Opinion: surveying the wreckage

As a political organiser, I’ve seen the highs and now the lows that come with the territory. In Rochdale in 2005 and Manchester Withington in 2010 – the results made all the effort and long hours worth it.

In Manchester last week, I presided over losing every single seat. Yes, every single one!

It wasn’t through lack of effort. Take for example Simon Ashley, the former group leader. Simon has delivered close to 200,000 leaflets since May, good quality leaflets focusing on crucial issues like the closure of his local swimming baths (where his 2000 plus petition helped force Labour into a humiliating u-turn) Simon lost by over 600 votes. Take Deputy-Mayor elect – John Commons, 26 years of loyal service, snubbed out by over 1000 votes or Alison Firth, a former mayor and councillor for 27 years losing by over 300 votes. Across the city, 115 years of experience and dedication was wiped away.

We did go down with a fight, producing some of the best literature I’ve seen in any election. Whilst remaining relentlessly local, we also championed what we have achieved in Government. This included linking pensions to earnings, ending child detention, scrapping ID Cards and much more. We knew we were up against it though.

In Manchester, we were also up against the rhetoric from the Trinity-Mirror owned Manchester Evening News. They made the argument that the cuts to Manchester were disproportionately unfair. We tried to counter this, but even we couldn’t argue against the front loading of the cuts. People in Manchester accepted the need for cuts, we lost the argument because people didn’t deem them to be fair. What was clear though is that Labour used this to their advantage. Our argument that their cuts were politically motivated fell on death ears. Our argument that not a single Lib Dem Council were closing SureStart Centres, Libraries and Swimming Pools was also ignored.

It would be easy to blame Nick Clegg and the Coalition Government. We all know that Nick Clegg took a brave and necessary decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives. Labour for all their protests contrary simply didn’t want to go into coalition with us. When they entered coalition talks, senior Labour former Ministers like Jack Straw were trooping the airwaves saying ‘a period of opposition would be good for them. Why? They knew the state of the economy, Liam Byrne even left that note! They were like the fly-tippers who blight our communities. Willing to cause the mess, not so keen as to clean it up.

The biggest problem for us is that people in cities like Manchester simply don’t like the Conservatives. They haven’t elected one for over 30 years. Their toxic brand infiltrated our message – it didn’t help when Eric Pickles and his rent-a-quote pal Grant Shapps started attacking Manchester. This had the effect of a ‘them and us’ mentality across our city. We were on the wrong side of the argument!

It’s hard to take, when the party responsible for the economic mess benefits so dramatically. It’s hard to look a former councillor in the eye when they have just lost – many through no fault of their own. So what next? We are all pretty determined to continue the fight, continue to do what Liberal Democrats do best – put the needs of our local communities first. I hope for the sake of councillors in places like Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle and Liverpool that we can start to squeeze more out of the Tories and distant ourselves from many of wrecking policies. We can start by protecting the NHS and stop Conservatives from destroying a service we all find so dear!

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25 Comments

  • ‘it didn’t help when Eric Pickles and his rent-a-quote pal Grant Shapps started attacking Manchester. ‘

    Nick Clegg has been running around making disingenuous comparisons between Sheffield and Manchester, so to leave him off this seems poor form. And your, ‘blame the media,’ line leaves a bad taste in the mouth too.

    ‘What was clear though is that Labour used this to their advantage.’

    Yes….how dare the opposition oppose?

    Ellie – ‘The bottom line is that the vast majority of people don’t vote with their brains’

    The mind boggles.

  • @John Brace -Literature is not everything, people vote with their heart and their emotions.

    @Ellie – The bottom line is that the vast majority of people don’t vote with their brains: they vote with their jerking knees and with their spleens……………….Voters seem to be best at voting for the removal of their own noses

    Hmmm…. I bet that will endear you to the voters… if I was the Labour election agent I would be saving up your choicest quotes for my leaflets next May – Insulting the electorate seems to be a common theme on these pages at the moment.

  • The problem for the Lib-Dems is being a junior partner in government is in many ways the worst of all possible worlds. Someone who disagrees with the government’s policies just votes for Labour. Someone who agrees with them may as well vote Conservative – as a result, the larger of the two parties tends to get the electoral “credit”, the smaller one, the “blame”.

  • Dave Hennigan 12th May '11 - 12:32pm

    Duncan – My point is that the Labour Party deliberately made the cuts worse for their own political gain. I’ll give you an example – Levenshulme Swimming Baths – The first thing that even staff knew of a potential closure of the pool was when they received a leaflet from the Labour Candidate entitled ‘Save our Baths’ – even though they had made the decision to close it. I agree that Nick Clegg getting involved in the argument wasn’t helpful.

    As for the media, I am not blaming them for everything but they certainly didn’t help. They ran a petition against the cuts but ignored the fact that Labour were cutting 10% more than they needed to under the terms of the Government settlement.

    John – Your argument with John Commons is absolutely irrelevant. John was a hardworking councillor for the Levenshulme Ward for over a quarter of a century. I know, I served for 5 of those years in his ward. It’s not just a case of standing again next year – many of our losing candidates will have to wait 4 years before standing again. I think that is a tragedy!

