Author Archives: Richard Kemp

We need to move from the shires and suburbs into the deprived areas of the UK

No matter how successful we have been in the many General Elections that I have been involved in since my first in 1970 there has always been someone who, after the elections, says, ….”but!” So, it might as well be me! In fact, let me correct my own first sentence. For the first time since 1970 I have not been involved in the General Election at all. Convention in Liverpool is that for the year that you are in office the Lord Mayor plays no part in politics so that they can act as the only member of the council able to speak in Purdah periods but also, as with the Speaker, can be neutral throughout the year.

For most of my political life I have been involved in the school of hard politics, which is Liverpool, but it could be any other rough, tough, urban core city or borough. Although I represent a reasonably affluent area now, the fabulous Penny Lane Ward, for much of my time on the council I represented difficult inner-city areas. My lament through the whole of this period has been that the Liberals and then Liberal Democrats have been a party of the suburbs and shires. A quick look at the map of where Lib Dems took seats on Thursday will see that this has not changed at all.

I do understand the need for targeting and believe that this policy was absolutely necessary to ensure that we came back from the political wilderness to enable the Party as a whole to be relevant to the law-making processes of the nation as a whole. But we have now achieved that and my plea to Ed Davey and our other leaders is that now is the time to be bold and push for real representation in our major cities.

Now I know that we are not entirely unrepresented in urban areas at local level. We control Hull and have significant and growing numbers of councillors in places like Sheffield, Newcastle and a growing re-energised presence in my own city of Liverpool. But over the whole of my 50 years in Liverpool we have had to do everything ourselves and fight a poorly funded urban guerilla warfare against Labour’s well-funded mighty machines.

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Lib Dems need to do something about jury duty

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The importance to our judicial system of having a jury of ‘ordinary’ people who are the sole judge of guilt in a case is a thing of which we should be immensely proud but, having done my jury duty I feel it is in need of huge reform.

In October a dreaded letter arrived out of the blue. Some malevolent machine had drawn my name out of the unlucky lottery, and I was summoned to appear for Jury Duty.
It is quite an inverse lottery. According to the letter about 200,000 are chosen at random every year from the electoral register for two weeks jury duty.

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What should the Lib Dems make of Elon Musk and Twitter?

Like many Liberal Democrats I have been viewing with concern the developments at Twitter where it appears that a right-wing takeover of the Company could damage its reasonably justifiable claim that it is a platform for free speech but where extremes are moderated.

That raises to my mind questions about how we should consider the developments both as a Party and as individual Lib Dems. I have already registered on Mastodon which is a sort of Twitter although I have neither done much on it nor got many followers on my account. I have noticed though that a few people on …

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Labour takes control of Liverpool from Labour!!

Liverpool’s Labour Councillors have effectively been stripped of control of the Council after the Government has appointed a new Strategic Futures Advisory Panel to work alongside the Commissioners to run our City and plan for its future.

The new partnership will see the elected mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, the former Labour Leader of Leeds, Baroness Blake, and Sir Howard Bernstein who worked for years as the Chief Executive to Sir Richard Lees in Manchester effectively set the future direction of the City whilst the Commissioners will effectively run the City.

Effectively this means that national Labour have been appointed to take over the vital discussions on the future of the City whilst Liverpool Labour have effectively been frozen out of any major decisions on running the City by the appointment of a 5th Commissioner for Finance.

So as a Lib Dem who does believe in democracy what do you think I am doing about this? With great regret I am supporting it all the way!

I am doing so because this was inevitable given the depths to which our City have been dragged by Joe Anderson’s Labour Party and the obvious inability of Joanne Anderson’s Labour Party to put things right.

The Council has until 2nd September to respond to the proposals which should be done on an all-Party basis. I have already emailed the Mayor and other Group Leaders to suggest we need to have an urgent meeting of Group Leaders to try and unite behind a common response to the Government’s opinion. What we need to avoid is the sort of cat fight between various factions of the Labour Party and those that left them that occur too regularly within the Council.

For my part I will recommend that the Liberal Democrats accept the situation and work positively with both the Commissioners and Strategic Futures Group to try and map out a way forward in the short and medium term. As democrats we regret that these steps are necessary. As pragmatic politicians who love our City, we recognise that in the short term these steps are inevitable.

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Liverpool is not cowering under the bed clothes

In my view much of the national coverage of Sunday’s explosion has been a heady of sensationalist nonsense and gossip. Why are they making such extensive coverage? Because sensation leads to purchase of papers and clicks on social media. The image that parts of the media portray is of a city that has been traumatised by the event and which is hunkering down against fear of further attacks. That just is not the case.

