Opinon: #libdemfightback is for old and new members working together to rebuild the party

Aye, I can remember the good old days for the Liberal Democrats. Eighteen percent popular vote share, twenty members of Parliament including one in Liverpool. Aye, golden days indeed.

When you are the baby of your local community council and eligible for the long service award at the annual membership awards at the age of 40, it can make you wonder if it’s time for me to rest on my laurels and let the fightback be done by these new 16,000 members.  If that is the case, then I am sorry but that is not how we work because (and this may come as a surprise to our new members) this is fightback number five.

Fightback number one lasted from 1951 – 1966, a time when it was not only impossible to get people to vote Liberal but also impossible to even find someone to stand for the Liberals. At the 1955 general election, we only managed to field a hundred and ten candidates but by 1964 we were managing to field almost a full slate of candidates and in 1966 we won twelve seats across the UK, our highest post war level.

Fightback number two was from 1971 – 1974 when after losing half our seats in the 1970 general election we started our tradition of winning by-elections that rocked the country. Who can forget Sutton and Cheam in December 1972? Isle of Ely and Ripon in July 1973? And of course what list would be complete without Berwick upon Tweed in November of the same year?

Fightback number three didn’t even start until 1981 when after being ejected from power (following the Lib-Lab pact) it took us some time to find our feet but when we did, boy did people take notice! Croydon North West, Crosby, Glasgow Hillhead to name just three and the icing on the cake was a 23% vote share.

Fightback number four was the one that I was involved in after a generally okay election but in Ceredigion a tragedy as Geraint Howells (elected as a Liberal in February 1974) lost his seat to Plaid Cymru. I missed that election by a matter of months and so in June 1992, I joined the Liberal Democrats to see at least four things happen. Firstly Ceredigion return to the fold (2005), followed by a Liberal Democrat government in Westminster (partially achieved in 2010), the creation of a Welsh parliament (1999) and the election of a Liberal Democrat member for Ceredigion in that parliament (yet to be achieved).

So this is the fifth fightback that our party has had in some sixty five years and therefore I believe it is up to us “old folk” (for want of a better word) to stand up and be counted. Therefore, I am stepping up to the plate, and have today finished off my application to be approved as a candidate with the intention of seeking to be nominated as a candidate for the National Assembly elections next year for the Liberal Democrat regional list in Mid and West Wales.

* Harry Hayfield is a the sole Liberal Democrat representative on Llansantffraed Community Council in Ceredigion and has been a member of the Liberal Democrats for 24 years

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  • Good stuff Harry! I joined the (then) Liberal Party around 1983 so was part of fightback #3. I well remember the fun years of the Liberal/SDP Alliance and the (alas unfulfilled) expectation that we might actually be able to form a government. Not sure about the “old folk” tag though. I personally like to maintain the fantasy that I’m still young (at heart, at least). That said, I do hope Norman Lamb becomes leader, as it will be nice (once again) to have a leader who’s older than me!

    Like you, I have grim memories of the times when things weren’t going so well. But I too am keen for the fight-back and ready to do my bit. Our country needs liberalism and the Liberal Democrats. Our challenge in the coming years is making people realise that (although I expect the Tories and Labour to help with that). Good luck with the nomination application. I look forward to seeing another old’un elected to the Welsh Assembly!

  • Aye Mark, “older than me”. That is one of the problems. This “fight back” is different. Today we compete with UKIP, The Greens, Plaid, and the SNP, and who knows who else may appear. In those days we were really the only recipient of that protest and it gave us a bit of a head start comparitively speaking. This is going to be a very long hill to climb and like humpty dumpty we may have several falls on the way. Therefore we need a leader for probably three general elections, as with David Steel. Mr Lamb will be 72/3 by then. Call it ageism if you like but it is not really on. We require an inspirational figure who is going to take on the likes of the Greens and who can appeal to Labour voters, being so directly associated with the coalition make s him detrimental in that area as well. Looking at the choice in a logical manner, thinking of ten to fifteen years time Farron appears much, much the better choice, especially if we are going to have any chance at all of getting back all those lost voters in Scotland, Wales, London , The Midlands and the North..

  • Well, I didn’t mean to hijack the post into a leadership debate – sorry for that! However, as someone who clearly is no longer in the first flush of my youth, I’m going to argue that age ought to be irrellevant, especially as our population achieves greater and greater life expectancy.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Jun '15 - 1:56am

    Well done and thanks for applying to be a candidate. I thank all good democrats for putting themselves forward.

    I’m hoping to break out of my rut, but at the moment I’m kind of straddling Lib Dems and Labour, trying to contribute to both. It is quite strange because I wanted another Con-Lib Dem coalition, but at the moment I feel the Conservatives are a bit unhinged whereas Labour are becoming more inclusive.

