Obituary: Brian Niblett – Liberal Democrat ‘force of nature’

Brian NiblettVeteran Liberal Democrat campaigner, Brian Niblett, sadly passed away on 10 December following a year-long battle with cancer.

Brian Niblett came from modest beginnings, growing up in Filton, South Gloucestershire, the youngest of four children. Brian joined British Gas as an apprentice and went on to become a chartered engineer and enjoy a 22 year career with the company. His final role was as head of public relations for the Middle East and Africa before he left in 1996 to focus on politics and to set up his own PR and marketing consultancy with his partner, Lisa.

Brian joined the Liberal Democrats while living in Taunton in the early 1980s. He always said that it felt like the constituency had a membership prevention officer because he found it so hard to join. The experience always lived with Brian and he became passionate about membership recruitment and activist development.  

Brian arrived in West Berkshire in the early 1990s. He quickly re-established a thriving Lib Dem branch in the mainly rural area of Hungerford and Lambourn. Brian was a remarkably skilled organiser and motivator. When he put on a branch event, you knew it would be very well attended, effective and enjoyable. Preparing sheets of voters, calling round volunteers to encourage them, assigning roles – these tasks were meat and drink to Brian. He knew how to get large groups enthusiastically rallying to the cause. He worked long and hard to build the local organisation. When needed, he didn’t flinch in taking the ‘bull by the horns’ and, for example, going round a neglected delivery network to cajole and persuade deliverers, with remarkable success on all occasions.

Brian Niblett took a very active interest in the Newbury constituency organisation. He was a key member of the campaign team which returned David Rendel as MP for 12 years. A very wise counsellor in the leadership of the local party, he was particularly expert at advising on relations with the media, based on his wide professional experience.

In 1998, Brian was selected as a Euro candidate for the East Midlands region. His energy, enthusiasm and humour made him an early front runner but he was eventually overtaken on the party’s list by future leader Nick Clegg. Brian put in so much effort, visiting the thousands of members and turning up at so many local party events across the region. He may not have come top of the list, but he did win the affection of the members.

A council by-election in the Erewash ward of Sandiacre provided an opportunity for all the potential MEPs to show off their campaigning skills. Brian left Berkshire in the middle of the night to be there to deliver Good Morning leaflets and kept going until the polls closed. He went on some very long knocking up routes. People were amazed at how refreshed he could be after just a 10 minute power nap.

If Brian committed himself to something, he really delivered. He was an instinctive campaigner who did all he could to help local parties raise their profile. Just before the European election, it looked as if there might be a by-election in Newark after the sitting MP and her agent were found guilty of electoral fraud. Brian was chosen to be the candidate. An HQ on the market square was duly established and the legendary Pat Wainwright moved in to manage it. Brian did a huge amount of work, which contributed to our successful European result.

Brian then went on to fight the Bristol East constituency in the 2001 general election, where he substantially increased the party’s share of the vote. During Brian’s time campaigning in Bristol he was active in membership recruitment and a number of council election and by-election victories. During the 2005 and 2010 general elections, Brian and Lisa were also regular supporters of the campaign for Liverpool Wavertree.

Brian Niblett was a former member of the Federal Policy Committee and helped to shape the party’s energy and health policies. He was a regular contributor to Lib Dem News on a wide range of topics and themes, particularly electoral reform and election communication strategy. Brian was passionate about opportunities for everyone and was instrumental in setting up the committee to help encourage minority party members to stand for parliament in the then Chilterns Region.

Wherever Brian went, jollity was never far off. Post-canvassing drinks were full of hysterical laughter as we remembered incidents from the trail, with Brian at the centre of the fun.

Though taken from us sadly far too young, Brian will remain an inspiration to Liberal Democrats who knew him. As we continue the #libdemfightback, the memory of ‘Nibbles’ will embolden us to “get stuck in”.

One dictionary describes ‘force of nature’, when applied to a person as ‘full of energy, unstoppable…unforgettable’. Those are certainly descriptions that, those who met him would readily agree, applied to Brian.

Written by Lisa Whellams, Colin Eldridge, Caron Lindsay and Paul Walter.

Our photo shows Brian at the start of the 2003 anti-Iraq war march in London.

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8 Comments

  • Liberal Neil 5th Jan '16 - 12:10pm

    I am so sad to hear this news.

    I worked with Brian for many years through the Newbury campaign and his support for the region.

    This is a lovely tribute which fully reflects his enthusiasm for campaigning and for life.

    He’ll be missed.

  • Sorry – breaking my promise of not posting again on this site.

    Brian always had a way of getting you to do things………. and enjoy them. I am proud to say Brian was a friend.

  • Melissa Harper 5th Jan '16 - 2:44pm

    Brian was my uncle and will always be foundly remembered. I’m so proud of what he achieved, his drive and his principles and have always looked up to him. It brings great comfort to learn he made a difference to so many which I hope means he will not easily be forgotten.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 5th Jan '16 - 9:27pm

    Melissa, much sympathy on the loss of your uncle. He was such a good guy. Thank you for your comment.

  • Sorry to hear this, I remember Brian well from the 1999 euro elections. Although low on the list he was completely dedicated to supporting the campaign, and a pleasant candidate to work with (and as an agent I don’t often say that!)

  • So very sorry to read this. I had an enormous amount of respect for Brian, who was always supportive as a mentor, in terms of producing relevant paperwork in an Exec Committee meeting at just the right time, for instance.

    I hope someone reading this may be able to pass on my love and condolences to Lisa.

  • Brian was a wonderful, patient, generous mentor I and the party owe him loads. Melissa I can promise you he won’t be forgotten.

  • He was one of the good guys.

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