Opinion: Where we work we get a pasting

Blackadder Quote From DVDAfter another bruising local government election in Hastings & Rye – a parliamentary target back in 1997 – the Liberal Democrats remain without any councillors on Hastings Borough Council and notched up a pallid 7% of the vote across the town.

This is pretty much a re-run of the 2012 result. Once again, targeting just one Council ward, we achieved a swing from Labour to Lib Dem, but did not come close to a gain.

This is one of the foremost bellweather constituencies of the South East, and is already a key Tory-Labour battleground for the 2015 General Election.

We have a functional local party here, with committed folk, many of whom have been members for a very long time.

I know that we have worked like stink for as long as I have lived down here (since 2007, when I was first selected as PPC) trusting in the leadership and the old slogan of ‘Where we work, we win’. Except it’s not true.

Where we work, and where we have massive organisation, and one of the two main national parties is nowhere, we now win. Anywhere else, we seem to be getting a total pasting.

To use the Great War language that is currently part of the discussion over the Leadership, we are the Hastings & Rye Pals. We are in the trenches, shovelling the shit, week in week out, month in month out.

We are only too aware of the possibility of General Lords Ashdown and Clegg, and aides de camp Laws and Alexander discussing strategy over the political equivalent of  Lafite and Filet Mignon.

The arrogance of Lord Ashdown on the television this weekend, in the wake of activists suggesting a review of leadership and strategy was breathtaking; and reminded me personally why I did not join the party under his leadership, and why I learned to like him more in his avuncular, post-Westminster incarnation.

By the way, we have not signed the open letter in Hastings & Rye. We have decided instead to have a formal, democratic debate about whether to become one of the 75 constituencies needed to request a leadership election.

Most party members still left here supported the Coalition – its formation, as well as the need for it to continue until 2015.

Most believe that the Party must stick to the thankless task of putting national interest before party interest.

But the leadership should reflect, as it sips from the metaphorical cut glass, on the whole political generation sacrificed across the party…

Even if there does not end up being a leadership change before the General Election next year, this  does not mean it is not worth the leadership listening to the cannonfodder in the trenches.

Unhappily, the perception is that Clegg has chosen advisors who, in the words of Blackadder‎, can hit a six, and take a hot crumpet from behind without blubbing.

It is just-about-not-too-late for the leadership to demonstrate that it is being advised by electorally successful, battle-hardened activists from around the country, and from some different political terrains than represented just by the parliamentary party.

The leadership needs to show that it cares about us still being a national Liberal Democrat party; not just a party of government. And not just a party of a few citadels (even if there is a pragmatic reality about what we need to do next year).

And it needs to show day in, day out,  that it remains passionate about our values as espoused in the preamble. All of those values – the indivisible positive as well as negative freedoms. Not just through  high-minded media pontificating, but in street-smart national politics.

If it does not, then the sacrifice will no longer have been worth it.

* Nick Perry is an approved mental health professional and was the parliamentary candidate for Hastings & Rye at the General Election.

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  • I find that where we don’t put Nick Clegg on our leaflets, we win.

  • Sorry you didnt win – but how do you explain many areas that did win – in constituencies without an MP? Admittedly there arnt a lot – but it is possible –

  • Keith Sharp 27th May '14 - 3:31pm

    If the ‘Where We Work, We Win’ was just an unthinking reflex from someone trying to find a positive out of these awful results, then you could understand it. But it’s still on the website; and sadly betrays a blind adherence to campaigning doctrines which are now obsolete. As a way of becoming known locally, when we were little known nationally; and when the other parties hadn’t caught on to localised campaigning; and when there was next to no on-line social media, then you could maybe make that kind of claim. None of those factors apply now; and we have to re-think the way we campaign.

    Next thing we’ll be hearing that, in the likes of Islington and Haringey, all would have been fine if only we had delivered more Focus leaflets….

  • Excellent

  • Well said on Lord Ashdown, I am awaiting an article which will maybe give some Clegg apologists a very different view of him when the truth is out, watch this space.

