Poll results show need to change Lib Dem leader

Ouch! The Lib Dems lost a lot of local council seats last Thursday. And last night we lost our West Midlands Euro MP Phil Bennion, who gained just 44% of the vote he won in 2009.

I’m sorry to see Phil go, he has worked hard for his patch including for us here in Shropshire.

The Lib Dems were all but wiped in the European elections. Our vote share halved to a miserable 6.9% and we came fifth behind the Greens.

There was no local election in Shropshire and most of the wards elected last Thursday were in urban areas. So this result tells us much more about how the major towns and cities vote and less about deeply rural areas like Ludlow.

The Lib Dems are past masters at localism. Many of us are elected because of our local stance and because we work hard for the community. But we are never able to completely decouple local elections from national trends. Many hard working councillors were ejected on Thursday, unable to stem the national trend: 307 Lib Dem councillors lost their seats, leaving us with just 427.

Lib Dem networks are buzzing with talk of an attempt to remove Nick Clegg as leader. He’s done a lot of good work. Like all leaders he has made mistakes, including backing the bedroom tax and reneging our party’s promise on tuition fees. But the main issue is that although he has engaged with supporters and opponents through TV debates and his LBC talk-in, he has failed to listen to the broader electorate.

The official message within the Lib Dems is its “steady as we go.” We’ve had patronising emails: “Where we have strong and established campaigns, we’re seeing some very good results.” That’s nonsense and insulting. Some of our hardest working councillors lost their seats on Thursday.

We are sticking our heads in the sand if we believe that this May’s disaster won’t be converted into huge losses at the general election.

We need to show more compassion for the plight of ordinary people than we have of late. We need to make it clear that contributing positively to Europe doesn’t mean going along with growing political and social integration. We need once again to champion localism. We should stop privatising the NHS…

The Liberal Democrat party needs to be refreshed and that can only be done by changing its leader. Nick Clegg is brave and passionate, but that does not mean he is the best person to lead us into an election. Changing a leader is not bloodletting, just a pragmatic response to a growing electoral disaster.

There is still time to turn us from a party that expects a miserable cull of our 57 MPs in the 2015 election to one that wants to win most of the seats back.

Why I’m standing as a Lib Dem in 2013

The Lib Dems are hardly the most popular party nationally at the moment. It’s proving hard to be the junior member of a coalition in tough times. Nick Clegg’s approval ratings are also pretty dire.

When then should I join the Lib Dems and stand as a Lib Dem for Shropshire Council in 2013? It is best if I start my explanation with why I am standing for Shropshire Council at all.

I have campaigned since my school days, cutting my teeth on a damp squib of a campaign to rid our sixth form of school uniforms. The colour theme was, after all, a hideous bottle green. It was not long before I was campaigning against the demolition of a Victorian arcade on Northampton’s market square. That campaign failed to stop the bulldozers but just months later we succeeded in blocking an urban expressway that would have flattened many of the town’s terraced streets.

I guess I have campaigned one way or another ever since, including full time for the Campaign to Protect Rural England in Oxfordshire a few years back. Now settled in Ludlow, I have decided that I want to influence policy directly and become a councillor. Why?

Because I am fed up to my back teeth with the way that the Conservatives are cutting and changing council services in pursuit of their own ideology. Always they cry: “There is no alternative!” There are always alternatives, but those in control of Shropshire Council are too blinkered by dogma to see them. The ruling Conservative councillors have become too much focused on their own importance and have long forgotten that their sole purpose is to serve the people of this county.

Initially, I planned to stand as an independent liberal. As I began to make my plans, I came to admire the way that the local team of Lib Dems works. I decided that I would be better as part of a team than out on my own. After a number of discussions, I decided to throw in my lot with the Lib Dems. We already have fourteen members on Shropshire Council. It’s a long way to go to match the Tory numbers, but I have fought campaigns with longer odds before and won.

I have found myself surprisingly at home in the Lib Dems. I have already written a number of articles for Lib Dem Voice. I like the collegiate character of the local group. And no one has once mentioned Nick Clegg on a doorstep!

I’ll be writing about my experiences and outlining my views in coming months.