Opinion: Lib Dems take power in York

York swimming pool successThe last few weeks have been an intense time for all Liberal Democrats not least here in York.

After a gruelling campaign and against the national trend, we made gains in the city’s ‘all up’ local elections increasing our seats from the 8 won in 2011 to 12 this time.

These results were down to the hard work and dedication of our candidates and volunteers, such as Local Party Chair Stephen (now Councillor) Fenton, Print Room Supremo Richard Hill, Citywide Agent Derek Wann, along with countless others.

It was also down to a local party which (as I wrote on this website back in June 2013) was forced into a “period of serious self-reflection” following disappointing losses in the 2011 local elections.

What eventually sprung from this was a very localised campaign. Street-based issues filled our Focus, glossy leaflets and target letters with ‘Stronger Economy, Fairer Society’ perhaps getting less of a mention.

The key factor was being relevant to local voters. On salient issues such as the threat to York’s historic Yearsley Swimming Pool and youth services at the Castlegate Centre we campaigned hand-in-hand with local residents (aided by welcome visits from Baroness Walmsley and Sir Malcolm Bruce respectively).

We took this approach into the elections, building our campaign on the issues that mattered to local residents, with thanks to our North Yorkshire peers Baroness Harris and Lord Willis for their support.

No doubt we were helped in this by York’s Labour Council, which had spent 4 years ignoring and alienating residents with bridge closures, cuts to services and flawed Local Plans.

On May 8th our gains and Labour losses meant York had a hung council, with Labour on 15 seats, the Conservatives on 14, us on 12, the Greens on 4 and the Independents on 2.

After initially backing a ‘rainbow coalition’, it soon became clear that neither Labour nor the Conservatives favoured this option. After much discussion, we eventually hammered out a deal and agreed to enter a joint-administration with the Conservatives.

The agreement we struck with the Conservatives has produced some real wins for local residents: vital counselling for young people protected, a new plan for housing to be produced, and the return of local decision-making Ward Committees.

Yearsley Pool will also stay open and I was delighted that one of my first jobs as Deputy Leader of City of York Council was to celebrate this with local campaigners. The photograph above shows us celebrating the announcement.

We are also introducing new cross-party committees, enabling all opposition councillors to have their say on policy whilst it is being developed. This will be based on a model currently used in Wandsworth.

We are told that the new joint-administration means York has become only the third council in the north to be partly or fully run by the Lib Dems. No one is underestimating the challenge that this brings, particularly as we are sharing power with the Conservatives.

Going forward, it is crucial that we deliver at the council in the face of ongoing government cuts, continue the doorstep campaigning, and most importantly stay relevant and distinct to local voters. If we become detached from the communities we represent then the gains made this time will soon be lost.

Instead, we are determined that May’s results will be a springboard for the future. In order to fulfil this (and after only a brief pause for breath!) the campaign and ward targeting strategy for 2019 has already begun in earnest.

To find out more or to join us campaigning in York, please visit: www.yorklibdems.org.uk or email [email protected].

* Keith Aspden has been the Councillor for Fulford Ward in York since 2003 and for Fulford and Heslington Ward since 2015. Since 2019 he is the Leader of City of York Council, and the Liberal Democrat Deputy Chair of the LGA Fire Services Management Committee.

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  • We are the second party in the agreement. We know what that did to us three weeks ago, and eventually in Birmingham lets us not get excited,

  • @theakes – 14/12 seats is a far better ratio than 290/57

  • Interesting article. My experience in Pinkneys Green in Maidenhead was the same. Losing my seat in 2011 made me think again about what we needed to do – and led to me going back to basics. I won my seat back again in 2012 with an 8 vote majority and have just increased my majority to 233!

    As Tim Farron says, we need to rebuild from the bottom up – and York points the way.

  • Tony Dawson 29th May '15 - 5:37pm

    This was a stupendous result, not least because it was achieved despite a massive collapse in our Parliamentary vote in both constituencies, including York Outer which was a ‘target’ for us in the days when the use of such words was credible. Hidden away in the local election results for the city are five monstrous Lib Dem majorities which obviously include votes from people who do not always vote in local elections. There is also the issue of the Green Party in York City using FIVE different party designations aimed at maximising their chances of getting a single candidate elected in multi-member wards – and doing so rather successfully.

    The history of Liberals/Liberal Democrats in the York area is a bit of a roller coaster one and it is great that the present carriers of the baton have been able to move forward against the national tide. Let us hope that there are lessons which others will learn to come out of this.

  • “…a very localised campaign. Street-based issues filled our Focus, glossy leaflets and target letters …

    The key factor was being relevant to local voters. On salient issues such as the threat to York’s historic Yearsley Swimming Pool and youth services at the Castlegate Centre we campaigned hand-in-hand with local residents …”

    Key lessons here for those in LDV who think politics is something to do with Westminster, blinking at computer screens and listening to people like Danny Finklestein or sundry anonymous Libertarians with weird rightwing views.

  • George Potter 29th May '15 - 6:07pm

    Out of curiosity, what were the five Green party designations? I’d be interested to see if there’s anything worth copying.

  • George Potter 29th May '15 - 6:17pm

    Never mind – just found them:

    Green Party
    Green Party Lead Candidate
    Green Party First Choice Candidate
    Green Party Second Choice Candidate
    Green Party Third Choice Candidate

    Quite clever actually.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 29th May '15 - 6:27pm

    @ George,

    They did that here in Mid Suffolk too, in multi-member wards. Ironically, in one their declared second choice outpolled their declared first choice.

    It does imply that one of their candidates is less worthy than the other. I’m not sure how I’d feel about being publicly declared as such…

  • TCO all set up for Labour and the Greens to hit us next year as going with the Tories. We have to be very careful.

  • @JohnTilley

    “Key lessons here for those in LDV who think politics is . . ., blinking at computer screens and listening to people like Danny Finklestein or sundry anonymous Libertarians with weird rightwing views.”

    I thought it was required to involve all three at once. Have I been misdirected? 😉

  • @theakes well perhaps you need to point out the existence of Tory/Labour coalitions in local government and the Greens proud achievements in local government in the one council where the voters were foolish enough to give them free reign.

  • We’ve been here before -as in second party needing to maintain the “brand” with great clarity. The Tories will obviously try to take credit for all that works well, leaking and battering you for anything which LDs don’t get ‘spot on’ for your communities. As will the other parties in their different ways.

    Congratulations for carrying the baton so successfully, other focus teams throughout the country know you’ll need to keep building your teams at all levels as you are doing, support each other in times of pressure, stay healthy, don’t ‘burn out’ by trying to focus on too much, and every good wish for your future campaigns.

  • Paul In Wokingham 30th May '15 - 9:09am

    But “3rd choice” Aaron Aardvark will always outpoll “1st choice” Zebedee Zukowsky.

  • SIMON BANKS 31st May '15 - 9:09am

    Theakes is right, but we should also be cautious about extrapolating from a very different national situation. The numbers in York are almost equal, so we should be able to have as much power in the administration as the Tories. That was not so at Westminster. Our people in York might also learn from the mistakes made by Nick Clegg and others in coalition, especially in that rose-tinted-spectacles first year.

  • Verna Campbell 2nd Jun '15 - 9:14am

    I am intrigued by Keith’s comment that new cross party committees allowing all parties to have their say will be based on a Wandsworth model. Wandsworth has 39 conservative councillors, 19 labour and 2 independents. How can their committees be cross party? Does he mean made up of 2 parties? In which case with twice as many conservatives as labour they could hardly be equal as I hope ours in York will be.

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