A candidate’s tale: Part 1

I was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Macclesfield in Cheshire at the June General Election.

Six weeks earlier, after Theresa May’s as-it-turned-out vainglorious decision to go to the country, Macclesfield Liberal Democrats had found themselves in need of a candidate. And I answered the call.

The last time Macclesfield elected a Liberal was William Brocklehurst (junior) in 1910, and for the last 100 years they have returned only Conservatives (or Unionists) to Westminster. Alas, I was not able to celebrate William’s centenary by retaking the seat.

But I did hold on to the lion share of our vote from two years ago, and held on to our deposit, in the face of a fierce squeeze from Labour backed up by the tactical voting sites and some pretty underhand use of questionable numbers.

And, in spite of being in safe Tory territory, I never felt it was a no-hope seat.

In fact, I remain convinced that a seat like Macclesfield is winnable by a Liberal candidate. Maybe more in five to ten years than five to ten weeks. Where the Tory MP gets 53% of the vote this time, same as last time, Labour’s surge mopping up UKIP votes isn’t ever going to be enough. To reach into that 53%, you need to put together a coalition that picks up not just the moderate Labour voters, but the centrist, Remain-inclined Conservatives too along with the core Liberal vote. And only a Lib Dem is going to do that.

I was incredibly lucky to have a local party who were full of enthusiasm, fired up to resist Brexit, absolutely certain that our message was the right one for Macclesfield – which it is. On top of that, we had a team full of the talents we needed: organising people; organising logistics; designing literature; running social media. No one expected us to be much more than a paper candidacy, but we were determined to be as much more than that as we could manage.

What I wanted to achieve, apart from saving the deposit, was to lead Macclesfield in support of the next door target seat of Cheadle, and to leave Macclesfield a legacy on which to build.

Actually, these aims fitted together very well, because we could bring the team to Cheadle for the weekend – with ALDC’s Claire Halliwell laying on a top-class training session to start, followed by a couple of hours on the doorsteps with Mark Hunter, seeing what a full on campaign in action looks like.

I don’t think anyone really grasps just how huge constituencies are – or even a council ward – until you’ve pounded those streets, knocking doors, delivering blue envelopes and good mornings.

It was a wake-up call to Macclesfield, but most importantly it didn’t put us off. Instead it showed us what we have to aspire to.

And we could bring what we learned back to Macclesfield, and the surrounding villages, and go out to meet people there, many of whom have never seen a politician on the door, such is the state of complacency in a “safe seat”.

One of my favourite stories of the election: Conservative David Rutley was to be seen campaigning in his own seat for the first time in living memory. I’m sure that’s unfair to him. But every day we kept the Tories in Macclesfield campaigning on their home turf was a day they weren’t on the ground in Cheadle or Hazel Grove. And that was a win for us.

 

* Richard Flowers has been a Party member for 20 years. He’s campaigned in many an election, stood as a local councillor, and Parliamentary candidate, was Chair of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats, and in 2020 will be Liberal Democrat candidate for the Greater London Assembly constituency of City and East. Thanks to Liberal Democrats in government, he is married to his husband Alex Wilcock. He also helps Millennium Elephant to write his Very Fluffy Diary.

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5 Comments

  • Carol Fieldhouse 22nd Jun '17 - 6:40pm

    I voted for you, Richard- from personal conviction that the LibDems are the only party offering a second, confirming referendum on Brexit, further down the line, but also, after the hustings evening, with a genuine enthusiasm for your commitment and the vision you offered during that meeting! I agree with your analysis about our constituency and wish you all the best for the future.

  • Good article.

  • Richard Flowers 23rd Jun '17 - 12:39pm

    Dear Carol,

    Thank you so much. It was your support and belief and that of people like you that made it such a joy to campaign in Macclesfield.

    Dear Tim,
    Thank you.

    Dear RBH,
    Would you be the same Richard Holden who wrote that piece for Con Home? In which case not so much “interesting” as “advertising” would perhaps be more honest.

    I think what is interesting is that that piece associates the Tory victory with the attack on Tim Farron’s religious values. Brave to do that. But I’m sure people will be glad to know.

    But I think it misses a really major point, too, which is the collusion between Tory and Labour Parties to try to silence other voters voices. Labour campaigned very hard against the Liberal Democrats. I know that from personal experience both in Macclesfield and in Cheadle, where Labour saved the seat for the Tories.

    It’s why it’s so important for Liberal Democrats to keep campaigning, giving people a different choice to the authoritarian Brexit parties who have failed so often the test of making the future better.

  • I was brought up in Poynton, which was part of Knutsford at one time, and then in Macclesfield. Air Commodore Arthur Vere Harvey was our MP, and Liberals did not have a snowball’ in hell’s chance, so well done for raising the ante. Poynton is posher and bluer than it was, I guess. And as for Prestbury…..

    Paul King, now in Chesterfield

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