Having lived in the City of Stoke-on-Trent it was always something of a guilty confession that I was no fan of football. With two major clubs in the City: Stoke and Port Vale, it was crucial to know when the match days were. Indeed when we are campaigning for votes a throwaway joke was that on match days we would be “down in the terraces of the Victoria Ground”. On hearing this folks assumed I was a Stoke City fan and that I would be there cheering them on. In fact on a match day, especially for Stoke, it was perfect day for delivering the literally hundreds of terraced houses down and around the old Victoria Ground. The new Britannia Ground is not far away now, but those terraces and more are still there waiting to be delivered by you.

(this article first appeared on Lib Dem Voice on 22nd January, 2017)

Now the local bus company is Potteries Motor Traction – a hark back to a previous era and so now cut down to just PMT. But when running campaigns it was always important to make sure that we had Potteries Voter Traction. Anyone could muster up negatives, everyone could join the latest campaign the real issue was if you could get traction, respect and therefore votes enough fromresidents that would propel you over the winning line.

The other issue was building up a local party who looked and sounded like Stoke – now this is a city of communities. Sometimes it sounds over complex but let me run you though it.

The city is Stoke-on-Trent. The City of Stoke. The City. This in turn is comprised of the six towns. Longton, Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke and Fenton. In many respects the author Arnold Bennett did us no favours in leaving out Fenton and slipping the five towns into common parlance. It is one city and 6 towns. But there’s is still more than this. Stoke Town is actually Stoke-upon-Trent and within that there are a myriad of places. By example the towns overlay a range of communities: Boothen, Oakhill, Trent Vale, Etruria, Snow Hill, Springfield, Hartshill, Penkhull, Birches Head, Northwood and many many more besides… and these communities are not notional, people have an affinity to these places and proudly self identify as being from there.

And so then you have the people themselves. Proud Potters: folks who have worked over the generations in the Potteries factories that drove the indiustrial revolution and made the UK a by-word for high quality pocelain, china and tableware. A place of innovation, design and distinction. Further there were the mining pits and all the pride, effort and yes trauma that came with them. Just visit and talk to anyone about Hanley Forest Park to understand that. And because of these localised industries there have been tensions too. Educational attainment was sidelined for too long, health expectation too low and yes, a post-war politics that was complacent.

Now much of that has changed and we have a by-election in Stoke-on-Trent Central The heart of the Potteries with a huge amount at stake.

The Liberal Democrats have picked Dr Zulfiqar Ali – someone who is local, of the city, a strong champion, and someone who understands the history and the challenges we face. I am confident that we have a superb strong effective candidate A specialist in healthcare who knows the importance of ending the constant strain on our medical services. Someone who has been a Stoke City Councillor and has seen for himself what the myriad of old politics has failed to achieve for the city. And someone who who wants to stand and fight for what he believes in, in the City that has welcomed him, where he has made his home.

Zulfiqar won my heart, won my emotions and brought tears to my eyes when at the selection meeting he said 

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This is my home, I am proud to live and work here and when I buried my father here it was his home too. Please give me the chance to stand and fight for the people who are less fortunate, for those who are worried and scared and let’s do this together for this city deserve something better.

I agree with Zulfiqar.

For too long Labour have taken people for granted. They have sought to break the six towns, promoted Hanley over local identities and they have presided over the collapse of much that was previously strong. Now we have a Potteries industry at real risk of Harsh Brexit and even more job losses looming, we have a University that has strong international and European links, that has brought so much here, at risk of a Harsh Brexit. We have a Hospital and medical system plagued by underfunding, Labours PFI funding crippling its way forwards and the pressures of nearby Stafford hospital crisis. The Council has failed to get the local economy going with too many local boarded up shops next to big shiny projects that suit them. 

Add to that a political culture fractured by complacency, at risk of UKIP and Labour picking another placeman MP. It’s time we fought for and voted for real change. I will be supporting Dr Zulfiqar Ali, I hope you do to.

To those who ask if the Liberal Democrats can win the answer is this: over half this constituency has voted Lib Dem locally in recent years, we have a great candidate, and he has strong and passionate ideas and answers. So yes, we can win.

* 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