    Peebee – I think you are correct to say we should moderate our language when speaking about voters.

    David – Yes, we will fight back but at present we are working out what to do differently next year. We have seen a huge shift in the way we need to campaign yet I don’t see much evidence of Campaign’s Department addressing this.
    Dave Hennigan

  • @Peebee:

    Indeed. Any opposition candidate should be saving these anti-public quotes and using them in future elections. The last thing you want to do in a democracy (especially after losing an election) is to insult the voters and call them names. This is not only the height of arrogance but also the sort of smug superiority we had to endue with New Labour. At least Labour are starting to admit their mistakes. Most LDs are still in the grip of a delusional, almost religious and cult-like devotion to the Coalition.

    If these lot were in power in 2003, I bet you a million quid the they would have gladly signed up to the Iraq war.

  • @Ellie – The bottom line is that the vast majority of people don’t vote with their brains: they vote with their jerking knees and with their spleens……………….Voters seem to be best at voting for the removal of their own noses

    It’s called democracy, or perhaps you only wish people of a certain IQ to be able to vote?

  • Dave Hennigan 12th May '11 - 2:39pm

    Should have mentioned Paul Ankers who ran a storming campaign and couldn’t do any more.

  • So basically it’s everybody’s fault but your own?

  • Twice in your article you blame labour for the economic mess. Do you believe that labour was responsible for the financial crisis?

  • Dave Please answer
    this question. It is crucial.

  • As I was part of the Save Levy Baths campaign, and Mr Hennigan was never present, I can say this isn’t accurate at all. Please get your facts right. Further, Mr Hennigan should desist from taking people’s facebook pages wihout their permission and trying to defame community campaigners just because it was a community campaign for the baths outside of the Lib Dems’ control. Abusive behaviour on Twitter and bullying to boot lost you plenty of votes for your Cllrs. in two wards. Think on it, and try to be nice to people?

  • If I may Alan.

    The GEC was gonna happen anyway, what was up for question is how well prepared we were to weather the storm.

    Between 2002 and 2008 the economy grew at an average rate of 2.5% a year.

    Every one of those years Labour borrowed an average of £33.5bn.

    That took our debt from £316bn to £525bn – that’s before the banks went bust and we were plunged into a recession.

    Our debt now stands at over £1trn and is rising at a rate of £411m every day.

    I think that if Labour had used the growth years to pay our debt off, rather than increasing it, we wouldn’t be in such a mess that we are now.

    All the data is here: http://bit.ly/hjFTAt

  • @Lev

    Up until 2002 Labour were paying down debt. The Tories ran a deficit for 16 of the 18 years they were in power and quadrupled the national debt. Clearly things would be a bit better if Labour had continued to run a surplus 2002 onwards and by the same token things would be better if the Tories hadn’t added massively to the debt in the 80’s and 90’s but the major reason we are in such a hole is because of the size and importance of financial services to our economy. The fact that we have such an unbalanced economy and the enormous risks that entailed can fairly be laid at the door of both the main parties.

  • “Our argument that not a single Lib Dem Council were closing SureStart Centres, Libraries and Swimming Pools was also ignored.”

    Heres a tip, if you the public to respect you and vote for you; don’t lie to them. Channel 4 checked your pledge on sure start and Lib Dem councils have closed these centres (http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/lib-dems-sure-start-promise-ends-in-tears/6057). Now again you have broken so many promises, what is one more.

  • Fact Check need to check their facts. The children’s centre in Kingston was not one funded by Government Sure Start money. They were unable to find one example of any Government Funded sure start centres which a Lib Dem council has closed.

  • From what I understand about Sure Start Centres is that the building may not have closed but there is no funding for staff or activities have been vastly reduced. In effect an empty shell. It is a bit of spin and a bit disingenuous. No one is fooled by it.

  • Your Statement Being “It wasn’t through lack of effort. Take for example Simon Ashley, the former group leader. Simon has delivered close to 200,000 leaflets since May, good quality leaflets focusing on crucial issues like the closure of his local swimming baths (where his 2000 plus petition helped force Labour into a humiliating u-turn) Simon lost by over 600 votes. ”
    As a person who supported Simon in the past and lives in the area Gorton South your Statements are unfounded evidence. Agreed the Public mood of the Country is one of Let down by Lib Dem not sticking to promises set down in Manifestos.
    But The humble man wins the day Simon leaflets where and this is Local opinion
    1 Too Many Every couple of days
    2 Some Very unfair remarks about opposition ( Dog Fouling, Did not know where local pub was, Does not live in area and Some Jibe on Spot the Pub)
    3 Past achievements inc His Farther Benches in Gorton Cemetery & Debdale Park, Turning Down Pelican Crossing Volume are there really what Local people wish to know or is this a ego Boost?
    4 There are No local Baths in Gorton South nearest that’s closed in last 4 years is in Reddish
    5 If Anyone does not believe that when I say they where not good leaflet, I scan them and email them to you or put them on Facebook
    People just did not turn out for Lib Dems the Labour Vote Held Strong because in my View the Humble man Wins

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