Like most people, the first time I marked my cross on a ballot paper I was not long out of school.
I’ve never forgotten the hustings in Northampton Market Square in 1974. The Labour candidate stood the soap box to the left, handing out hymn sheets for the Red Flag. The Tory didn’t even turn up.
Ahead of me the young Lib Dem candidate poured out a passionate argument for going into the European Community because it would end wars in Europe.
I wanted to vote for that. I believe that war is sometimes necessary. Winning war is heroic but it is never a success. Our failure is in preventing war. I was passionately against nuclear weapons. I still am.
This was my first vote. In complete buggeration, my father had not included me when he returned the family polling card to the town hall.
I wrote in fury to the town clerk. The clerk was an austere, old fashioned man and we didn’t get on well. I was a long-haired prominent member of a group protesting against an urban expressway through the terraced Victorian streets of Northampton. I will never forget the clerk telling us he would not rest until all the terraced houses in our town were demolished.
A short while later I dated his daughter and discovered the town clerk lived in one of the leafiest streets in Northampton. During this brief teenage relationship, and while the parents were not at home, we were interrupted by a clash and a bang as note was pushed through the door. It read: “Your house is letting the street down. Paint it.” So her parents repainted the house as ordered.
This acquiescence to wealthy neighbours just added to my anger. The town clerk was a man who wanted to bulldoze the terraced streets many of my friends lived in. He owned almost a place and could afford to paint it. And he had denied me a vote!
Of course he hadn’t denied me a vote. He was just playing by the rules but I wish I had kept his letter. It rankled so much because not long before he had called in the police to ‘protect’ councillors from our protest in the council chamber.
That was my first involvement in public protest. I had just joined Northampton Action Group which was protesting against destruction of the historic centre and communities in Northampton.
Caroline was our star leader and she rose to accuse the town clerk of lying on one of the issues. The police were called and we were invited to leave the chamber to meet them. The police shrugged their shoulders and said the call out was completely unnecessary.
In those heady years we defeated an Expressway through Northampton. But to my perpetual regret, we lost a most marvellous Victorian arcade on the Market Square.
These battles were long ago but they still shape how I think.
That’s why I am backing Charlotte Barnes in tomorrow’s election. She is a chip off the same block as me. Of course we both are Lib Dems. We both believe in liberal values.
She is a gutsy street fighter like me. She fights for local people and South Shropshire. She has real passion for the area she lives in. Like me she believes in batting for where she lives.
That’s why she should be our MP. That’s why you I hope you will vote for her tomorrow.
But the most important thing is to vote.