Tim’s pick a ward and win it – how that’s part of the Isle of Wight’s #libdemfightback

Nicholas Belfitt winning hereIn June last year I attended a small event in Guildford in the run-up to the leadership election where I was lucky to meet Tim Farron. He  made a great speech which, as always was both thorough and entertaining. But it was in the end what he said that began to push me to believe in the Lib Dems. Pick a ward and win it.

No words have been so strong for me. After the event it was all I could think about for weeks and weeks during which time I returned  home to the Isle of Wight. I had always dreamed of being able to be involved, but like many young liberals I thought that caution and moving through groups such as the Liberal Youth were the formats in which make  progress. But I could not get that line out of my head.

I began to be involved in my local party and before I knew it I was swiftly elected Vice-Chair. ME? At 22? The only experience I had of campaigning was under Kelly-Marie Blundell in her Guildford campaign, but I had no training or preparation.  

It worried me that I was in a position to help rebuild and shape our local party. But then it hit me. I began to realise the essence of local party. Politics in most people’s view is about big huge social change, it’s about creating brand new ideas to making sweeping changes across the country. But actually for most parties on a local level it’s more about making the changes that allow individuals to enjoy their own life. It’s fixing pot holes in the road, it’s making sure their bins are collected, it’s making sure services work for people, it’s promoting the rejuvenation of small areas.

We have very little on the Island and we are not considered a target seat, yet there is mood that things will change with the right push. We will have to build from nothing and we only have 5 years to do it, but there is a mood that things are going to change if we make them happen. I wanted to pick my ward and I have – it’s my home. It’s the place I want to give back to, the place I believe I can make the most change. I don’t care if it’s a Tory safe seat now.  We are building not to win an election but to make real change. As a party we need to go back to what made people believe in us before we were a big political force, before we were in government. We were a party of people helping other people because that was the essence of a liberal community. Even though our numbers are small, we are not trained in Connect or Mini Van or any other services, we will still be fighting, knocking on doors, holding stall events, speaking on local radio, helping solve problems.

We are not afraid to admit we do need help, but we are not concerned about the challenges we face. We believe in a change on the Isle of Wight, a power to speak to people. We just hope others will follow the same and help us get back.

We will try and win this ward, this seat and most importantly the right to make change that will help benefit.

I will never forget Tim’s words. I have picked my ward and I hope we can prove him right.

* Nicholas Belfitt studied politics and international relations and joined the Lib Dems in 2014. He blogs at Liberal Ramblings.

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  • David Evans 13th Jan '16 - 5:34pm

    Nicholas, I wish you well. The IOW has a strong liberal tradition, exemplified by the work of Steve Ross who led the council and was MP in the 70s and 80s. If you learn from the experience of him and his team you will be learning from one of the best.

  • Harry Hayfield 13th Jan '16 - 5:55pm

    I always believe in contesting the ward that you live in, so that no one can accuse you of not putting yourself up for election in your own area, so therefore I cannot really pick a ward for this year’s locals (as Ceredigion is up for election next year) but I can support a ward and the ward I am supporting is the ward where we used to own a house in Nuneaton and Bedworth council area (which is up for election) and that ward is Wem Brook (which in 2012 elected a Labour councillor). The result was Lab 1,049 (72%), Con 246 (17%), Green 116 (8%) and Libertarian 37 (3%)

  • Neil Sandison 13th Jan '16 - 6:14pm

    Thanks for taking on the challenge .You are so right start making the difference locally .I started in no hope wards or so they said, always coming in around third .Now been serving my community continuously as a councillor since 1992.It can be done its about commitment and not being too distracted by national events which as a rank and file councillor you have little influence upon except through your local party ,region or attending the annual conference. start local but think global.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Jan '16 - 6:20pm

    The Isle of Wight used to have a Liberal MP who managed to pass a Private Member’s Bill affecting travellers and homelessness. Liberal Leader David Steel said he was aware of all our best chances, and our over-optimistic prospects, but had not expected this gain.
    My understanding is that most successful agent we have ever had came from the Isle of Wight. His name was Paul Jacobs. Having a Liberal MP he was used to winning. To his credit are bye-election wins in Eastbourne, Ribble Valley and Kincardine Deeside. As David Steel said at the time: “One in the south of England, one in the north of England and one in Scotland”.
    When David Bellotti won the Eastbourne bye-election Mrs Thatcher fell, the Heselteenies made a comeback and started to review the Poll Tax. One more heave and they abolished it entirely, giving Tory Chairman Chris Patten an early bath.
    In Kincardine-Deeside the abolition of a local regiment was prevented.
    We held Bath from 1992 to 2015 with an MP who is now a peer. The late David Bellotti became a councillor in Bath, in control. in the cabinet, with a budget of millions £.
    There are no safe seats in the Commons, every MP is aware of the electorate nowadays.
    A Tory MP boasted in the Commons that Eastbourne had been held “in the Conservative interest for 100 years”, which was untrue. We won Eastbourne again in 2010.
    In 2015 we lost it to the Tories by a few hundred votes while making three gains on the council in an all-up election.
    This is a Liberal Democrat effect, but not only a Liberal Democrat effect. Look around the UK for a safe seat and consider Rhonnda Valley. Could Labour lose “a safe seat”? YES.
    Consider Belfast East, a stronghold of Northern Ireland’s DUP. In 2010 they lost to our anti-sectarian friends in the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.
    This volatility can also work against us. In 2015 Charles Kennedy lost to the SNP.
    The size of the majority last time is only a guide to what might happen next time.
    So, yes, choose a ward and win it. Then do it again. One of our candidates said that she was standing for the council in order to spend more time with her husband. She was elected to the council and has since been elected as an MEP and become a peer.

