Author Archives: Iain Sharpe

Watford Liberal Democrat newsletter celebrates golden jubilee edition

This month sees the 50th anniversary of the first publication of Oxhey Opinion, the regular Liberal Democrat newsletter published in the ward I represent on Watford Borough Council.

In January 1970, Tony Poole the Liberal candidate for Oxhey, wrote the first edition and printed it himself on a Roneo machine, in two colour orange and black. This was an era when Liberals were increasingly developing ‘community politics’ techniques, including what we now call Focus-style newsletters.

Yet Tony’s reasons for launching the newsletter arose from local circumstances. Oxhey has its own distinct identity and he felt that a newsletter that went beyond simply issuing election addresses once a year would go down well in the local community.

The strategy was vindicated when the following year when the Liberals won the ward, in the process gaining their first ever seat on Watford Borough Council. By 1973 the Liberals held all three seats in Oxhey and six out of 36 on Watford Counci. The future looked bright. Unfortunately, the national party’s difficulties in the mid to late 1970s had their effect in Watford and by 1976 there were no more Liberals on the council.

It not until the 1990s that the Liberal Democrats were able to regain all the seats in Oxhey, but in the intervening time Oxhey Opinion continued to be published (sometimes intermittently), meaning that there was a strong legacy to build on when I became the candidate and by extension editor in 1990.

We have now won every local election in the ward since 1991. Both of Watford’s Liberal Democrat elected mayors, Dorothy Thornhill and Peter Taylor were first elected as Oxhey councillors. And although Tony Poole was not among the Liberal councillors in the 1970s, he served as ward councillor for 14 years from 1998 and was an excellent chairman of the council.

Looking back at the very first edition, one realises how many issues are with us always: the featured issues of local development, streetlighting, traffic management and amenities in Oxhey Park are just the sort of thing we have covered in recent editions.

Posted in Op-eds | 2 Comments

Improving Watford through arts, culture and fun

This weekend sees the start of the seventh Imagine Watford festival, consisting of free outdoor dance and theatre performances by an impressive array of British and international artistes and groups.

The festiva is part of a long-term vision of Mayor Dorothy Thornhill and Liberal Democrat councillors to use arts and culture to promote the regeneration of Watford town centre and make it a more enjoyable place to visit.

This has centred on an area of the High Street that had become primarily for the evening economy (a euphemism for bars and nightclubs). While successful enough of itself, the area had gained an unwanted reputation for late-night anti-social behaviour, while struggling to find a daytime role.

That is why Dorothy promoted the idea of a family-friendly town centre – as somewhere not just for shopping at one end and clubbing at the other, but as a place for cultural and social activity. We carried out a major environmental improvement scheme, which included creating a space where arts and community events can take place. As television retail guru Mary Portas, who grew up in Watford, commented at an event to mark the completion of the scheme:

High streets aren’t just about shopping, they’re about encouraging us to engage in where we live. We can never underestimate what the high street means to us.

Alongside that, we launched our Big Events programme of which Imagine Watford is part. It includes an urban beach and outdoor film screenings during the summer holidays, ice skating over the Christmas period. Other events, including a variety of music performances, are held at nearby Cassiobury Park, itself subject of a major lottery-funded restoration scheme, These events are enjoyed by thousands of local people, helping to create a sense of pride and wellbeing as well as offering people access new cultural experiences, and providing a chance for people from Watford’s diverse communities to come together. 

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 2 Comments

Opinion: The myth of the council war on motorists

Despite being nominally committed to localism, this government, with Eric Pickles as secretary of state, has been unable to resist trying to micromanage councils’ local policies, whether on bin collections, or imminent legislation on car parking enforcement.

Even leaving aside the argument that such things are better decided locally, is there any truth to Pickles’ belief that councils are ‘waging war on the motorist’? In my experience, no. Councillors of all parties and council officers alike are all too aware of people’s frustration about finding parking spaces or receiving parking tickets.

If there has been any kind of war it has come from central government. From the 1990s, when John Gummer was secretary of state, governments reversed their previous policies that had encouraged out of town shopping, while making it unviable to regenerate town centres. Instead they introduced new planning rules to restrict out-of-town development and enhance town centres.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 10 Comments

Opinion: State security measures can protect liberty not just threaten it

Benjamin Franklin, Old Town Hall, Boston (493550)It is an unwritten law of Lib Dem debates on security issues that before long someone will quote Benjamin Franklin that ‘Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.’

I have always been intrigued by the origins of this comment, primarily because taken on its own and literally, it is hyperbolic nonsense. Almost any form of government involves some tension between liberty and security. The state provides defence and police forces, but to do so levies taxes and circumscribes individuals’ freedom to use force to defend themselves.

There seems to be very little on the web about what Franklin actually meant. But an academic paper by Benjamin Wittes of Brookings Institute unsurprisingly reveals that Franklin’s aphorism was intended in a very different sense from that in which it is now so often quoted.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 7 Comments

Book review: Peace, Reform and Liberation – “the first port of call for anyone wishing to learn more about Liberal and Liberal Democrat history”

There has long been a need for a single volume history of the Liberal and Liberal Democrat parties covering the entire period from its roots in the constitutional struggles of the seventeenth century to the present day.

While Liberal history has received plenty of attention from historians, previous studies of the party have been limited to a specific eras or themes. In many ways of course the party has several histories. This includes the origins of the Liberal tradition in the Whigs of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the heyday of Liberal government in the middle of the nineteenth century, the party’s decline and near extinction between the 1920s and 1950s, its recovery in the second half of the twentieth century, and now the challenges of governing in coalition with the party’s historic enemies, the Conservatives.

So it is welcome that the Liberal Democrat History Group has sought to fill a gap with Peace, Reform and Liberation.

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and | 16 Comments
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