Author Archives: Ed Fordham

Ed Fordham is a councillor on Chesterfield Borough Council in Derbyshire and a member of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats. A former Jead of the Liberal Democrat Officer at the Local Government Association he is now splits his time as a market trader selling books and as a dog walker for Sparky the Husky.

Why I am backing Mark Pack to be President of the Liberal Democrats

Mark has a wisdom, experience and detailed knowledge about the Party. He knows the party at all levels: federal, state, regional and local. He understands the different issues facing Wales, Scotland, England – he gets devolution and is hungry to support local government across the UK. I know Mark will understand the need to listen to members and not assume he knows best.

I’m am invariably involved running campaigns, advising on strategy, mentoring candidates as well as delivering leaflets and knocking on doors. In by-elections over ten, twenty years and in every General Election since 1992 Mark has also been involved offering advice, sharing knowledge, providing training.  His commitment to the success of the Party is total.  And I trust his judgement.

Mark is one of the people I ring for advice. I have been an activist for thirty years and have known Mark since 1992. I know that when I ring him, text him, email him he responds thoughtfully, honestly and helpfully. He teaches and leads – his leadership is faithful, genuine and sincere and I value that.

I have been a parliamentary candidate in a black hole seat, in a target seat, a councillor, a candidate, I have run and led parliamentary by-elections, been an agent – at every step of the way I have learnt from Mark, Sharing knowledge with him brings within it the energy and the spark of a new idea,  When I speak to Mark, work with Mark, ask for advice, I learn something new and explore a new avenue and am more successful and more innovative.

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Time to be the Party of Local Government again

It’s local election time – indeed for someone, somewhere each April and May it is always a local election year. Of late, over the recent years you could be forgiven for not noticing – we Liberal Democrats have, somehow and for some reason, ceased to be “The Party of Local Government”.

For the first time in nearly a decade I have thrown myself back into the front line of party politics – so irritated am I by the body politic that I have concluded that locally, on my small patch of British, I might be the answer. So I am nominated to be a Liberal Democrat candidate for the Brockwell Ward of Chesterfield Borough Council. If it all goes wrong and I win (joke!) then I will be one of what we hope will be several gains from Labour in Chesterfield.

I am following a good tradition locally – the Ward has been previously held by Nicky Qazi, Roland Beckingham, Ray Russell and more. All giants of localism and liberal democracy in Chesterfield and indeed Derbyshire. Maureen Davenport is our sole remaining councillor in the three-member Ward and is defending her seat – Focus willing, we will re-elect Maureen and make two gains for the Liberal Democrats in this Ward.

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In the Dorset town of Beaminster Cllr Gil Streets enacted Liberal Democracy: let us not forget that.

News reaches us that former Cllr Gil Streets of Dorset has passed away. Now let’s make myself clear – I wasn’t close to him, but we met several times, I heard his advice and I learnt from him. But thinking back I realised that Gil for me illustrated a political philosophy that was why I joined the Liberal Democrats and I felt that his death for me should not be allowed to slip past without comment.

Gil was not a household name for Liberal Democrats but he was significant – he was part of a generation of campaigners who emerged from the Grimond rebirth of liberalism in the 1960’s. Indeed Gil and his generation went further and he was one of the many who provided the base, the foundation and indeed I would suggest the heart that give the newly formed and merged Liberal Democrats life. Indeed if Gil knew I was writing this he would be at best amused and probably a bit embarrassed.

But he represented Beaminster for years on the Town Council, West Dorset District Council and Dorset County Council, was an active community politician and got things done. That was his objective – getting things done – and he was successful, so successful that he was honoured with becoming an Honorary Townsperson of Beaminster. He had previously been awarded an MBE for his work on Industrial Relations in Gibraltar. The list of Gil’s achievements for his community was long: newspaper reports cite his work securing Christmas Lights, local celebratory beacons for Royal commemorations, as a governor at the local school, activist within the local museum and of course the youth club  – all this as well as being a West Dorset District and Dorset County Councillor and this doesn’t even mentioned the potholes and street lights he got fixed.

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The emotions of an election count

Editor’s Note: Ed sent us this post on Thursday night but we were all out at our own counts so didn’t get the chance to put it up. It is all the more poignant given that Mark Williams was defeated by a mere 104 votes, meaning that we no longer have an MP in Wales. 