Of course, all of us in Liverpool were shocked by what had happened and even more so what might have happened. The death toll could have been huge if the bomb had actually entered the hospital or been taken to the Remembrance Sunday event at the Anglican Cathedral.

That shock has passed off. People are going about their business in the normal way. Liverpool is a great city that always takes things in its stride. It will shake itself down and get on with life after making known real concerns about what happened and a desire to ensure that the powers that be learn lessons from what occurred to try and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The coverage has not in any way led to rational discussion about why this has happened and what we should do about it. In a way that does not disappoint. I am, however, disappointed in that it is leading to irrational debate which may well prejudice rational debate. I have seen:

  • ill-informed speculation about the way that the Anglican Church has been recklessly baptising people of other faiths who merely wished to guarantee that they could stay here.
  • extremist comment about the nature of the refuges who come to Liverpool
  • angry comments about the way that the Council and other authorities not controlling or supporting asylum seekers and refugees properly
  • thoughtless comments about the NHS being largely to blame because they didn’t properly aid or control someone who had been sectioned under mental health legislation.

All of these areas and organisations should be looked at but that proper review can only be undertaken when the Police have done their work and are able to provide all of us with a coherent report on what happened and the timeline against which it happened.

On a wider level there are some questions that we can begin to ask such as:

Are Liverpool and similar urban areas taking too great a share of refugees and asylum seekers for us to be able to deal with properly?  Liverpool and other Cities are keen to help but are we taking up to much of the strain when other areas stand aside?

What is the role of the housing strategy of the council? We have vast numbers of very cheap small terraces that unscrupulous private landlords can make a fortune from by packing people into with few concerns about the effects on the neighbours and entire communities.

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Liverpool loses World Heritage Status accolade

The loss of World Heritage Status for our City, even though it was expected, is a huge blow to our international prestige and will, without a doubt, affect our tourism and inward investment.

When, under Lib Dem control, we received the status in 2004 it helped our work, alongside winning the European Capital of Culture, in changing round the national and global and view of our City. Until these two things happened, we were just Beatles and Football globally and a poor man’s version of Coronation Street within the UK. People shunned our City for visiting, living and investment and the people of Wirral demanded a CH post code and not an L one!

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Scrutiny to become more powerful in Liverpool?

The concept of scrutiny in Councils isn’t something that sets the adrenalin flowing. However recent events in Liverpool have shown that for all councillors outside the Cabinet or committee chairs it is the most important thing that they can do.

That’s why I’m pleased that my Lib Dem colleague, , Kris Brown, become Chair of the new independent Audit Committee Labour and Lib Dem Parties should be a sign that the scrutiny process will become more important in in all the work of the City Council.

I find that immensely satisfying. Over the past decade I have raised issue after issue as have my Lib Dem colleagues. Faced with a granite wall of resistance from both officers and members in the past we have been unable to expose the many problems which were manifest within the Council.

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From EU Capital of Culture to UK Capital of Corruption

If I tried to write a fictional story about what has happened in Liverpool, it would be condemned as being impossible and a huge exaggeration. For years we have tried to break into the system but were stonewalled by both politicians and officers who either held information close to their chest or blatantly lied.

16 arrests have been made by the Police of people in or around the Council including the former Elected Mayor, Joe Anderson. Now an inspection team led by an independent former Council Chief Executive, Max Caller, has officially exposed the grotesque practices of Liverpool Council over the past decade.

We continually warned about land transactions, tendering and other areas where there was a clear lack of due process. We continually warned about the lack of proper governance and the failure of the scrutiny process of the Cabinet and Officers. The Caller Report, produced in March vindicated our continued and continuing objections to bad practice and malpractice within the Council.

There can be no doubt where the blame lies for the damage that has been done to Liverpool’s reputation. Liverpool Council still has a Labour Mayor with a cabinet of seven members, all Labour. Liverpool Labour have controlled the Council since 2010 and still have seventy of the eighty Councillors despite us making three gains in May.

No other Council in living memory has seen sixteen arrests and a senior officer being summarily dismissed. Caller and his team found that

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Do we really think that a Public Enquiry is the answer?

For obvious reasons there are repeated calls for either a Public Enquiry or a Royal Commission to examine what has happened in terms of the Government’s response to Coronavirus, starting from 2016 when they chose to make little of a pandemic planning exercise right up to when we might consider at least the first part of the coronavirus pandemic under control.

I have absolutely no doubt that there needs to be a speedy and effective review of what has happened. Mistakes have been made. Some of them have been political ones and some of them in terms of the advice given by professional staff such as behavioural scientists, public health and health service officials. Beyond that there are questions to be asked about how the Government has responded in terms of transport, business, the voluntary and community sectors as well as others. Those need to be left aside to begin with. Mistakes there will largely have been made because of problems within the health activities which must be the prime focus of enquiry.

