Opinion: Changing Gear in London

fireworksThe fireworks over the Thames that signalled the New Year in London symbolically coincided with a handover of the chairmanship of London Liberal Democrats, as I ended my three years at the helm and Mike Tuffrey – until last May a leading Member of the London Assembly – took over.

My time in office was quite a roller-coaster, from the inflated national euphoria of Cleggmania just before the 2010 general election – when in the event we managed to hold on to seven parliamentary seats, but alas lost Richmond Park – to the frankly dire city-wide vote we received in the London Mayoral and GLA elections last May. At least we managed to return Caroline Pidgeon (rightly recognised in the New Year honours) and Stephen Knight to the Assembly.

Of course, the kicking we received from the electorate then – at least some of it a protest at George Osborne’s Budget, as well as unhappiness over Coalition cuts – was not unique to London. Moreover, we have had some excellent local by-election results, which showed that the old mantra “where we work, we win” can still hold true.

Less visible, but significant, has been the way the regional party has become more professional over the past three years, including a move into larger and more flexible office space in Brixton and the appointment of a full-time Campaigns Manager, Chris Butler (backed up by the indefatigable Campaigns Chair Pete Dollimore and his team). Even if the results last May were disappointing, the campaign itself was much slicker than anything we’ve done before and indeed the candidates themselves were impressive and for the first time truly reflected the diverse nature of our capital city.

So what can Mike Tuffrey look forward to? Undoubtedly more needs to be done not just to recruit new members but particularly to retain the ones we have. And given Mike’s particular expertise in London-wide policy-making, honing a credible, attractive and specific London Liberal Democrat narrative is going to be crucial to future success.

2013 is a year with no major scheduled elections in London, though local council by-elections continue to come up thick and fast. But this provides a golden opportunity not only to strengthen the Party further in the capital but to lay the groundwork for the 2014 city-wide borough elections and the Euro-elections, which will almost certainly fall on the same day. That coincidence poses several new challenges not least how to integrate a local campaign in which ruthless targeting is going to be essential with a London-wide European campaign when the Liberal Democrats are likely to be the only party putting out an essentially positive message on Europe – and rightly so. At least the eight London Euro-candidates – who have been in place since 1 December – are already part of the integrated team. Those of us who have not gone abroad for New Year will be joining the first regional action day of the year this Saturday in North Kingston (Richmond Park).

* Jonathan Fryer is the immediate past Chair of London Liberal Democrats and is Number 2 on the London Euro-list.

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9 Comments

  • Simon Edward 2nd Jan '13 - 4:17pm

    I hope for the best in 2014 in London but fear that that the local elections will be swept up with the wider European/ protest at parties in power issues and so we as a party are unlikely to make major gains in terms of control of councils.

    I know this hasnt been formulated yet but what is the wider strategy? Is it to protect what we’ve got or to try and make gains in councils we formerly controlled/were largest party? Which way will the resources by channelled?

    Is the siting of the London offices in Brixton an indication that there will be another push to gain Lambeth and Southwark? Or was it just good value central offices?

  • Mmm. What was that song that was playing when Blair first got elected?

  • Grammar Police 3rd Jan '13 - 10:02pm

    In order to hold on to our London Euro-MEP, we need to ensure that not only do we hold onto our existing councillor base, but we need to make sure that the vote outside our active areas doesn’t entirely collapse (as happened at the London elections) – we need to give people a reason to vote Liberal Democrat.

    My view is that we have no London-wide identity. Our regional ‘air war’ needs to try to make the 2014 election a bit of a ‘referendum’ on 2 or 3 issues/themes – “Vote Lib Dem in London in June 2014 if you want . . , ”
    I also think we need to boost our regional campaigning power – a couple of London-specific campaigns that any party, big or small can contribute to. And they need to be integrated – if there’s a London-wide petition, the signatories should get say a monthly email bulletin on the issue, with details of what our MEP and GLA team are doing.

    I could also see us supporting weaker areas by providing London drop-ins and examples for literature – most residents don’t care about things only in their borough. A Richmond or Southwark headteacher or school governor giving examples of what the pupil premium is being used on could be used anywhere in London, with photos etc etc. We know that talking heads/3rd party endorsements are effective – why not reinforce the key themes by providing such for use across the city?

    Regional themed action days (like Labour’s fairer fares action day) and regional themed social media messages could also be co-ordinated by the regional party.

  • Alex Macfie 4th Jan '13 - 6:46pm

    Jonathan: surely, our priorities on EU reform should be the main message in 2014. After all, deciding specific policy on the EU is what MEPs do.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Jan '13 - 7:25pm

    This approach is basically to meekly accept the media narrative that the only positions that it is permissible to take on EU are uncritical support for everything EU institutions do, and complete withdrawal. We should use the Euro campaign to challenge this lie by advancing our specifically liberal vision of what the EU should look like. Imagine if

    MEPs and MEP candidates should be representing their constituents in Brussels; unfortunately they too often seem to see their role as representing the EU to their constituents; the two articles in by MEPs in the latest Ad Lib are prime examples of this.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Jan '13 - 7:29pm

    This approach is basically to meekly accept the media narrative that the only positions that it is permissible to take on EU are uncritical support for everything EU institutions do, and complete withdrawal. We should use the Euro campaign to challenge this lie by advancing our specifically liberal vision of what the EU should look like, and calling out anyone who wilfully misinterprets our position. Imagine if UK elections were fought like Euro elections, and all candidates and parties were pigeon-holed as either uncritically supportive of everything the UK government of the day and Whitehall does, or wanting to smash the British state. It doesn’t make sense for the UK, and it makes no more sense for the EU.

    MEPs and MEP candidates should be representing their constituents in Brussels; unfortunately they too often seem to see their role as representing the EU to their constituents; the two articles in by MEPs in the latest Ad Lib are prime examples of this. To say how we want the EU to be reformed is NOT Euro-sceptical, any more than saying how we want the UK to be governed differently from how it is now is anti-UK

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