Thinking back about the SDP & the parallels with the TIG

My good friend and fellow blogger Phil Holden has recently been pondering on the issue of the new Independent Group in the HofC and in doing so reflecting on the rise and fall of the SDP. His posting is accessible via this link:-

phlhldn.blogspot.com/2019/02/so-chuka-chucked-it-in-for-what.html

One particular part of Phil’s posting stood out for me and it is this:-

‘The SDP foundered in part on whether it should be a party of the left, taking on Labour in a fight to the death, as David Owen wanted, or a centre-party that cosied up to the Liberals, as Roy Jenkins wanted. Jenkins of course won that one.’

As someone who had only joined the old Liberal Party on New Years Day 1980* I was very new to politics when the SDP came along soon after and then I was swept along in the tide that was the famous Crosby by-election**. Heady days indeed but my perspective is just a little different to Phil’s.

Firstly, I think it is fair to say that we Liberals looked upon David Own as a stubborn difficult person with rather right-wing views (who seemed obsessed with NATO for some odd reason) but that the other 3 of the Gang of 4 were to the left of him and far more in tune with Liberal values. Liberals have always been at their best when they espouse radical and left of centre views. Attempts to look moderate or centrist will always fail in my book.

So I saw Owen, Rodgers, Williams and Jenkins from the other end of the telescope to Phil, indeed in my view Owen was probably a big factor in the failure of the SDP along with our appallingly warped electoral system of course. We Libs often referred to Owen as ‘Dr Death’, probably because we feared he would kill us off along with the SDP. In truth he nearly did but we survived and prospered until we tried to commit ritual suicide in the Clegg era on a worryingly moderate platform with one infamous and devastating political U-turn – Tuition Fees.

That there was no love lost between the Liberals and Owen to me is a given and it will be interesting to see whether anyone from the IG starts to fill Owen’s boots again – I hope they don’t but fear they might. And I say that because in my experience many in the Labour Party hold views that are well to the right of us Liberals.

And just to be nostalgic, my abiding memory of the Crosby By-election was a public meeting in Deyes High School, organised by the SDP/Liberal Alliance. It was packed out and standing room only. Obviously, Shirley was there as the soon to be winning candidate, along with Roy Jenkins and Joe Grimond the former Liberal leader who had saved his party from the political wilderness in the 1960s. Being in the same hall as these 3 was wonderful to a fresh-faced political lad like me. Ah memories……

And talking of SDP/Liberal Alliance memories, whilst I’m at it, here’s another story told to me by my very good friend Roy Connell. One day during the heady days of the Alliance he was asked in to drive Roy Jenkins and BBC reporter Kate Adie on an open-top tour of parts of Liverpool. It seems that at one point he had to pull up sharply and Jenkins and Adie were thrown around a bit. Roy can still hear ringing in his ears the words ‘steady driver’ from Jenkins.

* I had read the 3 main party manifestos for the 1979 General Election and concluded I was a Liberal.

** I lived (and still do) in that constituency (now named Sefton Central) and got to know Shirley Williams well. She is indeed a lovely person and the fact that she became a life-long friend of Anthony Hill the already selected Liberal candidate for the seat (who stepped down for her to be the Alliance candidate) says a lot about how well the SDP and Liberals got on in our part of the world back in the early 1980s and indeed many of my friends in the present Lib Dem Party are former SDP activists.

David Rimmer RIP

My friend David Rimmer died today having been ill for quite a few months. He was well known in Southport as a councillor (retired), a big supporter of Southport Football Club, and a keen supporter of Birkdale & Southport Cricket Club.

David Rimmer (left) with Cllr. John Dodd.

David Rimmer (left) with Cllr. John Dodd.

I first got to know David many years ago in the early 1980’s when he was a member and a local mover and shaker within the SDP. This was in the SDP/Liberal Alliance days when I was a fresh faced lad who had just joined the old Liberal Party. He was certainly a big influence on that famous Crosby by-election when the redoubtable Shirley Williams took the Tory seat for the SDP. I understand that he and Shirley then remained friends all of David’s life.

It was only some years later, during my time as Leader of the Lib Dem Group and Leader of Sefton Council, that I really got to know David well. He was a hugely respected councillor (representing Meols Ward) across the political spectrum in all 4 parties on the council (Lib Dem, Labour, Tory and the Officer Party!) and was a great help to me in managing what was then a unique 3 political party coalition running Sefton Council.

