Labour need the Liberal Democrats to survive 2015 to make sure we don’t have permanent Tory government

If the Labour Party builds up support in rural areas where the Lib Dems are strong it could lead to a long term Tory government

With 2012 being another important year of elections across the UK, with local elections in England, Wales and Scotland it could be a very difficult year for Liberal Democrats. Although it’s difficult to see that the results in 2012 could be as bad as 2011.

However, possibly because it suits the two-party consensus, the Labour Party needs to be careful not to make their own chances of running the country in 2015 to the detriment of maintaining a pluralist democracy.

Whatever the pros and cons of the Liberal Democrats joining the Coalition government if the party performs very badly in the 2015 General Election it may also make the chances of Labour running the country after that election less likely too.

Because of the nature of the Liberal Democrat advances in the 1990s and 2000s the party has naturally made gains from the Conservatives in rural areas. Only in 2005 and 2010 did the party really make advances against Labour, and only to a fairly modest degree. Consequently if the Liberal Democrats do badly at the next election the main beneficiaries will be the Conservatives – in those rural constituencies. This will only make the chances of Labour winning the election lower (if the net beneficiary of Liberal Democrat losses are the Conservatives) as at the moment the Conservatives only need a dozen or so gains to achieve this result.

I don’t blame the Labour Party for attacking the Liberal Democrats and their recent affiliation with the Conservative Party, but by building up support in areas where it will not directly benefit the Labour Party themselves, such as the South East and South West of England, it will just lead to greater Conservative representation and the chance of a return to the 1980s and almost permanent Conservative government.

Something that I would personally like to avoid.


25 Years on and Cornwall’s Liberal Democrats should still remember David Penhaligon today

Truro and St Austell’s MP from 1974-1986 remembered today

People often ask whether you can remember where you were when JFK died. I don’t I was too young. But, for those of us who can remember David Penhaligon the feeling, I suspect, is similar to those people felt when John Kennedy was shot. A feeling of deep loss having very little personal knowledge of the man personally.

As an MP from a peripheral party at the time he was possibly a surprising national political figure who had garnered a great deal of national publicity and was almost certainly the shoo in as the next leader of the party, ahead of the eventual winner – Paddy Ashdown.

I was sitting in my front room with several school friends when I heard the news, being only 16 he had had a surprisingly big impression on me. Although I joined the SDP I had briefly met David Penhaligon once and also seen him speak once. The former was on polling day in the Knowsley North By-election, caused by the resignation of Robert Kilroy-Silk as a Labour MP. I, and fellow campaigners, had been out delivering leaflets in the pouring Merseyside weather and returned to the Alliance HQ, where we discovered David Penhaligon and other party luminaries with their sleeves rolled up delving into the inner workings of a printing machine. It was a surprising if apparently usual event.

This was an image I will never forget, and it has rather shaped my view of what MPs and party figures should be like since. He was deep down an activist and keen to helping in a by-election, however unlikely the party’s chances of winning. The other time I saw him was when he spoke at Methodist Central Hall at a pre-election rally in December 1986. His was an inspiring speech which set the tone for an exciting day at a party rally.

However, as any Liberal Democrat in Cornwall will tell you, his influence remains an important aspect of the party’s resonance and influence in Cornwall. I can remember campaigning in several general elections in Cornwall and still getting support for the party, twenty years on, because of the work he did for Cornwall, especially in Truro and St. Austell.

Liberal Democrats, especially in Cornwall, owe an awful lot to David Penhaligon and today we remember all that he did for us, the party and for Cornwall.

‘Hello, this is BBC Radio Stoke, we’d like a quote about your local PPC!’ – The Press Officer’s Guide Lesson 16 – Avoid ‘Local Difficulty’!

Harold Macmillan coined the phrase, 'a little local difficulty' which it is always best to avoid!

As you will no doubt be aware there has been an issue with a Liberal Democrat PPC in Stoke-on-Trent recently.

This was brought home to me over the weekend when I received a ‘private number’ phone call. 

“Hello, is that John Ault?” came the siren voice.

“Yes,” I said.  

“We have you as the contact for the Liberal Democrats in the North West, we were wondering if you could give us a quote on the issues surrounding the Liberal Democrats in Stoke.”

I replied, “Unfortunately I would only be able to comment in a personal capacity on this subject.  I haven’t worked for the Liberal Democrats in that region for 10 years now so I don’t think I should comment. 

