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Councillor Carol O'Gorman addresses Malmesbury & District Lib Dem Annual Dinner

March 17, 2006 9:30 PM
By Cllr Carol O'Gorman

This is my first Malmesbury Liberal Democrat dinner and my first visit to John Cooper's splendid clubhouse here in Oaksey, and I am thoroughly enjoying both.

Unlike many people in this room I am a relative newcomer to the Liberal Democrat Party. A former businesswoman, head teacher and international sportswoman who is married to a senior serving RAF Officer on active duty may not, at first glance, seem natural Lib Dem material!

In that sense I suspect that I am typical of many people in the communities of North Wiltshire who have historically voted Tory or Labour usually out of habit and ignorance of what the Liberal Democrats have to offer. We, the Liberal Democrats, have to change that by clearly setting out our principles and policies, publicising them and then putting them into practice locally, through the Council.

After I joined the Party four years ago and I found myself plunged into the 2003 District Council elections. I emerged as the Councillor for the Abberd Ward of Calne and soon after became the Leader of North Wiltshire District Council. Clearly "the wheels of government do not grind exceeding slow" in the North Wiltshire Liberal Democrats!

My motivations for getting involved in politics are helping those people that really need help and in particular, inspiring and motivating the young people who are the future of our Society. I know that the excellent current Mayor of Malmesbury, Jacky Martin, got involved in the Lib Dems because she found that the causes and issues she cared about were shared and acted upon by Liberal Democrats.

This "leadership by example" is key to motivating, mobilizing and involving people in politics. The more people like Jacky we get involved in the Lib Dems the better and stronger we will be.

While the last 30 months as Council Leader, I have had my moments, as my fellow District Councillors present tonight; Patrick Goldstone, Ann Davis, Steve Walls and June Wood can testify, but I have thoroughly enjoyed leading the Council. It's been a real challenge but also a rewarding one in improving services to local people while providing real value for money.

My colleagues in the Lib Dem Group are committed, passionate people motivated by doing their best for their communities and to making life better for their fellow citizens, particularly for those who are less fortunate in their circumstances than many of us.

When you look around these delightful surroundings it is sometimes hard to remember that there are real pockets of poverty and desperation in the towns and villages of North Wiltshire. My own ward of Calne Abberd is the fourth poorest in the whole of the District. Many of the people I represent do not know whether they can make ends meet. Their children face real challenges. One of the greatest is the death of hope.

When hope dies cynicism and despair fill the vacuum and with them too often crime and drug addiction follow. It does not and must not be like that. There is much that we can do locally to make a real difference, and I am proud of what we, as Liberal Democrats are achieving on the Council.

We have sought out plots of land and worked with housing associations to build local, affordable housing to enable local youngsters to stay living in the areas that they grew-up in. We need young families in our rural areas and by staying close to home they help build the sense of community that is so vital to keeping our villages as vibrant, living places.

We have put environmental improvement at the heart of our work, significantly increasing the amount of recycling in the District.

We have found imaginative ways to boost sport, leisure and the arts facilities for local youngsters. These activities improve health and feed the soul. I am all for computers and the wonders of the modern communications age, but there is nothing better than seeing young people out in the fresh air enjoying themselves through formal and informal sport, or stretching their imagination through participation in the arts.

Incidentally it is a real thrill to have John Webb a passionate artist elected to the Council, almost as much of a thrill as seeing the faces of the Conservatives as they realized that John and the Lib Dems had won Lyneham!

Of course there is much more that we can and need to do.

The next District Council elections are scheduled to be fought on new boundaries in May 2007. Those proposed boundaries create new challenges for us, not least in the proposed new ward of Ashton Keynes, Minety, Oaksey and Purton that will elect three Councillors. Currently my fellow Lib Dem Executive Member Helen Dixon represents Purton, a privilege she shares with a Tory.

Conservatives also represent the areas of Ashton Keynes, Oaksey and Minety. Or at least it is represented when they bother to turn-up to the Council chamber, which is pretty infrequently.

As the leader of a minority Administration I might find there absence helpful. As a publicly elected representative I find it deplorable. What utter contempt this shows for the needs of local people. I hope sincerely that just like in Lyneham, the local Tories will get their come-uppence for this behaviour when the elections come.

We need to ensure that our fellow residents understand fully that in North Wilts the fight is a real battle between Lib Dems and Conservatives. No other vote counts.

That is a message that was communicated very effectively when John Cooper fought the enormous County Council ward of Minety which stretches from Ashton Keynes down over the M4 to Dauntsey Lock, and from the rural fringes of Wootton Bassett across to the edges of Malmesbury.

Last May, starting from scratch he drove the Labour vote right down to just 6%. Many of the people who worked so hard to make that happen are in this room and I applaud their efforts. It is a message I, and my fellow Councillors in Calne need to get across. If we had been similarly effective then we would have elected two Lib Dem County Councillors last May instead of two Tories.

All of us also need to absorb the lessons of the tremendous campaign in the Lyneham by-election. But that has not been the only terrific campaign we have fought in the last six months. Look at Mark Packard's campaign in Nettleton.

From a standing start with little or no local Lib Dem organisation, and in the safest Conservative ward in North Wiltshire, Mark came storming through to within 5 votes of defeating the Conservatives. The shift of vote across to him was right up there with our triumph in the Dunfermline & West Fife Parliamentary by-election! If only we had got the same level of postal vote support in Nettleton as in Lyneham, then Mark would be sitting in the Lib Dem Council Group today.

Nettleton and Lyneham have shown us the way forward locally. The Liberal Democrats are going from strength to strength in North Wiltshire. The next round of that fight is not so far away. In May 07 the whole of the Lib Dem forces of North Wiltshire will be united in working together for an overall victory, just as we will with our colleagues south of the district council border in West Wiltshire.

There they are in a very similar position as the Lib Dems are the largest party but lack an overall majority and it is a Lib Dems versus Conservative battleground. That similarity of circumstance is not the only thing that will unite North and West Wiltshire. For come the next General election we will see the creation of a new parliamentary Constituency that will connect Chippenham and Corsham from North Wiltshire with Bradford on Avon and Melksham from West Wiltshire. This new Constituency would have elected a Lib Dem MP had it have existed at the last General Election, our first in Wiltshire for over 80 years!

But my personal maxim is "once is never enough"!

With my home patch of Calne, along with the Lib Dem stronghold of Cricklade, joining with the rest of North Wiltshire to form the new North Wiltshire Constituency why shouldn't we be looking for an historic double when the votes are counted in Chippenham on General Election night?

That should be our goal - two Lib Dem MPs representing two Lib Dem District Council areas. After all that is exactly what our colleagues have achieved to the west of us in South Gloucesteshire and North East Somerset with Steve Webb and Don Foster as their MPs.

And let us all be clear, in winning these two Wiltshire Constituencies we will deny the Conservatives their goal of forming the next Government in this country and almost certainly put Ming Campbell's Lib Dems into a position to bring integrity, respect for the environment and the rights of our fellow citizens to the very heart of the next Government.