Mary Reid on Nick’s first 100 days

Just before we knew who our new Leader would be, I wrote one of the pieces on Lib Dem Voice giving him some advice for the first 100 days.

I said:

We all know that our real power base is in local government. And it is here that some of the most interesting initiatives in community politics are being played out by Lib Dem run councils.

So I want to challenge the new leader to capitalise on our distinctive style of leadership out beyond Westminster. He could begin by a fact-finding tour of the country, and, guided by local knowledge, align himself with the greenest or most citizen-centric initiatives that have been introduced by our councillors. Each one will be accompanied by a challenge to the other parties to show whether they have done anything similar.

Well, Nick obviously read this and took note!

He started the New Year with a series of Town Hall meetings. The outward purpose of these meetings is to make himself accessible to local people, but at the same time I’m sure he is investigating those Lib Dem initiatives that are fleshing out our principles in local government.

I hope he’s been pleased with what he has seen; I expect him to have been surprised by the variety of the innovations.

I then wrote this:

This could have both internal and external benefits – it will raise the profile of councillors in the party, and will demonstrate to the country that it is possible to bring about significant changes at a local level. It will also portray the new leader as someone who understands the real local issues that people care about.

We councillors did get a mention in Nick’s speeches at Liverpool, but I think this can be developed much further, and for several reasons.

On the one hand, councillors would feel valued. Councillors who receive recognition will take more risks and push the boundaries of Liberal Democracy yet further.

On the other hand, MPs need to acknowledge that they stand on the shoulders of councillors – very few, if any, Westminster seats have been won without success at the local Council first. We need our Parliamentary colleagues to celebrate what we do, and to recognise that many of us much prefer working in local government where we can bring about change. We have high ambitions, but they are not always directed towards Westminster.

So my advice for the next 100 days?

1. Share your findings about Liberal Democrats in the Town Halls with the rest of us.
2. Put a stronger focus on local government at Bournemouth this year.
3. Have a Town Hall meeting in Kingston and find out how the founding father of neighbourhood devolution is still drawing the community into its decision-making. Here real consultation is the norm for all decisions, right down to street corner meetings with residents on chilly Saturday mornings to decide where white lines will be painted (I write with some feeling…)

* Mary Reid is a Liberal Democrat councillor in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, and blogs at www.maryreid.org.uk

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