  • Richard Underhill 13th Jan '16 - 6:30pm

    During the Ribble Valley bye-election we stayed with a local councillor. He had been persuaded to stand in order to provide the electorate with a full slate of Liberal candidates. Then he found out how unpopular the Tory councillor was. He was elected as a councillor and became a Liberal Democrat activist, supporting the campaign to elect an MP in Ribble Valley, which happened, to the delight of Liberal Democrat campaigners who had placed bets at the bookies for a result we had forecast.

  • Bill le Breton 13th Jan '16 - 7:32pm

    I would love to know what ward it is. Best wishes, anyway.
    B le B (former Councillor for Cowes Medina – 1979 to 89)

  • It’s great to see something happening again on the Isle of Wight after so many years. The Island is there for the taking. The Tories hold it by default. If Liberal Democrats prove themselves worthy of election, elected they will be. How about a fixed link from Lepe to Gurnard? That is decades overdue.

  • Speaking of the Party’s successful agents I should point out that Peter Chegwyn came from the Island as well. I’m sure Peter is too modest to list his string of successes, but there are a lot of people who owe their initial election to his campaigning skills. As Sesenco says, the Island is there for the taking: it has an abysmal and unpopular Tory MP who was almost deselected, and no coherent opposition after the LibDems fell to pieces. Good luck Nicholas.

  • Ian Hurdley 14th Jan '16 - 8:16am

    Hi Nicholas, I wish you well. Right now I’m in the Brussels and Europe Group, but I’m planning to move back to the UK by the end of the year, and my much preferred destination is the Isle of Wight so hopefully I’ll be able to give some practical support. I was a candidate (unsuccessful) for the Partido Andalucista in our local elections last year, so I have some experience of campaigning and especially of identifying local priorities.

  • Well said, Nicholas. Good luck. Be prepared for a disappointment or two, but also for success. Look to help people take power, not just show you can get things done for them (but do that too!).

  • Good luck. I agree about picking a ward. I have done it twice. It is hard work and you may not win first time. I have no great advice but to say get involved with community groups. I got involved with a local group seeking to maintain an open area and apart from dong something worthwhile found deliverers, supporters etc.

    You also need to do the usual, delivering Focus, door knocking etc, which you are already doing.

  • Good luck in your quest. The line I remembered was David Penhaligon’s… “If you’ve got something to say, put it on a piece of paper and post it through people’s letterboxes”. Or words to that effect.
    Well, times have changed someone, I suppose, what with the rise of the internet and social media, so please get on with what you feel you have to do to stand for Council. Use your local papers letter pages to get your views across. You’ll be surprised how many read them, especially among those who actually vote!
    Let the newspapers post it through letter boxes for you!

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jan '16 - 5:19pm

    According to The Independent on 15/1/2016 the boundary legislation from the 2010-2015 parliament exempts some islands from the upcoming boundary changes. The Isle of Wight will be two constituencies, not including any part of mainland Hampshire.
    The Boundary Commission is likely to follow closely the draft they put out in 2013.
    There will be 50 fewer constituencies in the UK, but David Cameron has promised his serving MPs that no-one will be “left behind”, so, where there is a vacant seat, a serving Tory MP will be posted in. If the electorate in the IoW want a local candidate any incomer would be at a disadvantage.
    The article also comments on the changes which are happening in the Labour Party.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Jan '16 - 4:16pm

    Tory MPs reportedly doubt that David Cameron can actually deliver on his promise that no-one will be left behind. Partially this implies that he will create vacancies in the Commons by persuading MPs to go to the Lords. His problem is that he has stated on camera to the BBC that he does not want to go into the 2020 general election wanting to be PM in 2020-2025 parliament. Tory constituency parties have often resisted central control over the choice of parliamentary candidates.
    An implication is that he does not want to be an MP after the 2020 general election.
    Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Edward heath and Sir John Major did not accept peerages.

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