Introducing Libby Local, Episode 1: “I wasn’t going to be a Lib Dem”

I’m Libby, I’m local – to Demsbury and Libbyshire at least – and I wasn’t going to be a Lib Dem. I guess I have to blame that on Melissa, a dyed in the wool Conservative who I occasionally drink a half-bucket of Pinot Grigio with.

I’ve always stuck my head above the parapet rather than lay low. In the last couple of years, friends have suggested I become politically active. I have been listening to local voices, voices that are mostly ignored – voices that I could help get heard. Of late, I find more and more people fed up to the back teeth with officials and councillors in that great 1960s’ monstrosity called County Hall. They are fed up with the council saying it knows what is best for all of us – even when it so obviously doesn’t.

Okay. It’s idealistic to think that I might be able to change things. But things have to be changed. That I am sure of.

I’m a governor of a primary school. Libbyshire Council is driving a financial bulldozer through it. Our aim as governors is to give our children the best start in life. Many of them don’t even get a decent breakfast in the morning. After the council’s cuts, it’s going to be hard to give these kids the education and support that should be everyone’s as of right.

I can’t stand by anymore. I decided some time ago that I would stand as an independent liberal for Libbyshire Council in 2013. That was the easy decision. I’m now hoping to stand as a Lib Dem. That was a hard decision to make.

The Libbyshire Lib Dems had already asked me to join them. I’d loved to think it was ‘talent scouting’ but I am perhaps more realistic in thinking it was desperation. But I was flattered and the more I talked to local Lib Dems, the more I wanted to be part of a bigger discussion. I was well caught up with the collegiate nature of the way they worked. It was all going well until…

Until the Nick Clegg apology.

I heard nothing but a barrage of derision from friends in the market cafe the day after. Melissa tweeted something too rude about him to repeat. It was the pits. I decided to be an independent candidate after all and popped into the Market Tavern for a quick slug of Pinot Grigio as a consolation. Melissa was holding court at the bar, gleefully showing a video on her iPhone of Clegg allegedly singing.

I slipped into a corner. She joined me and I poured out my misery. How could I stand for the Lib Dems after this? But how could I abandon my dreams to give voice to people whose voices are being ignored?

What Melissa said in reply was this. I’m a Tory. My family know no other politics. But I so believe in your conviction that I’ll vote for you. And so will my family. They will do as I tell them!

It was the vote of confidence I needed. I popped my application to be a Lib Dem candidate for Demsbury Central in the post an hour later. The next morning I received a phone call from James, the local chairman, asking me to appear before the selection panel on Wednesday.

Oh help! I am so ill-prepared. Wish me luck.

Libby

* Libby Local is based on real events. Details have been changed to protect the innocent and disguise the guilty. Libby’s passion and determination, along with her angst and frustration, are set to be a regular feature of Lib Dem Voice as the May 2013 elections approach. You can catch up with all Libby Local's episodes to date by clicking here.

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45 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Oct '12 - 12:37pm

    “Libby Local”

    Of late, I find more and more people fed up to the back teeth with officials and councillors in that great 1960s’ monstrosity called County Hall. They are fed up with the council saying it knows what is best for all of us – even when it so obviously doesn’t.

    Assuming that “Libby” is meant to be an average Liberal Democrat, the suggestion here is that the main thing that motivates Liberal Democrats is opposition to elected democracy. The subtext here seems to me that local councils are by their nature bad dominating things. We know where this argument usually leads – to calls to privatise the lot. put it all into the hands of businessmen, low tax minimal state solutions to everything, the view that instead of proudly singing about the ballot in our hand, we should deride democratic solutions and instead sing about the ten pound note in our hand (where, unlike the ballot, some people have a great many more in their hands than others).

    So, I am already concerned that whoever is writing this stuff is part of that force trying to push our party to the far economic right.

    Now actually, maybe “Libby” is living in some rarified world with her Conservative yummy mummy friends, husbands all out earning big money as City fat cats, so for her and her like, government really is the biggest evil, and the prospect of rule by businessmen as an alternative is great because it;s rule by “people like us”. That’s not the world most of us live in.