I think that a formal enquiry would be a bad idea. Let’s just look at the outputs and outcomes of the relatively recently Levenson enquiry into the press excesses. This was not a great success. The first enquiry took about two years. It cost a fortune. It was adversarial with a range of people and organisations hiring barristers and seeking to defend their actions rather than get at the truth of what happened. There was supposed to be a second enquiry which never happened.

Above all there were little real world outputs from the enquiry that did take place. The only reason that there have been minimal improvements in the honesty of the press, and there were only modest improvements, was the worries that the media had over compensation payments. A toothless industry controlled watch dog was put in place which hasn’t barked but purred when there have been transgression reported.

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Looking into the future – How will Coronavirus change our policies?

So, we can’t go delivering, canvassing or envelope stuffing at the moment so what can we do? What about a bit of thinking!?

The coronavirus is making huge changes to the way that the Government, councils, businesses and individuals are doing things. Some of those are good. We welcome increased support to social care and health organisations, more support to emerging businesses and enhanced recognition of the role of councils in terms of service delivery. We welcome the greater respect that is being given to those who work in public services that we are relying on to keep us fed and safe. We deplore the anti-society behaviour of people like Dyson and Martin who have thought only of themselves and not of the needs of their staff or society as awhole as they have apparently sought to maximise their own position in all the societal turmoil.

Some food things have flowed from the lock down. Families spending more time together (not always but usually a good thing!); more exercises for many; less consumerism after the first mad dash at the supermarkets; cleaner air; the sound of birds; goats reclaiming Llandudno!

Many of these changes are very much on the line of Lib Dem polices. The question now is do we lie back and wait for business as normal or do we seize the initiative and get our thinking done now so that we emerge from lockdown with policies that accentuate the good things that have happened and deal with the bad things.

As you may imagine I prefer the latter approach. There is no need for us to sit and do nothing we can get ready. I challenge the Acting Leader of the Party; the President and the FPC Officers to set up discussion streams which can pull together thoughts on the key issues and be ready to come out fighting. This is no time to be waiting for the sclerotic processes of the FPC. Now is the time for virtual discussion and a rapid presentation of papers for approval and sue by our MPs, Peers and Councillors.

I think these are the key areas we should be looking at now:

Work in the future

I suspect that many people, having been given the opportunity to work from home will want to carry on doing so. This should be supported because:They will be more productive if they are not facing long and nasty commutes;

They will be more family oriented and strong families are a corner stone of our society;

There will be a huge environmental saving as people cut down on travel although there will be some environmental losses as more individual homes will need to be heated etc during the day.

Pleasure in the future

So, we now can’t get smashed until 05.00 in the morning. I’ll miss this terribly (not!)

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Richard Kemp writes: Why I’m standing to be Party President

I was amazed to be told that the Federal Board has decided to run the internal elections for the Presidency and Party committees this Autumn. Yes, I know that they are due BUT I also know that they will be taking place when there are far more important things to do. There may just be some issues like stopping Brexit; welcoming new MPs to our Party and fighting a General Election that should take precedence. 

Had it been left to me I would have taken the opportunity to tell the Conference in Bournemouth that the Party would be postponing the elections until January and, I would expect, getting a rousing standing ovation from our front-line troops for doing so.

But perhaps it is because decisions like this keep getting taken that I want to stand to become the Party President in the first place. I first became interested in standing when our LGA Lib Dem Executive was told in March last year that the Party was proposing to send out three emails to the membership before the May elections all about Brexit campaigning and not one about local elections. Don’t get me wrong I believe that Brexit is important. As far back as 1975 I chaired the Liverpool ‘yes’ team in the EEC referendum of that year. Elections are even more important. Unless we get elected to councils and parliaments, we are a talking shop, a debating society.

The elections last year began the very public process of raising in people’s minds the full potential of the Lib Dems. The 175 gains and subsequent headlines led to repeated successes in council by-elections. That lead to this year’s huge gains in this year’s round, the election of Jane Dodds and the defection to us of 5 MPs including our own Luciana Berger MP in Liverpool Wavertree.

That’s the way I think that we can grow. We built our Party in the past street by street, community by community, ward by ward and then to parliamentary success. That’s the Lib Dem way and it’s the right way. Parliamentary successes caused by defections or Brexit will be short-term unless underpinned by a phalanx of Councillors and strong community action.

For 52 years I have been a front-line worker for the Party. For 37 of those years I have been a Liverpool Councillor. At times I have represented some of the most deprived communities in the UK. Now I represent a wealthier ward which includes the most famous Lane in the World! I lead the Lib Dem opposition on the council where we are clawing our way back to power against an increasing cult-like extremist Labour Party.

