Monday, 7 May 2012

Reasons for the political micro climate in Southport

In Victorian times Southport used to advertise trips to the town under the marketing slogan 'visit the Lancashire Riviera'! Later on we promoted the resort as somewhere to come in winter because of our micro climate which  produced mild weather when all around were suffering a freeze.

It is well known that it is not just  meteorolgically that we have a micro climate. For generation Southport has demonstrated that it can buck the national trend in politics.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice Southport is one of those northern chapel towns where Liberalism refused to lie down and die in the post war years. The Jewish community -who suffered significant discrimination at the hands of local Tories-joined hands with independent radicals, Methodists and Congregationalists to build a formidable electoral presence. Liberal representation on the Council was never snuffed out and in 1959 Cllr Sam Goldberg was polling strongly in a three cornered fight in the General Election coming in a rare second place.

By 1962 we had taken the Council out of Tory hands. We were early adopters of Jo Grimond's strategy of re-aligning the Left and were in an unofficial pact with Labour, we won 9 out of 10 seats-all but one of those contests were straight fights with the Tories. Labour stood in the other five wards . We won 8 out of nine seats the following year when all were straight fights.

Come the 1970 General Election -a pretty dismal year for those of us that remember it-Southport again provide Liberal cheer with Ronnie Fearn coming in second. Chris Renard has often quotes this result and Cyril Carr's in Wavertree as important factors in persuading him of the potential for a Liberal revival which duly came along in 1974 when we went desperately close to victory effectively squeezing the Labour vote for the first time

The rest is well known-I will pass over the 1983 General Election- Parliamentary victories have followed and there is now Liberal representation in every ward in the town.

So how do we make the political weather different here? Firstly we ought not to disregard the tradition. Generations of Liberal have contributed to the town. Hard working councillors have built up a reputation for championing their communities. The baton had successfully been past from generation to generation. Common to all those Liberals has been hard work and a clear identity as the anti Tory party. Back to the likes of Sam Goldberg  and his wife Madge both were passionate nuclear disarmers and believers in internationally guaranteed collective security as an alternative to war and appeasement. This theme was maintained by the PPC in the 60's Jack Coleman a robust advocate of the European project.

Southport is unlike its neighbours in many ways. Its employment is not dominated by large unionised firms or government employees but rather by small businesses and the self employed. As a proud Lancashire seaside resort we had a clear view of our identity and economic self interest and as David Boyle has pointed out elsewhere their is a strong correlation between Liberal presence and self employment. Our town is full of small businesses and new start ups. At one stage my ward of Birkdale had a record number of new businesses registering for VAT. That is not to suggest that we have not got our fair share of high paid public servants aggrieved that their jobs are under threat and even that some of them are paid as consultants thus avoiding tax

Liberals in this town have stood out against the abolition of our civic identity and proudly proclaimed ourselves as Sandgrounders. I noted that the Tories this year put out a leaflet on behalf of Sefton Conservatives and featuring a women from Blundellsand who lost her seat. We would not make that mistake.

And so we have a generations old tradition of hard working councillors who were putting out newsletters before Wallace Lawler or Cyril Carr and who championed their communities. We have added to that brand Pugh. A robustly independent MP not afraid to speak his mind and one who will not be bullied or cajoled against his best judgement by the whips-or even his activists. He is a true heir to Burke who expressed his view in a famous address to his electors which contaains the often quotes phrase'Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion' he went on:

To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,--these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

So John's speaks his mind. He pledged to vote against tuition fees in the General Election so despite the pressure he voted against them. From its earliest inception he identified the manifest flaws in Lansley's health Bill and champion opposition to it. I suspect that he will be equally resolute in opposing the imposition of regional pay. He too works hard and has the grudging respect even of his political opponents as an excellent constituency MP. Brand Pugh is an electoral asset worth more than a hundred endorsements from nationally known bigwigs

History, hard work, the Pugh effect, an understanding and identification with the community we seek to serve and one other ingredient helps us win; Tory incompetence manifest by infighting which has alienated their supporters and cut off from them the recruitment of high calibre people. The scale and viciousness of the infighting continues to shock even hardened politicians-although the media choose to ignore it. The most able centre right/right wing councillor -Sir Ron Watson-has been forced out of the council group as have two other former leaders, two popular Mayors and an able senior police officer and a respected and well like Councillor. They seem not to care that this strategy has failed. This Thursday saw the defeat of the Tory leader and her chief whip. The era of Porter/Parry/Griffiths is by any measure the worst in Tory history and they still don't get it! Not only has this allowed Lib Dems to become the natural home of moderate, community minded conservatives it has also allowed UKIP tp prosper by picking up what one reader to this blog described as the Col. Blimp vote. And so it has come to pass that with sensible Liberals to the left of them and Ukip to the right of them the rabble that is the Official Tories have been destroyed. The electorate are not impressed. In the seven Southport seats they are only the clear challenger in two of them. In Birkdale they were fourth as they were in Norwood and Kew wards. 

 Obvious if any of those factors changed that could impact on the micro climate. If we became complacent and stopped working hard,or lost our status as the major anti Tory party, or lost contact with our electors, or started squabbling amongst ourselves like the Porter/Parry Tory group, if the Pugh brand lost its potency then the cold winds could blow from the north. Our task is to stay on our course and offer the electors a radical non-socialist vision of a better society.

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