    I don’t myself find most people live such pleasant lives that the main thing they moan about is “officials and councillors in County Hall”. Most people moan more about being unable to find a job being unable to afford anywhere to live, and the unfairness of a society where a small few seem to be greatly rewarded for the jobs they do, while others who work just as hard (but in manual labour rather than shifting large sums of money around in some sort of computer game) get paid a pittance. Funnily enough I don’t find people saying they “are fed up with the council saying it knows what is best for all of us, because the council does not feature that much in their lives. Contrary to what “Libby” is saying, the council does not dictate what goes on in schools. It’s national government, with its national curriculum and endless mucking about with the national qualifications that’s doing that.

    When “Libby” writes

    I’m a governor of a primary school. Libbyshire Council is driving a financial bulldozer through it. Our aim as governors is to give our children the best start in life. Many of them don’t even get a decent breakfast in the morning. After the council’s cuts, it’s going to be hard to give these kids the education and support that should be everyone’s as of right.

    I have to wonder “what planet are you living on?”. Libbyshire Council has the money which the national government lets it have, that’s it. The national government is run by a Conservative-LibDem coalition. To blame it all on Libbyshire Council, as if somehow that council could raise huge amount more but chooses not to is just, well, I’d not have recommended Ms Local to be a candidate, certainly not in a winnable seat, I think we do need people who have some idea on what’s going on in the political world.

    I suppose in Ms Local’s yummy mummy environment, it’s a mystery as to why kids are going to school without a proper breakfast. Ms Local has no idea what it is to be unable to find work. Ms Local has no idea what is is to be unable to pay the mortgage, or to live in cramped accomodation because one can afford nothing better, and council housing no longer exists as a possibility for most people who can’t afford to buy their own place. Rather than moaning about the council, shouldn’t Ms Local be turning her ire to the government – which is planning cuts in welfare spending, even to the point of punishing people for having another kid (I wonder how Mr Duncan Smith reconciles this with his Catholicism – aren’t Catholics supposed to be opposed to the obvious solution to this?) – and so is likely to push even more kids to turn up at school breakfastless?

  • I find a lot of people on local doorsteps want more local shops and vibrant communities. Not dealt with by either the article (which in itself is not a bad idea) or the comment above.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Oct '12 - 9:34pm

    Louise Shaw

    I find a lot of people on local doorsteps want more local shops and vibrant communities.

    Yes, but local councils don’t actually have the power to open up shops. The reality is that while people will say they want local shops, when those local shops exist they won’t actually use them, which is why those local shops are closing down because no-one can make a profit running them.

    I remember when I was a councillor sitting on planning committees, permission to turn a local shop into a takeaway was one of the most common items of business. Often you’d get people come along to object to it saying things like “Why can’t it be a butchers/bakers/greengrocers/etc like it used to be?” as if somehow the council could force someone to take it up and run such a business and subside them to keep it open. The real answer to their question (not that I was ever careless enough about my prospects for re-election to say it) was generally “Because when it was, you never shopped there, you shopped at the big supermarkets, so it closed down because its won couldn’t afford to keep it going”.

    On “why can’t we have vibrant communities?”, well the answer may be because we have a work-your-guts-out culture, promoted heavily by the current government which leaves people too exhausted to do all that is necessary to keep their communities vibrant. If you work strict 9-5 hours in order to give time to being involved in your local amateur dramatic society, running the scout troop or whatever, chances are you’ll be first in line for redundancy and last in line for promotion. I know in my job, endless targetting pushed down by government means I’ve had to give up active involvement in local politics and other community things, because it meant my job was at risk.

  • Ed Shepherd 30th Oct '12 - 6:44am

    In decades of talking about politics with people in a large regional city and it’s surrounding suburbs, I cannot recall one person ever tell me that they are “fed up to the back teeth with officials and councillors in that great 1960s monstrosity called County Hall”. On the contrary, I have met many people who wish that the council would intervene more in order to help sort out some of the day to day problems that affect them, such as crime and help for those in need of care. Even that type of complaint is much rarer than the day-to-day problems caused by un(der)employment, low wages and job insecurity. Quite how the fictional Libby thinks she is going to solve the problem of children going to school without breakfasts is beyond me. There may be many causes of that problem: low incomes, family breakdown and lack of health education are just some of them. How does Libby intend to address those problems? How does she intend to reverse the council’s cuts? Is she going to support tax rises? Which taxes? When? What will he pinot grigot drinking friends think when she asks them to pay more tax? Are they going to get “fed up to the back teeth” when she asks them to pay more tax to provide the poor kids with breakfast?