That has not stopped me doing things globally or nationally. For 10 years I was the UK representative on the World body for local government UCLG. For 8 years I was the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in local government at the LGA. I now lead on health & social care at the LGA and regularly attend sessions of all sorts in both Houses of Parliament.

I believe that we need to change the way we do things nationally:

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Liverpool Lib Dems welcome Luciana Berger

On behalf of Liverpool Liberal Democrats, I have  welcomed the news that Luciana Berger has joined the Liberal Democrats. I do so not only as the Leader of the Lib Dems in Liverpool but also as the now ousted Lib Dem PPC for Liverpool Wavertree!

Yesterday was an exciting day which started at 9.15 with a call from Jo Swinson giving me the news. I was able to tell her that I was certain that Liverpool Lib Dems would be supportive of this. We had already agreed as a Party to not fight against as a Change UK candidate. We were unsure what to do if she tried to stand as an Independent but I suspect that we would have come to the same decision.

Basically, we were able to move to this position with little debate because we have always respected her as an individual and have tried to work with her both locally and nationally. Last night, we held an emergency Executive Committee in accordance with the Party’s protocols and after hearing from James Gurling, the chair of the Party’s Federal Campaigns and Elections Committee,  endorsed her membership of the Party and then she became  officially the Lib Dem MP for Liverpool Wavertree!

Luciana arrived in Liverpool at the 2010 General Election where was a tense campaign in which we were quite aggressive (more than I would have liked) about the fact that she was arriving fresh from London and had no Liverpool roots at all. That, of course, is not our tradition. We are used to helping work up our local patch and riding a tide of support that we helped to create.

Since then she made her home in this City, got to know her patch well and has given birth to proud young Scousers who we hope will “lern to tork proper!”

We have always respected Luciana even when she was a Labour MP and have come to know her better in the last few months. She has endured an appalling hate attack in the Labour Party since the rise to power within the Party of Corbyn and his cult.  She was female, Jewish and bright. Unforgiveable sins in the eyes of many Labour members. She was subject to vicious abuse both inside her Party and externally. Even as a Labour MP we extended a hand of friendship to her to try and help her.

Liverpool Wavertree Constituency Labour Party is not a good organisation to be part of. Of the four Labour councillors elected this May one has resigned first as Lord Mayor and then as a Council for distributing racist video. Another one has been suspended for sexism including calling local Labour MEP a f*****g b***h on a video filmed is a pub!

Locally, she has worked hard and has not always been on the same side as the Lib Dem team on local issues. However, as many Lib Dems will tell you MPs and councillors in the same Party often have to disagree because they have different jobs and see things with a different perspective.

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Investment in transport in northern England is far behind London

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So, what should we make of yesterday’s report from IPPR North about projected spending on transport in the North of England up to 2033?

Lets first look at those figures:

The north of England is set to receive £2,389 less per person than London on transport, according to a new study which has stoked concern that the north is “held back by government underinvestment”.

The study, by IPPR North, analysed the government’s planned infrastructure projects between now and 2033 and found that planned transport spending in the capital was set to be £3,636 per person, compared with £1,247 in the north.

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Six key areas for a partnership approach to politics

Since I last wrote about a partnership parliament’ we have won the Brecon by-election and a lot of the talk, quite rightly, has been about the ‘Remain Alliance’ which helped to deliver victory to Jane Dodds. What the by-election has absolutely demonstrated is that politics has become so factionalised that there will not be a Parliament in which one Party will have an absolute majority after the next General Election.

If we are to have a ‘Partnership Parliament’ then perhaps, we ought to consider a partnership approach to the elections which will precede it. In many ways the one is clearly the precursor to another. So, I set out what I think are the key themes on which we should negotiate pre and post-election.

Note that I said themes here. People rarely vote for or against specific policies. They vote for or against beliefs and themes which express themselves by way of high-level principles which they can relate. They then conclude on those themes that such a Party or such a person is the one that most resembles ‘my’ beliefs.

There are two items which are redlines which must be a pre-condition of the Lib Dems working with other Parties.

Firstly, we must revoke Article 50. This is a change from my previous position that we must aim for a referendum in which we would put the case for staying in the EU. Things have now gone too far.

Secondly, there must be an absolute commitment to electoral reform. The impasse in Parliament has largely happened because too many MPs are calculating their individual chances of survival in a haphazard ‘First Past the Post’ system which has failed to deliver a strong government. 

