When things come together: Stoke-on-Trent and my emotions

I have just moved house, leaving London, settling in Chesterfield.  London has been amazing, but it was time for change.  In between that decision and the reality came the Sleaford and North Hykeham By-election: one of the campaigns that I shall forever be proudest of running.  But Sleaford was a turning point for me, a junction when I decided to re-engage with front line electoral politics and take to the streets again.

So last night travelling back to Stoke-on-Trent at short notice to scout the territory was a further development for me.  Let me explain.  I stood down from Stoke-on-Trent city council in 2002 after four of the best electoral years of my life, but had left due to a mix of work, ambition and life changes.  I haven’t really been back there since and so today when Tristram Hunt, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, announced his resignation I realised I was ready to return.

Now Stoke-on-Trent was very much my personal test ground for the lessons and skills I had listened to, learnt and appreciated from Peter Lee, Becky Bryan, Tim Clement Jones, Des Wilson, Tony Greaves, Maggie Clay and others.  In trying those lessons out a few landmarks stand out: the night in 1996 when the city went Unitary, the Tories were wiped out and Labour were elected 60 nil.  How I cheered those Tory losses (for I knew we were not ready)

But then there was the conversation in 1997 outside the pie shop on College Road with my dear friend Ian Openshaw.  It went something like: “don’t worry, we haven’t won for years, we never do in Stoke, just stand and make sure it’s contested”.  17 leaflets later Ian was elected and the council went 59-1, a few weeks later we gained that ward of Shelton again and I picked up Stoke West and it went 57-3.In the subsequent years much has happened, but for me Stoke has vivid memories.  We hosted the Lib Dem Youth and Student Conference to bolster the 1998 by-election campaign then and my dear friend the late Neil Trafford was at the forefront of the street activity, encouraging the campaign, the fun and the farce.  In those years a number of students became impressive LD campaigners: Chris Coleman and Anders Hanson to name two and in that period of time I met my first ever and last boyfriend, my now husband, Russell Eagling.

Just after Sleaford last year my follow up work was crudely interrupted in December by the death in a car accident of my close friend Andy Lindup – not a party political friend at all – but another graduate of Stoke-on-Trent.  Indeed a photo I hadn’t clocked before has recently emerged of Neil and Andy together from that time and I’m welling up thinking of it.

So looking back, Stoke-on-Trent features strong and significant in my life story to date.

Yesterday I walked past the Civic Centre, past Peter ad Vincula Church and made fleeting but significant visits to Hanley, Stoke-upon-Trent, Trent Vale, Bentilee, Hartshill, Penkhill and Etruria to remind myself and reappraise myself of the territory.  As I walked I wondered why I had left – if I had stayed and fought and made a life commitment I might have been able to have done much more for a city that I cared deeply about and whose residents have been so neglected.  And then I remembered: the late David Rendel MP had offered me a role to help with his campaign when standing for Party Leader and that had triggered me to look elsewhere and follow a golden path and trail of where the Lib Dems were already successful.  David was generous to a fault and constantly encouraged me in my commitment to community politics, to change and inclusive and diversity.  I learnt so much from him.

These elements all crowded in on me tonight as I returned – home, yes I think I can say that – returned home to Stoke-on-Trent.  As a city it gave me the honour of being elected a councillor, I met my life partner and husband, and I have a string of fond, indeed special memories.

And so as I walked, made notes, took photos and bought the local paper again I smiled deep inside myself remembering my friends, the late Cllr Neil Trafford, the late David Rendel, former MP for Newbury, and the late Andy Lindup, passionate, lively and truly a light when all else was dark and I wept tears of joy.

The resignation of Tristram Hunt MP could not be a better illustration of the extent to which Labour have taken this community for granted and of how privileged individuals such as him put themselves first.  And yet, he is creating this by-election, and so will give a community ignored for too long the chance to be heard.

I don’t know about you, but I’m clearing my diary, I’m off to Stoke-on-Trent and I’m in no mood for excuses.  I’m in this for the win and will do what I can to honour my friends.  To thank the city that truly set me off, and place the Lib Dem Fightback centre stage of the UK, physically, politically and literally.  See you there I’m sure..  it’s gonna be fun.

* Ed Fordham is a party member and activist in Chesterfield, Derbyshire.

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  • Bill le Breton 15th Jan '17 - 9:39am

    The most encouraging thing I have read for a long time – right people, right places is a key ingredient for success, as is the quality of the connection between campaigner and community. We should expect a stunning campaign.

  • Welcome back Ed. Looking forward to doing my bit. Let’s sock it to them.

  • A deeply felt and beautifully expressed article – thank you Ed.

