Lord Ronnie Fearn RIP

I first met Ronnie pretty soon after getting involved in Liberal politics in 1980. If memory serves he was at that time a Sefton Borough Councillor for Southport’s Norwood Ward and a Merseyside County Councillor. He came across as a campaigner with huge amounts of energy, ideas and enthusiasm.

Lord Ronnie Fearn of Southport, passing on a little advice..

He encouraged me as a fresh-faced lad to stand for Maghull Town Council but I also recall him wondering out loud if my beard would go down well with the electorate. It did and I won a seat at a by-election in 1985. I would run into Ronnie not only locally when the Liberals, the SDP/Liberal Alliance and subsequently the Lib Dems were campaigning on an issue but also at Liberal Assemblies and then Lib Dem Conferences.

At conferences and assemblies, Ronnie was in his element often surrounded by like-minded campaigners and he had some fun at those events too; Llandudno in 1981 comes to mind as do many a Glee Club (a Liberal political sing-song at conferences) where Ronnie would always do his bit of entertaining. Of course, he was heavily involved in amateur dramatics in Southport so being on stage was second nature to him.

Ronnie suitably dressed for a Burns Night

It was no surprise to me when he was elected as MP for Southport in 1987 as my feeling was folks in the Town looked upon him as Mr. Southport. He lost the seat in 1992 election but stepped right back into campaigning to get it back at the 1997 General Election, which of course he did. He retained his council seat for Norwood Ward of Sefton throughout his time as an MP and was a regular attendee at Council meetings as well as fulfilling his parliamentary duties. His boundless energy made it all possible. I recall asking him on one occasion whether he ever had a day when he did not want to campaign or struggled to do so when he was under the weather. His answer was I put my best foot forward and get on with things, or words to that effect.

Ronnie at the head of the table for his Sister-in Law Maureen’s 90th Birthday celebrations.

Ronnie was determined that I stand for Sefton Council and when I won a seat in Molyneux Ward in 1999 no one was more delighted for me. He then decided to step down as an MP and John Pugh was subsequently elected for the Southport seat. Ronnie found himself elevated to the House of Lords in 2001 where he served until 2018. Subsequent changes within the Lib Dem Group on Sefton Council ended up with that fresh-faced lad, that I mentioned earlier, finding himself as Group Leader and then Council Leader in 2004 when the Libs became the largest party on the balanced Council. I was Council Leader until 2011 and Ronnie was a member of my Group and was Cabinet Member for Leisure too. I recall that on a number of occasions I would be leading my group through some tortuous council process whilst thinking to myself Lord Ronnie is sat there whilst I’m advising him what to do! All my instincts were set up to follow Ronnie’s advice and guidance, how on earth had the tables been turned?

Ronnie with John Pugh at Christine Polanski’s retirement party. Christine on the right was a secretary to the Lib Dem Group on Sefton Council

The reality was that Ronnie was a kind and supportive chap who just wanted to help me to succeed and I’m so grateful for his years of guidance.

A close friend of Ronnie’s was David Rimmer, a fellow Sefton Councillor for Meols ward. David had the ability to sound just like Ronnie and every now and again he’d slip into his impersonation of Ronnie, usually to the great amusement of all concerned. It was not done in a way to make fun of Ronnie but in admiration of him.

So those are my memories of Ronnie, a kind and supportive man who encouraged a fresh-faced lad into front-line politics. I owe him a lot and will miss him greatly.

So who’d you have as aides if you were US President?

I was having a conversation with my old political buddy Andrew Blackburn the other day and we talked of who we would have in our team if we were the US President. It was re-watching the 1st season of The West Wing which inspired this conversation. It must be one of the best series that I’ve seen on the TV. So anyway here goes with my personal list of West Wing characters and some personal additional aides.

Those in brackets are the actors playing the parts in Season 1:-

The President (Martin Sheen) – Me of course! – Delusions of grandeur of it seems:-)

Vice President (Tim Matheson) – Phil Holden – needed to pull in the right of centre vote. All but a Republican he’s never the less far from being a right-wing nut-job. Has a fine analytical mind with which I often don’t agree but is useful in balancing my Social Liberal ‘leftie’ outlook.

