The Liberal Democrats are in an interesting position in the run up to the general election. According to IPSOS MORI the party is polling at 6%, the lowest in 25 years. Don Foster, a well-regarded Member of Parliament, who has held the constituency since 1992 is retiring and a student body of 13,000 eligible voters seemingly mistrust the party as a whole (only 6% of students backed the party in a recent bathimpact poll).
Come May, parties will see this as a prime time to break the stronghold Bath still is for the Liberal Democrats. With the barbarians at the gates of Rome, how the Lib Dems choose to present themselves could vastly affect their chances of remaining a major party.
With this in mind, it was with anticipation that I sat inside the White Hart organising my notes waiting to meet Steve Bradley the new Candidate for Bath & North East Somerset.
I first met Steve outside the White Hart in Widcombe; standing on the corner inspecting the roadworks, he seemed content to chat to locals and find out about their problems. Stepping out of the pub we quickly made our hellos before asking me about my degree and how much I personally am involved with politics.
Asked about his own interest in politics, he candidly admitted that “being from Northern Ireland around the 80’s and 90’s, I was quite disillusioned with party politics”. All through University, he wanted to be an observer and commenter, but the idea of joining a party was still alien to him. It was only after the decision to go to war in Iraq that he demonstrated with thousands and was ignored; he decided that the best way to make a difference was in politics.
Inevitably after the first few houses we started talking about his experiences at Bath. Having been SU president for two years; where he broke a monopoly the First Group had on the student services by introducing a rival bus company. He went on to say how he was still interested in ensuring the quality of service for students, including the reduction of congestion in the city centre.
At the doors Steve seemed friendly and calm, focusing more on the local community than on overall party politics, keen to stress that the Liberal Democrats were a party committed to improving the local area.
At times I felt he was perhaps too keen to point out that the constituency is a two horse race and that voting for other party’s would be a waste of a vote; Stating that, he “was the only sensible vote if the green agenda is one you personally care about.”
Steve seemed very passionate about green issues, his prior job being an self-employed environmental consultant. Stating that he wants “Bath to become an example of how small cities can be more environmentally conscious” and that “improving the environment in and around Bath will have many positive impacts on the quality of life”
When asked if he would have voted against the tuition fee increases if in a position to do so, also being quick to point out that only about a third of Lib Dem MP’s voted yes, with the majority abstaining or voting no.
The subject of tuition fees was one which held some regret for Steve. He was still of the belief that a pure Lib Dem government would have upheld its promise, but that he does not believe the decision made was the wrong one, but a reality of being in a coalition. Sometimes you cannot completely block decisions but must aim to negotiate the best possible outcome or in this case reduce the impact on students the initial no-limit fee’s proposal would have had.
Steve Bradley definitely has ties to Bath, grew up in an area where love for the political system is not strong, has had many life experiences outside of the political world, and generally seems to care about the people in and around bath.
Perhaps it is my cynicism or inherent mistrust of politicians talking then, when I worry that as a candidate he seems almost too perfectly picked for the constituency.
Personally I found nothing wrong with the man behind the party, however it will be interesting to hear him in a more intellectual setting, where personal politics may give way to national ideals, and the calm friendly intellectual veneer may come under more intense scrutiny.