Local liberal heroes: Poddy Clark

Earlier in the year, I penned a series of posts profiling forgotten liberal heroes (to which a couple of other people also kindly contributed), looking at some of those who achieved great things for liberalism in their time but have been unjustly forgotten – such as Margaret Wintringham, the very first female Liberal MP.

There is also another group of people who I think are often unjustly obscure – those local campaigners who are often at the heart of their local community and local party, delivering liberalism and helping others, but as their stage is a local one they are often unacknowledged in the wider party.

Today it is the turn of Southwark councillor, Poddy Clark.

Politics often runs in families with the activism flowing through the generations. The story of Southwark councillor Poddy Clark, however, has an unusual twist, as in her case it wasn’t a matter of daughter following mother into politics but of mother following her daughter. After her daughter had been a councillor for eight years in the borough (and also a Parliamentary candidate elsewhere), Poddy herself was very familiar with the Liberal Democrats and local politics before finally moving from Hampshire to Southwark and running seriously for the council herself.

As with several other people I have profiled in this series, Poddy wanted to become an elected politician because, at heart, she likes to get stuck in and do things. “I instinctively want to be involved with people,” she explains. A gut feeling too explains her choice of party, with an intuitive liberalism being awakened by seeing Jo Grimond on TV in the 1960s and concluding the then Liberal Party was the one for her.

The cliché of a bad Liberal Democrat campaigner is one who hides from talking to people by delivering leaflets all the time, with the implied good version being one who spends much time canvassing. However, like Jill Fraser and Tracy Ismail, she is not a huge fan of the traditional vote identification form of canvassing, leaving as it does little time to actually talk to people. In Poddy’s case, in addition to taking part in local campaign action days, it means she likes going out delivering on her own – so she can dawdle and chat at length to people she bumps into, safe in the knowledge there are no fellow deliverers somewhere round the corner worrying about where she has got to.

She puts her love of talking to people – and her skill at listening to them – down to her father having a village pub, meaning that from an early age she was in an environment where listening to semi-strangers with interest was the norm.

The big issue in her ward is housing, with two of the largest housing estates in Southwark in the ward and the enormous Shard development right next to it. What is for me one of the best aspects of the Shard development is for her a ward nightmare: the viewing platform that will be open to the public and, at 243.8 metres height, offering amazing views across and beyond London. With estimates that this will attract as many as two million visitors a year, the viewing platform will offer a fantastic opportunity for tourists and locals to enjoy the sorts of views that are normally reserved for the very rich in private spaces at the top of the tallest buildings or in helicopters and private planes.

But two million people may cause enormous congestion issues, even with London Bridge, a train, tube and bus station, being heavily rebuilt. There is a particular problem with pavements in the area that have not been able to be improved because they are cluttered up with scaffolding which is holding up semi-derelict buildings that would otherwise collapse. Landlord King’s College is the particular target of local ire for the state of some of its properties.

With issues like this, there will continue to be plenty to keep Poddy busy with her local campaigning. As she says, “You can never do enough, be organised enough or listen enough.”

You can read all the other profiles in this series here.

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