Tag Archives: liberal democrat councillors

John Stewart: 1972-2022

This is not an obituary; I just want you to understand what a special person John Stewart was. John has died, aged 49, of lung cancer. John was a good man, and a lovely one.

His (much older) husband, Neil Fletcher, has been my friend since he, Neil, was at Aberdeen Uni in the 80s.. And we had some gey times back then. I knew his life, his friends and his boyfriends……and then John arrived on the scene to study Divinity. Neil was maybe not at his sylph-like best at the time (I know, I know), and the two of them were quickly christened “Fats and the child”. John was soooo young. Bear in mind that, back then, in the early 90s, their relationship was illegal. But we were Liberals and no-one cared about such a silly law.

John was, in those days, a quiet soul. And, if you know Neil, you will realise that meant John was a bit in the shadows. But he always knew who he was. He took an Honours degree, after a subject switch, in Church History, and, no surprise, Politics. John was active in his local church, Langstane, in Aberdeen, and, always happy to serve, became the Presbytery’s youngest elder.

Given the company he kept he became, quickly, an active Party member. Having graduated in 1996, he spotted that Sir Robert Smith’s campaign was in a bit of trouble and turned up at Bob’s house, to help. He then persuaded the Feds to pay him, and donated his salary to the campaign fund! He didn’t leave for 10 years.

He resigned as an elder over the Church of Scotland’s stance on homosexuality. Although he was blessed in a long and loving (if sometimes stormy) relationship, he had to deal with homophobia, and, when it hit, he met it head on. That quiet soul never put up with it.

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What is the point of winning?

As the local elections come down the track, sooner or later, it is worth rehearsing the philosophy of why Liberal Democrats fight to win. In 1980 Bernard Greaves and Gordon Lishman were insisting in their “Theory and Practice  of Community Politics” that the latter aimed “to secure for individuals within their communities greater control over their living environments and a deeper sense of involvement in decisions affecting their lives.” This was echoed twenty years later by Tony Greaves who spoke of a strategy concerned with asking “what can we actually do to change things in this patch on the ground?”

One of the reasons why, on our Council, Labour and Conservative councillors think we are not proper councillors is our refusal to regard attending meetings of Council and committees as the most important part of our political activity. We do our fair share on committees. We hold surgeries but they are not the pinnacle of engagement with constituents. We are probably more likely to pick up casework from a shout across the street than from people walking through a surgery door.

We do casework, as do other councillors, but I suspect our style can be rather different. Depending on our lifestyles, we can set our own standards for going the extra mile. For my part I tend to be free most of the time to respond to emails immediately, even if it’s just a holding acknowledgement. I am fortunate in representing a very compact ward and live one bus stop away from its boundary, so it is no great hardship to do a prompt site visit before reporting a problem. Checking out a complaint about a street light not working can be a chore at high summer but one of the benefits of winter is being able to inspect much earlier in the evening. Officers respond to reliability and accuracy. But there is much more to it than general competence. It is about pro-active campaigning which helps people to make their place better.

A few years ago one of our members died who rejoiced in the name of Joan Collins. She smoked like a chimney which may have shortened her life slightly, but I would never have challenged the consolation this brought her after she became largely confined to her bungalow. She had some rather more admirable liberal habits in her nonconformity and willingness to ask awkward questions. She had a proud history of offering her house as a committee room on polling days.

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments

Hull Lib Dems make the most calls in the country in Covid-19 community campaign

Having been a Councillor for under a year, the Covid-19 crisis has shown me the very best of what Liberal Democrat Councillors do. When it was announced the UK was going into a three week ‘lockdown’, we knew in Hull we had to do what we could to help as community campaigners – and so we set about calling residents across the city.

I am proud to say that we have made well over 2300 phone calls across our wards, speaking to over 1500 people, many of whom are elderly and don’t necessarily have someone nearby who can help them. In times of crisis, it’s the small acts of kindness that shine through and this is one way we can say we’ve done our bit to look out for the people of Hull.

We are asking if at risk residents need help with the every-day tasks that now seem out of the ordinary – getting shopping, picking up medication and signposting helplines. In times of crisis, community campaigners have to adapt to the situation that strikes them. We in Hull are doing just that.

This for me has been the best reception I’ve had from residents since becoming a Councillor last May. People are genuinely happy to be called from their local representative and as Councillors and volunteers it’s one of the most rewarding things to do.

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Lib Dem councillors – the thin orange line between Britain and the harsh effects of Brexit

We fought hard, we won where we could, but lost where it mattered. Brexit is on the doorstep.

And that’s where we should be too.

A wise man once addressed the European Parliament in the wake of our most successful European elections ever and told us that Brexit is not inevitable. And while that may not be as true as it once was, the most devastating consequences of Brexit for our communities are not as inevitable as they may feel sitting here in the crushing aftermath of a truly momentous step back for Britain.

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The Liberal Democrats are the party of rural communities

For as long as I can remember, the mantra has been that the Conservative Party is the party of the countryside. My question is, why? Have they done anything for rural areas or have they simply taken them for granted?

It is time that we who live and work here in our communities and understand far more about rural issues than our opposition, took on that role. This year, on 2 May 2019, the public in many areas gave us their confidence and elected around 704 new councillors, many of them in rural and coastal areas. We are now in control in 49 councils either alone or in partnership. A clear majority of these are rural or coastal or both.

Now is the time to share best practice and strengthen our policy for rural delivery.

Rural and coastal communities are individual and have characters of their own. How do the Liberal Democrats work with that and make it work?

Campaigning needs to be the same but different to that in urban areas. Liberal Democrats are far better at working on the ground than other parties but in rural areas it’s remembered and valued by constituents.

Knocking on doors across a rural area will pay dividends if you do it year in and year out. Meeting people in the back of beyond where the opposition rarely go, stays with those residents and many repay the work. Knocking on the doors of new residents on the electoral roll is also a winning step.

Regular newsletters touching the whole of the electoral area keep residents abreast of local issues. Your work is of course important in both rural and urban areas, but in many rural areas, residents frequently cannot get that local information easily and you are providing a real service in doing that.

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