This has been a relatively quiet year, hence my lack of blog entries, but has concluded with my election as Chair of the Swale Liberal Democrats for the important year of 2014 - important because of its lead-up to election year.
At the next general election, for the very first time, we have a record of government to defend. There is much we can be proud of. The tax threshold to £10,000, the pupil premium, the green bank, a million extra jobs in the private sector, improved childcare provisions, a free meal for primary school children and, above all, our part in providing a stable government after an indecisive election result to steer the country out of economic crisis and towards recovery. None of this would have happened without the Liberal Democrats.
There have been mistakes too, of course. I have said enough about tuition fees, but I remain concerned about the benefit cuts and the bedroom tax, the latter to me seems absolutely pointless, and the increase in the use of food banks shames the government. And although the decrease in unemployment is welcome, youth unemployment is still far too high. While we continue on to recovery, we must not forget those who might be left behind.
The main elections this year were the county council elections in May. UKIP did well in the election of 147 councillors across England but what is often overlooked is that the Lib Dems won 352 seats, over twice as many. Add to this the Eastleigh by-election, where, despite a huge media effort on behalf of the Tories, we held on to win, plus the increase of party membership of over 2,000, and clearly the Liberal Democrats are not finished yet.
Locally, for the Kent County Council elections, in Swale we decided to save our scarce resources and instead give our neighbours a hand in Maidstone. This was a great success where, not only did we hold our three county council seats in the town but we gained the fourth. In the constituency of Maidstone and the Weald, overall, we outpolled the Conservatives, so it is easy to see why it is a strategic target seat for 2015. A Lib Dem MP in the constituency next door can only be good for us.
At our AGM in November, yours truly was elected as the Chair for 2014. I see our main priorities as (i) the selection of two parliamentary candidates, (ii) developing and expanding our membership (which has also increased - I have to admit, to my surprise), (iii) fund-raising (as always!) and (iv) the development of a strategy for the 2015 Swale council elections. I have some ideas along these paths which I will be taking to our committee meetings, and hopefully increasing our activity.
We have no local elections in 2014 (by-elections permitting) but we must gain some momentum for 2015. And I hope that as we enter 2015, we have a local party in good shape for that very challenging election year.