  • Great article Ed. And you certainly did us proud in S&NH, so its great to hear that Stoke can expect the same. 🙂
    I like the fact you mention NewLabour’s contempt for constituencies. For me, this has always been a particularly disgusting feature of the Blairites: the way they just parachute their people into whatever vacancy arises – or whatever one can be ‘arranged’. The blatant arrogance of the ‘safe seat’ mentality. They’re quite brazen about it. After Jo Cox was killed I saw John McTernan on TV, practically salivating about the idea of David Miliband coming back to stand in the by election in order that he could then challenge Corbyn. They really do see constituencies as being like little map pins, to be moved around and discarded. Hunt’s behaviour in Stoke is a perfect example of that.

  • Liberal Neil 15th Jan '17 - 12:12pm

    One thing I’ve learnt over the years is the politics often comes down to coincidence.

    This is a good coincidence.

  • nigel hunter 15th Jan '17 - 12:15pm

    Once a candidate is chosen AND a HQ, facebook page is open full speed ahead for a win. I too remember Maggie Clay a past icon for me, sadly missed.

  • Absolutely right Ed. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Let’s go for it! See you there.

  • David Evershed 15th Jan '17 - 12:26pm

    A well written article.

    The impossible takes a little longer – but Ed started in 1997.

  • David Sheppard 15th Jan '17 - 12:42pm

    Great stuff Ed lets get cracking! i’m in.

  • Sue Sutherland 15th Jan '17 - 1:09pm

    It’s wonderful to hear this Ed, but, as I’ve just commented on a previous post I believe we need a strong national policy to right the wrongs that led to the Brexit vote in order to win this by election and others in the future, and also to reunite the country. I may well be wrong because Labour can be justly attacked for their lack of commitment to their traditional voters, but we have to have solutions for these people if we are to show the integrity which shines out in your article.
    My husband grew up in Stoke and went to Hanley High, as did the inventor of the Spitfire, a plane which changed the course of WWII. How many other geniuses are languishing in the now unproductive air of a once great and creative city?

  • David Becket 15th Jan '17 - 1:47pm

    @ Sue Sutherland
    That national policy is not there yet
    We have bits of it, but no overall road map or indication as to how we are going to get there.

  • Sadie Smith 15th Jan '17 - 2:16pm

    That is encouraging.
    I have watched from a distance big swings in local politics.
    I lived in Newcastle (I know how different that is, but we came close to winning that seat after Martyn and I had moved.)
    My memory of both Stoke and Newcastle is that there was a good response to a positive campaign.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Jan '17 - 2:46pm

    Excellent article by Ed , though do not miss the point Sue makes well. We must be about more than the EU , Brexit , freedom of movement and single market ! It is ironic that if I bring up the massively funded social market in health care in nearly all or most EU countries , no one wants to hear much, but the single market , is considered sacred !

  • Tony Greaves 15th Jan '17 - 2:59pm

    Feels like the old days to read a posting like this. And I for one hope you change your mind, Ed.

  • Russell Eagling 15th Jan '17 - 3:12pm

    How do you get an elephant to Talke?
    Put it on a bus in Tunstall!
    (Works better orally I suppose)

  • Go for it, Ed.

  • Ah, fond memories of Maggie Clay. She was on the Executive running Stockport when I started there as political assistant 8 years ago this month. Sadly she died 3 short months later. Much missed.

  • paul barker 15th Jan '17 - 4:08pm

    Thanks for an an inspiring piece.
    On the campaign, I think we should be very careful not to join in the Labour demonising of Tristram Hunt, of course we have a much more respectful attitude to Local Parties but that is an argument against Labour, not Hunt.
    In effect Hunt, who had already had one career as a respected Academic, was headhunted by New Labour to be one of their MPs. That job has dissapeared. Hunt is in the same position as any employee who finds their job changed out of recognition, its entirely fair for him to move on. We should wish him succsess in his new role.

  • Neil Mackinnon 15th Jan '17 - 4:37pm

    What a truly inspiring article. Shame about the very last sentence: “He has ruled himself out from being a candidate.” This may require a national petition.

  • Neil Mackinnon 15th Jan '17 - 4:40pm

    @ TonyJ My experience in Scotland is that old Labour are as guilty if this sort of behaviour as New Labour.

  • Sue Sutherland 15th Jan '17 - 4:51pm

    David Becket. I am unable to be active in the party so cannot agitate for this kind of policy making, except through LDV but if you believe the same and are able to take take it up and run with it I would be so happy. I am concerned that our policy making machinery may not come up with a cohesive strategy from which other policies are devolved, so that everything works towards reform and the resources to bring a 21st century welfare state into being. I know there is an economics group meeting at the moment but I don’t know if they understand the urgency and clarity of thought that we need. I hope that we can move away from Coalition economics in order to do this but have no idea about the support within the party for this kind of radical reform.