  • Ed Shepherd 30th Oct '12 - 8:24am

    So is the local council stopping the school governors from starting a school breakfast club?

  • Bravo Matthew Huntbach. I stronly suspect that the Libbyites do not understand either local government or Education finance. Those of us at County Hall may sometimes be wallies but we are elected wallies.

  • Steve Griffiths 30th Oct '12 - 10:25am

    Well it’s all a bit ‘Aga Saga’ really and probably says more about the background of the writer/writers than anything else. Not all Lib Dem councillors or candidates come from from nice middle class backgrounds, some of us were Lib Dem councillors raised in council houses and had never heard of Pinot Grigio. Now a story about a budding Lib Dem candidate struggling against predjudice from his or her beer drinking Labour and trade union mates down the pub, whist they campaigns against bad housing, a drugs problem and the cutting of local youth club funding, would be a story…

  • I think some of you are taking ‘Libby’ all too seriously, and wasn’t she really mocking the Pinot Grigio set? Didn’t you hear the irony in her tone? Ok, so she’s a bit of an ‘air-head’, but come on!
    As an item I found it well written and thought provoking, not trying to offer any solutions, other than ‘if you care then stop whining, get off your backside and do something’. Start by standing up to be counted, put your name forward to represent your community, and whilst a councillor or a school governor can’t achieve some of the things needed, at least by being there, pushing at the half closed door of progress, one can set an example to those who just wait for others..
    Well said, Libby, lets hear some more..

  • Steve Griffiths 30th Oct '12 - 11:18am

    peter

    “Didn’t you hear irony in her tone?”

    Didn’t you hear the irony in mine? Of course I get the point about getting off your backside and doing something; all very laudable and an excellent message to encouge more campaigners. That’s how many of us became elected Lib Dem councillors. The point I was making (and it’s not a small one) was that the Lib Dems should encourage people from ALL backgrounds, classes and social groups, not just from comfortable ‘Libbyshire’. Something I percieve that the party is increasingly forgetting.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Oct '12 - 2:01pm

    peter

    I think some of you are taking ‘Libby’ all too seriously, and wasn’t she really mocking the Pinot Grigio set?

    The point is that this article looks like “Libby” is meant to represent your typical LibDem activist. Yet she’s been given words which verge more towards what one would expect from an Ayn Rand fan than from a typical LibDem. That is words which seem to suggest a belief that elected politicians and state action are by their nature bad things, and that Liberal Democrats by their nature support the idea of a “minimal tax, minimal state” sort of system.

    So I am concerned that this article is just another part of that attempt to push our party away from what it used to be about towards this sort of extreme right-wing economics sort of politics, which used to be associated with people like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan who started the shift towards support for that sort of politics.

    If I were someone who wasn’t sure about the Liberal Democrats, but took a look at Lib Dem Voice to find out, reading that article would lead me to think “Oh, it really is true – the Liberal Democrats really have been taken over by advocates of what used to be called ‘Thatcherite’ economics”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Oct '12 - 3:26pm

    Mark Pack

    I do hope some of the commenters above are rather more welcoming to new possible activists in their patch than they have been in this thread.

    OK, but suppose Libby had been quoted as saying “Of late, I find more and more people fed up to the back teeth with the number of immigrants who have moved into Demsbury, and those do-gooders in the council who seem to care more about them then Demsbury-born people, who can’t get council housing because it always goes to the immigrants”?

    I hear a LOT of this sort of thing as well, from people from across the political spectrum, I heard it particularly in the ward I used to represent. People saying this sort of thing weren’t necessarily racist – they were just mixing naivety with bar room chat (encouraged by the right-wing press) with their own observations and frustrations. The political reality was more complex – council housing was not in the plentiful supply it was in earlier decades, and what little became available to be re-let had to be given to those in the most need from across the borough, rather than just to those local to the ward.

    So if the intention is to start off Libby as a little naive, repeating some of the truisms and rumours that circulate in her set, what if it was done in this way, particularly if it was decided to set Libby in the sort of inner suburban ward I used to represent?

