John Pugh writes…Lord Ronnie Fearn 1931-2022

Most people who knew Ronnie have a Ronnie story. If there is a book written about how to become an MP or a Lord, Ronnie never read it.

He was never going to be one to tick all the boxes in a bloodless modern selection process  and yet he was loved by his constituents and possibly the only one who could have in the 1987 General Election delivered the only Liberal gain in England. He won because he was no political careerist using the constituency as a stepping stone, but because his only ambition was to represent the town of his birth and the people in it.

Southport, albeit it has its eccentricities and detractors, has deep Liberal roots and the heart of Southport liberalism is valuing each individual regardless of where they stand in the social hierarchy.

Ronnie practised rather than theorised about Liberalism showing an omnivorous and genuine interest in the daily life of ordinary and not so ordinary folk, patronising ,in the proper sense, all sorts of groups and associations.

Tellingly at many events he’d be the first to thank workers, the staff ,the people most of us barely noticed. He knew they all mattered, and empathised knowing that a person’s standing in life is fortuitous and our common humanity is what binds us together.

That’s why Tories in the Commons puffed up with feelings of natural entitlement found his political success almost an affront.

He spoke often of “the team” and every “team” that gathered around him sensed his support and boundless optimism. Canvassing with Ronnie was revelation. Unless voters set the dogs on you, Ronnie would be disinclined to believe they weren’t supporters and if it was only one dog, he’d be inclined to view them as a probable.

Older members will recall his cameos at Glee Clubs, but half the population of Southport can recall his production and performances in the legendary All Souls Pantos – routinely staged to packed audiences in the main Arts Centre Theatre.  Nowhere in the  manuals of political consultants, Mark Pack notwithstanding, does it suggest that appearing in panto in all manner of costumes is a great way to shore up your majority as a statesman.

Jamie Stone may know different.

Ronnie preferred good honest fun to stuffy conventional wisdom and was brave enough to discard the latter, because at the end of the day, Ronnie both understood and liked people, and people liked him.

He also had a very shrewd understanding of tourism which I guess comes easily to someone who so effortlessly mastered the business of generating fun for all generations.

If you wanted to know outside the Westminster Bubble how the man on the Clapham Ominibus or the woman on the 44 Arriva Bus to Crossens really thought on the issues of the day you’d ask Ronnie.

Ronnie never gave up. Defeat in the 1992 General Election did not stop him being the ‘comeback kid’ aged 66 in 1997. He was a councillor for his beloved Norwood Ward from the inception of Sefton (1974)  to 2016. Ronnie and his wonderful wife Joyce could be seen delivering hundreds of Focuses well into their 80s

The heart of true Liberalism is individualism – trying to respect and understand each individual for what at best they are. Ian Dunt has agonised eloquently on the subject of “How to be a Liberal” in terms of views expressed and attitudes taken.

Ronnie just simply got on and ‘did’ liberalism and his life is a testament to that.

* John Pugh was Liberal Democrat MP for Southport until 2017 and was elected as a Councillor for the Dukes ward of Sefton Borough Council on 2 November 2017.

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6 Comments

  • David Evans 26th Jan '22 - 6:14pm

    Ronnie was a great liberal, a great man, and a great MP. He was probably a great Lord as well, but to those who knew him, the title Lord barely registered as important. It was the man, the Lib Dem and the care that mattered.

    He will be missed by so many.

  • Evan Harris 27th Jan '22 - 8:45am

    Great article John.

    I remember Ronnie fondly. He was the complete opposite, in so many way, to lots of us in the 1997 intake, but was the life and soul of the tea room. He never seemed perturbed by anything – in Westminster anyway..the aggressive Tories in Southport were an irritant but also one felt a stimulus to his tenacity. Hard to believe he was a councillor for 52 years!

  • Howard Sykes 27th Jan '22 - 12:18pm

    First class post John and the Lord Fearn would love it.

    His work rate was second to none and how he kept that smile for everybody at any time of the day or night I will never know. He also remembered people and their names an art I have never seen better practiced. He always had time for people.

    When I as a parliamentary candidate he gave some advice that was first class and very different from anything anybody else said.

    RIP Mr Southport.

  • John Barrett 27th Jan '22 - 6:07pm

    Well said, John

  • Interesting and significant that Ronnie did not attend many meetings in London, but was probably in Southport talking with constituents.

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