A view from the doorstep: South Cambridgeshire edition.

I do love a tour. I also love free stuff. So, when my good friend Kirk Taylor promised me not only a whistle stop tour of the mayoral campaign for Rod Cantrill in Cambridgeshire plus the county council election campaign plus a much-coveted “Rod for Mayor” mug (as seen recently at the York Lib Dem Pint) I was very much in!

After a reasonable journey through the English countryside (via the M25 and M11) I arrived in a village called Sawston to meet Kirk. After a cup of coffee and a catch-up we wrestled what has to be the largest orange diamond in existence into the back of his Fiat 500 (no mean feat I can tell you) and off we went.

The biggest diamond in existence!

The biggest diamond in existence!

First stop was a bit of canvassing just up the road in Great Shelford. We were canvassing on behalf of Peter Fane and Brian “bar chart” Milnes as the other candidate in Sawston and Shelford, as well as Rod Cantrill as the mayoral candidate for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. We were knocking on the doors of postal voters and possible supporters, so the canvassing was very targeted. Finding people in was a challenge (but then it was the Bank Holiday weekend) however the response overall was good. I also was lucky enough to meet Peter as well as Alex, another member of the team. They carried on where we left off, proving that teamwork really does make the dream work.

The next stop was actually Waitrose for a spot of lunch! Then on to another village called Over for more lunch (well, a superb chocolate cake) and to catch up with Sarah Cheung-Johnson. She is a newbie who is standing in the county council by-elections for Longstanton and is one of the most inspiring candidates I have met in a long time. Inspired to join after the EU referendum last June; she is hard working, motivated and definitely one to watch for the future! Also, the large diamond we had shoehorned into the car was for her and it was good to pass it on.

Julian Huppert with Sarah Cheung-Johnson

Julian Huppert with Sarah Cheung-Johnson

The action day here (and they seemed to be happening all over Cambridgeshire that day) was a slick and organised operation. It was being hosted by another newbie called Anne. It is great to see so many new members getting stuck in and with such enthusiasm! We also bumped into former MP for Cambridge (and future MP with any luck) Dr Julian Huppert who was more than happy to pitch in and help with the campaign. The combination of new members and more experienced ones is great; it means that everyone learns something new and those of us who have been doing this for a while receive inspiration from the newbies who are always fired-up and ready to go!

After the obligatory campaign photos, we hit the village with Tom, a former councillor. Response here was a lot more positive; not only because people were in their homes which always helps, but those we were speaking to planned to vote for both Sarah and Rod! Local people here are unhappy with the way the Conservatives are running things and are certainly not happy with the prospect of a hard Brexit looming, therefore will not vote Conservative again on any level. Going out with someone who is well-known to local people is also a good boost; he was a face that everyone not only knew but were very happy to talk to. Tom is clearly still held in high regard which is heart-warming to see.

I left South Cambridgeshire filled with positivity and motivation. Everyone here wants to do well; they work well together as a team and are all in constant communication with each other. It is always great to visit a team that is organised, knows what they want to achieve and are willing to work across the division to achieve it. I was only sad not to catch up with John Berkeley-Grout who is another friend of mine working hard on the campaign team. I also did not get to meet the man himself; Rod Cantrill, however I suspect he was a bit busy elsewhere.

The man himself! Rod Cantrill.

The man himself! Rod Cantrill.

If you are at a loose end and fancy a day out in beautiful countryside twinned with some positive canvassing, then this would be a good place to be. From what I saw in Longstanton and Sawston we can easily win this one back from the Tories, but of course the team always need help. Especially as this was an area that only lost by 1% in the 2015 General Election, meaning that nothing should be taken for granted. Looking at recent polls in the local press, it would appear that Rod is the only alternative to the Conservatives in this area. I can promise a warm welcome, lots of positivity, beautiful countryside and maybe cake. I can’t promise a free mug though.

A trip to Newhaven

I must be mad. On Saturday 8th April, all my friends were getting ready to enjoy the unexpected beautiful weather; group chats filled with beach days out, park trips, barbeques or even just the promise of a lay-in and a trip to the pub garden. Not for me; I had decided that the good weather was a great opportunity for a campaigning trip!

