Shirley Williams & Norman St. John-Stevas – 1979

A guest posting by Andrew Blackburn, who is in the first photo below with Shirley Williams

Tony Robertson and Richard Clein with Shirley Williams

At the 1979 General Election, the Conservative MP Norman St. John-Stevas, on hearing that Labour’s Shirley Williams had lost her seat, said:

“I am very sorry to see Shirley defeated, that is speaking personally, because I had a great admiration for her. We were on opposite sides of the Commons, we debated very fiercely but she is a marvellous person. She is one of the most honest and sincere people in politics and I’m very sorry that she’s lost her seat because she’s a loss to British political life and I hope she’ll soon be back in the Commons.”

She was, in 1981, as the SDP MP for Crosby, including Maghull and Lydiate.

However, the more important thing is that you can’t imagine a political opponent saying anything so generous today.

Do the remarks say more about those times, more about the person making them or more about the person they’re being made about?

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

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

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.

Tribute to Ronnie and Maureen Fearn on their retirement from Sefton Council

Lord Ronnie Fearn, who has been a councillor in Southport since before Sefton Council was even created back in 1974, and his sister-in law Maureen Fearn are both to retire as Sefton councillors this May. Both have been tireless workers for their community and indeed for Southport and the Borough of Sefton generally.

I have known them both for many years and it was Ronnie, together with Anthony Hill, who pushed me into standing for Sefton Council.

Ronnie was once the Leader of the Lib Dem Group on Sefton and he was also a member of the short lived Merseyside County Council. Before both of these he was a member of the old Southport County Borough Council. Of course he was elected as MP for Southport twice as well and then entered the House of Lords where he still sits.

Lord Ronnie Fearn with, Baroness Shirley Williams, John Pugh MP & Annette Pugh

Lord Ronnie Fearn with, Baroness Shirley Williams, John Pugh MP & Annette Pugh

Not long after I was elected to Sefton Council a combination of unusual circumstances found me as the Lib Dem Group Leader and then Leader of the Council. They must have been desperate! But of course this meant I was now Ronnie’s Leader and I always thought it was a bizarre situation. The man whom I looked up to looked to me, a lad from Maghull, for leadership! To be honest Ronnie did not interfere but when asked for his opinion he would give it in a kindly and helpful way but he always seemed to be my boss in my head.

And what about Maureen – 3 times the Mayor of Sefton. A tough but kind lady who is not taken in by anyone but is always a delight to talk to about anything. She reminds me of my dear old Mum offering advice and encouragement but firm with people who cross her.

Maureen would chair Lib Dem Sefton Council Group meetings during my time as Leader in a fair and even handed way until someone had, in her view, overstepped the mark. Then she would say ‘right I have heard enough we are moving on’ and the culprit usually backed off. If they seemed to challenge her she would turn into a Victorian School Marm and you got a real ticking off.

Those who were on the end of Maureen losing her sense of humour know who they are – Tony D, Simon and Fred, mentioning no names of course.

Ronnie has a political radar for trouble that I have rarely seen elsewhere, indeed only Andrew Blackburn, whom I nick-named Radar (MASH watchers will get this), has the same sixth sense for ‘elephant traps’ as Ronnie called them.

Maureen was President of the North West of England Lib Dems a while back and she sprung quite a surprise on my dear old friend Charles (Uncle Albert) Walker when she called him up to the podium at a conference and presented him with an award for all his efforts for Lib Dems. Charles, now a young 94, only showed me his award certificate a couple of weeks ago; he is very proud of it and Maureen who presented it to him.

Charles Walker being present with his award by Maureen Fearn.

Charles Walker being present with his award by Maureen Fearn.

Maureen is loved across the political spectrum and indeed Ronnie is too.

They both deserve a long and happy retirement from politics because they have devoted their lives to helping others. Happy retirement Ronnie and Maureen.

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.

Shirley Williams – the best Prime Minister we never had?

A guest posting from Cllr. Jen Robertson

www.politicshome.com/uk/article/77979/this_place_doesnt_like_change.html

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

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

Good article (see link above), she as ever comes across as reasonable and sensible in a way politicians so often fail to. Even if I don’t always agree with her she’s always so compelling and rational.