Both of these objectives can be delivered quickly in the kind of short-term Parliament which might exist after the next election. Then a General Election could be held in which the elections took place on the new STV system There are four areas where declarations of intent can be made now for wider discussions but where some things can be done very quickly.

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Preparing for a Partnership Parliament

We now need to prepare for what is almost certain to be a Parliament with no one-Party majority, following a General Election in the next few months. In local government we have a lot of experience in dealing with this sort of situation.

Currently in England alone we are involved in Government in more than 70 Councils. In some we have overall control and at the other extreme in others we have passively let another Party take minority control on the basis of some assurances.
There seem, however, to be five things which make arrangements work:

1. A clear manifesto from the Lib …

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Draining the British Swamp

It’s not been a good week for British politics has it?! Our Ambassador to the USA was forced to resign because Johnson wouldn’t publicly support him for doing the job we paid him to do. Labour anti-Semitism was exposed in great detail on the Panorama Programme with a response from Labour that attacked the messenger and tried to excuse their behaviour by saying that the Tories are just as bad. The Tory Leadership contenders have been exposed as either liars or fools.

Then there was the Brexit MEP who thought we should do a ‘Belgrano’ and sink foreign shipping craft within …

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What happens the day after the next General Election?

In my last article for LDV I spoke about the end of two-Party politics. Since then we have had three more opinion polls with Lib Dems ranging from first with 30% to fourth with 19%. What doesn’t change is the fact that 4 Parties, Lib Dems, Brexit, Tory and Labour are bunched fairly closes around the 20s with the Green Party on 8-10%. I do like the 30% Lib Dem one though. Many people must have gone to bed dreaming of that magic moment of being declared an MP when they saw that.

Although I am not ‘Mystic Dicky’ with a …

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Is two party politics dead?

We’ve now had four opinion polls in a row which have put the Lib Dems in second place behind Brexit and in front of both Tory and Labour parties. This is not a flash in the pan! Real votes have been cast in real elections. Of course, in the Euro-Elections we came second and gained 15 seats. In local elections yesterday we made major advances in 9 out of 10 wards contested and a gained a seat from Labour for a mediocre third place.

Does this mean a real change in the way that the UK does business? I suspect it does. With one exception – the election in 2017 there has been a move away from two-party politics. In the 50s 95%+ of the population voted Tory or Labour. The Liberals were a Celtic fringe Party and the Welsh Nats Scots Nats and the Green Party did not even exist.

Lord Wade who had been a Liberal MP in the 50s and 60s conjectured that there were basically three political spheres in all societies. A right-wing sphere; a left-wing sphere; and a centrist sphere. In the UK those spheres were most populated by the Tory, Labour and Lib (Dem) Parties. Even the nationalist parties can be located within these spheres as their Parties in or out of government make decisions which can be judged and verified.

 The big secret is that for much of that time there has been a huge overlapping of those spheres in this Country and to some extent that cohesion between the spheres still exists although it is weakening. All three big spheres overlapped for 60% of policy making but any of those spheres could in part, as per a Venn diagram, have two spheres overlapping instead of three. Thus, on some issues there would be agreement between Tory and Labour; others between Labour and the Lib Dems and others between the Lib Dems and Tories. The fact that this worked in a binary system of government is largely because of the overlap reduced tensions and differences.

The past three years have seen much change. The spheres have pulled apart as the Parties that were in two of them have pulled their spheres further away from the Centre. The impetus for both the Parties in them is Brexit. In the case of the Tories a new Party is pushing the Tories outwards. In the case of Labour, the Leader of the Party is pushing the Labour Party outward. Both Parties by moving outwards are leaving behind a proportion of people in who now feel more comfortable in the relationship with the centrist sphere or Lib Dems as we are now known!

I think that this has two possible outcomes because people in the UK are reasonably comfortable in the broad central area where the three spheres overlap. We are not, by nature an extremist country. For most people ‘muddling through’ and ‘getting on’ are the way that we have done things.

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Change UK – the big question is for the Liberal Democrats

Like many Lib Dems I have been more than a little disappointed with Change UK. Their launch was poorly executed; their decision to fight the EU elections ill thought out; their battle bus so badly designed that even I could have done better.

Perhaps most wounding of all was their leaked memo which showed that their number one priority was to get rid of us by pinching our members; PPCs; councillors; donors and votes. That was so naïve. It was never likely to happen and certainly will never happen give our surge in members; MEPs and votes.

The response from most Lib …

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Radical policies and persuasive, angry voices – the next steps for the Lib Dems

When I joined the Liberal Party in 1967, I did not do it because I wanted a career in politics or a safe seat. Just as well really as I would have been doomed to eternal disappointment. I joined because I wanted to ‘march to the sound of gunfire’ as Jo Grimond wanted us to. I wanted to see radical alternatives to the tired establishment Brylcreemed and three-piece suited men of the Tory and Labour Parties of the time, most of whom defined their view of themselves and society through the prism of the two world wars that shaped the 20th century.