  • It looks like those of us that like campaigning will have a few options in the coming weeks/months, Stoke Central, Copeland, and County Council elections 🙂 🙂 Bring it on 🙂 🙂

  • There is me I spend many a working hour in the potteries and surrounding area!!! No perhaps not a “genious” though.

  • Sue Sutherland 15th Jan '17 - 8:37pm

    David, I apologise that I have asked you to run with anything at the age of 81! I am encouraged by what you say but also worry about the limited enthusiasm at the very top that you mention. I Googled you and found a speech by Tim Farron to a left wing policy group, who’s initials escape me, and I found that speech encouraging too.

  • Chris Rennard 15th Jan '17 - 11:05pm

    Pleased to see Ed acknowledging many of the great people I also worked closely with in the 1980s and ‘ALC days’ as inspirations to him in the era when, as he says, our fight back was based on community campaigning winning trust. The Liberal Party hierarchy at the time made the mistake of writing off the Newcastle under Lyne by-election in 1986 (the constituency is very close to Stoke). Peter Chegwyn, the late Mike Harskin and I formed the political team to try and fight it to win, and we only missed by 799 votes! So Ed is right that every by-election must be fought as hard as is possible in the circumstances!

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Jan '17 - 11:50pm

    Ed. you weren’t the first Lib Dem to discover significant romance in Stoke ! Years before you of course, and I wasn’t a reporter on the Stoke City Times, living in Hanley, for very long, but you can pack a lot of heady days and nights into a short time when you’re young. It was, let’s say, pretty memorable! So of course I’d love to rediscover the Five Towns by coming and helping, just as I rediscovered Witney where I carried on my journalism and romance later, but as a Cumbrian resettled in Cumbria my first loyalty has to be to Copeland. I just hope the Party’s resources stretch to both, though in terms of Lib Dem volunteers I’m sure they will. Any more by-elections in places important to me, bring them on, but preferably not just yet!

  • Fran Oborski 16th Jan '17 - 8:10am

    This election won’t just be about Brexit. The problems at Stafford Hospital have put huge pressures on to Stoke.
    I too remember the Newcastle under Lyme Election.
    Stoke is well situated for access for campaigners from across the Midlands. There is the risk of 3 elections all on the day of the County and Mayorals but we have to rise to the challenge!

  • Tony Dawson 16th Jan '17 - 5:19pm

    @Chris Rennard:

    The Liberal Party hierarchy at the time made the mistake of writing off the Newcastle under Lyne by-election in 1986 (the constituency is very close to Stoke). Peter Chegwyn, the late Mike Harskin and I formed the political team to try and fight it to win, and we only missed by 799 votes! ”

    Pleased to see Chris acknowledging that political wisdom and our Party’s centre have not always been in the same ballpark let alone ballroom. I recall with a somewhat younger Mr Greaves thrashing ourselves to pieces running around Ribble Valley while the Party nationally decided what it felt about the place (previous Lib vote 8 per cent). I ended up working there for three months full time and, helped a little by the poll tax, we kept Nigel Evans out of Parliament for a couple of years. 🙂 There are other examples of ‘near-misses’ over the years where the ability of our centre to make political decisions (as opposed to operational ones where we were by-and-large a league ahead of the competition) was more-than-a-wee-bit shaky.

  • paul barker 16th Jan '17 - 5:27pm

    Just for contrast, over on Labour List theres an article entitled : “Byelections have more than just a financial cost, they are a drain on The Party even if you win.” The tone of the piece is whingy & the comments are worse.
    Just to remind you, Labour claim a Membership of 540,000 – about 7 times ours.

  • @TonyJ
    “the way they just parachute their people into whatever vacancy arises”

    Not just Labour, this is true of all parties when they have someone they wish to advance. Unless of course Nick Clegg was born and bred in Sheffield, not to mention Vince Cable who was a Glasgow Councillor, and stood twice in York before taking Twickenham.

    Sadly in a constituency based system it is often likely that Parties will move their perceived talents in the hope of getting them elected. My favourite example is Churchill spending 14 years as MP for Dundee, hardly a proud Scot.

  • Liberal HQ deliberately didn’t support the Newcastle-under-Lyme by-election in 1986 because the candidate, Alan Thomas, was a unilateralist. Not, alas, the only case of HQ failing to support a constituency because they didn’t like the candidate.

    Incidentally, the last time I saw Maggie Clay was at Kickstart in 2008, shortly before she died.

  • Michael Berridge 27th Jan '17 - 6:48pm

    As someone who never made it to Eastleigh or even Richmond Park I resolve to be third time lucky. I have a good friend in Bingham east of Nottingham and we are buying day returns tomorrow week. He will hobble off to the Wedgwood Museum at Barlaston (a stroke nearly cost him an arm and a leg but he is fine on the buses) and I will head to the Wheatsheaf Hotel.

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