  • The Annette Brooke email on Saturday conveying the “Where we Work We Win” Rubbish was disgracegful

  • Norman Mills 27th May '14 - 5:03pm

    Excellent article Nick. As one of the 1700 Lib Dem Councillors who have lost our Council seats since 2010 – despite working 7 days a week on many occasions- I couldn’t agree more with the points you make. For the Lib Dem Party to say ” Where we work we win” is an absolute disgrace, and is an insult to the 1700 of us who did give so much of our private lives to this Party.

  • In our borough, we focused on just 1 ward (and no hope to win even there, just hoping to put a foothold to built on). when the results came: almost all the other wards, were there was no campaigning, did (very slightly) better (or rather very slightly less worse) than the target one.. so yeah, Where we work we get a pasting :-/

  • There is a crisis of leadership in all three major parties, excluding UKIP, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see all three with different leaders come 2015. Cameron because his MPs will get increasingly jittery about UKIP and he won’t be able to satisfy their demands. Watch the outcme of the imminent byelection. Milliband because he appears unable to cash in on Tory unpopularity to the extent demanded by Labour’s rank & file. Clegg because his wooden, uncharismatic form of Tory-lite has very little appeal to all but hardcore supporters. As an ex- longtime Liberal/LibDem member, activist and employee I have been bitterly disappointed at what Clegg & Co have been prepared to stomach to retain their positions in coalition. The driverless LibDem train has just smashed through level crossing gates on its way to becoming completely derailed a year from now.
    The coalition was the only responsible short-term solution to the economic situation in 2010 but once a five year fixed term parliament had been introduced Lib Dem interests would have been served by announcing, after two years, or so once things had stabilised, that the coaltion arrangement would end at a given date. Perhaps two years out from the GE at which point LibDems would support legislation introduced on a bill by bill basis until the election. The survival of the Liberal Democrats as a potent fprce has been given little weight, however.
    There is no alternative seems to be the parrot cry of those LibDems backing coalition policies however unfair, divisive and illiberal. The party’s right-wingers are well and truly in the ascendancy. I wonder how many will simply move just a little further right and join the Tories following the implosion of the Liberal Democrats? After all, they have been content to support a whole raft of policies based on Tory ideology few, if any of which, would have been given an airing, let alone approved, by any LibDem conference I attended over a 25 year period.
    LibDem party membership must have ‘churned’ over the past decade and I guess that the left of centre committed activists that were the engine room of the party have been replaced. My hope is that a new party will arise from the ashes of 2015 to fill the gaping hole in UK politics.

  • Great piece Nick. I remember working a lost cause in Rutland in the 1970s. It was a thankless task. In those days the few MPs we had each helped six neighbouring constituencies and we were grateful for the support and encouragement of Clement Freud in Ely. The Party Leadership do need to be listening, getting out into areas outside the target seats and reasserting our basic values in plain language and not just spouting slogans.

  • Pegasus Take comfort, you almost certainly did worse in the ward where you worked because it was only one ward contested and your opponents could concentrate their fire on you there. You clearly had them worried!! They still take us as a very serious threat. They know that once we get a foothold we can quickly become a real threat. And if nothing else they up their game and democracy and your local community is better for it. Just keeping the other party honest and engaged is worthwhile.

  • Tony Greaves 27th May '14 - 7:00pm

    We got the best result in my ward in Pendle for at least 30 years (I was agent not candidate) and the best result for many years in the other ward in Colne that we were defending. Both wards that rank highly on the various indices of multiple deprivation. Of course there were a lot of strong local reasons why we could do this. A couple of small hints though. (1) In most places on leaflets where we would normally use the word “Liberal” we used “LOCAL” instead. (2 We deliberately distanced ourselves from the outside world. “This is a LOCAL election, nothing to do with Europe and nothing to do with national politics – it’s about who will represent us all best on Pendle Council.” Some of us remembered times past such as 1979, 1998/9, and dug out the old artwork and the old slogans and arguments. And we did not use the words strong, economy, fair or society or any of the other less than helpful stuff churned out by LD HQ.


