The good things about 2016

How many times this year have you heard people say “I’ve never known a year as awful as 2016.” I have some sympathy with what they are saying. I don’t think I’ve ever known a year when so many friends have lost loved ones – parents and children. It’s not just my age. Some of those friends have been much younger.

For me, it seems that so many of the key influences on me as I was growing up have gone. I felt the sudden loss of Victoria Wood particularly strongly. I was one of the few never to have had a crush on George Michael but I loved his music and Princess Leia was a great female role model in an otherwise male dominated  genre brought to life so well by Carrie Fisher.

In the party, we have lost wonderful liberals like Eric Avebury, David Rendel, Ed Townsend and Brian Niblett and we will miss their service and contributions.

I can’t write off 2016 totally, though. It has been a stinker, but on a personal level, it will forever be the year my husband got through heart surgery. It contained the scariest moments of my life, with the worst being that awful late night phone call from the Intensive Care charge nurse telling me that they were taking him back into theatre. However much that feeling of petrified helplessness will stay with me, it’s well and truly trumped by the relief I felt just 14 hours later watching him sitting up in bed in ICU scoffing a tub of ice cream. For me, a glance into a room as he works on his music fills me with joy. He brought me a cup of tea the other morning for the first time in three months and I couldn’t stop smiling for  hours.

The Liberal Democrats have had some fantastic times, too. Here are a selection.

Sarah Olney wins Richmond Park

This has to be the mother of them all. Against all the odds, we showed we were back by defeating Zac Goldsmith and replaced a pro Brexit anti Heathrow expansion MP with an anti Brexit anti Heathrow expansion MP. It was wonderful watching everyone’s body language at the count as we waited for the result to come in. Initially our people weren’t very optimistic but things definitely changed.

Look at this and smile:

Alex Cole-Hamilton and Willie Rennie take seats off the SNP

If you had told me at the beginning of the year that we would still have five MSPs and would actually win constituency seats from the MSP, I’d have thought you were being way too over-optimistic. The truth is we risked losing everything except our seat on the North East list. I never thought it would be quite that bad, but we were definitely up against it.

For the first time since 2003, though, we ran a confident campaign that we could be very proud of and it paid off. Alex Cole-Hamilton pulled off an audacious win in Edinburgh Western. I was part of that campaign so I know how much work went into doing that. It was very satisfying as I’d spent a decade trying to get this tireless campaigner for children’s rights into Holyrood. In 2007, he was top of the Mid Scotland and Fife list and his election seemed assured – until we won Dunfermline by 500 votes meaning that we wouldn’t get a list seat. In 2011, he lost out narrowly on the Lothian list. That was when he made that iconic tweet:

There was no way any of us wanted him to miss out again. The way he got back out there and campaigned with vigour after the loss of the Westminster seat in 2015 was an example to us all.  I’ll never forget the feeling at the count as we started to dare to believe that he’d done it. Then Kevin Lang gathered us in a huddle and told us that we had probably won narrowly and we had to scrutinise the next stage very carefully. When Alex showed up at the count, everyone wanted a selfie with him. It was an amazing atmosphere.

Willie Rennie’s win in North East Fife was a great result for him, too. Nobody really expected him to pull that one off.

His vibrant, upbeat and energetic national campaign won plaudits all over the place. Here he is seemingly re-enacting that scene from Lady and the Tramp with a therapet. 

However it was his encounter with a couple of amorous pigs that provided one of the most iconic moments of the entire election. The internet loved it and the party embraced it with humour. At the manifesto launch the next week (which featured Willie at a soft play being interviewed on a slide and sliding down a volcano), we handed out Percy Pigs to the journalists.

We learned this week that 2016 is no respecter of celebrity, human or porcine, though. Kama and Sutra, the pigs in question, are no more. Willie’s Twitter response was priceless.

Had we not won the constituency seats, the SNP would have an overall majority.  That’s something to savour.