    I think you would react with horror at an article that was introduced in this way, because even if your intention was to develop the character to become a little more rounded and knowledgeable, it starts off with someone you put up with a name that obviously means “Typical Liberal Democrat” expressing views that are contentious and politically biased, and to someone coming across this article might give the wrong impression over what is the main motivation of Liberal Democrats.

    If whoever wrote this article did not see the bias in it, as I said, a bias to a view of politics which is very much to the political right, then that is a matter of great concern. Our party at the moment is in a position where due to the coalition many people misunderstand it and perhaps do not understand that a coalition inevitably means compromise from our ideal within a government where we are jut the junior partner, but it does not mean we have changed our ideal in terms of what we would want if we were not under those constraints. Because it is important to correct the misassumption that we have moved massively to the political right it is even more important than it would be otherwise not to issue material which might, even mistakenly, support this misassumption.

  • Hi, Libby. Are you Craig Brown in disguise?

  • Liberal Neil 31st Oct '12 - 12:24am

    I am very impressed by Matthew’s ability to read this fairly lighthearted story of a school governor deciding to stand as a Lib Dem County Council candidate as part of some massive conspiracy to shift our party to the right.

    I also find it amusing that several people seem to have made all sorts of assumptions about what sort of person ‘Libby’ is that are not there in the article at all.

    Personally I would love to find more youngish school governors concerned about whether children are getting a decent breakfast who want to stand for us.

  • Andrew Suffield 31st Oct '12 - 6:43am

    I am very impressed by Matthew’s ability to read this fairly lighthearted story of a school governor deciding to stand as a Lib Dem County Council candidate as part of some massive conspiracy to shift our party to the right.

    The problem being the idea that everything should be judged by measuring its relative leftness or rightness in comparison to ones own position.

    Most people moan more about being unable to find a job being unable to afford anywhere to live,

    That seems quite unlikely, because the number of homeless people is tiny and the number of people who can’t find a job is under 8% of the economically active population.

    Ms Local has no idea what is is to be unable to pay the mortgage, or to live in cramped accomodation because one can afford nothing better, and council housing no longer exists as a possibility for most people who can’t afford to buy their own place.

    And now you’re into “making things up about people you don’t like, with no evidence whatsoever”.

    I’d not have recommended Ms Local to be a candidate, certainly not in a winnable seat, I think we do need people who have some idea on what’s going on in the political world.

    I know which one of you I would be saying, at a selection meeting, needs to be dropped even if it means we aren’t standing somebody for that seat. This kind of rigorous disregard for the concepts of evidence and facts is the sort of thing that loses us control of councils.

  • Iain Roberts 31st Oct '12 - 11:18am

    In my experience, good councillors come from all sorts of backgrounds and hold all sorts of political views. I know some superb local councillors who aren’t really political at all, just want the best for their community. I know people who had never knocked on a door before their own election campaign and went on to do great work. I know lifelong political people who are good councillors (and some who aren’t!).

    From the article, Libby seems to be someone who’s chosen herself to play a larger role in her community, and feels the Lib Dems are the party to work within to best achieve that.

    I wish her every success – she sounds like someone who will make an excellent councillor, especially with support and mentoring from more experience colleagues.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Oct '12 - 11:38am

    Andrew Suffield

    That seems quite unlikely, because the number of homeless people is tiny and the number of people who can’t find a job is under 8% of the economically active population.

    Oh, where do you live? I’d like to live there. Wherever it is, there are plenty of jobs available paying salaries which are enough to buy nice family sized houses, so non-one much worries about not being able to afford decent housing or the prospects of losing their job and not getting another. Perhaps there are places in the country like that, but they aren’t where I live (south-east London), nor where most of my family live (Sussex). Maybe there’s places up north where life is all wonderful, loads of jobs, cheap housing. Do tell, I know plenty of people who’d move there as they are desperate here down south due to high housing costs and unable to get good jobs.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Oct '12 - 11:42am

    Liberal Neil

    I am very impressed by Matthew’s ability to read this fairly lighthearted story of a school governor deciding to stand as a Lib Dem County Council candidate as part of some massive conspiracy to shift our party to the right.

    I have noted several things in the original article which indicate a pronounced political bias. If the intention is just to be lighthearted, it would be better to be cautious about this. As I have said, suppose the lighthearted throwaway comments mentioned dissatisfaction with immigration. Would you have still dismissed any concern about them in the way you have dismissed mine?

