Are Lib Dems normal?

SuttonWe missed this story when it broke earlier in the month, but were alerted to it when it surfaced in the Sunday Times (£ – and to be honest I’m not prepared to pay £6 per week just to be able to read this article in full) yesterday.

It seems Lib Dem run Sutton is the most normal place in the UK. That view was expressed by Neil Couling when he was giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. He explained that the new benefits IT system, which had been plagued by problems, was being tried out in the London Borough of Sutton.

Asked why Sutton had been chosen he said:

It’s the most normal place in Britain. It’s population is average for the United Kingdom as a whole. It’s a wonderful place and I adore it.

… Although he did admit that he had never visited it.

As you can imagine, this resulted in much merriment.

Liberal Democrat  Cllr Ruth Dombey, Leader of the Council, described Sutton as ‘ our quietly brilliant borough’.

Sutton Council also rose to the challenge:

The story prompted  Sam Jordison of the Guardian to muse on the five strangest places in UK, in comparison to Sutton, which he admits he loves. He showcases  Cambridge (‘Hogwarts for wankers?’), Glastonbury (‘Conforming to non-conformism’), East Grinstead (‘Got religion’), Newcastle (‘Not like you and me’) and the City of London (‘Outward signs of abnormality’).

‘Normal’ and ‘average’ are a pair of weasel words that imply more than they really mean. In this context I imagine Neil Couling was not saying that everyone in Sutton conformed to some middle of the road expectation, but that the full range of socio-economic groups are present in the borough. If so, then the serious political insight to be gained from this is that Lib Dems can appeal to people across all demographics.

Sutton Council has been held by the Lib Dems since 1986, and we currently hold 45 of the 54 seats. In 1997 Tom Brake and Paul Burstow were elected as MPs for the two constituencies that lie within the borough.

I took the photo at a by-election in Sutton some years ago.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Ian Stewart 22nd Dec '14 - 7:07pm

    if being “normal” equates to having a LibDem council for a generation, then we should all aspire to be “normal”!

  • Richard Dean 22nd Dec '14 - 8:29pm

    People say the LibDem demographic is skewed in some respects, such as the gender balance. Is this “normal”? Are there class or income-band biases too, I wonder? Some kind of disconnect with working people?

    One thing the LibDems do seem to be is unconvincing. Not because of broken promises, which everyone expects of politicians anyway. Perhaps because of a lack of coherence, or long-term vision, or realism, or scale?

  • No

  • Shaun Whitfield 22nd Dec '14 - 11:55pm

    Nothing ‘normal’ about Sutton’s schools – it appears to retain a selective grammar school system.

  • I briefly became a resident of the LB of Sutton for a few weeks In the summer.
    I have been back virtually every Monday since then.
    There is nothing normal about the Royal Marsden in Sutton — it is exceptional.
    Exceptionally good, the NHS at its very best.
    Sutton is in general exceptionally good – not at all normal.
    Liberal Democrats in general are exceptional – not at all normal.

  • Andrew Colman 23rd Dec '14 - 11:09am

    The concept of “normal” is one I detest

    Not only does it mean different things to different people, it has fascist overtones. It is part of a desire for everyone to be the same out of fear or out of some idea of seeking political utopia

    From someone not normal and “proud” of it


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