I talked to Ed and we agreed that his heartfelt post should still go up, so here it is….

As I arrived at the count, the ambition of our hopes crashed to the floor as what was hoped for and planned had slipped away. And so it was that I lost (third) in the closest result in mainland Britain in 2010: Hampstead and Kilburn.

Tonight I will return to the General Election fray and will go as a staffer: the Election Co-ordinator for Mid, North and West Wales for the Liberal Democrats. I will attend the Ceredigion count in far rural west Wales to support Mark Williams, Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

Election counts are odd, grim and puzzling – you are enclosed in a tight space, the count changes little and it is the verification that matters. Few elections are knife edge close – it’s the campaign that has the drama and the frisson is the declaration at the end.

For my own part I now find I struggle at counts: you have a job to do scrutinising and getting the box count data, you need to co-ordinate the team and spot the gaps and potential problems and be in control of your emotions and all senses racing. Adrenaline is a real drug and you get no choice as it courses through your veins and the only antidote is calm and fixed smiles. For my own part I resist triumphalism and yet the venom often expressed at said occasions lingers in your mind, in your memory and in your heart. My own election count of 2010 is seared into me and will never leave. For several years after 2010 I lost all emotion and it has taken a long time to come round to understanding my own psyche since. Now I can cry at the smallest, simplest and most natural things – then I suppressed emotion and pressed on.

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Winning in Stoke-on-Trent: The foundations that YOU laid

On Tuesday, Ian Horner and I as Agent and Campaign Co-ordinator respectively cleared the by-election HQ for Stoke-on-Trent Central.   Unlike many such events from former by-elections, this was no sad or weary wake.

As we loaded up the bags and boxes, sorted out what could caravan into the next election portal we laughed, smiled and exchanged anecdotes of a campaign well fought.

1. Over 60% of the constituency that voted had voted against the Stoke Labour Party nominee, Gareth Snell. This result ws no ringing endorsement.
2. UKIP – the party that was going to win this unfairly designated “capital of Brexit” – were beaten and their Leader sent packing to fight his own internal civil war with no mandate, no victory and a clear rejection.
3. The ramifications of Labour’s strategy of total compromise and to become the party of Brexit Plus has lead to them voting with the Government. Yes, on Brexit Labour supported the government – now arguably the suicide note of history just got shorter.
4. The Tories, with a young shiny candidate did well to consolidate their support, build in their local councillor base and to almost supplant UKIP for second.

So with these elements at play, what worked for the Liberal Democrats?

We ran a campaign that was bold, confident, almost audacious. I recall clearly the moment in Sleaford and North Hykeham when it emerged that Ross Pepper was the only remain anti-Brexit candidate. With Labour fleeing the field, it is now clear that that will be the norm now going forwards.

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P-0: Polling day for Stoke-on-Trent

And so it arrives… finally. Always too short, yet campaigns last forever. At the beginning they take ages, in the middle you wish it was over and at the end you want more time. The day after you are left with a sense of regret at the gap that re-opens in your diary.

So what precisely has happened and been going on?  Let’s go through the outputs.

1. The Conservatives have selected a councillor from Stoke-on-Trent and he’s young, enthusiastic and done himself no discredit.  What we know is that, assuming he loses, he will duly be given a safe seat to be a Conservative MP.  It’s how the party structures work for the Tories.  But do not lose sight of the electoral roots of UKIP. A breakaway more extreme Tory Party.

2. The Green Party stood a local Stokie as their candidate – genuine and sincere, but unable to add to the dialogue in a City that needs a focus on renewables, resources and the environment. In advocating progressive politics, this election has not worked for them.

3. It is entirely possible that we will see, tonight, live, a Party Leader lose an election. In the myriad chaos of a General Election Nigel Farage was able to stand and lose. But tonight, Paul Nuttall will, I predict, be seen to commit political suicide. His ambition, his bravado and his arrogance deserves to rebound in way that I hope will crack UKIP asunder. Is this the first Party Leader, in a major league era (thus excluding Farage) to lose since Archibald Sinclair? And let us note, that Archibald Sinclair came third when he lost…

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P-1: Deep breath

Well after a few weeks, numerous days, endless hours and given my tiredness, countless minutes – polling day is about to commence. And yes, we have reached that point. ‘No more leaflets’ shout the notices on the doors. Some of the notices scream ‘NO MORE LEAFLETS’, some of the house don’t want UKIP leaflets specifically and some of the residents are quite articulate in their resistance. The most receptive and consistent in welcoming the avalanche of the leaflets have been the recycling boxes and bins.