  • Theakes
    “Today we compete with UKIP, The Greens, Plaid, and the SNP,”
    Yesterday we competed with Plaid and SNP (they have been around for a while)
    In the 1950s the Communist party was the fourth Party.The Greens are todays communards.
    Who can forget Desmond Donnelly’s Democratic Party. Yesterday’s Ukippers.
    There is only one Liberal Party.

  • I remember all the fight-backs and more great programmes we fought for [great campaigns come to those who wait]. Thanks for the reminders. The growth of our party has always been slow and the declines sometimes rapid. Never ‘easy come, easy go’ – well, the ‘easy go’ is true.

    Let’s pray that our members vote for the leader who can revive us again. I have a clear view who that could be but will keep it to myself. Remember that revival will take a long time, need many more membership drives, some great campaigns to gather even more active supporters, rebuilding the party in every village, town and constituency – because no-one knows where the chances [to be elected] will come from. Meanwhile, we must be prepared to gather like bees to help at any bye-elections – of any kind.

  • Dr David Hill
    And what about the people’s fears concerning the TPP?

  • Kevin Manley 21st Jun '15 - 10:06pm

    Good article. I’m both a new member – re-joined after Charles Kennedy died – and an old duffer of a similar vintage to you, having been a Y & S member during fightback no. 4, helping out (admittedly in a very minimal way by just delivering leaflets – I was only 15 after all!) in the 1990 Ribble Valley by-election – volunteered to help mainly as I lived there and as an anti-poll tax thing rather than out of any real commitment to the party – and then again in 1992 trying to get Michael Carr re-elected. Sort of drifted away after that. I think the party needs to realise its near-annihilation is in large part down to the core vote built up by Ashdown / Kennedy since fightback no. 4, who in my view are generally left of centre / social democrats and anti-Tory as much as they are liberal – completely deserting the party not only in 2015, but at every election since 2010 when the party did what those voters thought was the unthinkable. There are no right of centre economic liberal voters queuing up to take their place – they’re still voting Tory or UKIP. Fightback No. 5 is only gling to gain traction in my view if the party realises that, and decides what it stands for – and, importantly, what it stands against.

  • John Tilley 22nd Jun '15 - 7:17am

    Kevin Manley 21st Jun ’15 – 10:06pm

    I was amused that someone born in 1975 (is that right?) you regard yourself as “an old duffer”. 🙂
    I have not been to any of the much hyped “New Members” meetings but it is clear from the photos in LDV that a lot of these “new” members are a lot older than you.

    Your analysis of the election disaster last month is spot on. You have managed to sum up in a couple of sentences the essential truth of politics for Liberal Democrats in 2015 —
    “…. There are no right of centre economic liberal voters queuing up to take their place – they’re still voting Tory or UKIP. Fightback No. 5 is only going to gain traction .. if the party realises that, and decides what it stands for – and, importantly, what it stands against.”

    Right of centre voters will always vote for right wing parties when push comes to shove.

    Unfortunately it appears as though the divisions of the last few years are being actively continued by the faction that seeks to impose right of centre agenda on the rest of us. Whoever is elected leader it is beginning to appear that these people with their own agenda will continue to try and use whatever methods they can because they will not even acknowledge the results of May 2015 or the resuts of the elections in any May in recent memory.

    I am very glad you have come back, we need people with your understanding in the mainstream of Liberal Democrat beliefs as set out in The Preamble to the constitution.

  • John Tilley 22nd Jun '15 - 7:21am

    Harry Hayfield,
    Thank you for your article which I enjoyed reading and provides a brief trip through my political lifetime as someone who voted Liberal in June 1970 a few weeks after my 18 th birthday and managed to join the party in September 1970 after the worst general election result I thought imaginable…. (until last month).

  • Kevin Manley 22nd Jun '15 - 8:48pm

    @john tilley 1974 actually, but I was joining in with the author’s ironic (or at least I hope it was ironic!) reference to himself being one of the older, longer serving members at the age of 40! Glad you agree. I re-joined on the night Charles Kennedy died after being reminded by all the tributes of what the party had grown to stand for under him and Paddy Ashdown, in the hope that it can be brought back to something more like the party it was then – a libral party yes, but also a social democrat one; the party needs to remember what “Democrat” in its name is shorthand for. Would the party as led by either of them have gone into Coalition with the Tories? Doubtful but possible. Would it have let the Tories get away with a lot of what they got away with, and allowed the party and its MPs to casually abandon a key pledge, losing massive amounts of trust in the process? No way.

  • Kevin Manley 22nd Jun '15 - 8:51pm

    Also referencing that a local parliamentary candidate was 23 and still at uni! Made me feel a bit old that did!

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