With Gavin getting increasingly involved with the running of the Libertarian Party, standing in Uttoxeter, and in the mire of the Party’s unique challanges, I thought it was about time We heard a bit more about him.
One of the strangest aspects of the Libertarian Party as an activist is that individuals use all pseudonyms online and rarely get together in person, so it’s quite common for activists to know very little about each other, how they earn a living and what got them into politics in the first place.
LH: Perhaps you could start by telling us a bit about you? Are you a career politician?
The term ‘career politician’ I’ve heard often, mostly with negative connotations, which is why there’ll be something of a long answer.
Certainly, community politics has played a major role in my life. I started as a Liberal Democrat activist seventeen years ago in St Albans and Luton, but I really learned the ropes of political campaigning when I moved to Stoke-on-Trent to go to university. In Stoke, I worked with a couple of expert Lib Dem campaigners who helped me develop the skills required to undertake a decent and often successful campaign. Not just this, I also worked with across the country, with people who had been in the political campaigning world far longer than me, and from whom I learned a lot.
Indeed, the skills I developed helped me secure work inside the Liberal Democrats, working for the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillor & Campaigners. As the Information & Communications Officer, my role was to give advice to Lib Dems across the country about campaigning, election law, being a councillor and running a council group, giving training, artworking and publishing the ALDC members magazine, and contributing towards the production of sample campaign material that could be used as a template for activists across the country.
Am I a career politician? Maybe. Politics is certainly in my blood, but not just because of the buzz. As I have said, I started in politics at seventeen because I saw that things weren’t right in the world. My initial thoughts of a career was to become a barrister or lawyer, but after doing law for a year, I started to see how corrupt that was and my aspirations in that field started to wain. I was walking past the ‘Liberal Club’ in St Albans one morning on the way to college, and thought I’d get in touch. It all started from there.
I was first elected to Stoke-on-Trent City Council in 1999 at the age of 21 – the youngest ever councillor that Stoke had had at that time. I became Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at 22, and in this capacity saw how dirty politics really was, and how principles were a minor consideration in the grand scheme of things. I was certainly a liberal back then – for example, calling for the introduction of a prostitution tolerance zone; or challenging taxpayer subsidies for profit-making house building companies to clear brownfield sites for new housing development, a practice that exclude the smaller, more environmental companies; or opposing compulsory purchase orders that in effect stole peoples’ home from them.
At the same time as being a politician – both in Stoke and then later in Newcastle-under-Lyme – I was either a student, still at university; working nights at a homeless hostel; or later, working within the party. I took a break of a couple of years from politics from 2004, and then decided to put up for Stoke again in 2007, as a Liberal Democrat on the ballot paper, but highlighting in my literature that I was a libertarian and highlighting some of my views. At this time, my day job was working for a fuel poverty charity.
I’ve stood as a parliamentary candidate in Stoke Central in 2001, and was Lib Dem Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Burton at the time I left the Lib Dems in September 2009. I did this after much thought, and the biggest regret I have in doing so is not leaving the party, but letting down a very friendly, committed bunch of Lib Dem activists for whom I have a lot of respect and time. Many a libertarian could learn a lot from people like these.
Up until this May and until I stood down from Stoke City Council, I served as a Libertarian Party councillor. I had a reputation of speaking my mind, being honest and acting with integrity. I was regarded as a ‘controversial councillor’ given some of my views, however, no-one – by it the media, officers or opposition councillors – could ever deny that I was consistent in my views.
So, am I a ‘career politician’. I’ll let you decide.
LH: Do you have a family?
I live in Uttoxeter, in the middle of Stoke-on-Trent, Burton, Derby and Stafford with my partner Melanie, child, and three dogs. Melanie works nights as a carer at a local old peoples’ home, and my child is in her last year of high school.
LH: How do you put food on the table?
I left my job with a local charity last September. At a time when funds were being cut, and therefore hours, we decided as a family that I’d try self-employment. I work from home primarily, building a print management and publishing company. Within the last few weeks I’ve also started work at the same care home as my partner as the weekend cook. We’ve also taken on an allotment this years, so hopefully some of the food on the table will come from that.
LH: You’ve stood as a candidate “with libertarian values” but you are also standing in as Chairman of the Libertarian Party. Why didn’t you stand as a Libertarian Party candidate?
What many people don’t realise is that there are a lot of rules and paperwork to complete in order to stand for election, and then once the election is complete, paperwork to submit regarding spending and donations. I wanted to stand as a Libertarian Party candidate, however, there were some problems with this. First, although I’ve paid my subscription to the party, it’s not in the correct account. This is because the real party account had been frozen. Therefore, there are questions as to whether or not I’m a member of the party, and with this in mind, I haven’t been acting a Chair of the party but as a friend trying to help the party get back on course.
