1979 – My political awakening

The Liberal Party leaflet scanned above is from the period of my party political awakening and as I’ve said before on this blog site I ended up joining the old Liberal Party on New Year’s day 1980. I mention it now because my dear friend Peter Gibson presented me with the leaflet a few days ago as he thought I’d like and appreciate it. He was right.

My original grasp at politics was with a small ‘p’ when I decided to become an activist in my trade union IRSF (Inland Revenue Staff Federation) in 1978 and it was only after this that my thoughts turned to politics with a big ‘P’. I was sure I was not a Conservative as at the time I lived with a sometimes card-carrying one (my Dad) but frankly I was not particularly well versed in party politics. This pondering was brought to a head by my old friend Andrew Beattie who sadly died back in 1999. Andrew obtained the 1979 GE manifestos of the 3 major political parties; well he did work in a book shop! Anyway, we set about reading and debating them; him from a left-leaning household, me from a right-leaning household. In the end, we both concluded we were in fact Liberals by instinct and joined the party of that name together, at Peter Gibson’s house, on the 1st day of 1980.

It soon became clear to me that the Liberals were streets ahead of Labour in terms of worker rights and and worker participation in companies. I recall listening to policies outlined by the likes of Richard Wainright MP and thinking that’s what I think too. Richard saw Labour as a party tinkering around the edges of employment issues but without the courage to really empower workers in the workplace. I liked the idea of worker cooperatives, mutuals, and meaningful worker participation in companies as opposed to the ‘us and them’ approach to industrial relations offered and indeed promoted by Labour and Tories.

It’s interesting that this old political leaflet talks of a ‘A new industrial partnership that gives workers equal rights with shareholders, joint decision making, employee ownership and profit sharing’ and those ideas are still needed over 40 years later!

I met Steel once in Liverpool and saw him on many more occasions. He was a good political performer although having developed my true political opinions to one of being a Social Liberal I must admit he was actually selling a moderate centrist outlook which with hindsight (always a wonderful thing) lacked a truly radical Liberal edge.

So interesting memories were brought back to mind by a historic political leaflet.

Lord Peter Smith RIP

I’ve just picked up on the passing of Lord Peter Smith from the blogsite of Jim Hancock – This is what Jim had to say about him –

‘I was sad to hear of the passing of Lord Smith of Wigan. He was one of the most significant figures in local government in the North West in the last 40 years, although his profile was low. He led his local authority for 27 years and was leader of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) for 21 years.

His quiet ability to bring together ten competing local councils and make them see the wider picture provided the foundation for the Combined Authority we see today. He was a moderate in Labour Party terms and avoided open personality clashes. I confess that sometimes I found him frustrating when looking for a colourful quote, but I respected his wisdom, diplomacy and dignity.

My condolences to his friends and family.’

I too liked Peter Smith whom I met on a number of occasions during my time as Leader of Sefton Council – Back in March 2012 I blogged about his impressive leadership of Greater Manchester and compared it with politically dysfunctional Merseyside:-

Greater Manchester – It’s going places that Merseyside finds hard to reach!

As Jim Hancock notes Peter was a moderate, not a description I would personally like to be known by, yet he was hugely successful. In many ways, his approach to regional issues was just about the opposite you’d expect from a senior Labour politician. I never saw him angry, ranting or tribal in his approach to anyone, indeed he was very diplomatic. We have indeed lost a decent man.

Re-socialising Herbert

Herbert, not their real name, is a friend of mine who has had a mixed lockdown. Whilst happy to be away from people so as not to get the Coivd virus the effect of the isolation has been to make them very wary of re-connecting with the outside world.

Getting jabbed twice has obviously been important but due to relatively young age, Herbert has only very recently had a 2nd jab, whilst working from home since March 2020.

Herbert does go out but only wearing a mask. They’ve even been in shops though with little confidence and possibly too much fear, but that’s easy for me to say.

