Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Time to step up to the plate

I joined the Liberal Party during the 1987 General Election campaign, did my first canvassing in Chris Abbott's ward, featured in the local paper for having an Alliance poster up while my Dad had his Tory one up and my brother put a Labour one up.

My first conference was the Liberal Assembly in Harrogate that same year, the last full Liberal Assembly as merger was on the cards, and met, amongst others, Chris Rennard, Arnie Gibbons and several other Leicester folk for the first time.

I went to Leicester University, lost lots of elections as a Social and Liberal Democrat, and kept track of the opinion polls which had us as low as 4%. I supported Paddy's leadership campaign and later organised a visit to Leicester by him.

I got involved in local politics, helped get Arnie elected as Leicester's first out gay councillor in 1989, stood in local elections in 1991 (vote up from 4% to 17%) and 1993 (up again from 17% to 33%), and steadily helped build up Lib Dem strength in the City. Ireturned years later to help with the Leicester South seat in a by-election.

After several years of slog in the Students Union I eventually got elected to a sabbatical post (by 8 votes after two rounds of transfers), got several other Lib Dems elected with me and , two years later was elected Union President and to the NUS National Executive, achieving a heck of a lot for the students I represented along the way. I ended up attending 13 NUS Conferences in all and became good friends along the way with, amongst others, Tim Farron, Jeremy Browne and Ed Fordham.

Not knowing what to do next, Chris Rennard (him again) asked me to work for the then newly merged Lib Dem Youth & Students. I did that for nearly two years and, I hope, helped establish the organisation as a force for good within the party and substantially increased its membership.

I then got asked by a young Oxfordshire doctor to go and be his agent, which I did. I helped the party win control of the Vale of White Horse District Council and Abingdon Town Council in 1995 and to steadily gain seats in Oxford City and Kidlington. We then went on to elect that young doctor, for it is he, Evan Harris, to Parliament in our breakthrough year of 1997.

I also got elected to Oxfordshire County Council and served eight years, three of them in a coalition cabinet with the Tories.

I stood for Parliament in Wantage in 2001 and nearly clawed us back to 2nd place.

I worked for the Campaigns Dept for a good few years as a Campaigns Officer and latterly as Deputy Director of Campaigns, slogging my guts out in by-elections from Hartlepool to Henley and some we won too, before climbing back down the career ladder to become constituency organiser again after a difficult year of floods and pneumonia.

I ran, or helped run, more European election campaigns than was good for me.

Why this tedious history now?

Because my motivation through these 23 years has been to get Liberal policies implemented, and to fundamentally change the way our political system works to one based on consensus.

And now it looks like we are starting to do just that.

So to those Lib Dems who are angry, or upset, or confused, or thinking they have wasted their effort I say this:

The inevitable consequence of what we have been campaigning for for decades is that we would end up having to share power with others that we disagree with.

The inevitable consequence of sharing power is that we have to be willing to compromise, and those we share power with have to be willing to compromise too.

And the inevitable consequence of holding power is that we will be judged. Not on the basis of who we choose to share power with, but on the basis of what that sharing of power delivers for the people of this country.

It looks like we are now in a position to implement several of the key priorities we set out during the election campaign, and which I, as a member of the Federal Policy Committee, was proud to help develop.

We may be on the verge of proving that the kind of politics we have argued for from the sidelines, for sixty years now, can work.

It is incumbent on all of us to help ensure that it does.

I, for one, relish that challenge.


Tony Brett said...

That's very well put Neil. I greatly value hearing the views of a long-standing and extremely committed party activist and staff member so thank you.

Keith House said...

Spot on Neil. There's a fundamental change of mindset needed by Liberal Democrats trained for permanent opposition, and for voters trained for permanent confrontation between parties. Not all will survive that journey, but the more that do, the better for democracy.

Anonymous said...

A long and rather self-obsessed justification, if I may say so as a causal reader - and in the past Lib Dem voter - which avoids the real issue: the problem isn't compromise, but the alarmingly wrong compromise your leaders have just negotiated: not confidence and supply or something of that but full blown political collaboration with the Tories.. Hague, Duncan-Smith sitting with Lib Dems to wield the axe.

I guess it is your party and your can move right if you want to - Liberals are free market right wingers in Holland where Clegg has family roots and other places - but please spare us (and yourselves) this bullshit avoiding-the-issue navel gazing and face openly and clearly to what you've done as a party.

Liberal Neil said...

Dear Anonymous,

All readers are welcome to comment, even 'causal' ones.

The post was written partly as a riposte to those people who are saying 'I'vw worked XX years for this party and I think it's a disgrace' etc. My posts do not routinely included a potted autobiography!

The problem with going down the 'confidence and supply' route would have been that we would not have a Goverment that was intending to raise the basic tax allowance, to put more money behind the poorest school pupils and to stop the inhumane policy of locking up the children of asylum seekers.

If you define this as 'a shift to the right' then we clearly operate on a different political spectrum.

Any Government that takes over at this point is going to have to wield the axe, the debate is when and how.

There has been a good dal of compromise on both sides, and that is how it should be.

David Fleming said...

I think you put it well, Neil. If folks did not want to envisage a coalition with the conservatives, why the heck campaign for proportional representation every election?

DMc said...

Hi Neil,

I noticed you didn't mention your hustings speech in 6th form college in your historical section. (For the record, it went "I'm Neil Fawcett, I'm as ugly as sin. Vote for me.")

You can mail me at
if you want to have a chat.
BTW I found you by accident, following a link from David Colquhoun's Improbable Science blog.

All the best,


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