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20 Years with the Lib-Dems - by Tim Young; Chair of our Executive Committee

February 1, 2020 1:00 AM
By Tim Young
Tim Young

Tim Young

20 Years with the Lib-Dems - by Tim Young; Chair of our Executive Committee

In the dying days of the old millennium, circa 1998/9, I received a letter through the post. On reading it, I discovered firstly, that it had been sent to me by my local Borough Council, and secondly, that every household on my estate would have received an identical letter. Our house was built in the late 1970's, and when we moved in, in early 1983, we were its second owners. At that time, most houses on our estate appeared to be occupied by families with young children, as our three daughters were then, and especially in the summer months, children would play out on the streets, as I had done when I was a kid. In 1983, there was also only one road leading directly on/off our estate too, so when mum or dad was returning home from work on a summer's evening, as soon as they entered our estate they would moderate the speed of their car, knowing that kids would be out playing, including most likely, their kids, and they didn't want to harm any of them. Fast forward to 1998/9, and my estate was significantly bigger, the kids out playing fifteen years earlier were now young adults, there were several roads leading on/off the estate, and not just one, so when a resident returned home from work in their car, they no longer moderated their speed, and indeed, a number of road became rat-runs. If those young adults were still living on the estate, they were on the cusp of leaving home, and in many cases, including my wife & I, the parents stayed living in the once family home.

The letter from the Council advised that they were minded to install traffic calming measures on our estate to force drivers to slow down. There were to be displays at various local libraries and supermarkets with feedback forms for local residents to indicate their opinions and preferences. Despite never having learned to drive, I saw the logic in what the council were trying to achieve and went to one of the displays and submitted my feedback.

Traffic calming was subsequently installed on a number of roads on my estate, mostly in the form of humps, but the humps were the wrong shape, and were throwing cars around and those cars with low slung exhaust/silencer systems were having those damaged by the humps and my neighbours were not happy. A protest group was formed to campaign for the hump's removal, and I kept getting handwritten notes inviting me to meetings of this group in the local pub, which I ignored. Then I got a Focus, the periodic newspaper from my local Lib-Dem councillors inviting me to attend an Area Committee meeting locally, where the issue would be discussed by them. That invitation I did accept. Everyone was allowed to express a view and I realised these Area Committees were held regularly, and so I started attending them even after the road hump issue had been resolved.

It's now the summer of 2002 and I am at an Area Committee meeting. At the back of the hall there was always a large table with piles of council leaflets on different topics and perusing these leaflets at the end of the meeting, one in particular, caught my eye. It was entitled 'Could You Do Better ?' I took a copy home, read it, and it explained that in May 2003 there would be all-out elections in South Ribble, and that all the main Parties were short of candidates. There was to be an Open Evening at the Council offices on a particular day, for anyone who was interested in being a councillor. I went along, not because I wanted or expected to be a councillor, as I wasn't a member of a Party, but having got interested and involved in my local Area Committee I thought I'd find out a bit more about how the Council was run, centrally. My train was late arriving in Leyland, from Manchester, where I was working at that time, and when I got to the Council Offices, there was just one empty seat left, next to the Chair of my Area Committee. During a subsequent pause in proceedings we chatted, and he asked why I had come along. I told him, adding as well that I wasn't expecting to be a candidate as I wasn't a member of a Party, but did vote Lib-Dem in most elections. He replied, saying there was a very winnable seat in my area, which there wasn't a candidate for at present. Would I be interested in joining the Lib-Dems and being considered as a potential candidate for that ward ? I said I would think about it, which I did, and agreed to have my name go forward. I used to have regular meetings in London at that time (still do!) and after one meeting I popped across to Westminster, went up to the receptionist at Lib-Dem HQ, and asked if I could join the Party there & then. Told that I could, I completed a membership form, handed over my membership sub and officially became a Lib-Dem.

In May 2003, I stood for election to South Ribble Borough Council and Penwortham Town Council, and won both seats. I enjoyed my time as a councillor on both but sadly lost both seats in May 2007, especially galling as had I held on to my Town Council seat, I would have been Mayor of Penwortham in 2007/8.

Meanwhile, I had attended my first Constituency AGM in autumn 2003, and was elected Constituency Secretary, a position I was to hold for the next 14 years. I also discovered at that AGM that my local Party also 'caretaked' West Lancashire as that constituency only had a small number of members, none of whom wanted to 'officer' a local Party. I was also advised not to go to Federal Conferences (the big national Party Conference) as they were very expensive to go to. However, in the summer of 2005 in an edition of the now defunct 'Lib-Dem News' I saw an advert asking for members to steward at that autumn's Party Conference in Blackpool. I rang the number provided for more info and ended up agreeing to steward in Blackpool. Circumstances conspired so that within 36 hours of starting to be a steward in Blackpool I was asked to do a photocopying job. I was told they had wanted a steward to do the job all week, but no-one was willing to do it. I told them I was and have photocopied at every Party Conference since.