  • Joshua Dixon 27th May '14 - 8:38pm

    I fought a ward where we have historically topped the vote (2002 and 2006) or at least come a strong second (2010). In the months leading up (and many months before) I was canvassing pretty much daily. We delivered numerous focus leaflets, target letters, conducted surveys, sent emails and ran a polling day operation on connect for the first time. We canvassed literally thousands of people. Where did we come? 4th, over 1000 votes behind the winners. For all our hard work a respectable 2nd would have been acceptable in an area of strength…but 4th?

  • Joshua sorry to hear that. Any ideas why?

  • Dulce et decorum est pro partes mori?

  • Joshua Dixon 27th May ’14 – 8:38pm

    Joshua, that sounds dreadful. Was it local factors ?
    When you were knocking on doors speaking to people – what did they say?
    Did this result come as a complete shock at the count or were you expecting it before the day?

    Or was it the dead weight of Clegg, dragging you down? That was certainly the case across most London Boroughs.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May '14 - 6:19am

    Nick Perry

    I get the feeling it is easier when the seats are Tory-facing. We are Labour-facing at Borough level which is unusual in the South East.

    Well, there was an implosion of the Liberal Democrats in Adur some time ago, and they seem to have been pretty much wiped out in Worthing – all at one time considered prime hope for building up Liberal and Liberal Democrat support to the level of Westminster representation.

    As a native of Sussex myself, I think the common line from the commentariat that the Liberal Democrats need to become more like the Conservatives to win in the south is all wrong. Ordinary southern people are not nearly so Conservative-oriented as outsiders suppose. Part of the problem is the electoral system which gives the impression that the south is nothing but Conservative because the substantial non-Conservative vote in the south translates to very few MPs. But another part of the problem was that the south was where people who by social class would in the past have been Labour started drifting off and taking the view “all the parties are the same, none of them are interested in us”. This happened very much in the1970s, with Labour’s image as the party of the industrial north, and now happens with Labour’s image as the party of metropolitan elite types.

    If people are drifting around thinking all the parties are the same, none of them are speaking for us, they’re as likely to go to the Conservatives as to Labour, but this should not be interpreted, as it wrongly is, that there is any great enthusiasm for the Conservatives. There is a bedrock of hard Conservative support in the south, but it’s not nearly as big as most imagine. I find that most people outside the wealthy classes in the south have no more support for Conservative Party economics as anywhere else. The idea that a strong “economic liberal” line will attract them, because that is closer to the Conservatives, is very wrong.

    The Liberal Party was able to build on this “no-one speaks for us” feeling in the south, it was where much of the big rise in support for the third party in 1974 took place. Unfortunately, the Liberal Democrats of today seem determined to build the sort of metropolitan elite image that put working class southerners off Labour in the past, combined with an economic liberal approach which isn’t much of an attraction either. UKIP are now exploiting the “no-one speaks for us” feeling.

    I can’t see an easy way out of this towards rebuilding the party in the south. But it would have helped all along to have had a leader who actually knew how and why people voted for us, rather than one who seemed to see the party solely in terms of building appeal to London-based media commentators.

  • iantha kirkup 30th May '14 - 5:27am

    I have a question, now we are a party of government should we no longer be concentrating soley on local issues? When canvassing in the SE region for Euro only election I found voters wanting to know our reasons for Europe not local issues. In the very short time on the doorstep I did my best to explain why Europe matters and why the Libdems matter.

  • iantha kirkup
    Forget about all issues – Clegg would like you to stop thinking for yourself, shut your eyes and dream of next May when he walks back into The Cabinet Office still the Deputy Prime Minister for a second term of coalition.

    Like a scene from Peter Pan the party is now reduced to this, if we all just wish then Tinkerbell will live on as Deputy Prime Minister.

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