Conference, after over 20 years of Lib Dem conference attendance, I am a first time speaker!
It is my pleasure to be speaking to you today.
This is a chance to share what we are doing in Hull
A chance to talk about the importance of local government and local Lib Dem Councillors for local residents.
And a chance to look at the challenge ahead for the party this May
First, a bit about me. If I had been making this speech when first planned back in Autumn at Brighton I would have been saying I grew up just 15 miles north of the city in West Sussex.
It is where I first got involved in politics, both in my home town and working for Norman Baker when he was an MP in his early days in Parliament. He was a unique individual and it was in this time that my interest and involvement in political life grew. I learnt from Norman the importance of having a distinctive approach and how standing out from the crowd can help you get ahead.
Instead, stood here in York, I can say that it is just down the road 30 odd miles that I have made a life for myself in the great city of Hull.
I went to get an education and a degree. I stayed for the place, the people and of course the chip spice. (If you don't know what that is, then that is just one of many reasons to call by Hull on your way home and help in our election campaign!)
For me, there has been no where better to have made a life over the last two and a bit decades. Hull is a place of great people. A city of potential. One that needs leadership to get it to where it deserves to be. That's the challenge we have taken on and one we are determined to tackle head on.
Across the last 20 years we have fought hard to make sure there is a liberal presence in Hull. There has been waves of success in that time.
My first election saw the group triple in size, from 10 to 29 in one go. 2002 is when the party really established itself as the main alternative to Labour in Hull. Remember, this was back in the heyday of Tony Blair and New Labour. The Labour party was still popular nationally.
But in Hull, after 3 decades of Labour rule, the residents were crying out for change. We offered them that and took the moment to take control.
This was not an easy task. It was a new experience for the city and certainly one for the team who were elected that year. One thing is true, though. We learnt from that experience and it made us stronger for the years ahead.
Come forward to 2006 and we find ourselves the administration again. This time, we come into office with something familiar to many a Lib Dem group across the country. We have our 6 to fix. We get to work straightaway on that list. Making real changes that the public will notice. Delivering on our offer to Hull.
And we made a difference. It may seem odd to say but one of the best headlines from that time was the billboard that declared the council to officially be no longer the worst in the country. We were turning the ship around and working hard for the residents of Hull.
Now, along comes 2011. I am sure if you were involved in the election campaign that year the memory of an awful night lives on. Inevitably, we at the coal face in local government were the first to bear the brunt of voters unhappiness with the Lib Dems in government. It may not have been us in the ministerial office, but that made no difference to the voters on polling day. A third of our group were kicked out.
Now why have I given this back story here today? Why don't I just tell you all the wonderful things we have been doing since we took control again last year?
Well, if it hadn't been for the events before 2022 that success wouldn't have happened.
After the defeat in 2011, we were determined to make sure that it was not going to be repeated. We set about modernising our campaigning approach in Hull. We became more disciplined with the process, making sure candidates were fully aware of what they were signed up to achieve and addressed areas where this did not happen. We were rigorous and effective in turning round the previous year's result.
To top it all off, we had fun! I was up for re-election in 2012 and it was one of the most enjoyable campaigns I have ever done. We worked as a team and all had clarity about what we needed to do.
The best bit - it worked! We walked away with 7 wins, a massive improvement on the previous year's 2. We may have seen the group get smaller but it was a major step forward for us and showed exactly what we needed to do. Our reputation as a campaigning local party grew significantly in that time and rightly so. I pay tribute
So, fast forward to the last few years. We started winning the popular vote in local elections again in 2019. This set us up for what was to come in the next couple of sets of elections. Last May was to see us take control again for the first time since we lost in 2011.
Now, it you were watching the election night coverage last year you could be forgiven for thinking this was some sort of shock result. A freak accident that came from nowhere. We know it was built on a decade of hard work, patience and determined effort.
In Hull it was time for change and we have offered Hull the change it needs.
Let me tell you, it wasn't just us saying Hull needed a change of approach. It was the community of Hull too. Voters, businesses and more. Labour had run out of ideas. They had let the voters down and it was time for them to go.
We like to remind people in Hull that the Labour council had stopped listening to them. As far as Labour were concerned it was their way or no way. That’s not good enough. We are determined to be different. We want to be shape a council that puts listening to the community at the heart of what it does.
I like to say what a council does is important, but so is the way it does it. We want a council the puts the priorities of the city first and not one that puts it’s own interests first.
You see, we say with Lib Dem councils you get people who will represent you to the town hall, not the town hall to the public. That should be exactly the same when we take the reins of power too. We should always be mindful of what it is the public want to see happen in the area we are there to serve.
How have we gone about making this a reality? Well, let me first of all tell you, this is not an overnight job. We know it is going to take time to get the council where we want it to be. Of course, this means we need the voters of Hull to give us that time to make those changes. But this year we have started the job straightaway. We carried out one of the biggest ever surveys in the city, with over 22,000 responses to our transport and travel survey, an issue that has been under much scrutiny in the city and we wanted to address head on.
We set up a Crime prevention fund, a fund designed to allow groups across the city to tap into it and access funding to enable them to do the sort of schemes they believe will make the difference in their area. We believe the very people who will have the solutions to tackling the problems in their area are the people who live it every day.
And thanks to the budget passed in the last few weeks our set piece programme to tackle the state of neighbourhoods across the city was born. The ‘Love Your Neighbourhood’ programme will breathe new life into Hull’s communities, giving residents a sense of pride in the area they live in.
Hull City Council under the Liberal Democrats.
A listening council.
One that puts people’s priorities first – from transport, crime to the state of local neighbourhoods, we are listening and we are acting.
What do Labour do? Call these pet projects. Attack us for listening to the concerns of Hull’s’ residents. Show time and time again they are not fit for office in Hull.
Well then, if 2022 was about kicking them out, 2023 is all about not letting them back in. Embarrassingly, the Labour leader said we were just renting the city after our victory last May, insulting all those who voted us into power – and frankly those that didn’t too! Our job is to show this is no one year wonder, but we are here for the long term.
This is a story repeated across the country, with Labour councils who have been in far too long. I know we are aiming to take many seats off the Conservatives in the next General election, whenever that might be. There is a job for the party to do, too, in places like Hull by taking on an out of touch Labour party. We will only grow as a party if we are a truly national one – one able to beat Labour as well as the Conservatives. I say this as a northern leader, one keen to see us take on discredited Labour councils as well as the Conservatives. We should not be seen as some sort of variant of the Labour party by voters, but a real alternative to both of them.
Let’s not forget, should Labour form the next government, we will be taking them on too. Let’s be building up those local bases now in places like Hull so we are ready for the battles ahead.
Of course, I have had enough of this Conservative government to last me a lifetime. As a local government leader in an urban northern city, I can see for myself what 13 years of Conservative government has meant.
I have had enough of the cuts, the services depleted and the communities suffering as a result.
We have a government that doesn’t value the role of local government in supporting communities across the country.
But we do.
That’s why we need to work hard in these local elections to get more Lib Dems elected.
More Lib Dems who will be fighting hard for their residents.
More Lib Dems who will put the community first and not themselves.
More Lib Dem councillors leading to more Lib Dem councils, so they can fight hard for the whole town or city, not just certain parts of them, as is too often the case with our opponents.
If you are here now it means you want the party to succeed.