Libby Local, Episode 6: “Kickstart”

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.

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  • Alex Harvey 9th Dec '12 - 7:31pm

    Libby Local, sponsored by the Pinot Grigio Marketing Board? Try a nice Sauvignon, or a Merlot. They’re cheeky.

  • Simon Titley 9th Dec '12 - 8:01pm

    The constant references to Pinot Grigio show just how unrealistic this saga is. As any self-respecting Liberal Democrat would know, the drink of choice for local activists is real ale.

  • “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. ”

    If your colleagues don’t think this is a good issue to campaign on then they are wrong and you are right

  • Alex Macfie 9th Dec '12 - 10:35pm

    I agree with Dave; we are not a branch of CAMRA, and for myself I am much more a wine-drinker than a beer-drinker, and I hardly ever drink ale (lager or stout, yes, but not ale). Those who think of themselves as part of the traditional ‘beards, sandals and real ale’ stereotype of Liberal activists should not assume that all activists either are, or should be, part of it.

  • Always look forward to the comments on these articles. Now also caught up in the plot – will Libby get her way, and a coherent strategy emerge for Libbyshire campaigning? Will Hwyel turn up in Libbyshire to run the campaign? Will she ever realise Rioja is far better than Pinot Grigio?……

    Better than Corrie 😉

  • I think some of you had best stick to drinking real ale. Rioja is a full bodied red, aged in oak. Pinot Grigio is often (when from Italy anyway) much lighter, is white, and is drunk young.

    On a comparison basis, you might as well say chalk is better than cheese.

    ,Not impressed by the kerb argument. It might help a particular street, but if the River Libby causes more serious problems, then mad Max was probably right. What does Mad Max drink by the way?

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