This week’s destination was Newhaven to help the team down in Lewes. In typical fashion I was running late (those that know me know I am always running late) but thankfully I could put my foot down on the motorway. I made it to Newhaven just a bit before 11am.

Sadly, my tardiness meant that I had just missed the morning rush. That was ok. This meant I had time to meet some of the team and chat about the campaign over a nice cup of coffee (essential) and some envelopes that needed addressing.

It was clear that this was a much larger operation than I am used to, certainly at council by-election level. I’ve planned and run Action Days in the past and they have been smaller affairs than this and I’ve attended quite a few in my (short) time too. So, it was comforting and motivating to know that around forty-five people had signed in so far and more were expected in the afternoon!

I think it is worth pointing out just how much work goes into planning and organising an Action Day. For starters, a hall had been hired and decorated. This made the perfect base for activists to swing by, update the team, get a cup of tea (and of course more leaflets), rest their legs for half an hour and get back out there! Banners and balloons adorned the outside; what better way to make your presence known in the town. Also, kids love balloons! Promoting the Lib Dems with a bright yellow helium balloon which can be tied to a pushchair or carried round all day is a great idea.

Inside was a hive of activity. Holding things down were Kelly-Marie Blundell as the Parliamentary Candidate for Lewes and George Taylor who was keeping an eye on all the available areas for leafleting and canvassing, ensuring everyone signed the sheet and taking plenty of all important pictures. There were other people also present to oversee indoor activities such as feeding and watering the troops (very important) and the addressing and stuffing of envelopes. The latter task is a great way to get involved if you don’t feel confident or able to get out on the streets. Anyone who has done it will tell you what a vital task this is as it frees up other people to get out and perform other tasks. Every contribution matters.

After a hearty lunch of soup and cake I hit the streets. I was with Newhaven candidate Sarah Osborne. She spoke passionately of neglect in Newhaven by the Conservative councillors and how cuts to the local budget had affected schools and roads in the area. Reception on the doorstep was mixed, however it was a great boost having a local councillor on the team as he was well-known in the area and able to drum up support where possible. I suppose this is where the excellent weather was counter-productive; the majority of residents were out enjoying the sunshine so we were unable to talk to them! However, quite a few that I had spoken to had genuinely not made up their minds yet and were receptive to Sarah’s message. I’m positive she will get a good result.

There are lots of great campaigns up and down the country right now. From mayoral campaigns to county campaigns to the parliamentary by-election up in Manchester Gorton; there is plenty for activists to get their teeth into. I am a bit nomadic by nature; I like getting out, meeting new people and doing something different. Believe me, campaigning outside of your local areas is different! I guarantee you will always learn something; a new skill or a new way of doing things you hadn’t thought of before for example. I can’t emphasise enough how great it also is to meet new people and make new friends. In addition, it’s extremely motivating for those on the campaign to see people who have come from miles away just to help out. I remember this from my own campaigns and this was confirmed by a few of the members upon hearing how far I had come.

My message to newbies and fellow activists is this; it pays to get out of your comfort zone and go somewhere new. You don’t have to travel as far as I do, there’s so much going on at present that there’s probably an active campaign going on in your next-door town (if you aren’t working on one already of course). To more established members: promote your action days wherever you can as you never know who may be able to help you out.

Overall this was a very positive day. The team down here are clearly extremely organised and very motivated. I suspect they will do very well come 4th May, however if you fancy coming down I’m sure they will be very grateful for the help. All that’s left to say is good luck, thanks for having me and thank you for making me feel so welcome!

Sarah Olney Vicotory celebration - 2nd Dec 2016

Member Monday: YOUR NAME HERE

Greetings newbies,

As Tim Farron observed in his conference speech yesterday, membership of the Liberal Democrats has risen to its highest this century; over 1,000 people joined us in the last ten days alone. Our spring conference also broke records: it was the best attended in party history, with the largest number of first timers ever.

