Rebellions are built in Hope – the launch of the Northern Liberal Network

New year is a time for new projects. And with a parliament likely to last four years, we have time to devote to thinking about where we want the party to be by 2024 – and how we get there. So before Christmas, Lisa Smart (Hazel Grove) and I met up for a pub lunch in the Peak District. We picked Hope, partly because it’s halfway between our homes, and partly because… well… we could use some hope.

While this election was disappointing across the board, the result masks significant regional variation. We did relatively well in London and the south east, despite heartbreaking near-misses in Wimbledon and Carshalton and Wallington. But elsewhere in the country our performance was weaker – even in areas, like Sheffield Hallam, that voted remain.

I believe that one of the factors driving this was a failure to set out a clear ‘offer’ to the North – although the policies were all there. A £50 billion capital investment fund, extra money for buses, skills wallets as an attempt to support those hurt by deindustrialisation – all underpinned by real devolution of money and power. Together, these would have made a real impact on communities across the north – whether cities like Sheffield, towns like Harrogate, or villages like those in Westmorland and Lonsdale. But somehow, the message didn’t get through.

This election offers a real opportunity – with dozens of strong second places and four years to prepare, we are well placed to move forward next time. But it also presents a risk. With these second places, along with most of our held seats, concentrated in London and the South East, we may be tempted to speak only to those places, at the expense of Northern England and our former heartlands in South West England.

I believe that would be a mistake. Our country – all of it – deserves better than Conservative division and Labour arrogance. And our party has a huge amount to offer cities like Sheffield – where residents have been let down over and over again by an over-centralised economy and a complacent and out-of-touch council. Our core values, centred around empowering people and communities and devolving real power and money to cities and regions, represent the best answer to rebalancing our economy and addressing the real frustrations that drove Brexit. And our commitment to education is a vital part of giving people – all over the country – the opportunity to realise their potential and drive growth for their communities.

A lot of these issues are common across the north. But our party’s regional structures have made it harder to develop pan-Northern policy, and without a strong parliamentary party across the regions to drive collaboration, I believe we need another approach.

That’s why we’re proposing to launch a Northern Liberal Network at Spring Conference – which appropriately is being held in York. This isn’t intended to be a policy talking shop – at least not at first. It is instead modelled on the work done by the Social Liberal Forum in coalition – providing a forum for the exchange of ideas and to advocate for a strategic direction. We can also use it to engage with business across the north, and to run our own regional campaigns – or anything else people suggest. The key is that we want to start talking to each other, about the big challenges that our region faces, and what our vision is to address them.

If that sounds like something you’d like to be part of, please keep an eye out for our event in the Conference Fringe – or if you can’t make it to conference, email me at lauragordonLD[at]gmail[dot]com and I’ll keep you informed.

Photo above of the Valley of Hope by AJC1 on Flickr CCL Some rights reserved

* For many years, Laura Gordon did humanitarian work in Africa helping the victims of war, disease and famine. She is now a local campaigner in Sheffield, and was the Liberal Democrat Candidate at the 2019 General Election in Sheffield Hallam.

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This entry was posted in Party policy and internal matters.


  • As long as we still get a Yorkshire parliament I’m all for this

  • Laura Gordon 3rd Jan '20 - 1:36pm

    Jennie, to be honest that’s what I want to get a bit beyond.

    Rather than saying “let’s campaign for a Yorkshire Parliament” I want to be saying “we need to make devolution of money and power a key part of our platform”. What exactly that looks like will be different across the 3 northern regions which is where regional conference comes in.

    At the moment we have the policy but it isn’t translating to message – see, for example, the YP not realising we supported a Yorkshire Parliament until like 2 days before the end of the campaign, because we weren’t talking about it – even though its one of their main campaigns.

  • Yeovil Yokel 3rd Jan '20 - 2:20pm

    I wish that I could live in hope.

  • Congratulations on this initiative. If the parties of the centre and left have one problem above all, it is that they have been captured by interests of people who live the capital and are losing touch with the views of the majority of the country.

  • David Evans 3rd Jan '20 - 2:55pm

    Sorry Yeovil Yokel. Hope is in Derbyshire, not Yorkshire. I would suggest you move to Idle near Bradford where at least you could join the Brexit zeitgeist and become a member of the Idle Working Mens’ Club. Alternatively, the village of Pity Me in County Durham is an alternative.

    P.S. Sorry to see that your 50:50 chance in Yeovil turned into a 16,000 Tory majority by the end of the campaign. You and the good Lib Dem campaigners there did not deserve that.

  • An idea whose time has surely come. I’ll settle for being two years ahead of the curve on this
    but people might want to check out on this site similar articles from Ed Thornley on this issue.
    In our pomp Charles Kennedy used to post of us challenging and winning in all parts of the UK – that is no longer as much the case and is to be regretted. We need machinery in place to correct for any unconscious or otherwise metropolitan/southern bias in policy formation and focus. Excellent initiative but methinks we will need more than a network .

  • Graham Jeffs 3rd Jan '20 - 3:03pm

    Every good wish, Laura, but please let’s shoot this belief that the party only ‘speaks to those places’ [London and the South East]

    The GE results, wherever they were, are an indictment on a leadership unable and unwilling (it seems) to engage with ordinary folk wherever they are living. Had there been any warmth towards our leader I’m sure we would have done much better. It’s not just what is said, it’s chemistry too – and sadly that was lacking.

    As a Sussex resident I can confidently assure you that there was no sense that the GE campaign had much to do with the aspirations (for example) of people struggling to make ends meet. There are many of those here too!

  • “boast” not “post” – the very thought of Charles posting ….

