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The Year in Review: November to December 2021

January 6, 2022 8:00 AM
By Mark Valladares in Lib Dem Voice

December

The Party was throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at the North Shropshire by-election. And, with the gratefully received co-operation of the Conservatives - Non-local candidate? Check. Hapless campaign? Check. - the bookies were suggesting that we were marginal favourites to achieve the 26.4% swing required to snatch the seat. Our campaign team were taking no chances, with "private briefings" somehow reaching the media.

And the wheels were really falling off the Conservative wagon, with defections, endorsement by the Guardian and a visit from the Prime Minister in which he failed to remember his candidate's name.

Those of us who've been around a while though have learned not to raise our hopes too much though, making it all the more pleasurable when we woke up on the Friday morning to find that Helen Morgan had won by the trifling margin of nearly 6,000 votes. We were, it seemed, back in business.

As for the Government, the sense of disarray was heightened by Lord Frost's resignation as Brexit impresario. Apparently, he wasn't keen on the tax policy decisions, although his utter failure as our lead negotiator with the European Union probably rankled. Picking a stupid fight with the "800 pound gorilla in the room" is never likely to end well, but to do so having agreed a deal with said gorilla was particularly dense. One really shouldn't say, "we told you so" but…

It was open season on Boris, with Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss (really?) openly on manoeuvres in the undeclared succession race.

Elsewhere, Priti Patel's continued efforts to strip away our freedoms piece by piece continued with some truly unpleasant amendments to the Police Bill, as Brian Paddick highlighted. She also wanted to make it easier to strip, potentially, seven million or so people of their British citizenship. It was a truly ghastly piece of authoritarian Conservatism anyway, but in the hands of a Home Office already perfectly capable of institutional sadism, it promised nothing but pain.

In local government, the month started with two disappointments - a seat lost in North Norfolk, and a narrow miss down the road in Breckland. They were balanced by two excellent gains from the Conservatives in Lancaster. They were followed up with gains in Rotherham and Tonbridge and Malling. And, on the same day as North Shropshire, seats were also gained from the Conservatives in Horsham, West Lindsay and Northumberland, the latter denying the Conservatives control of the council.

The opinion polls finally began to reflect the shambles that was the Government;

Conservatives 33%, Labour 37%, Liberal Democrats 10%, Greens 8%

although it couldn't really be said that voters were being persuaded by the Labour alternative, more repelled by the Government.

In a new year, could the opposition lay some serious blows on the Government? Would Boris be debagged as leader, and by whom? Would that make any difference?

Come back in twelve months and we'll see…

November

Normally, reports of the Commons Select Committee on Standards are approved without much drama but, in what turned out to be a catastrophic misjudgement, Conservative MPs were whipped on an amendment to a report which would, effectively, let Owen Paterson off the hook for breaching Parliamentary rules forbidding paid advocacy. He was as guilty as all hell in the eyes of many, despite his aggressive campaign to prove otherwise. Instructions had come from the very top, with suggestions that the Prime Minister was attempting to nobble the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

It worked, sort of, with the vote won. But, with thirteen Conservative MPs voting against, and nearly another one hundred either absent or abstaining, it looked pretty awful. As Andy Boddington put it, the Commons had lost its moral compass. Amidst widespread public and media outrage, Boris did what he so often has done, sacrificing a colleague to save his skin with a screeching, tyre shredding u-turn. Paterson almost immediately resigned his safe North Shropshire seat, creating an unexpected opportunity. Recent election results suggested that Labour might be the credible contender. Andy disagreed… vehemently.

In a stunning effort, the campaign team hit the ground running, establishing themselves as the obvious choice for those wanting to see the Conservatives beaten. But, coming from a distant third and needing a swing even bigger than that achieved in Chesham and Amersham?…

Sleaze at Westminster, sewage in our rivers, and the Conservatives were on the wrong side of both, attempting to pass legislation which did as little as possible to punish water companies for polluting our rivers and streams. It began to look as though their populist appeal was beginning to wane. Given that we were hosting the COP26 summit, it seemed like a clumsy own goal.

Social care, and how it was to be paid for was another self-induced wound, with Government proposals hugely in favour of the well-heeled. Chris Perry, who rather knows what he's talking about, pointed out some of the flaws and offered his own priorities.

And there was a long-running debate on inflation and tax policy which, having started early in the month, was still rumbling on a month later. I'm not actually convinced that any minds were changed…

On the by-election front, the month began with two really good gains from the Conservatives in West Sussex and Gloucester, plus a strong hold in Huntingdonshire, and ended with a hold in the Wirral with 68% of the vote.

The Conservative lead in the polls virtually disappeared;

Conservatives 36%, Labour 35%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Greens 10%

but we weren't benefiting - indeed, we seems to be going backwards. An awful lot was riding on North Shropshire…

Liberal Democrat Voice | Mark Valladares (libdemvoice.org)