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Oct '12 - 11:22pm

    Mark Pack

    Matthew : Do you remember the talk I came and gave at Greenwich Lib Dems a year or so ago? During the discussion part of the evening you said that people should know how to be good local campaigners; anyone who needed help and training to understand what being a campaigner meant wasn’t up to it.

    That is a very considerable misrepresentation of the point I was making. I was saying that we need to have plenty of people with good strong experience of the sort of life that most people lead. I am concerned that we have too many people who come from a background where they find it difficult to understand what life is life for people on average incomes and so on. That is somewhat different from what you are claiming I said.

    You seem to me to be taking the same approach here – if someone doesn’t immediately meet your standards, then have a go, criticising and doubt whether they are a proper Lib Dem

    Sorry, no this is not all the point I am making. If whoever was writing this thing was put forward as a real person expressing their personal opinions, I would not have reacted in that way. I reacted as I did because this was put forward, and I assume it is the case, as fiction. But the name of the person “Libby Local from Dembury” clearly suggest we are supposed to think of this person as a typical Liberal Democrat, as illustrative of Liberal Democrat opinion in general. That is where I was concerned, because I detected a streak in this which sounded very much like the right-wing idea that all democratic politics is a bad, so we should reduce it as much as possible and move to having everything run by cash markets. So it did seem to me that putting this forward as the “typical Liberal Democrat” view was part of the process of pushing our party away from its historical position towards one which until recently was associated only with elements of the Conservative Party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Oct '12 - 11:34pm

    Mark Valladares

    But you’d have discouraged her, wouldn’t you, Matthew? Not a proper campaigner, perhaps not even a proper liberal. But she believed in making her community a better place and, as she grew to learn more about the Party, she realised that she’d found a philosophical home

    No, not at all. As I have already explained in response to Mark Pack, my concern here is that this is not just “a story” as you put it, but an attempt to present what makes Liberal Democrats in general tick.

    You and Mark Pack have not answered my question, so let me ask it again. This is just a story ok? It’s meant to be about someone who is maybe a bit naive and lacks knowledge of how things work, so perhaps utters a few things she’s picked up from general comment around her? Yes, fine, so what if “Libby Local from Demsbury” was written up as making a few remarks which had a bit of a racist tinge to them? Would you have reacted as you did to criticism of that?

    Look, if this was put down as “Sue Smith from Nowheresville”, I would not have objected at all. I might have thought the views a bit naive, but I’d have been happy to have waited to see how the story went on.

    That’s my point, and I think it was reasonably clear that was my point from the start. The fact that you and Mark Pack pretend you can’t see it and pretend I am cruelly criticising a real new recruit standing in front of me, the fact that you have deliberately avoided addressing what was my real concern, only adds to my concern that there is some ulterior motive here.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Nov '12 - 12:28am

    So, let’s look at this again:

    I’m a governor of a primary school. Libbyshire Council is driving a financial bulldozer through it. Our aim as governors is to give our children the best start in life. Many of them don’t even get a decent breakfast in the morning. After the council’s cuts, it’s going to be hard to give these kids the education and support that should be everyone’s as of right.

    So, all the problems in Demsbury are due to Libbyshire Council, which has a money tree somewhere it could very easily shake and bring loads of money to pay for high quality primary schools, buy all the kids hot breakfasts etc?

    This is an approach to politics I have been against ALL my political life. This idea that when you are in opposition locally you blame EVERYTHING that is difficult on the rotten local council and make out that if only you were in control of it, everything would be different. Now we know that’s not the case, don’t we? We know that all local authorities are under a big squeeze due to the economic difficulties in the country.We know that local authorities run within very tight financial bands which mean their ability to raise or lower spending is minimal.

    It seems to me this “dirty rotten local council,it’ll all be so very different when we’re in control” line is one of the things bringing politics in to disrepute. Because when the council does change control and nothing much changes in way of expenditure because the new controlling group face exactly the same budget pressures as the old one, people get cynical. People start thinking and saying “politicians are people who say anything to get elected, and then act just the same as all the rest once they are there”.