“It might also help to know that Stoke-on-Trent is not in the North West region, by the way!”

There was a momentary silence from the other end of the phone, “I think we should probably update our records.” 

“That might make sense,” I replied.

It is very important to remember in relation to the press that one’s capacity to say nothing is often an extremely useful skill and is often underrated.

Ebay rates my, and Hilary Stephenson’s, Magnum Opus at a value of £2.50 – but at least someone is still buying!

The Campaign Manual by Myself and Hilary Stephenson - a collector's item going for a song at £2.50!

One of the most interesting aspects of working for the Liberal Democrats is the training and advice that you are asked to give to other agents, candidates, MPs and local parties.

In 2000, having agented a successful general election campaign, a couple of parliamentary by-elections and helped run the European elections in 1999 I was asked, with Hilary Stephenson, to write and design the new version of ‘The Campaign Manual’.

It was to form the basis of a the party’s training programme in the run up to the 2001 election and was to be published by ALDC.

Now trust me this is not entirely vanity but on occasion I, and I know others, type their name into Google just to see what the world is saying about them and whether anything interesting has been said.  ‘Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!’ I hear you cry.  But, admit it we all do.

Now, imagine my surprise when I did it the other day and discovered a link to ebay.  I was intrigued, possibly even worried, to discover what the auction website had for sale, and there it was – The Campaign Manual.

It is described as ‘Used’ which is more than I can say for many of them and it is also described as being in ‘Good Condition’.  I can’t quite decide what I think of the fact that is someone in Bath is selling it.  I suggest they keep it for the next few months just in case they need the secret recipe for making the perfect poster sticking solution.

I am of course delighted that it appears in ‘Non-Fiction’ and is rather generously described as being ‘Political Science’.  I always thought it was more of an art than a science but there you go.

I know you will all be excited about buying this magnum opus of myself and Hilary, it is a must for any serious political scientist’s bookshelf! Here’s the link and happy bidding.

You have until 16:48:49 this afternoon – Wednesday 27/01/10. 

The present price, selling, at £2.50 – what an absolute bargain.  Oh, and before you ask it isn’t me who has bid.  I still have a few copies somewhere.

‘I’m getting something over the radio about a naked man storming the stage during Charles’ speech!’ The Press Officer’s Guide Lesson 15

Charles was about to surprised by a naked man storming the stage

Press conferences may have their ups and downs but public speeches can be even worse.  As I have said before Liberal Democrats and security are not easy bed fellows and the nearest most Lib Dem events get to ‘security’ is a quick look through a handbag by an enthusiastic volunteer.

Sometimes they are elderly members who worked at Bletchley Park, but they are increasingly rare.

One such event during the 2001 General Election was a regional rally at The Floral Hall in Southport.

Members from across the region converged to hear the leader, Charles Kennedy, speak. 

As the regional contact for the national party and the Special Branch a lot of the organisation came through me to arrange where Charles would arrive, who was allowed in and anybody that the Special Branch had identified as ‘a potential threat’!  It is very easy to assume that these sorts of descriptions are a bit police statish but nonetheless it was my responsibility to check that people were who they said they were and that they were allowed access if the police had any concerns about them. 

Once ‘Liberty’ was delivered by car to the back entrance of the meeting, and was safely delivered to the green room, it afforded the staff and police to have a chat and briefly check any photos or names against people to see if there were any known problems attending.

Over the radio of the policeman with me came a troubling message that someone was insisting on seeing Charles and a minor alert ensued to check the credentials of the person to see that they were bona fide and that this was not a problem.  There was no problem and the person, with police minder, was allowed to have a brief chat with Charles about a casework matter. 

As the event began I and a couple of other members of staff and one of the Special Branch officers sat down outside in a lovely spring evening for a cup of coffee and a chat about the next event which they would need to liaise over when Charles was next in the North West.

Through the crackle of the officer’s walkie talky came, ‘Is John there?’ The officer replied that I was. ‘Tell him that a naked man has stormed the stage and he may need to sort it out!’

After a moment of contemplation about this rude interruption I asked if the policeman had a helmet I could borrow. He did not.

A few minutes later several Lib Dem stewards had removed the gentleman from the hall and re-clothed him.  Charles dealt with it brilliantly saying, ‘that reminds me that I should never go naked into the conference chamber.’

I commented to the police officer, ‘what a lot of fuss over a little thing like that!’