Lord Andrew Phillips writes…Reflections from the campaign trail in Clacton

Clacton beach huts photo by Nick PageI have a lifelong affinity with Clacton. It was the nearest seaside resort to my hometown of Sudbury, but more relevantly I was parliamentary candidate for the Harwich division, as it was then called, which included Clacton, in the General Election of 1970 (albeit for Labour – I saw the light three years later!)

On the face of it one should want to forget all about the Clacton results as quickly as possible. But there are some bright spots, and some insights which may be worth sharing. For a start, our candidate, Andy Graham, was admirable. He knew he was on to a hiding to nothing, but he persisted with a positive story about the party and the coalition. What is more, although the time and place were basically hostile to Lib Dems, it was often skin deep and susceptible to fact and reason.

In particular, it is clear that a lot of people do like to see parties co-operating rather than just beating the hell out of each other. Others recognise that we had stabilised government at a time of economic peril. So, too, many were ready to accept, firstly, that we have destroyed the power of the Tory right wing and, secondly, that we forced critical policies onto the government agenda. I sense that increasing the tax threshold may have been the most important and popular.

Although, for the first time in 45 years door-stepping, I had the door shut in my face at three consecutive houses. I sensed that it as an aspect of a generalised disillusion with not only politics, but with a distant metropolitanism which embraces big business, big media, big celebrities, etc. But I am sure that if I had been wearing a UKIP rosette it would have been different. That is because they appear to the public to understand their feelings better that we do (and Labour and the Tories were bad mouthed no less).

I believe we need to return to our tradition of pavement politics and show that we relate to the widespread sense of civic insignificance and political anonymity. So many people feel that they are of no account, living in an impersonal, bureaucratic culture which does not seem to notice them. That, of course, is a consequence of the slow collapse of community vitality in places like Clacton which, in the past, managed to counter these metropolitan influences, which were anyway less overpowering.

I believe that if we can find the language and sympathy to show that we understand where people are coming from, we not only strengthen our own political appeal, but help counter what is the equivalent of a national depression.

 

Photo of Clacton beach huts by Nick Page

* Lord Phillips of Sudbury is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords

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21 Comments

  • “I believe that if we can find the language and sympathy…”
    *…language and sympathy..* ??. If you seriously think more sympathetic language is going to solve the lack of powerlessness people find in their lives, your party’s direction has only one way to go, with such a breathtakingly complacent attitude.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 22nd Oct '14 - 1:41pm

    @ John Dunn,

    The phrase is “language and sympathy” – different things, but related. If you’re going to reorder a man’s word and then attack the meaning of your new phrase, then you really can’t expect much sympathy. But then, given that you support a political party so desperate for money from Europe that it signs up a political party too offensive even for the French Front National in order to keep the cash taps on, honour and decency might be too much to expect…

  • Stephen Campbell 22nd Oct '14 - 2:05pm

    Sorry, but millions of people who used to vote for your party will never do so again. Now that you’re polling lower than the Greens in a few polls, has the penny dropped that the very people you used to represent, rightly or wrongly, feel betrayed? You’re now seen, again rightly or wrongly, as a party that will do anything for power, sucks up to corporate interests like Labour and Tory and is prepared to throw the poor and vulnerable under the bus to make the Tories and their banker friends happy.

    Thanks to Clegg and his circle, you’re now seen as an establishment party where principles mean nothing. Your constitution talks about challenging power, but I don’t see you challenging corporate power which is anti-democratic and holds us all to economic ransom. The old Lib Dems would’ve been against the TTIP, but apart from a few people, I hear nothing from this party about opposing this slide into absolute corporate rule. You talk about “sympathy” – well, where was the sympathy for the disabled when it came to ATOS/DWP cruelty and sanctions? Where’s the compassion for those hit by the bedroom tax who have no suitable property to move to? Not to mention food banks. I am ashamed I spent ten years voting for you lot.

    If people want a true radical and compassionate anti-establishment party, a party more democratic than this one, a party that will challenge the corporate and neoliberal orthodoxy, not break promises on the environment and puts people before profit – Vote Green.

  • James Sandbach 22nd Oct '14 - 2:27pm

    Good to see Andrew out campaigning – even I didn’t brave Clacton! However in response to the negative comments, Andrew’s main point is that we don’t engage and interact enough at community level, and his penultimate paragraph is one that anyone who is concerned about democratic disengagement should take note of. Even the most simplest of interactions outside shopping centres or on high streets are appreciated – we don’t always need big canvass operations to engage and listen. By all means criticise us for policies you don’t like (I do this too but from the inside), but don’t criticise us for listening and talking with voters about the difficult challenges and choices that a governing party has to wrestle with.

  • Mark Valladares :
    People are fed up to the back teeth with your party’s ‘tea and sympathy’. They want action and changes that give them back some power in their lives. And they know full well that Lib Dems are the exact polar opposite of the action that they need. As for your new found sympathy? ; It’s not worth a row of beans.

  • Andy Graham could point to @Caractacus at rather a lot of things the Liberal Democrats are doing to help ordinary people for example cutting income tax for the lowest paid and delivering a fairer state pension for a start.