    It was a firm position of mine when I was Leader of the Opposition in Lewisham to run a constructive opposition. That is, I would not run a line where I would be throwing abuse at the majority group for doing thins which I knew actually were I leader of the council I would probably be forced to do myself. What I wanted to do was to explain the reality of the situation to the people of the borough and offer them a realistic alternative I knew we could deliver if we ever did take control, rather than attempt to win by throwing abuse and making unrealistic promises.

    Mark and Mark, was I wrong to do that? Because that is what you seem to be saying. You seem to be suggesting I should instead have taken the “Libby Local” line of attempting to get elected by blaming the council alone for “the cuts” and all other of life’s unpleasantries.

    In the position I was in, I often had to deal with naive new supporters who perhaps said things that were a bit silly or they didn’t realise had come to them via the right-wing propaganda in the newspaper they read (in my ward THE Sun was by far the most popular newspaper, judging from what I saw in the recycling bins it had more sales in the ward than all the other newspapers put together). Of course I did not slap such people down in the way you are suggesting I would do here (having, as I said, completely missed the point I was actually making).

    One of the biggest challenges I faced was that many of our supporters did express naive racist opinions. It was a mainly white council estate ward on the fringe of a multi-ethnic inner city borough, classic BNP territory.I am proud to say that we NEVER pandered to racism in order to win votes, but neither did we patronise our constituents by adopting a high and mighty approach to them which ignored the underlying concerns that sometimes came out as racism, or sometimes was just a matter of them not knowing the terms the political elite use to make the points they were trying to make. I am particularly proud that we saw off the BNP, and what was once a notoriously white racist part of the borough has progressed fairly peacefully to becoming much more multi-ethnic over the years, including electing as my successor Cllr Duwayne Brooks.

    So, where does this fit in with the image you’ve tried to paint of me here, misrepresenting the real concern I had with the original article? On the “yummy mummy” stuff, yes, it’s shorthand, but I don’t have time to write in more than shorthand. I do have a concern that our party comes across as a bit too much dominated by social elite types, and we don’t make enough effort to recruit those who don’t have the yummy mummy executive daddy lifestyle. I think if we did it would help us win more seats of the sort I used to represent. Of course I recognise the milieu this is trying to portray, the small prosperous town with its Melissas drinking Pinot Grigio in the Market Tavern. It’s not Downhan ward, but it’s not far removed from, say Burgess Hill where my mother lives. Classic LibDem territory – or used to be. What I hear from my relatives in Sussex who live in these sort of places frighten me, because they’ve lost all confidence in the Liberal Democrats. So sorry, but my concern about what is portrayed as “Libby’s” concerns, or rather what she seems NOT bothered about – all the right-wing stuff coming from THIS government we have now and the fear over loss of jobs and so on – do very much reflect what I hear coming from those places, that the Liberal Democrats have lost touch with the people and are now just a party for the wealthy elite. So I do react to a complacency which suggests the main thing that concerns us is what goes on in County Hall rather than the wider economic problems people are facing right now.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Nov '12 - 1:08pm

    Tom Oliver

    I am of the opinion if you believe in something, you have to stand up and fight for it.

    Yes, and this is just what I am doing here – I am standing up and fighting for what I believe in. I do see the party of which I have been a proud and active member being dragged away from me towards the economic right, and I’m not going to be pushed out of it without a fight. There is no other party for me, I’ve already been pushed out of active involvement in campaigning for the party by the way its leadership is undermining the sort of campaigning I would want to do and have done in the past – this is my last stand.

    OK, now when I first read this article I did think it was dreamt up by some wonk in central office, which is why I responded as I did. It does seem wonks with a fanaticism for free-market policies and a contempt for democratic politics seem to get places where those of us whose views are not so pleasing to those who fund the right-wing think tanks do not. So I did see a subtext here – the wonks trying to tell me what to think, trying subtly to push the view of the party their way. So let me put it again – my first impression of this article is that it did have a distinct “anti-politics” tinge, the idea that all politics is bad, that democratically elected bodies are always out to be nasty to people – which does lead and in this country has led to a drift of power away from democracy and towards big business. Sorry, I’ve enough experience to read subtexts, and I’ve enough history of getting it dead right to take risks when I think I see one. I’ve predicted enough presentational disasters coming from the top in our party in my time to have been worth a fortune had I been paid to do so and been listened to. Never mind anything more recent, at the very birth of our party I made a big stand, before anyone knew of its contents, my concern was purely in its provenance, against what became known as the “Dead Parrot” document.