As was often said to me during many conversations I had with both new, old and returning members, the concept of “a newbie” is a state of mind. Being a newbie could just as easily describe the renewed energy and confidence amongst our members which has led us to win 34 seats in council by-elections since the general election, along with the election of Sarah Olney, a newbie herself, in Richmond Park last year.

What is now clear is that the newbies have the potential to drive this party back into government, perhaps even in their own right, and, as Tim said yesterday, this should be our aim.

As part of that aim, we want to give our members, particularly our newbies, the chance to share their views. As can be seen from our policy debates at conference, we are an open party where opinions can be shared and respected. Not only that, but ideas from our members can become law. The increase in personal tax allowance, which is now enjoyed by every income tax payer in the country, came from an ordinary member of the Liberal Democrats.

So if you’re interested in contributing to our Monday Member blog, we are taking submissions.

You can submit an article or contact us for more information by emailing ben@libdemnewbies.org.uk

We look forward to hearing from you.

Brexit view of Europe

Who’s Problem?

I was just on twitter and saw a tweet by a self-confessed “Hard Brexiteer” stating that the deal for Brexit was Europe’s problem not ours and it suddenly dawned on me that many of these people are completely unaware how small the UK is.

I have to admit that the first time I saw a globe and saw how small the UK is I was shocked. I seem to remember the weather maps on the TV when I was little illustrating Europe as some small place off the coast of Kent – but that may have been just my childish perception.

What is a definite memory is growing up with the knowledge that we had recently saved Europe from Germany (which at my young age led me to believe that Germany and Britain were similar in size with a strip of much smaller countries physically dividing us); and also being the head state of the Commonwealth, the former Empire – which again gave me a false sense of our size.

We have continued to be a major player on the world stage throughout my life but mostly because of our inclusion in NATO and EU (and our position in NATO could be weakened if we leave EU). Once we are out we will have far less influence than we do now.

These people genuinely believe that those German car manufacturers are going to insist that there is a deal on the table for the UK because of how much business they will lose. The Prosecco producers, the cheese makers, the tourist trade, none of these are quite as dependent on us as we’d like to think they are, none of them will spend much time or energy insisting that we are given whatever we want to keep our trade. And as exporters, we need them more than May, Johnson and Fox are prepared to admit and the Brexit voters are prepared to consider.

To be honest I didn’t vote to remain because I was concerned about financial prosperity, my reasons were more about “the sum of the whole”; and because I wanted to protect the way of life we have with all its diversity and choice than revert to a way of life that has been romanticised in the minds of little Englanders encouraged by people whose finances WILL improve, and egged on by people who don’t like people from the next town let alone other countries.

The tools they used were by playing on the racism of some of the Leave voters with that awful poster of queuing refugees, but also playing up to national pride and our sense of our own importance.

Why shouldn’t we have Freedom of Movement, to me that is MORE important than the access to the Single Market that some people think we can have without FoM, why can’t we stay vibrant and diverse? Because people who are going to find out – too late – that we aren’t so important have either decreed it or at least enabled it because of exactly the attitude of the aforementioned tweeter.

I’m still upset, I don’t want to go, but if we DO have to go I don’t believe it is the EU’s problem to make the deal.

Message from Tim Farron to new members 07/12/2016

Tim Farron gives a message to new Lib Dem members about the vote on Article 50 in the House of Commons on the 7th December 2016.

A Liberal flag?

Opinion Piece: Friends, Countrymen, Liberals ;)…

It has been rankling me that the righteous-right have claimed nationalism for their own. I am just as proud of my country and heritage as they are; but for me it is liberalism and the fight for liberalism that has made this country great. Yet in the face of their fierce brand of isolationist-nationalist fervour aerated by self-serving media monopolies, it is hard to find a strong counter-argument that a Liberal United Kingdom at the heart of Europe that is open, tolerant and progressive is an authentic and compelling future for this country.

But today I believe I had an epiphany that reached right out of the bowels of our collective identity: a rallying call that all British people will intuitively understand.

