Flick Rea to pass on Lib Dem leadership to Luisa Porritt
She's not standing down from the council
07 September, 2020 — By Richard Osley
LONG-SERVING Liberal Democrat leader Flick Rea is to hand over the reins of the party today (Monday), but has warned people that this is not the end of her story at the Town Hall.
Luisa Porritt, the former MEP, will be named the new group leader at Camden Council’s annual general meeting.
Cllr Rea, who holds the record for the longest continuous service at the Town Hall among the current councillors, said: “I’m handing over the leadership but people should not be confused into thinking I’m standing down as a councillor.
“In Luisa, we recognise someone that has got talent and I believe in celebrating talent. You can’t go on wanting to be the star of the show, you can’t keep hanging onto stuff. You can’t go on playing Hamlet into your 80s.”
Cllr Rea is the one Lib Dem councillor that Labour has always failed to unseat, even during recent landslide local election wins.
Cllr Rea is known for her colourful council speeches
She has seen all of the ups and downs for the party, having been a cabinet member when the Lib Dems were the largest party in Camden in 2006 but also served four years as her party’s only elected representative at the Town Hall after 2014.
In 2018, she was joined by Cllr Porritt and Councillor Tom Simon, who took seats from the Tories in Belsize and the party enjoyed surging European election results. This, however, did not translate into success at December’s general election.
The switch means that the party will have a new face fronting the Lib Dems both locally and at the House of Commons, after MP Sir Ed Davey won the race to takeover the party nationally.
Cllr Rea said she had supported Sir Ed in his leadership contest over rival Layla Moran.
“I’m happy to have a leader I dont have to apologise for on the doorstep, as I think I’ve only been successful twice in seeing my choice being voted in as leader since I’ve been a member – I voted for Paddy [Ashdown] too,” she said.
Cllr Rea holds the record for the longest continuous stretch on the council – she was first elected in 1986; one of her campaign leaflets is below
“Ed may not be a Paddy or even a Charles [Kennedy] but he’s sound, sensible and responsible. If you like, a Lib Dem version of Keir. Ok, he’s a man in a suit but I’ve nothing against middle aged men in suits and he has his head screwed on right and he will develop and grow.”
Cllr Rea added: “Nick Clegg wasn’t the least bit interested in local councillors. He was briefed about what we were doing once a month, but he wasn’t really interested seriously. Ed is different, as he recognises our power base has always been local, and where we have had local authorities, they have been good local authorities.”
Sir Ed Davey in Camden Town last year
The near wipeout of Lib Dems in Camden followed the party’s decision to join a national coalition with the Conservatives, but Cllr Rea said this could not purely be blamed on the likes of Sir Ed, who had been part of the set-up at the time.
“For the coalition, we are all individually responsible,” she said. “We went to a special conference in Birmingham and voted enthusiaistically and everybody thought it was a good idea. If you believe in plurality in government, how could you say no to it?
“How could you say ‘we’ve been offered the chance, but we’re going to say no, no we’re going to sit on the sidelines’. We did some good things in government and stopped the Tories from doing even more awful things. They were a lot worse when they stopped being in coalition.”
The party has, however, benefited from a membership boost among new faces who signed up after the EU referendum and whose time with the party is not traced back to the coalition.
These include Cllr Porritt who became a member after Britain voted to divorce from Europe and then won a seat on the council and then a place in the European parliament representing London.
Luisa Porritt will take over from Cllr Rea, after a spell at the European parliament
With UK MEPs now home after Brexit was confirmed, she is also expected to be in the running to be the Lib Dem candidate at next year’s London mayoral elections.
It is the second time that Cllr Rea has relinquished the local leadership, having handed it to Keith Moffitt, who went on to become Camden’s leader for four years during the height of the party’s success.
“When you are approaching another set of council elections, even two years away, it’s right for the person to be fronting the party to be in place,” said Cllr Rea.
“They will need to have the most input into the manifesto, to attend the hustings, to make statements. I will still be here helping people in Fortune Green but we need an entirely new policy formulation and I think that is the responsibility of the new leader and new blood.”
She added: “Luisa is full of ideas, a wonderful talent.”
While most councillors can walk the streets unrecognised, Cllr Rea enjoys a high personal vote – one of the reasons Labour were still unable to dislodge her at the last boroughwide ballot in 2018.
Last month, neighbours surprised her on the doorstep with a ‘Clap4Flick’, as a gesture of thanks for advice and support during the coronavirus lockdown.
“I was very taken aback,” she said. “They wanted help getting their play area re-opened and I had made some calls and tried to help.”
“There’s been more casework in the last six months. People have had time to complain. They will see a pothole or damaged tree and say ‘I’ll tell Flick about that.”
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