What has been striking and fellow Liberal Democrats will appreciate this – has been the warmth of reception that we have had. Without a doubt the candidate who has emerged as kind, honest, respected and yes distinctive has been Dr Zulfiqar Ali.

I have worked with many many candidates and I can confidently say that you can be proud of the work, standing and respect of Dr Zulfiqar Ali. Zulfi has been beset by media and unlike virtually all of the other candidates he has not been on the run – he has been calm and accessible.

So we clear the office, bundle the good morning leaflets and prepare for a full-on count where no party really knows what will happen. Can I on behalf of the team here, and perhaps on your behalf, thank Dr Zulfiqar Ali, Liberal Democrat Candidate for Stoke-on-Trent Central.

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P-2: Feeding the team that delivers on its stomach

I always found one aspect of military history interesting – yes, army logistics.  It’s all very well sending 200 people out but how do you feed them at breakfast, in the morning, at lunch and in the evening and then when they are randomly hungry?

So we have sought to run a HeadQuarters that is warm, friendly, welcoming and well stocked.  Now there have been a few local stalwarts who have been champion at ensuring our kitchen has been well stocked – croissants, biscuits (most variants), savoury biscuits, bread, oranges, bananas, apples (most variants), and yes we also have oatcakes, cheese, tomatoes and some bacon.  And how could we forget the ever ending supply of samosas.

And the atmosphere – well you have all been very willing, cheery and prepared to go out again and again.  It has been really noticeable how many of you who have travelled have a) arrived early, b) have stayed for a full day of work and c) stayed overnight and d) returned again and again.

Now I can say the team here have been bouncy and energetic and focused on making sure you left with a positive impression.  Now I realise that risks sounding flippant, but we have deliberately constructed the campaign in a way that places huge value on a quality and warm reception.  Under the attentive gaze of Simon Drage we try and make sure that you are fed watered and rested between and after your campaign activity.

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P-3: Could the Labour campaign be any more selfish and arrogant?

Go round Stoke-on-Trent at the moment and there are a number of noisy clusters of posterboard and cortex signs – but slightly curiously when you compare them to the electoral register, residents there you will find none.  Now what I am referring to is of course the age old power of the Trade Unions.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no union basher – when it comes to staff and workers right, on pensions, on health and safety and working conditions the history of the trade union movement has much to its credit.  But it’s modern and indeed recent historical context of the political engagement of the union movement is less honourable and, I believe, deeply corrosive.

The Hanley branch of the Unite Offices is currently a forest of Labour and Snell Boards, the Communications Workers Union is almost a barricade of Labour monster boards, specific houses around the city have posters clearly supplied by Usdaw – in short, those workers who fund the union, in turn are funding the price of Tristram Hunt’s resignation and resulting by-election.  (And yes, I know about the political level but that levy has not authorised the main high street building locations that are resplendent with posters).

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P-4: David Vigar comes to Stoke-on-Trent

When I was growing up in Lincolnshire one of the great ‘urban myths’ in the school ground was that Jimi Hendrix played Spalding. Only recently did it emerge that in fact this was no myth, but a hard solid evidential truth. On Spring Bank Holiday Monday May 29th 1967 he played at the Buld Auction Sheds. Now it is a matter of some legend as to whether people were there or not.

In fact, given the truths emerging in Stoke-on-Trent I am wondering if Paul Nuttall saw Jimi Hendrix in Spalding back then – I better check his website… (joke)

So why is this important? Well in the folklore of Liberal Democrat by-election campaigns I am going to put my neck on the line. In the way that Leeds Central, West Derbyshire and perhaps cruelly given the geography Newcastle Under Lyme were important.

Leeds Central was lost in 1999 by 2,293 votes and felt painfully close
West Derbyshire was lost in 1986 by just 100 votes
And Newcastle-Under-Lyme in 1988 by a mere 799.