    If “Libby” is actually a real person, newly joined the party, I would have addressed what is written here in a completely different way. If that person did not want to reveal his or her identity, a pseudonym would have been fine. However, the one chosen did suggest to me this was central office trying to tell me what the average Liberal Democrat is like, that is why I pointed out the flaws in the line taken.

    So, once again, “I’m a governor of a primary school. Libbyshire Council is driving a financial bulldozer through it”, oh COME ON! Everyone knows that councils are making cuts because they are being forced to do so by national government and its austerity measures. Most people with a bit of knowledge about local government know that control of local authority finance has reached the point that councils have almost no room to manoeuvre, so it really is a bit silly to put it as if it’s all the County Council that is to blame for any restrictions a local school feels financially. On the County Council dictating to others, well put alongside the school governor stuff that does sound a bit to me like a Tory (or David Laws (what’s the difference … :-) ) arguing for “Free schools” under the belief that Local Education Authorities “run” schools, which actually they do not – the Head and governors do, LEAs have almost no say on what goes on inside schools (national government has a big say, however, thanks to the National Curriculum). During the time I was Leader of the Opposition in my Borough, my wife was Chair of Governors in one of its primary schools, and I’d loved to have been able to get from her tales of interfering borough officials dictating to the school, but I didn’t because LEAs don’t work like that no matter how much top Tories and people who write in the national press say they do (probably because they send their own kids to private schools so don’t know how state schools really work). On the few cases where my wife needed to interact with borough officials she found they gave helpful advice and support.

  • Andrew Suffield 1st Nov '12 - 8:55pm

    OK, now when I first read this article I did think it was dreamt up by some wonk in central office, which is why I responded as I did.

    So what you’re saying is that the primary motivation of your posts is the chip on your shoulder.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Nov '12 - 12:36am

    Andrew Suffield

    So what you’re saying is that the primary motivation of your posts is the chip on your shoulder.

    Do you mean by this that if you have strong beliefs that’s firm and noble, but if I have strong beliefs its just a chip on my shoulder? I think I have spelt out very clearly my concerns, and how they link to my beliefs and principles.

  • Well said Matthew Huntbach!! When I read the article I had exactly the same reaction: why is she blaming the Council?? And is she going to be promising that things would be substantially different in terms of cuts if she s elected?

    “No more broken promises” anyone? !

  • Andrew Suffield

    It’s totally unfair to say that a concern about the party’s lurch to the right is ‘a chip on your shoulder” . Many Lib Dems are concerned about this and many people in the country are also disgusted by it. Are you not aware of this?

  • Phyllis – “lurch to the right” yadda yadda … I’m heartily sick of this tired cliche being trotted out. It is simply not true. Matthew made an excellent point that liberal economics is NOT right wing in another article. Can ee move on now, please?

  • Tabman

    What else is one to think when Vince Cable supports Osborne’s plans for share ownership in return for employee rights? You may be sick of it but that’s not a very compelling argument.

  • Geoff Crocker 3rd Nov '12 - 11:32am

    Like Mark, Mark and Libby local, I favour a light-hearted and fun element in political discussion. Against this, Matthew Huntbach’s objections seem over-serious, dour and Cromwellian. And this is the length of his ripostes when he writes in shorthand !

    Nevertheless I have to (grudgingly) admit that he has a general point. The use of humour, like TV soap opera, to convey underlying points of view which are thereby less open to challenge, is well established and extremely effective. The BBC did it to spread positive concepts of ‘free market social democracy’ in a Russian language radio soap.

    So if Libby local is going to be a regular item on LDV, Libby will have to accept some challenge to the points powerfully made in the humour.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Nov '12 - 1:11pm

    @Jedibeeftrix “I am trying to introduce the party to a section of the electorate it needs to appeal to”
    Tories? They’ve a perfectly suitable party of their own, two if we count UKIP, so why should we want our party to appeal to them as well? Surely the purpose of a political party is to represent a particular set of views and encourage people to join it, rather than inconsistently change its views solely to chase voters.

    P.S. I wonder how Libby fared with the selection panel.

