Post 2017 Northern Liberalism

After 2015, half of our Parliamentary seats were in the North of England. Now it’s one of twelve, and only just. Across the North, especially in the cities, we fell back in 2017, losing Leeds North West, Sheffield Hallam and Southport. Why? Many reasons, but one stands out for me and that is a simple surge in Labour support. In both Leeds NW and Hallam, students registered and voted in greater numbers than ever before – in one Leeds NW ward, registration numbers increased by almost 20%. Even though Southport was lost to the Tories, we see that a surge in Labour support, and an unwillingness for Labour voters to vote for us tactically, pushed us into third place.

Does that mean that we are defeated in the North? Not at all. We still run South Lakeland Council, have sizeable groups in Sheffield, York and Newcastle, we hold fifteen of Southport’s twenty-one seats on Sefton Council, and we have nine councillors holding the line in Leeds, six of them in Leeds NW. It is also becoming increasingly clear, on the doorstep and anecdotally, that this Labour surge was national, not resulting from local issues. In Leeds NW, we have been cursed (or blessed) with a Labour MP who is rapidly making a bad reputation for himself in the constituency. There is a surprisingly high level of buyer’s remorse, especially for so early in the Parliament. People are saying on the doorstep “Oh I wish Greg had got in”, even from those who tell us they voted Labour in June. Facing all-out elections in May, we have begun our campaign early, fearing we would be heavily up against the wall, but so far our canvassing returns are good. Our new MP appears to have done little to steal our local government base it seems, even in polling districts that went Labour in June.

Southport is different (isn’t it always?). I have been out of the town for too long to know the intricacies, but we will be able to form a better judgement of our ability to rebuild there on 3rd November. Former MP John Pugh is standing in a council by-election on 2nd November in Dukes Ward, and I would urge everyone who can to help in whatever way they can. John, whatever his wider party controversies, was a fantastic local MP and advocate for the town, and Dukes, a usually Tory ward covering wealthy West Birkdale and the less wealthy town centre with a high European population, is in need of such Liberal representation.

We must not, of course, stop pushing. Whatever the local MP does, no matter the level of buyer’s remorse, seats in the North will not just fall back into our hands. In May, Leeds faces all-out elections with 99 seats up for grabs, though our efforts will be heavily targeted. Manchester and Newcastle face similar elections, while Barnsley, Bradford, Liverpool, Salford, Sefton and more face one-third elections. While between OxWAb and Westmorland there may for now be a sad lack of Lib Dem Parliamentarians, our council groups need as much support as they can get, to keep the door open for returning MPs for Hallam, Leeds NW, Southport, Cheadle, Hazel Grove and maybe more. While Scotland and London have become our strongest areas, Northern cities are already straining against Labour and in many cases, we are the only other option. So help where you can, this year’s locals are essential for showing how we deliver for local people. The North remembers…

* Ed Thornley is a member of Leeds Young Liberals, co-ordinated their campaigning in June’s General Election and is doing the same for the Leeds Council elections next year. He campaigned in Southport during the EU Referendum.

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  • We also have 9 Borough and 1 County Cllr in Chesterfield where only 6 to 7 years ago we ran the Council and elected the MP. Our Council by election gain from Labour in September was the one of the best LD results across the UK since the General Election.

    When we gained the Parliamentary seat in 2001 it was the first gain from Labour in a GE since Michael Meadowcroft won in Leeds in 1983 and only the second since WW2. In 2005 we gained a historic 11 seats from Labour marking a real breakthrough into new electoral territory. All sadly squandered since.

    Ed is right that such growing Council Groups are the future basis for electing MP’s. Serious national support is needed for such areas of proven campaigning strength rather than squandering resources on some of the wishful thinking seen between 2015-2017.

  • The much missed Richard Wainwright gained Colne Valley from Labour in the 1966 General Election, lost it in 1970 and re-gained it in the February 1974 election. So the message is that losses to Labour are not irreversible.