Politics then was quite different than it is now. It was much more genteel and respectful and of course, did not have the 24 hour a day exposure of modern media. But it was far more tribal than it is now. (95% plus voted for the main two Parties. Liberals, if we were lucky got to a whole 3% in the opinion polls, the Green Party didn’t exist and the Scottish and Welsh Nationalist Parties were thought of as a fringe of Celtic extremists.

We started to move upwards then because we dared to be different. I joined the Young Liberals who were often described as the ‘’Red Guard’ and in some ways were more influential than the Party itself. We campaigned then for gay rights, when no-one else did, we campaigned to join the European Economic Community from day one. On these and others issues we began to create a distinctive niche in politics which was not centre ground in terms of lacking a radical edge but it was centre ground in the context of not being on the loony extremes of either the Labour or Tory Parties.

What also made us distinctive was our approach to the business of politics. We started to pound the pavements. We started to make policies discussed in remote Town Halls and the even more remote Parliament in Westminster relevant to the day to day life of people we aspired to represent.

Since the sixties there have been many surges in Liberal and then Liberal Democrat fortunes. In 2015 and 2017 we went down further than in most of my 52-year political lifetime. In 2015 we were within a few thousand votes of losing our Parliamentary Party (with the exception of Alistair Carmichael in Southern Scandinavia!) If that had happened, we would have become an irrelevance. We would, quite simply have died.

I am not going to recount the last 4 years but I simply want to say that it was the thin orange line of Lib Dem Councillors that held the line. Yes Vince and our team did great things in Parliament but it was resolute and bloody stubborn councillors that both held the line and then began slowly to move us forward leading to the great rush in Lib Dem votes and councillors at the beginning of May and what everyone hopes (except our opponents who dread) will be a great advance when the EU votes are declared tonight.

There are three key lessons to me.

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This is Vince Cable’s Election

Yesterday we were privileged to welcome Vince Cable to Liverpool. It will be one of his last visits as Leader as he intends to step down to allow a contest for a new Leader to take place in June.

I want to put on record just how much I think the Lib Dems owe to this man as we face what is probably the most amazing electoral turnaround (in a positive sense) in our history.

In 2015 we came close to becoming irrelevant. Under Tim Farron we weathered that storm and that was no mean feat. We got our membership base up and steadied the ship. Instead of facing the loss of even more councillors and activist we dug in and strengthened our position in local elections. We did marginally but surprisingly well in the General Election of 2017 increasing our number of MPs from 9 to 12 and crucially getting back into Parliament three heavyweights: Vince himself and the probable contenders for his job next month, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson. Tim did us well despite a General Election stumble over one aspect of his beliefs. We should continue to thank him for that.

Then Vince stepped in. He knew he was a caretaker and we knew that he knew! We were content with that because the Lib Dems needed settling down before a leadership election not least because the two probable contenders needed time to re-establish themselves.

Vince brought five things to us:

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Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

So, we had the big debate about a supporters’ scheme on Saturday. I personally found it rather sad that the biggest attendance for a debate on the eve of the biggest round of local elections in England should be for an internal matter with no resonance with the public.

So why am I sad that the vote went, with one tiny exception of the minor vote on membership of policy groups, my way? Because I believe it showed just how badly our Leader is supported and the bungling incompetence of the Federal Board and HQ.

So, for the benefit of those that …

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Why there will be no Kemp4Prez stickers at Conference

A reasonable number of people will know that before Christmas I was asking them about whether or not I should stand for the Party Presidency when it comes up for election later. A smaller number know that as a result of those discussions I have decided after Christmas that I will indeed be a candidate.

However, whilst I am not keeping it a secret, I am not yet starting a proper campaign. I am not acting this way because of indolence. In my 52 years in the Party I have never left an election to chance or thought that I would breeze in. The reason I am not doing anything yet is because I believe that there are three things even more important than filling this important post.

The first and most obvious one is that we either have to resolve not to leave Europe or work out how to deal with the consequences of having left. Of course, this all might have changed in the interval between you reading this and me writing it! Brexit will cast a long shadow over both our Country and politicians because of he way that it has been handled. Well done our First 11 for the splendid way they have thought and acted and our second 100 in the Lords have acted superlatively well but we will all have much to do in the coming few weeks and months whatever happens.

