The Right Hon Vince Cable MP came to Levenshulme today. Ostensibly, this was to meet local business people but I suspect it was actually because Leve's LibDems are severely rattled at the prospect of losing their grip on local politics in May.
I wandered along, not expecting much to be going on, although I'd heard that there might be a demonstration to welcome him, and I thought I'd go and man the barricades! In the event, I was invited in by one of those business people inside (I'm a regular customer), and was waved past what passed for security (the obligatory Hennigan).
Vince was over 40 minutes late and was ushered in through the back door to avoid the crowd outside. He shook our hands, in that politician's way (I have to report he has a limp handshake, the sure sign of a wrong 'un, according to my old mum), and commenced a short speech. You will not be surprised to hear that they inherited a mess, times are tough, etc, etc.
The crowd outside were good natured but vociferous and their chants could be heard over Vince. His speech was then curtailed by one of the demonstrators trying to charge into the building; it took several minutes for the police/PCSOs to subdue him and lead him out through the back of the bar. There was a bit of harrumphing, but frankly not as much as I expected.
Vince then cut straight to questions. These ranged from locally grown produce (he was surprised Manchester has an agricultural sector), through the inability of successive governments to get to grips with excessive bank charges ("If we succeed, it's in spite of banks rather than because of them") to the iniquities of the Compulsory Purchase Order legislation. His responses were pretty bland, most of them seeming to be of the 'can't comment on specifics' variety, and in spite of his assertion that small businesses are the key to growth, didn't elaborate on how this might happen in an area with little disposable income and a high proportion of public sector workers who have either lost their jobs or had pay freezes. Still, nice know there will be a recovery - not sure when, but.....
You'll be pleased to hear, though, that he enjoys a good relationship with David Cameron (not what it looks like from Twitter this morning, but there you go).
I didn't ask any questions. I had a feeling that I was being given the evil eye by the Party faithful as a possible infiltrator (which I suppose I was!); what I wanted to ask was:
Why, in the 20+ years I've lived here, under both Tory and Labour governments, my local elected (LibDem) representatives have done nothing to halt the decline of the area? It's all very well to blame the Labour majority on Manchester City Council, but if they can't bring about change, why should we vote for them? (I think this thought may appear in previous blogposts).
Why, if he feels David Cameron's views on immigration are wrong, he signed up to the Coalition agreement (the non-EU immigration limits are on page 21, I understand)?
Can he remember where he left his integrity? (my thanks to @Isdancing for that one).
Eventually, the meeting dissolved into photo opps with the candidate and associated movers and shakers (or what passes for them in LibDem circles) and out again through the back door where (I believe) there were some more friendly protestors waiting to greet him. It was a pretty lacklustre performance all round, really, and it didn't sound a if he'd won anyone round who wasn't already going to vote LibDem in May. At least he had the good grace to look haunted and weary.
Actually, lacklustre pretty much describes how the LibDems have been around here. Heavily dependent on their core vote, they don't reach out to the rest of the community. Far too keen to claim a bit of credit, whether it's due or not, and AWOL when things get sticky. How hard did they fight for the swimming baths in 2010? According to Labour, the council received no representations from any of our LibDem councillors - I sincerely hope that isn't true.
The very fact that they've dragged a (relative) big hitter like Vince up from London for a local election campaign suggests they're worried. It's notable that the usual 'LibDems winning here' placards are notably absent from windows and gardens this year. As they said in their election leaflet, "Only LibDems or Labour can win here." May's going to be interesting.