I have to confess that the second half of 2014 was, relatively speaking, a politically inactive time for me. We've been blessed with the birth of our baby daughter in November and I expect to be starting a new job next month. While I am not a target parliamentary candidate, I'm clearly going to be doing a lot more in the coming four months, but our progress in Liverpool isn't about me, it is about the future. The fundraising appeal is on the right of this blog, so if you feel inspired to support us, please click on the link.
Last year, we leapt from being the smallest group on the council to become the official opposition. We had brilliant results in both St Michaels and Greenbank wards, doubling our councillor total to 4. The collapse of the Liberal Democrats across the city saw them drop to just 3 councillors. They still have the experienced political operator Richard Kemp here in Church ward, but after failing to hold the seat in 2014, it's likely that he and the last Liberal Democrat councillor in Woolton, will be swept away in an increased General Election turnout.
We saw first hand the effects of increased General Election turnout in 2010. In local terms we were on track to take the third seat back then. Tom Crone had already been doing case work for years as part of the team, and the Liberal Democrats (defending their last seat in the ward) had parachuted in a last minute unknown candidate. Cleggmania then kicked in as a result of the Leader debates and gave a huge boost to the Liberal Democrats in postal votes. It was enough to enable them to hold the seat. After my loss to Nick Griffin in 2009, seeing Tom fail to gain that seat for us 2010 was the second most disappointing moment I've experienced. We won't let that happen again.
In 2015 we will see Liverpool's longest serving Green councillor step down. John Coyne joined us just before the 2006 Local Elections and will have served as a Green councillor for 9 years (he was a Lib Dem councillor for 4 years in a time when many Lib Dems had been elected due to their opposition to the Iraq war). He has been our group leader twice and was our Mayoral candidate in 2012. He has accelerated our development as a party significantly and has given tremendous service to the party locally, regionally and nationally. St Michael's ward will also have to select a replacement and there are two real contenders.
Anna Key has been selected to defend the seat. I know Anna personally through voluntary work. She is incredibly hard working, intelligent and capable. She is also rooted in the St Michael's community, living there with her family. She would make an excellent local councillor and would also make a bit of history as Liverpool's first Polish born councillor.
Labour have made an unusual selection. Steve Fitzsimmons has experience as a ward councillor for Woolton and lost his seat in 1998. Whenever I've come across Steve at election counts in the past, he has always been very polite and engaged in a bit of conversation.
Despite the smiling faces of some of our Liverpool Labour councillors in the photos, the tough task for Labour will be motivating activists to work for Steve in the run up to the election. He was a Conservative. To be fair, he said in 2011 that he was joining Labour because the coalition cuts were too deep. However, he is also on record as having been a "Thatcherite". Across the water there is the marginal seat of Wirral West for Parliament, being contested by Margaret Greenwood for Labour against Esther McVey. I was once a Labour activist in the run up to a General Election in 1997, and I know where I would have been focusing my efforts.
In Greenbank ward, where the awesome efforts of Lawrence Brown and his team won the seat in 2014, we are up against an incumbent Labour councillor in 2015, Laura Robertson-Collins. She won the seat from the widely respected and long serving Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Clein. He was swept away in the first post-coalition local election in Liverpool. Our candidate is David Morgan. He has been working hard alongside Lawrence since we won the seat and there is now a very real choice for voters in Greenbank at the local elections.
In the 2010 there were only two wards where the Liberal Democrats look to have outpolled Labour in the General Election - those were St Michaels and Greenbank. This seems to be evidence that there is no "natural" Labour majority in these wards even on an increased turnout. For those reasons, winning both St Michaels and Greenbank has to be the starting point for us in 2015. The Liberal Democrats likely to be reduced to just 1 seat on the council, Jake Morrison stepping down as an independent and even fortress Tuebrook under threat for Steve Radford's Liberals (I'm sure there is scope for lots of misleading "Liberal coalition" type literature that might swing it at a General Election).
Right now the council seems to be heading to a minimum of 81 Labour councillors out of 90. That isn't healthy for local democracy. If we can increase our council group even with the challenge of differential turnout, we can give Liverpool a real opposition voice. There are other possible Green gains that I'll speak about, but the next blog in this series will be all about Liverpool Riverside and our challenge across the constituency.