  • robert sayer 22nd Oct '14 - 4:25pm

    I thought the comments from Andrew were absolutely spot on. When I was campaigning a few years ago,the primary factor for our success was that we talked to people and reacted to their needs.We sometimes ignored national policies because we understood the local need. Those who write so scathingly about us have never understood our motivation.It is quite simply that we were there to improve the quality of life for our residents. The kippers have amongst them s ome decent people and voters are entitled to spit venom at the establishment. But any party which propels its advance on misinformation and fear tactics , will not survive full scrutiny when that day comes.

  • “But any party which propels its advance on misinformation and fear tactics…”
    The real misinformation comes from threads like these, and Lib Dems who keep the propaganda flowing with statements like, Ukip wants to *raise the drawbridge* and are *little Englanders who hate jonnie foreigner*.
    So how about some Ukip facts? Ukip want an Australian model of immigration from the EU. Where is the fear factor, in that? We only want what any sovereign country wants,… control of our borders to let in who we consider valuable to our economy.
    Are you suggesting the Australian model is racist, misinformed and a message of fear tactics?

  • Tony Dawson 22nd Oct '14 - 7:00pm

    As someone who learned to sail there as a kid, I still want to know what it was about Brightingsea which got them to reject a UKIP councillor the same day as the overall constituency of Clacton voted heavily for Douglas Carswell.

  • Malcolm Todd 22nd Oct '14 - 8:33pm

    John Dunn
    “Are you suggesting the Australian model is racist, misinformed and a message of fear tactics?”

    Well, yes. That’s a pretty good description of it. One could add: “in disarray

  • Let’s get things in perspective. The byelection was a contest between UKIP and the Tories. No other party was relevant. Similarly, the 1993 Newbury byelection was a contest between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories. No other party was relevant. However, when Labour polled less than 3% in Newbury, none of the commentators cited this as evidence that Labour was about fall off the cliff. Far from it. Labour went on to win the 1997 general election by a landslide. So what does the less than 2% we polled in Clacton tell us? Not a lot, apart from the fact that were were not relevant to that contest.

    Now let’s move to one of the more forgotten bits of the forgotten land of Clacton, namely Brightlingsea, an old port that isn’t quite connected to the sea, but has a magnificent parish church. In Brightlingsea, the same people who were giving us less than 2% in the Parliamentary byelection, gave us 22.3% in a County Council byelection held on the same day. And the Tories actually gained that seat from UKIP! So things are not always quite as simple as they look.

    Down the road from Clacton is Colchester, which has a Lib Dem MP who seems to be popular, and where the party continues to hold many of the council seats. The idea that Bob Russell is some kind of remote Westminster bureaucrat doesn’t exactly resonate, I don’t think!

  • Chris Manners 22nd Oct '14 - 11:54pm

    “. I sense that increasing the tax threshold may have been the most important and popular.”

    Doubtless the VAT hike that paid for it is popular too.

    What happened to “Paid for in full by closing loopholes that unfairly benefit
    the wealthy and polluters “‘?

    You’re toast.

  • Chris Manners 22nd Oct '14 - 11:55pm

    “So how about some Ukip facts? Ukip want an Australian model of immigration from the EU. Where is the fear factor, in that? We only want what any sovereign country wants,… control of our borders to let in who we consider valuable to our economy.”

    It’s impossible if we want to keep the access we have to the Single Market.
    Which we do, and no amount of “they want to sell us BMWs” will change that.

  • Chris Manners 22nd Oct '14 - 11:56pm

    “Andy Graham could point to @Caractacus at rather a lot of things the Liberal Democrats are doing to help ordinary people for example cutting income tax for the lowest paid .”

    So what about all the other changes? VAT? Tax credits? Spending cuts?

    Give this up.

  • @Stephen Campbell – well said.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 23rd Oct '14 - 12:25am

    @ Tony Dawson,

    The Brightlingsea Division doesn’t fall wholly within the Clacton constituency, only about half of it does.

  • Douglas Carswell had been MP since 2005 and built up a large personal vote based on casework, of which his literature boasted. Impossible to say what would have been the Clacton result had the UKIP candidate been a newcomer. In Brightlingsea there was no incumbency factor.

  • SIMON BANKS 23rd Oct '14 - 9:18am

    There are some important perceptions here, and I speak as someone who was out in the constituency most days. What we need to do, though, is to engage with the real issues affecting people and not the rumours and Aunt Sallies. Immigration, for example, has minimal impact on Clacton unless we mean the immigration of British people on benefits to cheap accommodation no longer required for holidaymakers – or the immigration of UKIP-leaning Londoners escaping the problems and sometimes the diversity of London.

    What current political leaders and many activists (but not Andy Graham) lack is plain English and directness. But both those things can lead in any direction.

    As for John Dunn’s rhetoric, the UKIP voters in Clacton were no more powerless than the average British citizen and certainly less powerless than non-citizens. They were almost all people in nice houses on reasonable incomes and perfectly capable of lobbying their local councillors or whatever. But they were fearful and resentful (plus those who might not agree with UKIP but admired Carswell for his courage). We need to get to the bottom of the fear and resentment – and peddling nostrums about immigration, gays or scroungers does nothing towards that.

  • robert sayer 23rd Oct '14 - 9:26am

    John Dunn. ignores the outlandish and brazen misinformation expressed by some in his party(including its leader) and attempts to sanitize it
    But as I said the day of reckoning will come

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