The other problem is that at a ‘local council’ election, i.e. Town, Parish or Community Councils, although I can use a description of up to six words, I couldn’t use ‘Libertarian’ as there is a party registered with the Electoral Commission called the ‘Libertarian Party’. This could ‘confuse’ the electorate, and as there is a lack of clarity as to whether or not I’m a party member, I couldn’t use any of the Registered Political Party Descriptions that are registered with the Electoral Commission.
Some might be asking why register the party if it leads to these complications? Candidates can only choose their description at ‘local council’ elections. At ‘principle council’ elections, i.e. Unitary, Borough, County; or at national elections, the description that can be used has to be registered with the Electoral Commission.
What a pain, right? So, in order to get on the ballot, and to have a description that showed, rightly, the voters my political persuasion (rather than standing as no description or as an ‘Independent’) I chose to stand as ‘The candidate with libertarian principles’. Note libertarian with a small ‘l’ – the concept rather than the entity.
The Libertarian Party (not LPUK) can be a successful organisation if the Fresh Start proposals are adopted by the membership. Of course, I have a bias here given my involvement in drawing them up, but perhaps some of my answers so far will illustrate there is a lot to learn about the system we’re working in for party activists to be effective in what they do.
Of course, there are many hurdles facing the party, and I know the NCC will be making a statement in due course to members and friends. There are good intentions within the party from all quarters and my personal believe is we shouldn’t get distracted or waste too much energy on those things that are hindering progress. As an organisation, I’m confident the Libertarian Party can achieve as much as any other party – particularly at the local community level – but it requires direction and discipline. Without that, the party will flounder and become a non-entity.
The Town Council has been run into the ground by the Conservatives. Brought the verge of insolvency, last year the Town’s council tax precept was increased by 91% to help fund the mismanagement of the local Conservative administration. Labour and the Independents (disgruntled ex-Tories) – the opposition weren’t exactly vocal about these increases. In short, one get’s the impression that they have a right to taxpayers’ money.
It goes beyond financial mismanagement though. Uttoxeter, a town with a lot of potential given it geographic location, is a shell of what it should be. I’ve lived in the town for nearly four years, and in that time, the Town Council has made no effort to keep taxpayers informed of what it doing. It doesn’t even have a website where at the very least one could access the minutes of meetings.Improving political accountability is one major factor.
Another is to help town centre businesses, not by offering incentives funded through taxation, but instead to create a level playing field with the out-of-town development. The Town Council should be very vocal in decreasing local business rates, lobbying the town’s Conservative MP, working to rebuild the market, encouraging small business start-ups.
In addition to this, and to help facilitate the above, the Town Council should start to reclaim many of the responsibilities it lost to Burton Town Hall as part of local government reorganisation in 1974. Decisions over Uttoxeter services, including parks, allotments, car parking, leisure facilities, and other things are all made in Burton. Prior to 1974, these were made in Uttoxeter.
LH: What are your prospects for success at the election?
At the time of writing this, I’ve done about ten hours of doorstep canvassing and all appears generally positive. The electorate I’ve spoken with so far agree that government is far too big, far too expensive, far too wasteful, far too intrusive. They agree that individuals should be able to go about their lives as they see fit, just so long as they don’t harm or defraud others. They agree that tax is theft and that government used that money to tell people how they should live their lives, what they can eat, drink or smoke.
So, based on talking with people so far, all looks good. However, positive canvassing is one thing; getting people out to vote is another. On 7th July, that is the main job in hand – making sure as possible that a cross is put by my name.
LH: You are raising £250 via your site. What other help do you need from libertarian activists?
As well as canvassing (and putting a leaflet out at the same time), I’ll be distributing a leaflet to 2500 properties which takes one person around twenty-five hours to deliver. My family will help of course, but the more people on the ground, the more that can be done. Perhaps a second leaflet can be delivered? If any activist in the area wants to come to Uttoxeter to lend a hand they are welcome. It’s also an opportunity for libertarian activists to learn how to doorstep canvass. I swear by the importance of canvassing. Good, community politics is about getting outside and meeting people. It can be daunting, but its never dull.
Also, as I said before, election day itself is important. Hopefully by then I’d have spoken with a few hundred people; maybe made contact with a few hundred more if I get more canvassers. However many voters we meet, we need to get them out to vote on the day. So, any offer of help between now and 7th July will be gratefully received. Get in touch via www.gavinwebb.com.