Now in all of these instances the Local Party and in fact the entire Liberal Democrat Party has had to go through a process of mourning and claim that they had the badge of honour – “I was at X election.. we nearly won…” and their eyes sink regretfully. Now please help us make sure that Stoke-on-Trent Central is not on that list of regrets.

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P-5: The oatcake crisis at Stoke-on-Trent Central HQ

Problems often arise with a campaign – and today was one of those days when problems came in threes.

1. We ran out of delivery and residents and deliverers complained that we were doing some houses for the second and third time.
2. We ran out of canvassing that we had prepared and printed and ready and now have a data backlog
3. We ran out of bacon, cheese and tomoatoe to go with the oatcakes… yes really.
Given we need to be ready for the rest of the day and tomorrow and the final weekend I can’t talk for long and need to crack on.  The campaign HQ is at The Wheatsheaf Hotel, Sheaf Street, Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent ST1 4LW and is open from 10 am – 9 pm daily.  You know where to come… I will leave it there.
Ed
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P-6 Why Lincoln, Sleaford and North Hykeham matter to Stoke-on-Trent.

In the world of politics “one more heave” has all the images of failure. It conjures up the notion that if you keep trying you succeed eventually thus creating the cycle of failure, by always trying again.

So in that sense, I have changed my own personal politics over time to ensure that every election is specific and that I get something out of it regardless of the result. Indeed, when I mentor candidates I often tell them “that you learn much more when you lose than if you win”. This has the added advantage for me as a Liberal Democrat of being involved in a range of elections and constantly learning.

But if you were in politics solely to win votes, then look elsewhere and outside the liberal family. I realise now, reflecting on nearly 30 years of political activism that many of the things I have achieved have been significant but have not come through a ballot box victory. Many of the ideas I have espoused have been taken up by others, sometimes of other political traditions, and implemented albeit differently. In this respect, I have regarded my politics as fruitful and I reflect positively. So I didn’t ever regard it as one more heave. I regard it as a long term commitment to the values I treasure and hold dear.

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P-7: The final week: Etruria railway station is a joke

I’m departing Derby and calling at Peartree, Tutbury and Hatton, Uttoxeter, Blythe Bridge, Longton, Stoke on Trent Longport, Kidsgrove, Alsager, Crewe… no more will I call at Etruria Station on the slow train… (to recall Flanders and Swann).

Ah the nostalgia of going back to a place you know and love is that everything has changed and nothing is different. But as I sit on my train to Stoke-on-Trent (the train signal board cited above doesn’t have hyphens!) I reflect that Etruria railway station has closed since I was there.

Now in most by-elections, there comes a point when you campaign, know that you might win, that it is going well. Back in February 1998 (literally 19 years ago this week) we were canvassing in Etruria, Garner Street I think, and a resident came out, pledged their support to us and said “Etruria Railway Station is a joke”.  The student activist who was canvassing (a very young Russell Eagling) came bouncing back to the campaign to announce were going to win for those very words “Etruria Railway Station is a joke” was the headline on our recent leaflet in that area.

Since then Etruria Railway Station has had a special place in our election story banter, and it has become synonymous with the notion that when the voters quote your leaflets back at you – then you know you are cutting through.

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P-8: The city of Stoke doesn’t change, but its voters might

Some things in politics never change and always make you giggle. The other morning I was out delivering some addressed envelopes and I found the house number I was looking for and dropped the letter through the door. As the envelope dropped through the door I twitched. As I got back to the gate there was the street sign telling me I had got the end of the previous street mixed up with the start of the next, yet the number on my envelope had matched.
This morning I laughed I delivered the same round before breakfast.  I realised that this little dilemma had foxed me back over twenty years ago when I was first active in Shelton politics.  Where The Parkway ended and Ridgeway Road started had always tripped me up.  So to the residents of 89 of both The Parkway and Ridgeway Road a request “can you swap letters you got from the Lib Dems as I mis-delivered them the other day?”
But thinking of things in Stoke-on-Trent that don’t change – two others come to mind.  Fred Hughes – former political animal, local historian and all round good egg.  I have been reading his musings in the Sentinel and was delighted to bump into him at one of the election night hustings.  Largely unchanged I was cheered by his warmth, charm, smile and friendship. It had been along time since I last saw him and it was lovely to catch up albeit briefly.
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P-9. What Labour just don’t get about Stoke-on-Trent

So tonight was the biggest single hustings that will take place in Stoke-on-Trent Central. Hosted by Staffordshire University and The Stoke Sentinel this was 8 of the invited candidates – including the British National Party and the Monster Raving Looney. It was quite an affair.