  • Peter Watson – we tried appealing to labour voters and they all ran away at the first whiff of.gunpowder. Labours vote is relentlessly tribal, viz Browns 29%. We’ve got to appeal to the non voters and the non tribal.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Nov '12 - 10:10pm

    Tabman

    Peter Watson – we tried appealing to labour voters and they all ran away at the first whiff of.gunpowder. Labours vote is relentlessly tribal, viz Browns 29%. We’ve got to appeal to the non voters and the non tribal.

    We have since the formation of the coalition lost large numbers of voters. To put this down to labour voters who “ran away at the first whiff of gunpowder” is nonsense. There was no big shift of Labour voters to us in 2010. We are losing people who may have been Labour voters many years ago but until recently had a long history of Liberal Democrat voting.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Nov '12 - 10:46pm

    Geoff Crocker

    Yes, I think you’ve got to the point I was trying to make. Of course I could see this was trying to be light-hearted, but in some ways this made it worse, because being light-hearted can be a way to smuggle a strong political message in without it getting challenged as it would be if it were done seriously. THE Sun newspaper works in this way, which is why it’s such an effective propaganda vehicle.

    We have had a relentless attack on democracy for many years from the political right. One way it does this is to make out that democratic politics is all bad, that anyone who holds any sort of elected position must be a person doing it for bad reasons such as love of pushing others around, that local councils are enemies of the people. This has had the result that far fewer people are actively involved as political party members than used to be the case, which benefits the political right as it relies more on large donations and less on grassroots activists to get its message across. It also in general shifts the public towards policies which involve shifting power form government., local and national, towards private business.

    This is a reason why I think we need to be careful in the language we use in order to make sure any criticisms we are making of current elected government does not come out sounding like an attack on democracy itself. It did seem to me to be very much that the article from “Libby” was like that – attempting to blame the council for things which have much more to to with wider issues. It sounded like the sort of argument that the Tories and David Laws use for “free schools”, without realising that as Councils don’t dictate what goes on inside school, it;s money thrown at a problem that does not exist, and therefore money taken from dealing with problems that do exist, and a way of hidingfrom the underlying problems of inequality which lead to poor school performance.

    So what was being said here WAS political controversial, it was stuff that was supportive of a faction within the Liberal Democrats and against others. So, ONCE AGAIN, it seemed to me when I first read it, if you want to be light-hearted and fun, make absolutely clear you are not showing any political bias, that any political remarks are light-hearted and could not be construed as part of a fight of one faction in the party against another. Don’t portray someone as “Ms Average LibDem” and then use her as a figure to push your own factionalism within the party. If you want to advance your own views, fine – but do it honestly in an article which does not disguise your intentions.

    If (as I still very strongly suspect) the author of this article IS someone associated with the party’s campaigning mechanisms centrally, and not really a new and maybe naive recruit, then if that person can’t see the bias here, or even how what is written could be misinterpreted as bias, that in itself is very worrying.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Nov '12 - 11:03pm

    Phyllis

    When I read the article I had exactly the same reaction: why is she blaming the Council?? And is she going to be promising that things would be substantially different in terms of cuts if she s elected?

    Indeed, I have been relentlessly attacked by party right-wingers here, even to the extent of a remark I made at some meeting being twisted sound to make it as if I had said the exact opposite of what I intended (I was wanting our party to be MORE inclusive by recruiting people with more local knowledge and lifestyles matching the electorate who would therefore be better able to get through to the voters, NOT as was alleged, high-handedly wishing to turn people away). Yet you looking in form the outside can easily see what I mean even though they pretend they can’t.

    You are quite right that the sort of campaign strategy being suggested here: blame the County Council for budget cuts as if it were making them purely of its own volition, is dangerous and will tend to backfire, because it will simply not be possible for whoever is elected just to reverse those cuts, and therefore if Libby did get elected and found she faced much the same budget pressures as the current majority it would lead very swiftly to her electors writing her off with “They’re all the same – say whatever they think will get them elected, then do the reverse of it once they are in power”.

    One of the reasons I joined the Liberal Party in the first-place was because I hated this sort of ding-dong politics. To me it is always self-defeating, and it brings democracy itself into disrepute. The politics I want to see does not patronise people in this way, but instead seeks to inform them and give them the knowledge they need to make a good decision when casting their vote and when more actively involved in politics, which I believe it is a very honourable thing to give up one’s time to do,whatever one’s views.

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