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Stoke-on-Trent Central is important beyond the Liberal Democrats

January 25, 2017 12:31 PM
By Ed Fordham in Liberal Democrat Voice

It's gone midnight and I'm sitting here in the Campaign Office at the Wheatsheaf Hotel, on Snow Hill in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent and I have been worrying about a number of things.

Zulfiqar Ali

Zulfiqar Ali

1. How do I get more hours in the day so I can deliver leaflets for longer?

2. How do we build the winning formula to get all our supporters out on the day on what will be a very cold day…

3. What will entice the hundreds and thousands of Liberal Democrats and, critically, newbies to come and help here in this great and glorious city?

4. And most of all how do we make the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election the most positive and unexpected good news of 2017

I know this City, I love its heritage, I love its story, I love its structure and I love the unexpectedness. And walking around you see the examples everywhere . Come out of the railway station and see the statue of Josiah Wedgewood, go up Hanley to see statues of Reginald Mitchell and Sir Stanley Matthews, the tributes to the Steel Workers, the Miners, the Potters and you can get lost in the myriad explanations of why Northwood is not Hanley or Birches Head and where Oakhill starts and Boothen ends.

But more than just that, the people here are just wow, lovely and very dear to me. All are warm, open and welcoming. There is an astonishing inclusivity about this place that is different, that is real and that is sincere. Walking out to get some food tonight my ears soon picked up accents and lilts from Dublin, from Poland, from Pakistan and yes from across the City of Stoke-on-Trent itself.

Now this all makes for a great political mix, but Stoke has had tough economic times and wages can be low and housing stock often unchanged. When I was a councillor back in 1998 one of the campaigns I ran was the end of outdoor toilets in council and housing association properties within my own ward.

This is a city that Labour boast has always elected Labour MPs and they resent the suggestion that it might do otherwise. I was here when the City's political structures cracked and there was surge of first protest votes, then Independent candidates and councillors and subsequently an elected Mayor that would solve all the issues. In different ways these hopeful moments failed and in fact raised a spectre of a far right movement of disenchantment.

It is that past story, put to bed 10 years ago with the defeat here of the BNP, that Paul Nuttall and UKIP now wants to re-awaken and make his own personal gain. I have been involved in many campaigns some party political, many not - but if I do nothing else then seeing Stoke-on-Trent as the line in the sand, the ground war, the battle that finally stops UKIP will be my proudest hour.

But stopping that nasty grasping ambition of Paul Nuttall and UKIP needs your help and not just my desperate fears and concerns. We need you here on the streets in numbers not seen before

Please, be under no illusion. The Liberal Democrat campaign here in Stoke is about asserting our pride in this city, about making a commitment to be different, to hear the concerns of all residents and address them head on. The Tories and UKIP and somewhat bizarrely Jeremy Corbyn and Stoke Labour Party seem determined to drive us down a hard Brexit. That might meet their timetable and their personal prejudices, but it will do nothing but damage the local communities across this city. In fact it will put at risk the factory jobs of the surviving Pottery industry and threaten the brilliant development of Staffordshire University and its international recruitment, placement and links.

So if any of these things matter to you please come up, come down or across and help even for a few hours - in one hour you can do at least 100 street terraces - literally.

If like me you believe in justice, inclusive communities, tolerance and a society that is based on respect and equality - come to Stoke-on-Trent and stop the UKIP political opportunism. There will not be a better chance, and we have a great candidate in Dr Zulfiqar Ali and a strong positive message. I'm here now, not sure what you are waiting for..? From the bottom of my heart can I say, in advance, thank you.

If we win here and UKIP lose, we will do more than elect a Liberal Democrat MP - we will send out a message about what this country is, should be and will be.

* Ed Fordham was councillor for Stoke West 1998-2002, stood for Stoke-on-Trent Central 1997 and is working full time for Dr Zufiqar Ali