But at one point, having stumbled previously, the UKIP candidate was challenged to name again the 6 towns of the City and he managed it just. He didn’t forget Fenton (damn you Arnold Bennett), but he still called it Stoke not Stoke-upon-Trent. I suspect he doesn’t know the reasoning or the difference of the Stoke-on-Trent versus Stoke-upon-Trent. And then the Labour candidate followed it up a bit later by saying he would “fight for the City”. I groaned as he said it. And there in a nub is the fundamental issue here.

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P-10: Legacy campaigning in a by-election

So the final straight approaches and we are looking at our campaign and putting in place the finishing touches and allowing space for some extra elements. We have been often asked by visiting helpers what can they do to make a real difference. So here today for the first time I think i have the answer, which is not as obvious as I expected.

I am a huge believer in having what I call legacy campaigning: that regardless of the electoral outcome that you achieve some positives, some learning, training and apply that to the future.  I spend a lot of time urging new members to attend by-elections, seeing them as training porgrammes, and suggesting that people go with clear objectives of what they can do, might learn and will leave with.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I sit down to do some telephone canvassing on my own it is all too easy to get distracted, to put it off or to make just one or two calls and then do something else. So in place of that setting up a Phone Bank appears to be the solution to my lack of application.

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P-11. It’s Sunday Politics Midlands show live from Staffordshire University

Sunday morning at Staffordshire University on the Leek Road Campus and we getting ready for Sunday Politics Midlands who are hosting a live debate between the five leading candidates in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election.  I’m here with Zulfiqar having a coffee before it all commences.

Sitting here in the coffee bar with the other candidates is always slightly curious – I’m trying to think of a witty line about watching the Labour candidate Gareth Snell having make-up applied… but I think I’ll leave that there

So what will Zulfi have to say? I’m pleased to say he’s standing on a strong ticket, he’s calm, he’s genuine and sincere. As a Cardiologist he gives you confidence that he’s in control and in command.

It’s so good having a candidate in whom you have confidence and don’t need to over-worry.  As a classic candidate he can get distracted by the needs of residents (this is good), he tries to do too much in too little time (this is good), and best of all he knows lots of people and gets stopped in the street (this is very good).

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P-12: Thanks to all those helping in Stoke who are not yet Liberal Democrats

So the weekend is always busy – but right now it’s like a gathering of the clans. People coming in from across the country to help the Liberal Democrat candidate Dr Zulfiqar Ali. Now I have done a lot of campaigns and by-elections and seen a fair range of Liberal Democrats. But today has surprised and impressed me…

People are turning up to help Dr Zulfiqar Ali who have never been involved in Party politics – when asked they are desperate to stop the rise of UKIP, against the rise of the far right, against hatred and against fear. These are predominantly young people, they are angry at the way their country is going and they want want a new direction that is positive and inclusive and welcoming.

In addition we have regular hardened party activists who know and understand what is at stake in this election. They know that the harder you work, the better your vote will be. Now the politics of Stoke-on-Trent is unlike many other cities – people have backed opposition groups in the hope of change and been disappointed. In addition they have seen Labour parachute in candidate after Labour candidate to be their MPs. Now this is not a plea for pure localism – Stoke has a proud history of welcoming people from different communities – but occasionally it would be good to have someone who has made Stoke their home before they were elected.

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P-13: Time for another delivery, we think

If the plan was going to work, then it was going to happen sooner rather than later… and sure enough today the first deliverer came back. “I have just had a mouthful from a resident complaining about the number of leaflets from the Liberal Democrats.”

We have we think reached the tipping point of recognition from the electorate.  Dr Zulfiqar Ali is a former City councillor here in Hanley, Etruria and Shelton, he knows the city well and lives in it, and he has a strong and positive recognition amongst voters here.

Now our literature and canvassing campaign has broken through the sea of apathy with politics to gain traction with the voters of of the City.  What we now need is as many of you as possible to take to the telephone and get out on the doorstep and help us deluvery the outstanding result that no one expects. The voters recognise the campaign, recognise Zulfiqar, now we need to secure them to vote for him.