My point in posting about this is often the pandemic is talked about with regard to the couldn’t care less brigade who have carried on regardless, probably/possibly unvaccinated and maybe even tried to promote anti-vaccine propaganda. But there’s another side to this pandemic and it’s the far greater number in our society who to some extent may have shut themselves away too much. Fear, health issues, already being lonely, aged, disability will all be pointers to this all but forgotten but significant minority. An angry anti-vaxer ranting about their freedom being curtailed will always make better news than this mostly silent, pretty much ignored, and probably far greater proportion of our society.

It’s not going to be at all easy for people like Herbert to re-socialise, they won’t want to go to indoor places/venues where large crowds gather for a long time to come, they will continue to be very careful about who they let through their front door and their mental health will have suffered and will continue to suffer especially as their confidence will be very low.

Employers, those companies who have a statutory right of entry to people’s homes, and indeed anyone wanting or offering to visit private homes needs to consider these issues seriously and probably for a long time to come.

Operation Close Pass Day – An uphill pedal

Photo from Cycling UK showing the likely change to the Highway Code for passing a cyclist.

I’ve posted about this national police operation day (on 21st April 2021) twice and those previous posts can be accessed via this link:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2021/05/25/operation-close-pass-day-still-trying-to-get-lancs-mside-stats/

To say that I feel I’ve been cycling around in circles is putting it mildly as I’ve chased both Lancashire and Merseyside Police for their stats from the day this year.

LANCASHIRE POLICE – Sadly, it turns out that Lancashire Police did not participate at all! This is what Lancashire Road Safety Partnership told me on 25th May (coincidentally the same day I blogged about the matter) – ‘On 14th April for #OpClosePass we shared 2 sets of images on our multi agency social media channels covering blind spots and passing distances using the ‘safe pass mat’ we had made a couple of years ago. We did have activity planned with Lancashire Police but due to operational demand and covid restrictions we were unable to go ahead with this.’

MERSEYSIDE POLICE – It took me far longer to get a response from Merseyside but when it did appear (6th August) it was in quite some detail – ‘In terms of Safe Pass we did not have the bike to call up ‘close passes’ so it was more a case of using an unmarked car or spotter or patrolling to observe cyclists & cycle routes to try and spot anything. We did not keep a record but it was not particularly productive and do not recall any drivers reported issued or anything of note specific to close passes.

As you can see, the Team were only able to dedicate a small part of the week on cyclists and close passes, which is a shame. We are planning to run a number of activities in September as part of the NPCC campaign aimed at vulnerable road users, including cyclists and horse riders. Earlier this year we provided cycle training to 40 x police officers and PCSOs with the aim of creating ‘cycle ambassadors’. These are officers who carry out their daily duties on a bike (as opposed to walking or driving). I have asked them to focus their attention on cycle lane obstructions (parked vehicles) and also meeting cyclist groups, provide free security marking and also offer safety advice. Two officers, in Southport and Liverpool have been issued with Go Pro cameras to record any close passes they observe while on patrol and feedback to drivers.’

So, to me, Lancashire is a disappointment with regard to #Operation Close Pass in 2021.

With Merseyside though the picture, whilst not wholly positive, is to me brighter and more positive towards the issues I’ve been trying to get information about.

Of course, things have moved on since I started banging on the doors of my two local police forces as only a few days ago the charity Cycling UK declared that Government is supporting all the major asks of the organisation in a rewriting of the Highway Code:-

www.cyclinguk.org/blog/campaign-win-cycling-uks-fight-improve-highway-code

So the landscape with regard to safer cycling is changing for the better, if slowly. The next test will be to how police forces across the UK react to this changing landscape and the dangerous driving which leads to cycling being far more unsafe than it needs to be. The speeding drivers who seem to have taken over our roads since ‘lockdown’ need to be brought back under some form of control as they are a danger to us all on the roads – pedestrians, horse riders, cyclists, and indeed other drivers.

As with all my postings, if you think I’ve got something factually wrong please shout.

