Update: I can’t believe I forgot to mention one of the highlights of the campaign, which was Meri’s Dad coming over from Vancouver to help. Obviously it’s wonderful to see him enjoying his daughter’s victory. It was also highly enjoyable sitting around stuffing envelopes and swapping jokes for a few hours, while he winds up the candidate as only a father can.
This year was my first time helping win an election, which turns out to be a remarkably good feeling. So well done Ricky Duveen, Peter Beard and Meri O’Connell. Ricky and Peter are Lib Dem councillors in my Lib Dem local branch of Tilehurst – except that Peter isn’t, because he retired from politics this year and picked the quite magnificently successful and wonderful Meri O’Connell to stand in his stead.
We couldn’t have had a better campaign organiser than Ricky. He planned, prepared, and got things done .. all the while happily leaving the spotlight to show offs and egotists like me. His core team of Peter, Meri, Jenny and myself could always pitch up confident of a well-run canvassing or surveying session. Along the way, he kept on top of the data and drove a successful direct mail operation, too (I’ve never stuffed so many envelopes in my life). He and Pete also coordinated an effective delivery network, tellers for the polling stations, and requests for further help as the campaign built up.
On which note, we have to thank all those from outside the branch who came along as election day approached. Ricky’s fellow branch chairs Kirsten Bayes (Central) and Annette Hendry (Caversham) encouraged their branch members along; we had a visit from Catherine Bearder MEP and our group leader Daisy Benson got Duncan Hames MP along; visitors from West Berks and London; folding and stuffing parties; admin contributions from time-constrained activists like Dave Warren in Southcote ward. It was truly a team effort. Apologies for not listing all the names of those who helped; it really was quite a strong crowd that came along in the final days of the campaign.
Special mention has to go to Janel Blattler and James Moore, our hard working candidates in Katesgrove and Redlands wards, who were defending Lib Dem seats against tough odds and quite a few of the Shadow Cabinet. They joined too many Lib Dem candidates and councillors in not seeing their work rewarded by the voters; their unbowed presence on the day was appreciated.
Shout outs, too, to Mustafa Chaudhary, a recent recruit and great candidate on short notice in Peppard, and to Margaret McNeil for all her art working skills (not just for Tilehurst but for all of Reading and I believe even a bit beyond!). Finally, Ricky’s Ruth and Meri’s Mark kindly let their other half disappear for hours at a time, although Peter’s wife is now going to have to get used to him being about more :)
The committee room on election day had a fantastic atmosphere of camaraderie. Some tension due to a quarrelsome EARS system aside, we had a calm and well paced day of good morning leaflets, telling and knocking up. It finally culminated in the early hours of Friday morning with a strong win for Meri, turning a 200 Tory majority last year into a 300 Lib Dem majority for 2012.
This marks a fitting end to Peter Beard’s career as a representative of Reading. Peter was first elected to council back in 1974. After a stirling three decades plus of public service, he couldn’t have picked a better successor than Meri O’Connell.
Meri is our school governor, judo instructor, library helper, mother-of-three and possessor of fantastic hair (sorry, very shallow that last bit, but her red hair makes a Celt proud!). Perhaps the biggest challenge of the campaign was getting round a canvass session in a timely fashion – she has to be dragged away from talking to her constituents. She was a fantastic candidate; she’ll be a brilliant councillor.
Meri and I met at our first Reading Liberal Drinks, along with another first time attendee, Jenny Woods. None of us knew each other, and we were the first three there that night. It is a very odd thing to ask strangers in a pub if they happen to be there for the politics. Goes against the usual rules. But we got on and get on rather well.
Jenny proved to be the very embodiment of a targeting strategy. Since fall 2011, Sunday after Sunday, month after month, Jenny traipsed across Reading to help out with canvassing, surveys and leafletting in a different branch. Without a shadow of a doubt, no-one outside of Tilehurst worked harder to deliver the sole win for the Lib Dems in Reading in 2012.
(Perhaps even within the ward. Hard to say; Ricky and Pete would I’m sure be quick to share credit! I, on the other hand, embarrassed myself by being sent away on training slap bang in the middle of the campaign. No prizes for me, sadly.)
Not only that, but along the way she wrote the anti-Snoopers’ Charter amendment that was passed at regional conference. That amendment recently went on to become one of the party’s main defences in the national media after Nick Clegg’s advisers were found asleep at the wheel again. Immediately after helping win the election, she’s on to writing to our MPs to drive the message home ahead of the Queen’s Speech. She’s proving to be a bit of a star.
In my own little way I’ve been knocking on doors for Meri and proof-reading passages for Jenny. Working for these talented and tenacious women has been a privilege; long may it continue.
I should also say that it is a shame that the bigger picture is rather more painful for the Lib Dems. It’s been another tough year at the ballot box. In Reading, at least, it’s good to see so much potential for the future. We had four main candidates this year – Meri, Janel, James and Mustafa. In just those four alone, there’s a pretty good mix of gender, occupation, religion, ethnicity, and place of birth from local to Canadian. There was also a full slate of Lib Dem candidates for the borough.
We tried out a new full colour print service, helped deliver a policy amendment that made the national news, got some great local press coverage (well done Warren Swaine on the Katesgrove community garden), and revived campaigning in wards that may come back into play in future. Fellow Greater Reading Lib Dems in Woodley also had a good set of results.
So there’s a lot that went right for the Reading Borough Council Lib Dems this year. We delivered on our targeting strategy with a strong win; the Tilehurst campaign was planned in 2011, starting earlier and doing more than ever before; the activist base has an air of renewal about it. There’s a lot to feel good about.
Bring on 2014.