It had been raining for days. A flood warning had already been issued for the River Libby. It was raging more than a metre above its normal level and had still not peaked.
As I hurried along Libbyside Terrace towards the rail station, I met Mary. Wet, dishevelled and very upset, she was hauling sandbags across the pavement.
“I’ve just got a text from the Environment Agency,” she told me. “We’re on flood alert now.” She was all but in tears. I stopped a while to help pile sandbags against her front door. “With the new kerbs, it should not be as bad this time,” Mary said with a hopeful smile. I hugged her, wished her all the luck and rushed to catch the train to Libbytown.
An hour or so later, I was in County Hall for Kickstart 2013 – the launch of the Libbyshire campaign for the May Libbyshire Council elections.
“It’s got to be very local,” the man at the front of the audience was saying. He waved his arms energetically: “Very, very local all year long.”
We were asked in turn to speak about our local experiences. I told the group about my encounter with Mary that morning, saying if we could solve flooding on Libbyside, we’d get votes. Madge, who is councillor for Demsbury West, took up my story.
“A few years back, the houses of Libbyside would have been flooded by now,” she said. “They ended up knee deep in the dreadful floods of 2007. The poor people didn’t even have time to rescue anything from the ground floors. Now most can’t get insurance.”
She told us that Mad Max and the Conservatives had proposed a major flood alleviation scheme, even though they knew it had no realistic hope of being funded. The Lib Dems lobbied for local and immediate action and won the debate.
“The solution was simple,” she explained. “We got the highways contractors to raise the roadside kerbs to hurry water along to storm drains. It works! I think we got at least six votes from Libbyside Terrace for that policy,” Madge said proudly.
In the next segment, we debated squeezing Labour’s share of the vote. The politics of Libbyshire are dominated by the Tories. The Lib Dems follow with a quarter of the vote. Labour has a handful of seats and not even one tenth of the vote.
It wasn’t an easy discussion for me. I can cope with telling people that a Labour vote is a wasted vote, but I am uncomfortable with slagging off other parties. But I seemed very much on my own when I told the meeting: “People don’t like party politics anymore. They hate the way that politics is personalised. If councillors are so judgemental about each other, how can we claim to be listening to the electorate? I simply don’t want to attack other councillors.”
A cry came from across the room: “What about Mad Max?” I reddened a little. “Oh well, he’s different!” I admitted sheepishly. The whole room laughed.
I told the meeting after lunch that I wanted to campaign on the bigger issues. I complained that “Libbyshire Council is driven by dogma not by analysis. It pours money into consultants rather than managers thinking for themselves. It privatises at the first excuse rather than builds up the skills of its staff. It consults but it doesn’t listen.” I think I went on for a while in this vein.
Everyone nodded with appreciation at my outburst. Then we returned to discussing parking, recycling and dog dirt.
I arrived back in Demsbury rather weary but there was good news as I strolled along the river. Libbyshire Terrace had not flooded. The water had even dropped a little.
So, I thought, do I spend the evening on Facebook and Twitter? Or should I drop into the Market Tavern for a quick Pinot Grigio? No contest!
* 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.