Chief of Staff – Leo McGarry (John Spencer) – Andrew Blackburn – Always sees the wider picture, is very loyal and will tell me what I don’t want to hear.

Deputy Chief of Staff – Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) – David Rimmer – the most polite and successful political hit-man I ever knew – ‘Leave it to me boss, you won’t hear of it again’ and I didn’t.

Communications Director – Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) – David Tattersall – Turns government-speak into straightforward language voters can easily grasp.

Deputy Communications Director – Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) – Steph Prewett – The best at seeing required end results and making sure they’re achieved. As with David Rimmer, the buried bodies are never seen again.

Press Secretary – (CJ Cregg (Allison Jamney) – Layla Moran – Progressive, Liberal, naturally outgoing and likeable, has the common touch which few in politics have. She’s a natural to talk for my White House on any matter of public importance. Good to have someone of Palestinian descent in high office too.

Personal Aide to the President – Charlie Young (Dule Hill) – A young Charles Walker – Cheeky, full of fun, loyal and generous. A lifetime of wide experiences to fall back on make him an essential team member.

Secretary – Mrs Landingham (Kathryn Joosten) – Christine Polanski – 100% reliable gets rid of time wasters, knows when I need support and can make me laugh when stress levels are high.

Special advisors not a part of the West Wing –

Special Advisors Defence & Foreign Policy – Paddy Ashdown, Tom Tugendhat, Ming Campbell, Robin Cook

Special Advisor – Social Policies, housing & planning – Roy Connell

Special Advisor – Education and crime – Geoff Howe

Special Advisor – Environment and climate change – Caroline Lucas

Special Advisor – The arts, culture, broadcasting and media – Andrew Beattie

Special Advisor – Liberty, freedom, charities, poverty – Iain Brodie Browne

Special Advisors – without portfolios – Peter Gibson, Barry Smith, Dave Martin, Lord Peter Smith, Ken Clarke,

Special advisor – Transportation – Amtrak Joe

Southport FC – It’s been a terrible season

Oh dear what a mess, more managers tried than you could imagine, the Chairman has resigned, other directors are going to quit and rock bottom of the National League too.

During the period that my team, Mansfield Town, were in the National League (or whatever it was called at the time) I really enjoyed going to Southport’s Haigh Avenue Ground to watch the two teams play.

My dear friend David Rimmer, who sadly died last year, was a staunch Southport supporter and I have other friends who are fans and even work for the club. They must be despairing at present.

As an opposition supporter I was always made very welcome when I went to a game there and I really do feel for the fans who must be, to use an old football term, gutted.

Iain Brodie Brown is new Mayor of Sefton Borough

I was delighted to see that Sefton Council had elected Iain as its new Mayor this week, not least because Iain is a friend of mine. I wanted to write up a personal tribute so here it is at the start of his mayoral year.

Iain with one of his daughters and grandchildren. Photo credit OTS news

Iain with one of his daughters and grandchildren. Photo credit OTS news

You meet all kinds of folks in politics as you do in life generally but Iain is one of those people who sticks out as being firm in terms of his guiding principles.

A Liberal through to his very core he is also well read in political and social history as readers of his occasional blog site – Birkdale FOCUS – will know .

During my time as Leader of the Lib Dem Group on Sefton Council and my 7 years as Leader of the Council (2004 – 2011) Iain was always there backing me along with David Tattersall, David Rimmer, Sue McGuire, Andrew Blackburn, Roy Connell and many others. I valued them all but Iain’s incisive political brain and his knowledge of political history both locally and nationally was always important to me.

When I stepped down as Group Leader Iain took up that role and I tried my best to support him until I came off the Council. Of course this was in very changed circumstances as Lib Dem fortunes were on a downward trend except in Lib Dem strongholds such as Southport. Reneging on Tuition Fees for example had hit the Party hard so Iain had a much more difficult political climate to operate in. But he did it with this usual confidence often being the most well informed councillor in council chamber debates.

Iain is also a long time campaigner for improvements for those facing mental health difficulties setting up his own company to provide care in this often neglected area of health provision. It is no surprise therefore that Iain will be promoting mental care issues during his mayoral year.

A fundamentally decent man whom I am sure will be a credit to the Borough of Sefton, I hope he and his lovely family have a great year.

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.