However, before I get carried away with this, it seems prudent to share this with the great agglomeration of cynical minds that you all are, as it is possible I am in my own little Narnia…

I was at our local Remembrance service on Sunday. I am a conscientious-agnostic; therefore not a Christian. However, many of my core values do stem from Christianity, such as treating others as I expect to be treated, and in general these values form the moral back-bone of our society.

As part of the service we sang one of the classics: ‘I Vow to Thee, My Country’:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Sir Cecil Spring Rice’s words are of course very evocative and I suspect most Brits feel some inner stirring on hearing the instantly recognisable Gustav Holst tune. Something that is interesting about the hymn is the lack of direct Christian references: there is no mention of Christ and only an intimation of God and heaven.

As I have been thinking a great deal about liberalism recently, I suspect sub-consciously something clicked. I felt a resonance with what I am and what I suspect a lot of us are now doing; metamorphosing from living a liberal life to being a Liberal Activist.

So I re-read the words and gave it some thought. I think I then had the epiphany: if the Christian context is replaced with liberalism, this hymn encapsulates British Liberalism.

Liberalism is the dream of a better life, borne out of ancient innate ambitions. As Aristotle said, ‘Of all the varieties of virtues, liberalism is the most beloved’ (he from that other country so long ago).

Liberalism is the axiom that is most dear and great to me; one that I love and one that is at the heart of who I am, how I see the World and how I live my life. For me liberalism is living life how we choose, without oppression, coercion or harm, but also without causing oppression, coercion or harm to others. Without armies or a King, Liberalism is the way of gentleness and peace and like all the most profound ideas, it just requires a faithful heart to hold and fortify it.

For most of my life I just lived a liberal life, without feeling the need to fight for it. Now liberalism and especially British liberalism feels very much under attack: the tolerance, the openness, the progressiveness and being able to speak one’s mind without being engulfed in a hail of Caps-Lock. These are the essence of modern Great Britain that I hold dear. So yes, I now vow to thee my country, the country that I love.

With this in mind, I am putting the best of myself forwards for my friends, family, community and country. This is ‘the love’ that I am laying on the altar. It asks no question or requirement, it has stood the test of time, it is paying the price (certainly in my time and effort), but it is undaunted and I would, if it came to it, make that final sacrifice just as my Grandparents did when fascism tried to roll over Europe.

But this is not just a national calling; I fear for the future of humanity. Globally so many people have been intoxicated with the inward ideology of nationalism, racism and greed; Thatcherism (Neoliberalism), Nationalism and yes, I throw extremist religious ideology in with that too. It chills me to the core that humanity may now be swerving from away from what Obama described in his Arc of History speech, that each ‘generation’s task, to make these works, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real’.

Across the Great Arc of History we liberals have fought and suffered for our cause. The Magna Carta was born out of tyranny, yet there is still so much tyranny in the World. Blacks long suffered as slaves, yet often are still treated as second class citizens. The Suffragettes fought to get Equal Rights, yet pay inequality is universal. Liberal Welfare Reforms combatted laissez-faire oppression of the poor, yet millions suffer in poverty still. It is a long walk to freedom, equity and opportunity, but that is our duty and our pride.

Even so, all our paths are peace. That is what any liberal really wants: peace and harmony for all, with all individuals living together, creating a better place for all.

And of course, soul by soul and (not so) silently the shining bounds of liberalism are increasing, as this group very much demonstrates.

Of course, this maybe just my interpretation, but I feel this hymn expresses what liberal Great Britain is about and it is an identity that the great British people will intuitively understand. An identity that was there all the time, secluded away in familiar words and melody, provided by the son of Swedish immigrants and a British Ambassador to the United States. It is our rallying call!

So with those thoughts, I am looking at an old hymn in a new light and I am wondering if this is just me. Given the great number of wise, passionate and knowledgeable liberals here, I was wondering if you would provide your thoughts. Does this hymn, or at least the sentiments it provides, encapsulate what British liberalism is about? If so, is this a national-liberal rallying call we can use in the face of the righteous-right storm?

Please be kind 😉