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P-14: Stoke-on-Trent Central will count the votes in two weeks’ time

Two weeks today the staff at Stoke-on-Trent City Council will be preparing to gather in the ballot boxes and count the votes that have been cast for each of the candidates. The simple truth is no-one knows what the result is, nor where the candidates will come, nor the number of votes cast. All we can do is assess what has gone before, run the campaign we want to run and seek to get out our supporters out on the day and ask them to vote for Dr Zulfiqar Ali.

Lots of people sit behind their keyboard and make bold  assertions as to what will and won’t happen – and to an extent that is what I am doing now. But I am at least doing that whilst being in Stoke-on-Trent, having lived in Stoke-on-Trent and yes having been elected as a City Councillor in Stoke-on-Trent.

So to those of you making predictions – perhaps you might bolster the information and sources available to you by coming up to Stoke-on-Trent, delivering some leaflets, talking to some voters, seeing the streets and the shops and assessing the situation on the ground. If you did that then you will see the unswept streets, the dumped rubbish in the alley sways, the derelict sites and the closed up shops. Now it’s not all gloom for you will also see the new larger terraces houses that have, in places, replaced the old tight workers’ cottage. You will see the new bus station, the football ground, the semi-pedestrianised Piccadilly and more. But in many respects these are trophy projects and much of the real change and investment in Stoke-on-Trent has come from the educational investment provided by Staffordshire and Keele universities, by Stoke-on-Trent College and more.

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P-15: You can make a difference by coming to Stoke-on-Trent

Could we have any more by-elections of late? Witney, Richmond Park, Sleaford & North Hykeham, Copeland and now Stoke-on-Trent Central. It’s certainly fair to say that the range of constituencies and the differing geographical demographics will give a good insight into statistical analysis of political opinion – like an on-going live poll.

But some by-elections perform specific functions, have a bespoke purpose and achieve singular status and significance. In the legend of the by-election wins of the 1990’s Ribble Valley ended the Poll Tax, Eastbourne saw the return of the Liberal Democrats to winning form, Christchurch ended full rate VAT on fuel – the challenge is to make Stoke-on-Trent Central the end of the rise of the far-right in Britain.

Now there are lots of concerns about where the world is heading. Donald Trump, climate change denials, rolling back equalities legislation, the rise of parochial nationalism and the start of overt xenophobia to name a few. I’m sitting in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent, helping with the campaign to elect Dr Zulfiqar Ali as the Liberal Democrat MP for the local area.

Now then, Stoke-on-Trent faces many challenges and would massively benefit from having a new, ambitious, capable, hard-working local MP. But our plea is not just for the benefit of Staffordshire – rather this is a real opportunity to end the negative agenda and establish something optimistic, outward looking and liberal.

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P-16: What is Stoke’s daily paper saying about the by-election?

Now there are all sorts of barometers on how to assess what is happening in a by-election and journalists are always on the look out for snappy insights. Today’s journalist visitor to the City asked if Labour were consciously trying to lose the election with their weak and largely invisible campaign? Further, notices are now appearing in house windows refusing, rejecting and requesting no UKIP literature.

This is a City that faces many challenges, but most of all is looking for a party that can actually address and implement a positive industrial strategy. We are very clear that Labour have had their chance in is City for over 70 years and have completely failed. Liberal Democrats, who do not wish to see elected the political rabble that is known as UKIP, have a responsibility to run a vigorous campaign.

That was why Party Leader Tim Farron was at Staffordshire University yesterday urging students to register to vote and ensure that their voices are heard. The coverage on the front and other pages of The Sentinel highlights Dr Zulfiqar Ali’s campaign and concern that Brexit puts the economic future of the University at risk. For the city of Stoke-on-Trent a ‘hard Brexit’ risks the very Potteries themselves, the manufacturing and export industries here and the economic success of Keele and Staffordshire University.

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P-17: Only 16 full days of campaigning left in Stoke-on-Trent Central

After the argument and trauma of the EU Referendum and the sharp division that it has caused amongst Labour and Tory Parties the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election comes at a critical junction.  If the advance of the far-right is stopped here in Stoke-on-Trent it will be because of the campaign lead by Dr Zulfiqar Ali and the Liberal Democrats.So with 16 full days before the final polling day the schedule is going to impossibly tight. 