I had attended one or two Regional Conferences in my early years in the Party, but in 2005 I attended the Regional Autumn Conference in Birkenhead, where delegates were being invited to put their names forward for election to the 2006 Regional Executive. I did, got elected, and have served on that Executive ever since, working with other Lib-Dems in the North West, overseeing and co-ordinating activity across 75 parliamentary constituencies. In the summer of 2007, the Executive were short of delegates to represent the region on English Council, a committee composed of delegates from the eleven English regions to oversee and co-ordinate Lib-Dem activity throughout England. Again, I've been on English Council ever since. In my time on both those bodies, I've become a trained shortlister and Returning Officer, as well as becoming a Vice Chair of the region, with particular responsibility for organising two regional conferences each year, the first I had to put together being Autumn 2016.

Going back to my stewarding at Federal Conferences, the Party have a number of 'Associated Organisations' known as AO's and Special Associated Organisations' known as SAO's. At the Autumn Conference in Brighton in 2006, I joined LDCF (the Lib-Dem Christian Forum). A year later, I renewed my membership for another year, and attended its AGM. In 2008, I went a stage further, renewing my membership for a third year, attending the AGM, and putting my name forward for election to its executive. Again, I got elected, and whilst my term of office didn't start till 1st January 2009, I was invited to the last Exec. meeting of 2008 as part of the handover process and ended up becoming LDCF Secretary straight away. I served in that capacity for six years plus a seventh as an ordinary member of the Executive, before stepping down from the LDCF Executive at the end of 2015, to become its Returning Officer at every subsequent AGM, well, not quite! The Federal Spring Conference in 2018 was held in Southport. A member of the LDCF Executive attended that conference but a few short weeks later she suffered a massive stroke whilst shopping near her home in Wiltshire and died shortly after arrival at hospital. The LDCF Exec. had also had a few others needing to resign around that time, one because they'd just got a new job which was politically restricted, and so I offered to be co-opted back on to the Exec. to give it some experience that it had sadly lost. I'm still there, and currently serve as LDCF's Vice Chair.

Finally, the West Lancashire issue had vexed the active members of my local party ever since I had joined, and before that too. We were obliged to invite them to the AGM each year, which cost in both printing and postage, knowing full well no-one would come. There had been one young man in West Lancs, who was keen and active but then he moved to Wigan and subsequently lapsed his membership. We had tried, through my good endeavours, to persuade the Region to either join West Lancs to another neighbouring party or to make it a 'party of the region' whereby it would be administered direct by the Regional Executive. All those attempts failed. At our local party AGM in autumn 2017, I finally managed to lose my job as Constituency Secretary and was rewarded with the position of Constituency Vice Chair instead. I was thrilled to still hold a senior position in the local party but a position that had minimal work and responsibility attached to it. However, just a few months later our Chair secured the position of PPC for Southport, and promptly resigned as Constituency Chair, to devote all his time to Southport, and I was catapulted into the top job of Local Party Chair, and still the grumbles persisted over West Lancashire. I had attended a 'Regional Wash Up' (otherwise known as an inquest) into the Party's disastrous performance at the 2015 General Election, about ten days after the event, and it became clear at that meeting that in the ten days since that election, large numbers of folk had joined the Lib-Dems nationally, indeed a number of 'newbies' were at that meeting. As every subsequent significant political event unfolded, the referendum, the several General Elections, the several changes of leadership in our own and other leading Parties, there have been further surges in our Party's membership which have been reflected in our local party's membership. In the run up to our local party AGM in 2014 I had, as secretary at that time, sent out 48 invitations to our party members in South Ribble & West Lancs combined. Today, both constituencies each have well over a hundred full members, plus supporters. Last summer I decided to try and do something. I had a current membership list for the whole of the local party, and probably broke every GDPR rule in the book, by using my own e-mail address to send an e-mail to every member living in West Lancashire, admittedly 'bcc' introducing myself as the local party Chair, explaining the recent history of our Party in West Lancs, and asking if any of them would like to meet up with me for an informal no obligation chat at a mutually agreed pub in Ormskirk one evening to explore what they could do and how they could do it. I had a handful of replies, agreed a date and pub to meet up at, (it was a bit like going on a blind date, not that I've ever done that, going to a pub twenty miles from home, to meet folk one's never met before, and has no idea what they look like) but we met, we chatted, I've been across to Ormskirk several times since, and things have taken off big style. As I speak, the group potentially have candidates for at least two thirds of the wards in West Lancs for the District Council elections in May 2020. As for the 48 invites I'd sent out for the 2014 local party AGM, I'd had to send a lot more a year later in 2015 and instead of getting just the usual half dozen turning up for the AGM, we got a lot of new faces, and went into 2016 with a new expanded local party executive, a number of whom are still on it several years later! At the South Ribble elections in 2015 I missed out on regaining my Borough Council seat by just 15 votes, but did get elected to Penwortham Town Council after an eight year absence. A year later, that which had been cruelly denied me in 2007 was mine as I had the honour to serve as Mayor of Penwortham for the council year 2016/17.