  • Gordon Lishman 3rd Jan '20 - 5:11pm

    Count me in.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Jan '20 - 5:29pm

    @john pugh “We need machinery in place to correct for any unconscious or otherwise metropolitan/southern bias in policy formation and focus.”
    It might be that machinery is also needed to “correct for any unconscious or otherwise” socio-economic bias.
    The correlation between party and deprivation in Contituencies illustrated by Alasdair Rae’s analysis ( which shows (in England) a significant change for Lib Dems from the picture before the Election (described in this article Essentially all of the Lib Dem English MPs are in the 15% least deprived constituencies and more than half of them in the 5% least deprived constituencies.
    Further down that Twitter page an animation of the data shows an alarming shift to the right (as in right-hand side!! 😉 ) by Lib Dem MPs since 2001.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Jan '20 - 5:35pm

    Oops – important correction:
    I misread the direction of the deprivation so should have written “all of the Lib Dem English MPs are in the 20% least deprived constituencies and more than half of them in the 10% least deprived constituencies”.
    Mea culpa.

  • Peter Davies 3rd Jan '20 - 6:45pm

    Southerners have always though of “The North” as a region It probably makes sense economically and in terms of a power balance between London and a much larger Northern region. The question is, can you persuade Yorkshire folk that they have anything in common with people from Manchester, Newcastle or Aspatria.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Jan '20 - 9:30pm
  • Tony Greaves 3rd Jan '20 - 10:19pm

    Forget a “Yorkshire Parliament” that would just drain yet more powers from local Councils. The North of England is a major region of England and of Britain and needs to stand united and as a whole to be able to compete and work with Scotland and Wales in a federal UK settlement. But don’t forget that the North is more than big cities, villages and “towns like Harrogate”. The heart of the north lies in its myriad former industrial and mining towns, the very kind of places that have put Johnson into power. As the Tories inevitably let them down, they are all places we should be rebuilding on the ground.

  • Laura Gordon 3rd Jan '20 - 10:41pm

    Thank you all for the replies!

    John Pugh thanks for flagging your article, which I’d missed and the articles by Ed Thornley, which I wrote to him about at the time! A lot of people have been talking about this for a while, but we haven’t been able to channel it. What I’m hoping this initiative will do is to give us a platform to start advocating in a more structured way.

  • Laura Gordon 3rd Jan '20 - 10:44pm

    Peter Davies my belief is that communities across the North have enough challenges in common that we can speak to issues that affect people across the region. If the message is relevant to people in Sheffield they won’t be put off by it just because it’s also relevant in Manchester!

  • Laura Gordon 3rd Jan '20 - 10:49pm

    Graham Jeffs – fair enough, I can only speak to how it felt from Sheffield.

    Peter Watson – you’re right, and it’s a challenge. I think that by showing we are thinking seriously about the problems affecting different areas of the country and the ways in which our cou try simply doesn’t work for a lot of people, we can start to communicate better with different socio economic as well as geographical communities. But I’m also not willing to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This won’t not fix all our challenges but why not try it and see if it helps with some of them?

  • This can build neatly on the joint work between the three northern regions we have seen in their joint receptions at federal conference and last Spring’s half day long northern policy preconference at York. Excellent!

  • Innocent Bystander 4th Jan '20 - 1:49am

    What standard of living would the North sink to without Southern money?
    I am Cheshire boy, myself, but now in exile ‘Dahn Sarf” and wonder why the economic power house of the South-East would hand over money for the North to spend, or squander, however it liked.
    I appreciate the motives but where is this “growth” coming from? Agriculture? Manufacturing? Mineral extraction?
    I know! Why not promise what everyone else does, that is “a 100 million new jobs from a green technological revolution” ?
    I may have exaggerated the number but they are all made up anyway, so choose whatever integer you like.
    BTW it will be zero (in the UK) ‘ cos it will all come from China where all the engineers and enterprise are now.

  • Sounds a little like my Liberal Britain “2030 Vision” essay was along the right tracks three years ago:

  • Nigel Jones 4th Jan '20 - 10:40am

    Laura: “a failure to set out a clear offer to the North” in our GE campaign is something the party leadership and HQ team MUST learn from. We had a good manifesto, but poor messaging.
    I have heard a suggestion from a West Midlands member that it’s about time we moved our HQ out of London and to the Midlands or North; maybe Manchester ?

  • Laura, commendable initiative, but surely you are designing something here for the “affluent” North? Harrogate? Westmorland.? Sheffield ( granted has areas of high deprivation but fares much better that. Liverpool, Manchester etc?) Where is your narrative for these Northern heartlands? Bradford, Blackpool (highest areas of deprivation apart from one area in Essex – Sept 2019 Gov.UK.) one message will not fit all. Or are you not speaking to them?

  • David Evans 4th Jan '20 - 1:32pm

    I do hope Laura and Lisa have spoken to those who have made a success of Liberal Democracy in those areas of the North outside the affluent suburbs of the big cities.

    We often forget that up to 2010 wehad 11 MPs in the North and only three were in the seriously affluent areas like Cheadle and Hallam.

    People like Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley), Richard Kemp (Liverpool), Paul Holmes (Chesterfield), Abi Bell (Hull), John Pugh (Southport) and Chris Davies (Oldham) all know how to do it in urban areas, as does our one MP in the North, Tim Farron who knows about those often forgotten rural areas.

    We have to learn from them and others like them if we want to recover.

  • David Evans totally support your comments. You make me want to renew my membership.

  • David Garlick 4th Jan '20 - 9:33pm

    Sounds like an excellent initiative. Not starting with an answer but asking what the answer should be. Replicate, replicate, replicate and don’t forget that the environmental crisis is already upon us,,,

  • Jenny barnes 5th Jan '20 - 7:37am

    Talking of pit villages that have now lost their economic base. Can any lessons be drawn or advice given to the continent sized pit village that is Australia from the Yorkshire & Nottinghamshire experience?

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