The skies had darkened and the drizzle had transformed into a fierce downpour. Andrew Brown and myself had eagerly arrived at an action day meeting point in Windmill Hill, Bristol. There was no sign of the others and no shelter in sight. The hood of my waterproof jacket was pulled tightly over my head in a futile attempt to remain dry. On a Saturday morning a year ago, I would have usually been snug in bed, resting off a late Friday night and I definitely had no idea what a “Focus leaflet” was. This was my new life as a Liberal Democrat activist.
Joining the Liberal Democrats a year ago shortly after the terrible General Election results I wanted to stand up and be counted. It might be a cliché but it has really been a rollercoaster ride but with certainly more ups than downs.
Being an activist is not for everyone. It is tough and sometimes a thankless vocation with no monetary gain but I would not trade it for anything. Standing up for what I believe in itself, is all I need to get my kicks. What I love the most about the Liberal Democrats is the sheer determination of fighting for human rights and civil liberties on a platform of hope, not one of fear. It would be impossible to write down all my memorable moments as a Lib Dem so I have narrowed it down to my Top 10.
10.) New Members Social
This is where it all began. I was debating whether to go or not in the first place as I would know no one there but as it was a ‘new members’ social there would be a lot of people in the same boat. The evening was great fun and I made friends who I now consider to be my Bristol family a year on.
9.) Bristol Pride
Bristol Pride was the first event I attended to help out the Lib Dems. I remember going up to Nic asking if he needed assistance. He was the only one running the stall so he handed me a clipboard and a T-shirt for me to suit up. I collected signatures for a protect the Human Rights Act petition and handed out pride libby stickers. My baby steps.
8.) The Leadership Hustings
I had never been to a hustings before and knew little about Tim Farron or Norman Lamb, the two MPs running for the vacant spot of leader of the party. It was a friendly debate and from the first question you could tell they were both true liberals at heart. Both impressed me with their different styles but I felt Tim was the right choice to lead us.
My full account can be found here: The Leadership Hustings
7.) Becoming Membership Officer at the AGM
To be honest, my appointment to Membership Officer was a non-event as I ran unopposed. Our Chair, Andy, announced I was the new Membership Officer, people clapped and we moved on to the next point of the agenda. What I enjoyed most was giving a speech about my time at Conference. The hall was packed with our members, half of which I had yet to meet and it was well received. I love the unnerving prospect of public speaking and I push myself to do it when I can.
6.) Learning to Canvass in Westbury & Henleaze
After joining I wanted to dive in and help as much as I could. My new friend Helen convinced me that I should come help in her campaign in the new three seat ward of Westbury and Henleaze. I started off small with delivering focus leaflets to houses but the real test came when I went out for my first canvass. Stephen Williams shadowed me and showed me the ropes and now I can smugly say that I was trained by one of our best former MPs!
To get a real insight in what is involved in canvassing, please read Stephen’s blog: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Candidate
5.) Standing as a Candidate
Being on stage at the elections, I was immensely proud to wear the yellow rosette. I stood as a “paper candidate” while I helped out in Windmill Hill and Westbury & Henleaze instead of campaigning in my own ward. My expectations were low so despite finishing 7th of nine candidates, I was happy to experience the process.
I had lived in Old Market district of the Lawrence Hill ward for the last three years and the community had given me so much, so it was humbling to stand to be its representative. Isaac, Jon, Marg and Hibaq (pictured above) were all formidable candidates and pleasant to talk with.
Watch this space for 2020.
4.) Lawrence Hill & Easton Hustings
An exhilarating moment of the year came when I was invited to take part in a hustings for the Lawrence Hill and Easton wards of Bristol. Remember moment #8? I had only attended my first hustings under a year ago and now I was going to be participating in one.
The rules were that the public could put forward questions to the candidates and we would have 90 seconds to reply. To make things even more interesting, the audience had green and red sheets of paper that they could hold up when they agreed or disagreed with what you were saying. I thoroughly enjoyed the occasion and was delighted to come 3rd in the mock election we had, finishing behind Marg and Hibaq, the incumbent councillors.
3.) Lib Dem Conference
Conferences are painted to be boring events where you are constantly checking your watch. Lib Dem Conference 2015 in Bournemouth was my idea of a theme park. Inspiring speeches, pro-EU events, deciding party policy, fringes, making new friends with like-minded people and THAT speech from Tim Farron. There was a buzz in the air with thousands of new, eager members in attendance. The Lib Dem fightback was in full swing.
My work colleagues asked me, “you are using your annual leave to go to…a politics conference??” That reminds me, I need to book off some time in September as I have already booked my ticket for Lib Dem Conference 2016 in Brighton. I hope to see many of you there.
For my full account, check out this post: My First Lib Dem Conference
2.) Organising a Refugee Fundraiser
Originally it started as a fundraiser I was going to organise for the refugees based in Calais but then I got a phone call. Graham informed me that Tim Farron was going to be in Bristol for the day and would be attending. Then it was decided it would also be the launch of Kay Barnard’s mayoral campaign. And the BBC would be there. No pressure.
With the help of Helen we found a perfect venue, arranged a bake sale, got prizes for a raffle and ran things on the day. It was a great success where Tim had a chance to meet and chat with our members, first time as leader. The best part was that we managed to raise over £360 for the refugees.
I wrote about the event for the Lib Dem Voice: Changing lives from the bottom up
1.) The Windmill Hill Campaign
It may seem weird but my favourite part of the year was spent knocking on random doors and pushing leaflets through letterboxes. I absolutely loved working on the Windmill Hill campaign with our candidates, Andrew and Natalie. Perhaps the least glamorous side of politics where you are trying to navigate a piece of paper through a stubborn letterbox, while not dropping your stack of leaflets and being on watch for any giant dogs that could be bounding up from a hiding spot.
Polling day was the pinnacle of the campaign. It was a gruelling day with a 6 AM start where we contacted our supporters to make sure they voted. When the polling stations closed at 10 PM we went straight to the verification centre where we observed the checking of ballots to get an indication if we had won the seats. I only got to bed almost 24 hours later at 5 AM.
The best moment came towards the end of the afternoon when I knocked on this one door. An elderly gentleman came out and seeing my Lib Dem badge went on a rant how he had given up on our party and was now voting Labour. Even though I was supposed to be in a rush to cover my assigned polling area, I took 5 mins out to speak to him and explain the reasons behind the coalition and what we had achieved. He shook my hand and said I had swayed him back and that he would vote for us when he went out.
It was painful to find out that we did not win either seat but I was tremendously proud of Andrew and Natalie and the positive campaign that they had run. My feet were gone, I lacked sleep and had plenty of scrapes on my hands but I cannot wait to do it all again and fight for more Liberal Democrat councillors in Bristol.