Why people vote for Liberal Democrat Councillors

Cllr Phil Knowles and winning teamFollowing on from yesterday’s launch of the Liberal Democrat campaign for the local government elections, I thought I’d offer a few reflections on why people vote for Liberal Democrat councillors. Why is it that in places like Three Rivers in Hertfordshire and Oadby and Wigston that the Liberal Democrats have been in power for years on end?

Big hearts and hard work

Our councillors are embedded in their communities. They know what’s going on, they keep themselves in touch with what people are thinking and they  listen to what’s said to them. Our Members of Parliament are under-resourced in terms of staff, but councillors have nobody beyond some clerical support. They do their casework diligently and work eye-watering hours to go the extra mile for people. When they see injustice, they will fight hard for people, leaving no stone unturned. People know who they are and feel comfortable about approaching them with their problems.  Try walking the length of a street in their ward with a Liberal Democrat councillor and see how long it takes you as they are stopped by people who want to ask them things, bring their problems, or offer thanks for a job well done.

People-centred, transformative solutions

Common to most liberals is a huge respect for the individual. You recognise that people have different needs and want, as far as possible, to offer services that meet those needs. Bureaucracy and jobsworthness is anathema as they seek to cut through red tape. Yesterday’s story about mental health patients having to travel often hundreds of miles for care is no surprise to councillors like Martin Tod in Hampshire who has already been working with local council, NHS and social landlords to make sure that beds are freed up quickly. Getting all these people in a room to thrash out a solution is vital. Martin can also raise the problem directly with a Liberal Democrat government minister, Norman Lamb, who actually understands and is committed to sorting out mental health provision.

Look at the priorities of Liberal Democrat councils as outlined in the document released yesterday at the Liberal Democrat campaign launch. It’s all about tackling fuel poverty, saving local libraries, creating jobs, looking after the planet, improving council houses. In Stockport, they’ve concentrated on regeneration and investment in schools. And it’s from Stockport that the initiative has come to press the government to extend the Pupil Premium to help young carers.  These councils have been under the same financial restraints as everyone else, but despite that have been able to deliver meaningful, practical stuff.

Fighting for local communities and not taking any nonsense from power-hungry administrations

The essence of liberalism is to give power away, not hoard it in the Council HQ and limit the way Council decisions can be scrutinised. Have a wee look (at 2:10:54)  at Hull’s brilliant Abi Bell, winner of the Liberal Democrat Voice Councillor of the Year Award last year, riding a coach and horses through the Labour council’s attempt to stifle  local democracy.

As I wrote this, the new edition of AD LIB fell through my letterbox. In it, Southwark’s Liberal Democrat Council Group Leader Anood Al-Samerai talks of her anger at how Labour take local residents for granted:

Labour take it for granted that inner city areas belong to them…here in Southwark we have a Labour Council that constantly imposes its decisions on people, sells out local residents to developers and won’t let go of power to the people, to real communities.

That’s particularly egregious in an area where affordable housing is scarce and people who grew up in the area can’t afford to live there:

It’s a scandal, exacerbated by a Labour Council which sells off homes and allows new developments to happen without affordable housing in them. There’s no point in regeneration and development if it doesn’t help the local people already living there.

A record of action, a promise of more

So says the age-old saying on Focus leaflets – but the reason it doesn’t get laughed out of town is because it’s true. At ward and Council level, Liberal Democrat councillors deliver for their communities in administration or opposition.

With a year to go today to the General Election, we should look at what this strong local record of service might mean for MPs. Last year, Tom Hancock wrote that one of the factors that might make the Liberal Democrats more resilient was the incumbency factor:

The Liberal Democrats are the only party that substantially benefit from the “Incumbency Factor”. A report from the ‘Electoral Studies’ has revealed that at the last election they had a 6.8% advantage while their Conservatives challengers had 5.1% penalty and Labour challengers had a 1.0% penalty. This may well be different now that they are a party of government but if they received even half of this advantage in 2015 it could save them an additional 10+ seats.

This is backed up by an article in today’s Independent. Why it’s harder than it looks to  evict a Liberal Democrat MP looks at Jeremy Browne’s seat of Taunton:

In looking at the Lib Dem prospects for 2015, it has to be remembered that they won in constituencies like Taunton despite the fact that the party nationally was very unlikely to be in Government. Its strength was having good constituency MPs who were able hold seats by not merely capitalising on protest votes but by using the position to actively fight for the people they represented.

Wherever you find them, elected Liberal Democrats work hard for their communities and those communities would be much worse off without them. This is why, even if people are annoyed at the Coalition, they will be prepared to vote for their hardworking local Councillor.

Photo of Councillor Phil Knowles and winning by-election team by Andrew Carpenter

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Jayne Mansfield 7th May '14 - 4:37pm

    I’m sorry Caron, but Norman Lamb is part of a government that has supported the ‘reforms’ to the NHS that many of us blame for the current chaos in the NHS, a government that has squandered billions on a top- down reorganisation that we were never warned the current government had in store for us.

    I am afraid that, in my opinion, that is the harsh reality.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th May '14 - 5:02pm

    Jayne, let’s not get into a discussion about the NHS reforms on this thread. I will give you another opportunity to talk about this issue – maybe not today, but soon. I hope you can agree that Norman has done some good work on mental health and social care.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th May '14 - 5:26pm

    Yes, apologies Caron, its a subject that looms large in my mind.

  • Perhaps we should be asking “Why are the vast majority of people NOT voting for Lib Dem candidates.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 8th May '14 - 12:19pm

    Great thread Caron. We know where the problems are in our party and they are NOT with our Councillors. Real LDs always listen – those who do not listen are not real LDs. Simple. It has been a hard time for our hard-working local teams because of the, dare I say it – yes I will, the stupidity of the few caught up in ‘the bubble’. Soon, we will get back to support real LDs, go back to principles, and prove yet again that open-minded teamwork is best!

  • Cllr Nick Cotter 8th May '14 - 1:07pm

    As a now Independent Councillor in Bicester (Oxon) – having been a Lib Dem for thirty years I agree with Tony !!!

    Re: Jayne’s posting above – a major reason I have left the party is because of what has happened to mental health “care” under Norman Lamb’s watch – something that has struck very close to home in my young family.

    It is these “own experience” issues that dictate who people (including local councillors) support, and are prepared to go tramping the streets, and “door knocking” for.

    Cllr. Nick Cotter.

  • Good luck to everyone else defending their seats tomorrow. I can only aspire to some of the descriptions of
    LD councillors above, but you’re right that we don’t sing their praises enough and recognise their ongoing hard work when the national picture is changing for us.

    Early start with good morning leaflets coming up, so early night for me…

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