Secondly, we have the English local elections coming up on 2nd May and nothing but nothing should distract us from maximising our vote and maximising our number of councillors. This should be a national election and I would appeal to Scottish, Welsh and London colleagues to support campaigning near to you as you have no elections yourselves. Nothing will put us in a better position in the media than more councillors. Nothing will enhance our position with the “Independent Group” than us having even more bottoms on seats in Council Chambers.

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Will they all froth off?

The real advantage of having been around a long time (52 years as a member and 36 as a councillor) is that you can usually say, “I’ve seen it all before”. There are two things about the emergence of the “Independent Group” which are different to the huge surge of support for the SDP when it was created. Firstly, there are no big names amongst them. Most people outside their own constituencies probably couldn’t put a name to a face if shown the magnificent 11. Secondly, this time there are splits in both the other Parties not just one.

It’s very tempting for journalists to see things only through the Westminster prism. Numbers matter there in terms of votes and majorities. Big press conferences and breakaways are good news stories but not necessarily real politics. The numbers that really matter are the numbers on the ground and in particular the number of councillors. Political Parties are very like armies. We have Colonels and Generals in Parliament. We have the poor bloody infantry who knock on the doors and stuff the envelopes. The glue that holds them together and makes sure things happen are the NCOs. In our parlance, Councillors.

Surges in membership for political parties are nothing new for a variety of reasons. In addition to the SDP we often get local surges as people support the people locally who they think might win and have influence or who, quite simply, might find them an easy seat. The SDP surge has actually been outperformed by the huge increase in Labour and to a lesser extent in the Lib Dems since 2015. But the real question is, “how many stick to actually make the Party, new or old, work?” Many of the people who will excitedly sign up when the Independent Group becomes a Party will rapidly find that politics is not very exciting at all. Much of it is necessary but boring work interspersed with the stuff they have seen on the telly. They will be like the froth on the top of a cup of coffee that quickly disappears after the fresh bre begins to cool.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 53 Comments

If Labour splits what do the Liberal Democrats do?

So, some Labour MPs are rumoured to be preparing to leave their Party post Brexit debate. There are talks of six heavily involved and perhaps twenty in total. From my own observations I think that is highly credible but not necessarily guaranteed. There can be no doubt that nationally there are huge fissures in the Labour Party. What precisely those splits are is difficult to discern.

That is replicated in Liverpool. Its only partly a joke when I say that if my seven colleagues and I were in the Labour Party here I would probably be the leader of the largest …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 57 Comments

My Solution for Party HQ Issues – Let ALDC run it

Over the past few days, there have been all sorts of stories leaking out of the Great George Street bunker about the appalling and depressing state of the finances of our Federal Party.

All of which begs the question, “Why are we in Great George Street at all?” I have no idea what the rent is or the rates are on that building, but I know that it is situated in one of the most expensive areas for real estate in the whole of the UK. I also know that London is the most expensive place for employers in the UK. As you might have guessed my solution to the Party’s finances is to move most of our HQ out of London.

Of, course, some elements of Party HQ need to remain within the Westminster Village. I am sure that we need to keep The President’s and Chief Executive’s office; the press office and research inside or close to the Whitehall bubble. However, for the rest, they could be run from anywhere. Conferences; membership; IT support; campaigns; compliance; finance etc. can be delivered for the Party from anywhere in the UK. Rents would be half (at most) of what is paid in the central London area. Employment would either be cheaper or in relative terms, we could pay our staff more.

This may seem treacherous thinking, but it is not new in our Party. Local Government and publications etc. used to be run from Party HQ, but they have been ‘farmed out’ for more than 25 years. If we are looking at other Parties Labour devolved a lot of their staff to the North East almost 20 years ago.

Posted in News and Op-eds | 24 Comments

An open letter to the Lib Dem Federal Board ahead of tomorrow night’s meeting

Dear Board Members,

In a very friendly way I am writing to suggest that you should not at this stage agree to have a special Party Conference in early January to discuss amendments to the Party Constitution.

I am saying this not only after many discussions with Lib Dems in the North West and my own City of Liverpool but also in places as far apart as Taunton and Cambridge and with fellow Leaders from Local Government.

I have some key questions for you before you make the decision. I am expecting the answers to these questions to be publicised:

Firstly, do you not think that this will interfere in our work for the biggest round of local elections in England? The idea that early January is handy because it is before we start is risible. We started our campaign for next May, last May. We have been out every weekend and a lot during the week since August. This will take activists out of the front line at just the time we need them to be fighting for us and pushing our way into more power and more influence via more votes.

Secondly, do you not think that it sends all the wrong messages. Some people may think that the UK is going to hell in a hand cart and all we can do is talk about ourselves at this crucial time. That is how it will be portrayed.

Thirdly, do you really think that there is a great thirst in the Party for all the changes? 

