Monday, 20 August 2007

20 Years A Liberal - A Walk Down Memory Lane Part 3

Nice to get mentioned in dispatches again on Lib Dem Voice even if it is suggested that I'm becoming a bit of an old codger! Youth is wasted on the young.

Part 2 focused on the General Election and local elections in Birmingham where I sadly failed to make history. It wasn't the end of the matter for me though that year. I still kept on going as an activist helping to get the leaflets out around Perry Barr and helped others in Kingstanding and around the houses to have a go.

Before going on, defective memory that I have, I had forgotten that my first taste of by-electioneering had happend in 1990 at the Mid-Staffordshire By-Election where we tried to get Tim Jones elected (widely seen as the best candidate and certainly a lot better than Sylvia Heal the appalling Labour identikit candidate).

I remember visiting the by-election with Grant Williams of Walsall fame. The power station at Rugeley was such an appealing view! Grant and I went and did some leafleting and a bit of canvassing during the course of the by-election but it was fairly obvious that it wasn't going to be a Lib Dem gain.

1992, far from knocking the stuffing out of me, filled me with a terrible resolve that I would keep on going until I was successful. I have always remained convinced that Liberalism has so much to offer the British people and I have never lost that belief.

1993 was a non-election year and Ray Hassall was up for re-election in 1994. Unfortunately I had to get a job and started applying for academic jobs. I was fortunate to get a lecturing post at Staffordshire University in economics but this necessitated my moving to Stafford for a while whilst I worked in Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent. After my first marriage, I moved to Warrington and commuted from there. It was then that I got involved again in the political scene.

I became Vice Chair of Warrington local party and began campaigning with David Earl initially. The skills in focus production that I had gained from working with Tony Slavin, Ray Hassall, Jonathan Hunt and Kevin McCarthy came in very handy as David and I and later Peter Walker began to campaign around Burtonwood Village and the Westbrook and Callands parts of North Warrington (the bit that used to be in Lancashire before 1974). We had to cover the bigger area first as it was one big ward. With the advent of the unitary authority the Burtonwood ward was split into Burtonwood and Westbrook and Callands. This was a bit of a relief for us as Burtonwood was as Labour as it comes. Westbrook and Callands was mainly new housing and looked promising territory for the Liberal Democrats. However, we hadn't reckoned on the untimely demise of John Smith, the Labour leader and the rise of New Labour.

Votes that would traditionally have gone to us went to Labour. Ironic really as the Labour candidates were about as Old Labour as you could get. It also didn't help that poor David seriously hurt himself a little bit before the election in 1995 and yours truly had to do a fair bit of the leafleting himself (shades of Oscott Ward there).

We put up a good fight but came bottom of the poll behind the Tories which was a disappointment. After I moved out of the area, David kept plugging away at it and now the ward seems to be becoming solidly Lib Dem (seems to be the story of my life!).

I also did a bit to help Phil Clarke who was the Lib Dem PEPC for Cheshire East during the 1994 European Elections. It was a modest breakthrough for the Party with two seats, but still a disgrace as it was fought under FPTP when everyone else in the EU was using PR.

Unfortunately my job was coming to an end at Staffs Uni in 1996 and so I applied for a job at Durham University and started commuting between Warrington and Durham. Living in both places with a demanding job didn't really leave me much time for the politics and although I had considered reapplying to be on the list of approved candidates (the 1992 list had been scrapped - there were too many mad, bad and sad parliamentary candidates for the comfort of the party) I didn't really feel that I could in the circumstances I faced. My father's untimely death in September 1996 not long after I begun working at the University of Durham also had a profound effect upon me. More than I realised at the time.

I therefore didn't play a particularly significant role during the 1997 General Election much beyond delivering a few leaflets and going out to vote. 1997 also saw my role at the Small Business Centre at Durham University change and I got increasingly involved in working in Central and Eastern Europe. This was interesting in that it gave me exposure to a number of different countries and their politics in a short space of time. On the other hand it meant that being away so much reduced my active involvement for a time in British politics.

I enjoyed the '97 General Election result as much as any Liberal Democrat. At long last we were starting to become a more significant voice in British politics. I have to say though that I am deeply disappointed that Paddy Ashdown ever thought he could do a coalition deal with Blair. My experience of Labour in the North West of England, and particularly Warrington Labour Party had shown to me the ugly face of the Party. It was a face that would rapidly re-emerge soon after September 2001.

I believe that for too long the Liberal Democrats Front Bench were pulling their punches when Labour should have been floored time after time.

In 1998 I moved to Durham full-time and got my personal life sorted out before moving forward to actively re-engaging in politics again.

The Durham years will follow in the next part.

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