It was the only upset in an otherwise predictable set of results at the borough council elections in June – Peter Lidstone taking St John’s for the Lib Dems. He is today one of only three Lib Dems on the council. There are also two from Labour. The remaining 43 are Conservatives. We invited the ‘new boy on the block’ to write a regular column offering his views and thoughts on politics and the council chamber. Here’s the first of them…
‘A week is a long time in politics’, Harold Wilson apparently once said. Has this ever seemed more appropriate than since June 24?
Back in May, I had spent a 17-hour day (both thrilling and exhausting in equal measure) working to get elected to the Borough Council for St John’s. The next morning it was back on the campaign trail; the referendum was looming.
I am unashamedly pro-EU, both as a Lib Dem and from a personal perspective, although I accept that it is far from a perfect institution. It seems to me that ‘taking back control’ won the battle on the day. Control can be a good or a bad thing; on a flight, the knowledge that the pilot is in control is a comforting one. But in a relationship, it is not healthy.
Britain must remain a key player in the global community, and our future should be in co-operation, not isolation and self-interest.
The promised control, flagrantly wielded during the campaign, contrasts with the reality we are seeing today; uncertainty around what Brexit will actually look like, coupled with the reality that regulations are a bigger barrier to our access to the single market than tariffs; if we wish to continue selling to the EU, our exports will need to conform to regulations we will no longer have a say on. I wish Greg Clark luck!
There are also more unintended consequences of the vote. According to the police, hate crimes across the country were up annually by 42 per cent for the last two weeks of June.
These are official figures, and certainly not all incidents are reported. One of my Lib Dem colleagues was recently served in his local shop by an assistant who apologised for being Polish. For someone who previously felt welcomed, to feel like you have to say this is appalling.
I should add that the victimisation of those who voted leave does leave an equally sour taste. I have heard accounts of a teacher who admitted to voting leave being reduced to tears by her angry colleagues.
And the vitriol directed towards the elderly – who were statistically more likely to vote leave – by some sections of society is equally shocking. The metaphorical genie has been let out of the bottle on both sides.
At the last council meeting, councillors from every party gave their backing to a motion that specifically denounced xenophobia and hate crime, and pledged council support and resources towards tackling it. Some felt this was perhaps a tokenistic gesture. But if the shoe were on the other foot, and I were living abroad in a country which had just voted to leave the EU, I know I would appreciate hearing a statement of support from my local representatives.
I am hopeful that we, as a council, can be united in taking action against racism and xenophobia, and be proud of having done everything within our means to make all residents feel welcome in Tunbridge Wells.
The youngest member of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, aged 32, Peter Lidstone was the only candidate to successfully dislodge a Conservative opponent at the last local elections. With a full-time job as part of the charity Build Africa, the former law student of the University of the West of England is also fluent in French. His interest in politics came after attending a conference on the subject at Christian Aid about why Christians should get involved.