I personally believe that there is much support for a Supporters organisation. It builds well on what we do locally. I’d love to involve more people in our policy discussions both locally and nationally; I’d love to have a larger pool of people advocating on our behalf; I think it great to have people giving us information about local and national issues. There are some things that need sorting out but these are details. The Federal Board can make these decisions and we can get on with them. In fact, we already are!

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Whither or wither moderation after Party Conference

I’ve been a bit busy since I left Brighton. Two health conferences; a meeting with a Minister; full Council and picketing the Labour Conference have kept me fairly occupied!

But the inevitable train journeys and waiting times have given me the time to reflect on what I saw and heard in Brighton.

Firstly, I heard no-one who described themselves as a moderate. Good, because neither am I! The fact that we are neither loony left or loony right does not make us moderates. We are a Party with fundamental principles that would cause a much greater upheaval in our society and in …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 12 Comments

Party membership – let’s get real

All the political parties seem to be having trouble with membership issues at present for different reasons.

Both the Labour and Conservative Parties have problems with factionalism and racism which Liberal Democrats do not. We have little factionalism and are happily united behind Vince, but membership is not big enough and not active enough. However, membership nationally is way over twice what is what in 2012 and in Liverpool is at its highest since the Party was formed more than twenty-five years ago.

Our problem is that not enough of the members are really active. In Liverpool, we have made massive progress …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 33 Comments

Devolution to the English Regions is not just a good thing – it’s absolutely essential.

The problems of the UK will never be solved while the whole of the Country is dominated by Westminster and Whitehall. I have believed that for all the 51 years I have been a member of our Party (or its predecessor!) I believe it now and that is why I am more than a little disappointed with the policy paper and motion being sent from the FPC to Party Conference. It just isn’t strong enough, urgent enough or angry enough!

Whilst still a Liberal member I was asked on Radio 4 to respond to the parody often created then of the average Liberal member being a long-haired, real ale drinker in sandals. My parody is somewhat different. I said then and I say now of our Party we protest with a campaign song which goes:

“What do we want?”

“Gradual Change”

“When do we want it?”

“As soon as possible please if that’s all right with you old chap”.

I’m afraid that is just not good enough for me. For almost all political life I have been a campaigner in Liverpool. I have held all sorts of positions when we controlled the Council and for my first 22 years as a Councillor represented some of the poorest communities in the Country. I have always been aware during that time that the needs of the poorest of our communities have been held back by policies devised by nice people, often well meaning, in Whitehall and Westminster but who have absolutely no ideas what it is like to live in a ‘Toxteth’ or a ‘Sparkbrook’.

Policies are created to look at the needs of those who live in the London Evening Standard catchment area – and not even the poorest bits of that.

The centralisation of power in London has dragged many of the brightest, most capable and most articulate away from using their talents in the great Northern Cities and Towns. This has reduced our capacity to create good jobs in good businesses. The creative talents of the North fuel what has been an overheating economy of the South East. This is not good for the South-East. Staggering house prices; long commutes and a poor environment are the price paid for that overheating.

At Conference we will be debating a motion supported by a policy paper that I have had a hand in creating. The motion is looking at the way that the UK is governed with a particular look at the way England is governed. It’s not that there is anything in the paper that I disagree with. It’s just that it’s all a bit anaemic. It’s just not angry enough about the Stalinist control that Westminster and Whitehall have over ‘the provinces’.

Arguably, England is the most centralised state in Western Europe. Bureaucrats in Whitehall and politicians in Westminster micro manage communities throughout the country. They do it by the creation of laws and Statutory Instruments and enforce their rule through a series of inspectorates and regionally based bureaucrats such as Children’s Commissioners.

This is rigorously enforced by the financial controls that Westminster imposes. The theory of localism and do what you think is right is supplanted by ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’.

Liberal Democrats think that this centralisation is wrong. Liberal Democrats believe that decisions over policies and spending should be made at the lowest possible and practical level. These levels will be different for different types of activity. 

A more muscular liberalism would want urgently to break the power of Westminster and Whitehall over issues of a domestic nature which should rightly be decided by those who have a clear understanding of the nature of problems and can devise local solutions.

  • The lowest level would be the neighbourhood perhaps 5,000 people
  • Then the district around 100,000 people
  • Then the Town or City – between 250,000 and 750,000 people
  • Then the County or Conurbation – between 750,000 and 2,500,000 people
  • Then the region which, following the devolved governmental system could be up to 5 million people.

I recognise that this will mean systems that look different in different parts of the Country. This is right. The way you provide services in a heavily rural area should look very different to the way they are provided in a heavily urban area.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 59 Comments

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