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.

I always recall Gil as fairly single minded – he would chat but he was busy. He wanted strategy and discussion but he wanted action, his Council Meetings mattered to him as he was able to influence officers, Councils and his work within them were in and of itself a level of government for the community he lived in.

But, in recalling Gil I also recall a host of others who have also passed away: Maggie Clay, Martin King, Martyn Smith, Ann Shaw, Bob Pritchard, Roland Beckingham (and this list could be very long).

And there are other names still alive of people who should be on the lips of Liberal Democrats as the illustration of how to win, how to hold power and how to achieve something: Ray Russell, Ann de Vecchi, Sara Bedford, David Rodgers, Gerald Vernon Jackson, Lucy Watt, Paul Scriven, Paul Tilsley, Jean Boulder, Erica Kemp, Peter Arnold and many many more.

So why this trip down memory lane? When I was a younger activist there was a culture within the Liberal Democrats that being a community activist was in and of itself worthwhile. That we did leaflets all year round not just to win votes (it has that effect) but because we believed in keeping people in touch with what we were doing and saying. In short the deluge, avalanche or excess of leaflets was part of a philosophy of community politics and not just a means to an end.

This is what we did locally up and down the country and it was fun – a gentle and constructive form of political insurgency.

But there was another arm to the activity – it was supported nationally. There were competitions in Lib Dem news for the most ‘liberal ward’, the national party adopted, established and prided itself on being THE Party of Local Government”. When we won control of Restormel (I’m showing my age) or Watford, or gained a council by-election in Oadby and Wigston, Adur or Pendleton there was noise and celebration and not just from ALDC.

It seems to me that with the passing of Gil Street and others, with the lack of knowledge of the heroes of local government today, and the apparent lack of pride in Local Government we are missing a trick. Crucially I think we should avowedly go back to being THE Party of Local Government.

And if you want to know more about the value system of these people named above, of the approach to localism and to people and communities then read the final communication from Gil Streets (produced below). It reduced me to tears but it reminded me of the core objective of joining, of campaigning, of delivering leaflets and of talking to people. In short you get to know your community and you connect the elections with the declared intent to improve people’s lives. Gil, as with so many others mentioned above, sought elected position to improve the lot of people in their community. And they invariably succeeded.

For Gil and so many others community politics and leaflets were a political philosophy not an election tactic.

So after you read this message from Gil, perhaps you might join me and others in wanting us to get back to being THE Party of Local Government. There could be no greater tribute to someone who dedicated his life to his community through the Liberal Democrats.

“I am a patient currently being nursed in a comfortable arm chair in the ICU at Dorchester Community Hospial. I am wired to lots of high tech machines. I came in 48 hours ago to be helped to leave this world.

I am privileged to watch a wonderful team of dedicated young people,some 60 years younger than me,. They came to work today to earn a living – small as it will be – they have been here 12 hours and have not stopped work all day. They have cared for me and many other patients.

About one hour ago they had to prepare for one patient to leave for another ward and a new patient to arrive. They have carefully disconnected very many tubes, wires and pipes. They have carefully cleaned everything and got the room and computers ready for the next patient.

Most of them will have stayed over their hours to get the job done. Not one has complained about the extra work at the end of the day, Every one has worked as a great team.

Earlier today they have done their highly skilled work with a smile. They made my wife very welcome and my children and their partners. They are of many nationalities. Dorchester Community Hospital is a great place. The staff are wonderful.

This in not “Casualty TV” this is what they really do.

Forty years ago I was awarded an MBE for what I would consider considerably less than these people do every day.

This maybe the last letter that I will ever write. Please give it the widest possible publicity.
Both locally and on social media.

Gil Streets MBE
Ex town, district and county councillor.
Honourary townsperson of Beaminster.

* Ed Fordham is a party member and activist in Chesterfield, Derbyshire.

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5 Comments

  • Whatever else we do, the way we do being a local councillor is what helps most people see why we might be different from the rest. And being the Party of Local Government is in no way an insignificant ambition.

  • Andrew McCaig 1st Dec '17 - 8:09pm

    Thankyou so much Ed for that article, revealing a touching and a fitting memorial for Gil Streets, who I did not know, and for some others you list who I did.
    This is the core value of our Party that the others will never understand and which sadly some of our leaders in the last two decades have lost sight of..

  • OnceALibDem 2nd Dec '17 - 11:26am

    “was an active community politician and got things done. That was his objective – getting things done”

    I also met Gil a few times and he was defintiely a good guy. However must take issue with this -which is a good definition of an effective councillor. However it isn’t what Community Politics (big C big P) is about.

    It isn’t about being the super-activist and doing everything yourself. At best that is a recipe for burnout, at worst it leads to seriously corrupting client politics. It isn’t even a distinctively Liberal position. I have lived in areas with councillors who were Labour, Conservative and Independent to whom the ‘got things done’ tag could apply. Indeed a BNP councillor in Eds old stamping ground of Stoke had such a reputation as he would go round fixing people’s fences and cutting lawns.

    Community Politics isn’t about doing things for people – which often results in doing things ‘to’ people. It is about enabling people to take power and use it in their communities. That may or may not result in Liberal Democrats getting elected but that isn’t the main aim.

    In the early 70s that led to people to get elected to councils as they controlled housing, transport, schools – a huge number of things that directly impacted people. Now the power over those things are else where – but where has been the movement of political activism to those power centres. If the Lib Dems become a party of local government then they are to an extent saying they are not a party of housing, transport, schools etc.

  • Graham Winton 8th Dec '17 - 7:16pm

    How marvellous to read your tribute to Gil. Gil and Ngaire were neighbours of mine in Weybridge Surrey for many years. All Gil’s contributions to public life in Dorset that you mention was replicated in Weybridge though not as a councillor. He was a much valued school governor. He was unique in his wish to help neighbours and the community. As you say he practised true Liberal values throughout his lifetime.
    It is astonishing what he achieved in Dorset and it was a fitting tribute to be awarded Honarary Townsperson of Beaminster.
    He will be continuing reminder to us here in Weybridge of a true community spirit.

  • Sue Farrant 12th Dec '17 - 9:43am

    Gil Streets was someone I will always think of as a good man, even before I remember him as a loyal, hard working and dedicated Liberal Democrat. I worked with him in West Dorset when I was PPC and came to value his wisdom and his gentle humour as well as his practical campaigning. He will be hugely missed and my heart goes out to Ngaire and their family.

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