Tuesday, September 20, 2011

#ldconf Monday: In which the veterans demonstrated their resilience

Why Paddy, Lynne, Vince and Tim are so resilient

Those of us who got involved in the party around the time of merger will have had a lot of sympathy with Paddy's recollection of the period we registered as an asterix in the opinion polls.

I joined the Liberal Party in 1987 and became active as the parties were merging and remember keeping track of opinion polls in which we bumped along at 4% or so, competing with the continuing SDP and the Greens.  As Paddy pointed out there was one month when the pollsters couldn't find even enough supporters for us to get a score at all.

I remember several NUS conferences in the few years following where a small Lib Dem grouping which included Tim Farron, Jeremy Browne and several other now veteran party campaigners when the national party was, frankly, seen as a joke.  I also remember organising a couple of visits by Paddy to Leicester as part of the party's strategy to get anyone to notice that he and the party actually existed.

The first set of elections I was heavily involved with was the 1989 County Council elections in Leicester.  Although we gained the East Knighton County Council seat (Bob Pritchard) and one of the City Council seats in a by-election (Arnie Gibbons), the results across the country were pretty dire.

We regained some of our credibility by holding our own in several rounds of local elections and then by avoiding a complete disaster in the 1992 General Election. Not long afterwards I remember going to speak at a Haringey Lib Dems AGM, attended by Lynne Featherstone amongst others, at a point when the Lib Dems had not even one councillor in that borough.

We had a few by-election successes which got us taken a bit more seriously (for which my noble friend Chris Rennard deserves much of the credit) but it wasn't really until the 1997 General Election got going that we really found our feet.

And that explains why so many of our party's leaders and activists, much to the surprise of many in the media, are far from depsondent.

Those of us who slogged through that tough ten years from after the '87 election through to our breakthrough in '97 don't see a temporary dip in the polls 18 months into Government as something to be gloomy about. 

If anything it is encouraging that the polls seem to be showing a slight upturn already given the economic situation and the tough decisions that have had to be taken.

Our activists are a pretty resilient bunch, and the response to the difficult year we've just had will be to redouble our campaigning efforts and re-engage with the communities we seek to represent. We are acheiving a lot, and by the next general election we will, as always, come out fighting.

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