This article is to give you a short rundown of the plans and the ambition for the next week.  If this week’s programme does not convince you that we are trying to win, then frankly nothing will.

1. TIM FARRON IN TOWN.  Today, Monday 6th Party Leader Tim Farron was in town to support Dr Ali’s campaign.  Tim was on the College Road campus of Staffordshire University to urge students to register to vote.

2. POLLING DAY IS MONDAY 13th FEBRUARY.  Today it is just 7 days before the voters of Stoke-on-Trent Central begin to cast their postal votes and we need your help right now to deliver our bespoke leaflets to those voters on an almost daily basis for this final week campaign.

3. REGISTERING TO VOTE.  Midnight on Tuesday 7th February is the deadline for any resident in the constituency to register to vote in the forthcoming by-election.

4. ASKING FOR A POSTAL VOTE.  5pm on Wednesday 8th February is the deadline for any resident in the constituency to apply for a postal vote. We have a delivery virtually every day to this group of voters.

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Why I’ve left the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election campaign

I’m sitting here in Stoke-on-Trent railway station waiting for a train to London. Yes I’m leaving the by-election – for 36 hours. Handing over the tasks, the jobs, the plans to other people whilst I hold half the information in my mind was pretty mad. And all the people I was dropping things onto, they already have jobs to do. But that’s the nature of the by-election HQ here in Stoke-on-Trent busy busy busy.

However I’m not leaving for a break, or any kind of desire to get away – I’m off to the funeral of a best friend who was untimely killed on his war to work just before Christmas in a car accident at the age of 33. So I’m off for a good old cry and a large number of real deep life-affirming hugs with some very special friends. There won’t be a dry eye in the house. I’m stopping myself from crying as I type this.

So I need another favour from you all. I’m asking you to step up and step in for my absence. We need your help on the street, on the doorsteps and on the phones. Do I matter so much? No! But every person, every delivery, every canvass makes a positive difference to our chances. And my mate, whom I’m off to say goodbye to, was positive if he was nothing else.

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We have to stop the far right in Stoke-on-Trent Central

One of the things I most enjoy about elections are the old war stories – the poster board wars of Kincardine and Deeside, the Brecon and Radnor story about out candidate not being from these parts, the mattresses, fridges and dumped litter of Brent East.  Then there are the by-election which are so small and were so poorly attended by activists that they are worn as badge of real veteran status – Ogmore, Hemsworth I and Hemsworth II, Wirral South – campaigns where the focus was on flying the liberal flag in territory or times that were unfavourable.

What is less spoken of are the by-election deep-scars. Where we could have done better, could have won, should have won.  With four or five more people could Sleaford and North Hykeham have been a second place rather than third, with more people could Leeds Central have been a Lib Dem gain and thwarted Hillary Benn, and what if what if what if in West Derbyshire or Newcastle Under Lyme or Birmingham Hodge Hill.

Those latter by-elections are a category all of their own and the effect and impact lasts long and the stories are told in more hushed tones.

My challenge and question to you is simple.  Will you make Stoke-on-Trent a glorious boast or a whispered story with deep scars?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 15 Comments

Zulfiqar Ali can win in Stoke-on-Trent but he needs your help!

This week we have had activists in helping from Tunstall, Burslem, Trentham, Chell, Chell Heath, Stoke, Oakhill, Boothen, Fenton, Etruria, Shelton, Longton and as well as all these places from across the City of Stoke-on-Trent we have had a great number from north Staffordshire generally.

And yesterday when at the last minute we issued a plea for clerical help in the office I was grateful for those who came – they have us well on the road with the postal vote mailing, but we need more people urgently.

But in the course of a conversation with one of the activists (their second visit so gold star to them) they whispered “of course a few people think you can’t win and are in fourth place”.  At that moment I could have hugged her and the scales fell from my eyes.

Look round your own town, city, community, village and where you live. Who has been the dominant political party for the last 50 years and have they done a good job?   Here in Stoke it’s Labour and they have failed.  failed the City, failed the people, failed to achieve the positive change that was possible.  This City wants and needs something else.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 13 Comments

Stoke-on-Trent Central is important beyond the Liberal Democrats

It’s gone midnight and I’m sitting here in the Wheatsheaf Hotel, on Snow Hill in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent and I have been worrying about a number of things.

