being the Civic Mayor for a year. Great people and 101% commitment.
Although circumstances were so different these groups had so much in common. There drivers are a pragmatic approach to politics and political power. The range of partners and partnerships is interesting. What is possible in one place – working agreement years ago! between Labour and Lib Dems would be impossible in Liverpool where I think I can see no way we could ever work with a Party that has wreaked so much damage to our City. Of, course we could never work with the Tories. The last Tory in Liverpool was elected 28 years ago.
All four groups are champions of the principle that they are controlling the people’s assets because it was the people that put them there. They champion community involvement and leadership and seek to involve residents in management and control of public assets.
They are all seeking ways in hugely differing circumstances to increase the amount of quality public sector housing. They seek to provide low-cost housing wherever possible which at times brings them into conflict with both developers and Government.
They believe passionately in the preservation of the environment seeking ways to use their planning roles, their budgets, and their public leadership to bring forward ideas relating to better use of land, solar generation and similar.
They champion the needs of the most deprived and in Torbay have totally transformed an appalling service to children which has now been rated good.
Their way of working too is vastly different. Not for the first time I have had to warn a Chief Executive that the new Leader and Cabinet would behave very differently from the last lot. No popping into the council now and then by people who just want to be something. Instead, they have a highly active group of Leaders who want to do something.
So, I might be biased but I have spent the week with people I like who are doing things that I like. I look at my own Group in Liverpool and can say the same. A band of committed liberals who seek no easy paths to glory.
Lib Dems now control as many councils as we did prior to 2010 and the ‘great falter.’ Next year we will gain even more and will have more people living with Lib Dem administrations bringing them value for money and a pragmatic, inclusive approach.
This is my family, my Party, and my tribe. Whilst I still have some remaining marbles and can get out my delivery bag and stuff the Focus through the doors I will do so because I am sure I am in the right Party, doing the right things in the right way.