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“Be Inspired by the belief that life is a great and noble calling; not a mean and grovelling thing that we should struggle through as best we can. But an elevated and lofty destiny.” - (W.E. Gladstone (Liberal prime Minister 1880).
The Peterborough Liberal Democrats were formed in spring 1988 on merger of the old Liberal and Social Democratic parties.
Life has often been a struggle for the new party but today it has emerged intact, boosted by electoral success, an expanding membership and with great prospects for the future.
The Liberals have a proud history in Peterborough and have had members on the council since 1980!
A couple of members of the old Liberal party refused to join the Liberal Democrats and eventually formed their own local party.
We have always maintained relations with them and we presently have an arrangement not to fight against them in local council elections.
However, we hope in longer term they will join the Liberal Democrats, as that is the best hope for furthering the cause of Liberalism in Peterborough.
The first Chairman of the Peterborough Liberal Democrats was computer software consultant Nigel Phillips. Some members from the early days who are no longer active are, Steve Osborn, Cliff and Pam Chorley, Tom Lubienski and Pam Beasley.
Others who have moved out of the area include Ashley Woodford, Amanda Taylor, Simon Watkin, Peter & Sue Cork and Paul Wiggin.
Stalwarts of the party still active include Nick Sandford and our dynamic spin doctor Mike Holland.
We have always measured our party success by our representation on the City Council.
We started in 1988 with Pam Beasley on the City and County Councils but in 1992, we lost both of these seats. We were un-represented for a year until Michael Jackson won a county seat in 1993 and then a City seat the next year, both in Walton Ward.
We nearly had two seats the following year, when Nick Sandford in his first attempt at Walton Ward, came within 70 votes of taking the seat.
He got it the next year (1996), with a narrow majority of 43. Due to boundary changes, both seats came up again the next year and Michael and Nick stormed home with majorities of 500 and 300.
One thing, which distinguishes the Liberal Democrat Councillors from many others, is that they work all year round, delivering Focus newsletters to keep in touch with local people and carrying out resident surveys. Plus, they contribute to Council policy making on top of that!
Since 1995, Liberal Democrats have only lost a seat in the Walton Ward once, but this was recaptured in 2010. Darren Fower held a seat for a year and then was succeeded by hard working and popular Phil Sharp (who sadly died suddenly in November 2002). In the last two sets of elections the Tories (always the main opposition in Walton) have been reduced to around 25 per cent of the vote.
On the Council, our elected members have built up an unenviable reputation for campaigning on environmental and transport issues.
The Liberal Democrat policy of using surplus car parking revenues to fund improvements in public transport was included in the Councils five year Local Transport Plan but due to Tory intransigence has yet to be implemented.
In South Werrington and North Gunthorpe, Darren Fower was first elected in 2004, defending his seat in 2006 and 2010, gaining over 2000 votes in the latter election. Darren also holds the accolade of being the second youngest ever person to be elected to the Peterborough City Council (behind Mattthew Dalton and ahead of Charles Swift).
Peterborough Liberal Democrats are the only political party to have continually increased their number of votes received at each election since 1999.
At the parliamentary level, things have been harder for the Liberal Democrats in Peterborough as both Labour and Tory fight the constituency really hard at every election. The Liberal Democrats are the only one of the big three parties to have continually increased their share of the vote at each election since 1997!
In the 2010 General Election, Nick Sandford polled 19.6 per cent of the vote for the Liberal Democrats, which was an increase of nearly 3% on the previous general election.
At the European level, we contributed to the election of Andrew Duff MEP as the first ever Liberal Democrat European MP for the Eastern Region. Liberal Democrats are the only party, which is strongly committed to a positive role for Britain in Europe, and in Andrew we have an excellent advocate of that cause.
Peterborough has the potential to be known throughout the country for all the right reasons and the Liberal Democrats intend to ensure that this happens.
HISTORY OF THE LIB DEMS – Nationally
The Liberal party formed itself into a recognisable organisation under Gladstone in the 1870s. It was a coalition of former Whigs, reformist Tories, Radicals and even some quasi-socialists. Under Gladstones dynamic leadership they dominated the political scene. Through effective Parliamentary discipline and general organisation, they held power either alone or in coalition, between 1880 – 1922.
During these forty years, the Liberals reformed the machinery of government, including the civil service, extending franchise to women, granting freedom to Ireland, establishing education for all, pensions, municipal housing and a wide variety of other local authority services – yes it was the Liberals who did this!
By the early 1920’s, both the Labour and Conservative Party had adopted certain policies promoted by the Liberals and backed by bigger investors, had managed to acquire a respectable percentage of the Liberal vote. Thus, the reforming stance of the party was taken over by the Labour Party. While, the Conservatives stood for stability at a time of great economic uncertainty.
Between 1945 and 1970, the Liberals experienced a significant reduction in representation within parliament and amongst the voters. Though, by the mid 1970’s there was general dissatisfaction with the performance of the two major parties and the Liberals benefited from this response. Votes and seats won began to grow slowly but surely.
When the Social Democrat Party broke from the Labour Party in 1981, advocating moderate, and centralist policies, it was clear that the new party bore a resemblance to the Liberals. The two leaders, David Steele (Liberals) and Roy Jenkins (SDP) reached an agreement, known as they Alliance which was to fight the forthcoming election along a broadly common front. In 1983, the Alliance won 25per cent of the votes and 23 seats in the Commons. In the following election (1987) the Alliance did almost as well as it had previously. However, unable to dislodge the hegemony of the two main parties, the two main parties merged to create the Social and Liberal Democrat Party. The smaller Liberal and Social Democrat parties staggered on, but these soon passed into political oblivion.
The SLD soon dropped its Social tag and became the contemporary Liberal Democrat Party. The early 1990s proved a time of stabilisation for the Lib Dems, with the party maintaining 15 – 20 per cent support amongst the electorate. Though following the occasional dramatic by-election victories and the increased openness of the politics within Britain (via the media) the interest in the Liberal Democrats has noticeably increased, especially amongst the 20 – 35 year old professionals!
For more information please check out the Liberal Democrat History Group website.