(This article first appeared on Lib Dem Voice, Sunday 15th January 2017)

I have just moved house, leaving London, settling in Chesterfield.  London has been amazing, but it was time for change.  In between that decision and the reality came the Sleaford and North Hykeham By-election: one of the campaigns that I shall forever be proudest of running.  But Sleaford was a turning point for me, a junction when I decided to re-engage with front line electoral politics and take to the streets again.

So last night travelling back to Stoke-on-Trent at short notice to scout the territory was a further development for me.  Let me explain.  I stood down from Stoke-on-Trent city council in 2002 after four of the best electoral years of my life, but had left due to a mix of work, ambition and life changes.  I haven’t really been back there since and so today when Tristram Hunt, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, announced his resignation I realised I was ready to return.

Now Stoke-on-Trent was very much my personal test ground for the lessons and skills I had listened to, learnt and appreciated from Peter Lee, Becky Bryan, Tim Clement Jones, Des Wilson, Tony Greaves, Maggie Clay and others.  In trying those lessons out a few landmarks stand out: the night in 1996 when the city went Unitary, the Tories were wiped out and Labour were elected 60 nil.  How I cheered those Tory losses (for I knew we were not ready)

But then there was the conversation in 1997 outside the pie shop on College Road with my dear friend Ian Openshaw.  It went something like: “don’t worry, we haven’t won for years, we never do in Stoke, just stand and make sure it’s contested”.  17 leaflets later Ian was elected and the council went 59-1, a few weeks later we gained that ward of Shelton again and I picked up Stoke West and it went 57-3.In the subsequent years much has happened, but for me Stoke has vivid memories.  We hosted the Lib Dem Youth and Student Conference to bolster the 1998 by-election campaign then and my dear friend the late Neil Trafford was at the forefront of the street activity, encouraging the campaign, the fun and the farce.  In those years a number of students became impressive LD campaigners: Chris Coleman and Anders Hanson to name two and in that period of time I met my first ever and last boyfriend, my now husband, Russell Eagling.

Just after Sleaford last year my follow up work was crudely interrupted in December by the death in a car accident of my close friend Andy Lindup – not a party political friend at all – but another graduate of Stoke-on-Trent.  Indeed a photo I hadn’t clocked before has recently emerged of Neil and Andy together from that time and I’m welling up thinking of it.

So looking back, Stoke-on-Trent features strong and significant in my life story to date.

Yesterday I walked past the Civic Centre, past Peter ad Vincula Church and made fleeting but significant visits to Hanley, Stoke-upon-Trent, Trent Vale, Bentilee, Hartshill, Penkhill and Etruria to remind myself and reappraise myself of the territory.  As I walked I wondered why I had left – if I had stayed and fought and made a life commitment I might have been able to have done much more for a city that I cared deeply about and whose residents have been so neglected.  And then I remembered: the late David Rendel MP had offered me a role to help with his campaign when standing for Party Leader and that had triggered me to look elsewhere and follow a golden path and trail of where the Lib Dems were already successful.  David was generous to a fault and constantly encouraged me in my commitment to community politics, to change and inclusive and diversity.  I learnt so much from him.

These elements all crowded in on me tonight as I returned – home, yes I think I can say that – returned home to Stoke-on-Trent.  As a city it gave me the honour of being elected a councillor, I met my life partner and husband, and I have a string of fond, indeed special memories.

And so as I walked, made notes, took photos and bought the local paper again I smiled deep inside myself remembering my friends, the late Cllr Neil Trafford, the late David Rendel, former MP for Newbury, and the late Andy Lindup, passionate, lively and truly a light when all else was dark and I wept tears of joy.

The resignation of Tristram Hunt MP could not be a better illustration of the extent to which Labour have taken this community for granted and of how privileged individuals such as him put themselves first.  And yet, he is creating this by-election, and so will give a community ignored for too long the chance to be heard.

I don’t know about you, but I’m clearing my diary, I’m off to Stoke-on-Trent and I’m in no mood for excuses.  I’m in this for the win and will do what I can to honour my friends.  To thank the city that truly set me off, and place the Lib Dem Fightback centre stage of the UK, physically, politically and literally.  See you there I’m sure..  it’s gonna be fun.

* 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

 http://www.libdemvoice.org/when-things-come-together-stokeontrent-and-my-emotions-52968.html