Sunday 17 May 2015

Election fallout 2015 - What future for the Barnet Lib Dems?

This will be our final word on the General Election 2015. I am sure you will all be pleased to hear that. I am going to be taking a break from political blogging for a while, as I've a couple of music projects I really need to concentrate on (more of that later). This isn't a "Don't Call Me Dave" style retirement. If something major blows up, of course I'll be back on the keyboard, but as wev've got no general election for five years and no council election for three years, I have to conclude that my time would be better spent writing about things I enjoy. As ever guest blogs are welcome. I am especially pleased to see the amazing response to Stephen McKenzies blog about the Hendon Conservative campaign. As Stephen is a teeneager, it is great to see talented people come through in the next generation.

Anyway, enough of that. I left the Lib Dems till last as I think this is the logical tailend to what I've had to say. In Barnet, for general elections, there is a seeming 2 way face off between the Tories and Labour. In the council the picture is rather different. Until 2010, the Lib Dems had 6 councillors. This consisted of 3 in Childs Hill, 2 in Mill Hill and 1 in High Barnet. Going into the 2010 election, the Lib Dems had high hopes of taking even more seats, hoping for increases in Mill Hill and High Barnet. As the date of the Council election coincided with the General Election, a huge turnout saw these hopes blown away. The group was cut down to 3. In the 2014 election, the anti coalition backlash saw this cut to 1, the veteran Jack Cohen. This near wipeout was mostly due to Labour targetting Childs Hill in a completely idiotic attempt to try and take advantage of the situation. The net result was that the Tories gained 2 seats and retained control of the council.

In the General Election, Lib Dem voters gave Andrew Dismore and the local Labour party payback for this and defected en mass to the Tories, delivering a huge increase in vote for Matthew Offord. What Dismore had failed to appreciate was that whilst Labour leaning Lib Dems were savvy enough to vote Labour aready, Tory leaning ones (or Labour disliking ones) simply jumped to the Offord boat. Given that Offord is hard right, hating same sex marriage and the EU, to back Offord was clearly a big jump, but one that Dismore had pushed them to. His atttude to the Lib Dems had been patronising and had rubbed many up the wrong way. The Lib Dems had chosen an excellent local candidate in Alasdair Hill. As I attended the hustings, it was clear to me that I'd rather have Alasdair than any of those on offer, if I was the sole voter. His efforts for the Library campaign have been fantastic. He is honest, decent and sensible. Sadly for Alasdair, he was standing for a party that the electorate had chosen to give a right good kicking to, for the coalition.

Personally I despaired of the Lib Dem national campaign. If I'd have been head of their National Campaign, I'd have had one simple message. If the Tories win an outright majority, they will lurch to the right, destroy the NHS, clobber the poorest and most vulnerable members of society and give their super rich billionaire backers a huge tax cut, despite running a huge defecit. The message I would have sent to Lib Dem voters is "If you don't vote for us on May 7th, six months later you will regret it, when the Tories start ripping the country apart".  We are seeing the first signs of this, with George Osborne setting a new budget, just a couple of months after setting one with the Coalition. If anyone believes that this is anything other than George implementing a hard right agenda, they need to wake up and smell the coffee. There is no point moaning about what Osborne has done. The Tories did not campaign on a "If we get a majority, we'll carry on as if the Lib Dems are still there" slate. They said they wanted a majority, so they could enact truly Tory policies. I believe these policies are socially divisive in a way the coalition never was. What really saddens me is that arts and creative budgets are likely to suffer most. The Tories are phasing out funding for arts foundation courses and slashing budgets. Creative industries generate £8 million an hour for the economy, yet they are seen as "not serious subjects".