  • The party needs to champion the North of England and our people in it like John Leech who battle away in a very tough environment. Northern voices were noticeably absent in coalition ministerial ranks (unless you include Nick and I don’t) and thin on the ground in the party hierarchy. If you believe as many of us do that the party has something to say to every social and regional group, we should look at the red Labour expanses across the North as an anomaly and not part of the natural order and work out how to address it .We could do worse than expose the myth of Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse and the pomposity of the City Region Mayors that came as collateral damage.
    We are the only hope of genuine political pluralism in many places and we need to get behind the unsung heroes who keep slogging on in pockets of resistance like for example my good friend, colleague and fellow poster here like Paul Holmes. Paul was calling on Blair to allow councils to build houses again long before the political consensus caught up.

  • @ paul hunt Glad you mentioned Richard, Paul. A good and very generous man who gave much encouragement in my younger days……. as did dear Joyce his wife. And, of course, there was Richard’s agent, dear old Edward Dunford – steady and reliable as a rock.

    Donald and Bobby Wade are much missed too.

  • @David Raw. Yes, Richard Wainwright represents (to me, at least) a robust northern liberalism inspired by his Methodism. I can remember chatting with him on a very cold platform at Newcastle Station. I never met Donald wade but I did hear him speak at a by-election and his classic statement of Liberalism – Our Aim and Purpose (1961) – might well be read with profit by today’s Liberal Democrats. “”Looked at from a very restricted and short-sighted point of view it might still seem that the main struggle is one between Labour and Conservative, but that is a very short-sighted view. The really important and long-term conflict is between Liberals and the rest. Reduced to its simplest terms, it is Liberals against anti-Liberals.” (p.13)

  • Allen Healand 11th Oct '17 - 8:31pm

    There are17 Lib Dem councillors on Hull City Council and all out elections in 2018 with 57 councillors due to be elected. Further progress possible

  • Rochdale too is another example of a seat won (1972), lost (1997) and regained (2005) before being lost again (2010). I don’t know if the current revelations about Cyril Smith are damaging to the party locally but there does seem to be at least some Liberal tradition in the seat.
    What has always baffled me slightly about the north is our failure to make parliamentary progress in Liverpool. At different times over the years we’ve been hugely successful in local government there yet – with the single exception of David Alton – we’ve never manage to convert this into MPs.

  • Don’t forget Michael Winstanley, Cheadle 1966-70, Hazel Grove 1974 Feb-Oct, as he said the only (post war) Liberal MP to lose his seat twice in different constituencies! But seriously there was a comeback, in both seats, and that is ongoing.
    Another large northern council, Stockport, also has a large Council group, and Manchester has all ups next May in new wards. Plenty to fight for.
    Paul Holmes is right much of this success was squandered. Perhaps in ten years I may see what the benefits of the coalition were, but with the odd successful policy exception, I don’t see them now.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Oct '17 - 11:28am

    Tom 11th Oct ’17 – 11:46pm: Cyril Smith was the only one of our MPs who voted for capital punishment, according to the Liberal Democrat News.
    In the Commons this is an issue of personal conscience, which allowed Home Secretary Douglas Hurd to speak and vote against it while PM Margaret Thatcher voted in favour.
    At a rally in the Ribble Valley bye-election Cyril Smith was quoted as saying “Lancashire folks are not daft, they don’t vote Labour round here.”
    The Tory supported the poll tax and went into a depression.

  • Sue Sutherland 12th Oct '17 - 1:02pm

    I moved from Bath to Manchester a couple of years ago and, although I can’t do much because of illness, I feel as if I’ve come home politically. The North needs us even though they may not realise it much at the moment.
    We lost our way during Coalition which was sad for our principles, disastrous for our political achievements and a shame for the many people who are ignored by Labour and the Tories who are both following where the extremists take them, rather than providing leadership.Tactically, it was a nightmare, because even in Bath we needed to convert and keep Labour voters to gain the seat.
    For me, the Grenfell tower disaster epitomises the state our country has been left in after Thatcher and Blair, but the answer doesn’t lie with the extreme Left. We need a vibrant economy to create a better, Lib Dem society and the two main parties are doing the best they can to sink us.
    Onwards and at ’em Northern Lib Dems.

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