David had been a senior social services officer at Knowsley Council prior to retirement and had then taken on a managing role within an elderly persons charity before he became a Lib Dem Sefton councillor. His diplomatic skills were considerable and like my other old friend Peter Gibson he seemed to have the ability to get people to agree to things that they did not think they were willing to agree to!

If ever I had a sticky problem when I was Council leader, which needed a certain bit of behind the scenes diplomacy, I would turn to David. He would always say ‘leave it me boss, you will not hear of it again’ when I asked him to assist me. And you know I never did hear of the problem again each time and everyone seemed happy with the outcomes. How did he do it?

I had lost touch with David over the past year, indeed I only became aware that he was so ill very recently. It was as though he had deliberately taken a low profile, not wanting to be a burden or a worry to anyone, so much like the man I grew to like and respect immensely.

RIP David Rimmer a true friend whom I shall miss terribly.

Shirley Williams – In praise of a great servant of the public

News that Shirley Williams is to retire from politics after many years in the public eye brings back memories of her for me.

I first met Shirley in the famous Crosby By-election when as a young Liberal I was working to help get her elected as the SDP/Liberal Alliance candidate.

She came across as a down to earth friendly person who really cared about people and this proved to be the case over the many years I have known and met her.

Here are some photos of Shirley with me and others:-

1983 General Election campaigning in Southport with a young Iain Brodie Browne.

1983 General Election campaigning in Southport with a young Iain Brodie Browne.

Lord Ronnie Fearn, Barness Shirley Williams, John Pugh MP & Anette Pugh

Lord Ronnie Fearn, Barness Shirley Williams, John Pugh MP & Anette Pugh

Myself and Richard Clein with Shirley at Tree Tops Restaurant

Myself and Richard Clein with Shirley at Tree Tops Restaurant

Former Cllr. Anthony Hill in Crosby's Pritchard's Bookshop with Shirley in 2009

Former Cllr. Anthony Hill in Crosby’s Pritchard’s Bookshop with Shirley in 2009

A decent and well liked politician and there aren’t too many of them around now nor indeed in the past. I hope she is able to enjoy her retirement. I feel privileged to have known and worked with Shirley.

Maghull – It’s a Liberal, Social Democrat & Lib Dem free zone for the first time since 1983

The first Liberal councillor to be elected in Maghull in modern times was my dear old friend Andrew Beattie in 1983. Andrew sadly passed away in 1999.

rsz_maghull_town_council_logo

The photo montage above is an excellent pictorial representation of the Maghull logo produced by Lydiate photographer Keith Page.

Following after every tide thereafter another Liberal or Social Democrat councillor was elected in the Town until it became a Tory free zone, with every Town and Borough Councillor being a Liberal Democrat. Yes it is now hard to imagine now but back in the early 1980’s Maghull was a solid Conservative community that had been returning Tory MP’s and councillors for generations, with only the emergence of the former Maghull Ratepayers Party challenging Tory rule until the Liberal/SDP surge on the back of the famous Crosby By-election.

rsz_2logo

Heady days indeed for the SDP/Liberal Alliance and then the Liberal Democrats and they lasted some 28 years until 2011 when Labour started exactly the same process once again which culminated in the last Lib Dem councillors being removed from office on 7th May this year. Maghull is now totally Labour, with one vacancy on Maghull Town Council.

When will the next big churn happen in Maghull’s politics and which direction will it be in? No one really knows although what we do know is that Labour will be the victims of it when it does come along.

Shirley on WW1 Nurses

www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26838077

Shirley Williams the one time SDP/Liberal Alliance MP for the old Crosby Constituency writes on the BBC web site about the work of nurses in WW1.

Former Cllr. Anthony Hill in Crosby's Pritchard's Bookshop with Shirley in 2009

Former Lib Dem Cllr. Anthony Hill (who stood down as the already selected Liberal Parliamentary Candidate in the Crosby seat enabling Shirley to win the famous by-election) chatting with Shirley in Crosby’s Pritchard’s Bookshop in 2009

I met Shirley a few weeks ago at Lord Ronnie Fearn’s celebratory party in Southport for his 50 consecutive years as a local councillor. Despite advancing years Shirley is as sharp now as I remember her during the heady days of the Alliance in the early 1980’s.

With thanks to Cllr. Jen Robertson for picking up on this item.

The photo above is amongst my Flickr photo’s at
www.flickr.com/photos