The truth is that the Tories knew that the best way to win was to knock out what they saw as the soft Lib Dem votes, which they did spectacularly well. The Lib Dems were just to stupid and nice to do anything about it. Many commentators say "What is the point of the Lib Dems?". Well as far as I can see, both at a local and national level, the case has been made but people have simpl not bothered to notice. When the Lib Dems were in council in Mill Hill, they had active and highly motivated councillors, who looked after the neighbourhood. The Tories have been a disaster. The worst example of this is the "Saracens CPZ exclusion zone". This monstrous scheme has seen hundreds of local residents clobbered with fines and forced to park miles away when visiting friends. Despite hundreds of protests, our local councillors did nothing to stop the scheme. This simply wouldn't have happened if the Lib Dems had been councillors. Unlike the Tory councillors, who simply toe the party line and do what they are told, the Lib Dems had a strong record of fighting for local residents and ensuring local issues were top of the agenda. Sadly in 2014, the Lib Dems didn't even bother running a proper campaign in Mill Hill, despite holding 2 seats only four years before. This was in part due to well respected former councillor Jeremy Davies having personal matters to deal with and partly due to a complete lack of activists.

On the national scene, only time will tell if I am proven right, but I beleive that once we've seen the full force of Tory policies and cuts, many will realise that giving the Lib Dems a kicking was a terrible mistake. Whilst I disagreed with much of what the coalition did and was particularly disgusted by the tuition fees U-Turn, I awoke on May 8th to face the harsh reality that like many former Lib Dem supporters, my walking away from the party had ulimately given the Tories carte blache to run riot.

This has been borne out by a huge surge in Lib Dem membership. Apparently the party has gained 10,000 new members since the election. As I mentioned at the top of this blog, I am stepping away from politics for a while to concentrate on music and other projects. I have decided that in October, I will consider my options and may rejoin a political party. I was a member of the Labour Party from 1983 until 2009. I joined the Lib Dems in 2009 and resigned in 2011, when my membership was up for renewal in disgust at the tuition fees debacle. In October, my five year ban from the Labour Party is up. I cannot rejoin if Alison Moore is still the Leader of the group on Barnet Council. By then, they will have a new Leader, and so we need to see how that goes. As things stand, I would join the Lib Dems and try and help the party rebuild their local base of councillors. I believe that this will only be done with a long campaign and lots of hard work.  I really can't see any circumstances where I would join the local Tories. I was asked if there were any circumstances I'd vote Tory and the answer was yes. I would always vote for them tactically to keep UKIP or the BNP out. Whilst they are completely hell bent on destroying art and culture in the UK, they clearly will be pariahs with anyoe who cares about these issues. Having said that I will be seeking a meeting with our local MP's to try and convince them to change their stance on support of arts and music. I believe there is a hard economic case for this and that they should at least be prepared to listen. I will be asking for their support for the #SaveLondonMusic campaign in the House of Commons. It is worth noting that only Alasdair Hill, the Lib Dem candidate publicly supported the campaign, which is one reason I feel he is an excellent candidate.

With the first past the post system, tactical voting is the only way to prevent parties you do not want from getting in. I favour a move to PR and only the Lib Dems support this. I believe it would give us a far more healthy parliament. I'd like to see a system rather like the GLA with local MP's and a list, so there was still a chance for quality independent candidates (such as Martin Bell) to get in. I do believe that there is a role for  3rd parties, but they have to be sensible and pragmatic with their targets. This is why I have an issue with the Greens in Barnet. I cannot see any way they will ever succeed in either council or national elections. At present the only green votes that count are in European and GLA elections. I'd love to see them do well in these, as I think that the Green agenda is important, but the fact that they have continually split the progressive vote in Barnet is, to me, a constant source of irritation. When I was canvassing for the Lib Dems in 2010, there was a council election and a general election. My message to all voters on the doorstep was the same. If your top priority is to keep the Conservatives out, then in the Council elections only the Lib Dems will do this. In the general election, realistically only the Labour candidate will.

For the Lib Dems to be able to say that in 2018, will require a huge amount of hard work. I don't know whether I will be part of it or not, a period of reflection is required. But I hope that whatever happens, the party picks itself up off the ropes. 


Andrew Newby said...

The Greens beat the LibDems in 19 of Barnet's 21 wards in the 2014 council election so if you are looking for a progressive alternative the best option is to vote Green

Rog T said...

Lib Dems are clearly alternative to Tories in Childs Hill. Labour in other wards. Given history over several elections logic says Lib Dems in Mill Hill & Barnet. Until Greens have realistic chance of winning it is a wasted vote in council. Greens should concentrate in GLA where thre is a fairer electoral system.