Chris Wiggin shaves his head at the Glee Club

One of the most emotional and inspiring moments of this year came at the Lib Dem conference Glee Club. The papers just report the rude songs but there is a real sense of family and community there that they don’t see. When Chris Wiggin shaved his head to raise funds for Macmillan who had supported his lovely mum Susan during her final illness, we were all there to support him. I hope that he and Nigel Ashton felt that love and support of their Lib Dem family yesterday as they marked the first anniversary of Susan’s passing.

All those local by-election gains

Late Thursday evenings became a pleasure once more as the Lib Dem local by-election gains ramped up. We gained from Labour, from the Tories, in areas that voted Remain and Leave.

It’s all beautifully summed up by Brian Milnes and John Berkeley Grout in their excellent graphic:

The joy of reading Lynne Featherstone’s Equal Ever After

Lynne Featherstone is responsible for the book I most enjoyed reading this year. Her account of how she ensured same sex marriage was going to get on the statute book is brilliantly written. There were bits where I had to do a double take as I couldn’t quite believe she’d said THAT in print. It’s as honest and refreshing and funny and poignant as you would expect from Lynne and if you haven’t already read it, order your copy here. It’s guaranteed to make even the most grumpy Lib Dem smile.

Kirsty Williams’ More Nurses Bill became law

The election results in Wales were undeservedly awful for the Welsh Liberal Democrats. The Welsh Lib Dems had been such a force for good in the Assembly. The party had been responsible for the only two private members’ bills to be passed in the Welsh Assembly. In 2013, Peter Black ensured mobile home owners had more protections in law. In February, Kirsty’s More Nurses Bill cleared its final parliamentary hurdle. 

When I saw her at Welsh Conference, she explained her motivation for introducing the bill:

 Kirsty explained how a visit to an admissions ward with a family member allowed her to see at first hand the stress that the nurses were under. There simply wasn’t enough of them and Kirsty spoke to one nurse who had been there long beyond the end of her 12.5 hour shift. As she pointed out, if a nurse made a mistake through exhaustion, it would be they, not the manager who had made them work for so long, who would be held accountable.

The diversity debate at Conference

The landmark decision to introduce a huge raft of measures to ensure diversity in our MPs was particularly close to my heart. I felt the responsibility quite heavily as I was proposing the motion. Here’s my speech:

At the time, I said:

The most controversial hour and a half of the Conference. Who would have thought that the Lib Dems would back all-women shortlists (in fairly modest terms) on the same day that Jeremy Clarkson basically came out as a federalist? Can today get any stranger?

I was pretty nervous about speaking. Butterflies were in my stomach doing tug of war with each other on a trampoline from Saturday evening. However, once I got up there, I quite enjoyed it, although watching it back was excruciating because I cringed at every fluffed line or stumble. There was also an underlying sadness because I knew I was proposing something I passionately believed in but with which a fair few very dear people to me equally passionately disagreed.

There were fantastic speeches on both sides. Several young women from Liberal Youth spoke wearing “I am not a token woman” t-shirts. I always knew Alex White in particular would get up on the rostrum, without notes, and make a compelling speech. She and other young women talked about the casual sexism and unwanted attention that they had experienced within the party. Every female member of Liberal Youth, they said, had had endured that, they said. That has to be tackled and I certainly intend to talk to them and find a way of dealing with it.

I have to be honest, I was not especially confident that our view would prevail. Certainly, our collective experience in the bars on Friday night was that this would be a tough sell. Tim Farron and his team knew this. He could have bailed. Instead, he talked about it at every fringe and his Q and A and put a card in for the debate. In a debate on gender quotas for party committees in 2014, Tim had given a very flat kind of speech, Today’s was an absolute barnstormer. He said he needed to lead a diverse team of MPs.

In the end the motion was passed by some margin without much in the way of hostility and rancour. I have every admiration and respect for all the Liberal Youth women. There is not much between me and them in terms of analysis of the problem. We just have different solutions.

Remembering these happy moments gives us strength for the tough road ahead. What are your Lib Dem highlights of 2016?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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One Comment

  • My highlight is we are fighting the Tories and not trying to be their best buddies.

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