1. How do I get more hours in the day so I can deliver leaflets for longer?

2. How do we build the winning formula to get all our supporters out on the day on what will be a very cold day…

3. What will entice the hundreds and thousands of Liberal Democrats and, critically,  newbies to come and help here in this great and glorious city?

4. And most of all how do we make the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election the most positive and unexpected good news of 2017

I know this City, I love its heritage, I love its story, I love its structure and I love the unexpectedness.  And walking around you see the examples everywhere . Come out of the railway station and see the statue of Josiah Wedgewood, go up Hanley to see statues of Reginald Mitchell and Sir Stanley Matthews, the tributes to the Steel Workers, the Miners, the Potters and you can get lost in the myriad explanations of why Northwood is not Hanley or Birches Head and where Oakhill starts and Boothen ends.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 19 Comments

Zulfiqar Ali is in this to win Stoke-on-Trent Central

Having lived in the City of Stoke-on-Trent it was always something of a guilty confession that I was no fan of football. With two major clubs in the City: Stoke and Port Vale, it was crucial to know when the match days were. Indeed when we are campaigning for votes a throwaway joke was that on match days we would be “down in the terraces of the Victoria Ground”. On hearing this folks assumed I was a Stoke City fan and that I would be there cheering them on. In fact on a match day, especially for Stoke, it was perfect day for delivering the literally hundreds of terraced houses down and around the old Victoria Ground. The new Britannia Ground is not far away now, but those terraces and more are still there waiting to be delivered by you

Now the local bus company is Potteries Motor Traction – a hark back to a previous era and so now cut down to just PMT. But when running campaigns it was always important to make sure that we had Potteries Voter Traction. Anyone could muster up negatives, everyone could join the latest campaign the real issue was if you could get traction, respect and therefore votes enough fromresidents that would propel you over the winning line.

The other issue was building up a local party who looked and sounded like Stoke – now this is a city of communities. Sometimes it sounds over complex but let me run you though it.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 4 Comments

When things come together: Stoke-on-Trent and my emotions

I have just moved house, leaving London, settling in Chesterfield.  London has been amazing, but it was time for change.  In between that decision and the reality came the Sleaford and North Hykeham By-election: one of the campaigns that I shall forever be proudest of running.  But Sleaford was a turning point for me, a junction when I decided to re-engage with front line electoral politics and take to the streets again.

So last night travelling back to Stoke-on-Trent at short notice to scout the territory was a further development for me.  Let me explain.  I stood down from Stoke-on-Trent city council in 2002 after four of the best electoral years of my life, but had left due to a mix of work, ambition and life changes.  I haven’t really been back there since and so today when Tristram Hunt, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, announced his resignation I realised I was ready to return.

Now Stoke-on-Trent was very much my personal test ground for the lessons and skills I had listened to, learnt and appreciated from Peter Lee, Becky Bryan, Tim Clement Jones, Des Wilson, Tony Greaves, Maggie Clay and others.  In trying those lessons out a few landmarks stand out: the night in 1996 when the city went Unitary, the Tories were wiped out and Labour were elected 60 nil.  How I cheered those Tory losses (for I knew we were not ready)

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 37 Comments

Lessons from Lincolnshire

Elections come and go, but the memories and the camaraderie live on.  The telling of old by-election stories and hearing them re-written over time and years is part of the fun.  But they can also be sad and hurtful.  

It has taken me years to get over the deep personal trauma that I now realise I suffered in the aftermath of years of campaigning to win Hampstead and Kilburn, and the impact of losing on a recount.  And I probably will never fully lose that trauma.  Yet I am sitting here now in the wreckage of a by-election HQ and I’m beaming.

Here in the HQ it’s down to just me and the agent Ian Horner. Even Ada our host has gone shopping, and yet neither of us feel sad.  There is a positive mood about what we achieved and a satisfaction about a job well done.

You all know the result. You had predicted it and over analaysed it before the count had even commenced so I won’t attempt to drag over it again here.  But  let me offer some thoughts that I think are important for the Liberal Democrats, and for me, issues we urgently need to address and tackle.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 52 Comments
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