Maghull/Lydiate – Cycling the A59/Northway

This is a subject I’ve blogged about quite a few times previously. It’s one where progress is being made yet some confusion seems to surround it (as well as some significant gaps) so I’ve taken up a number of queries with Sefton Council once again. Here’s the current situation as I understand it to be:-

Starting at Switch Island the cycle path/track has been upgraded over almost all of the stretch to the traffic-lighted junction with Liverpool Road South (Alt Junction) yet odd things have clearly not been done. There’s a stretch of maybe 100 yards over the River Alt where the track/path has not been widened yet either side of this isolated stretch has been. Moving towards the Liverpool Road Sth junction there’s no signage showing cyclists how to safely cross L’pool Rd Sth to access the safe cycling route (or for drivers to be aware too) along the service road to reach Hall Lane junction.

When you reach the Hall Ln junction, having used the service road, again there’s no signage for cyclists to access the recently widened footpath/shared pedestrian/cycle space northwards towards the newly rebuilt Damfield Lane junction. Indeed, there are no signs to say that the widened path is indeed a shared pedestrian/cycling space.

Looking southwards towards Maghull Town Hall/Hall Lane junction with the new and widened shared space path.

There’s presently no cycle track/path north of the Damfield Ln junction to the Westway junction so we’ll leave that section out for now pending Sefton Council finding the resources to provide such.

North of the Westway junction there is a safe cycling route, again using the A59/Northway service road, to the Dodds Ln junction and beyond that but not as far as the Kenyons Ln junction so there’s another missing link. An aside here is that a traffic engineer tells me that they’ve tried to tweak the traffic lights at this junction so that the pressure pads better recognise cyclists.

Kenyons Ln junction

North of the Kenyons Ln junction, again there’s no safe cycle facility to the next junction at Robins Island, however, whether I like it or not (and I don’t) the agricultural land abutting this section of the A59/Northway (known locally as ‘Tyson’s Triangle’) is to have a new housing estate built upon it. However, the silver lining here is that it throws up the distinct possibility of Sefton Council being able to negotiate with the developers via what is termed a Section 106 agreement. It means the developer will need to pay for some local infrastructure improvements and I’ve thrown my two penneth in along the lines of some of that money being used to create a safe cycling route between Kenyons Ln and Robins Island. I’ve also asked Sefton Council to extend the cycle path, which is already in place north of Robins Island, back into Liverpool Road so that cyclists are no longer forced to use either the pavement or Robins Island. This is really a minor piece of work but it will make a significant difference for cyclists.

So there you have it. The goodish news is that I’ve been able to engage in a dialogue with some of the traffic/highway engineers at Sefton Council to discuss these issues and I’m pleased to say that we seem to be on a similar agenda. Indeed, I was delighted when one of the engineers told me that he is a fellow cyclist so he clearly understands things from a cyclist’s perspective.

I don’t know how long it will be before there’s a clearly built and signed cycle track/path alongside the whole of the A59/Northway corridor from Switch Island to the West Lancashire boundary, which is just north of Robins Island, but I’m more hopeful than I have been for a long time that the campaign to have it constructed is making slow if steady progress.

More news when I have it.

Tony Devine RIP

Lydiate Parish Councillor Tony Devine at Sandy Lane Playing Field- Photo early 2000’s

Tony Devine was a stalwart of the community in Lydiate where he had lived for many a year.

A retired teacher, he spent a considerable number of years as a Lydiate Parish Councillor serving as Vice Chairman. After he decided to leave the council he continued to serve the community as a leading light within Lydiate Bowls Federation.

Lydiate Parish Councillors back in the late 1990’s when Tony was on the Council – Robbie Fenton, Pat Foster and Tony

I first got to know Tony in The SDP/Liberal Alliance days. I recall his house being used during a by-election on polling day but whether that was in the Alliance days or later when the parties merged to form the Liberal Democrats I’m not sure.

I last saw Tony out walking the lanes of Aughton with his lovely wife Dot back in the spring whilst I was out cycling. I stopped, we had a chat and I recall thinking back then that Tony looked well, so you can imagine how surprised I was to be told that he was very seriously ill only two or three weeks ago. Moving on it really shook me when I was told that sadly Tony had died.

A good and decent man who cared about his community.

RIP Tony Devine