Friday, January 16, 2015

A night out with Norman Lamb in Suffolk Coastal

Having been invited to attend a public meeting in Saxmundham last night, organised by the PPC whose selection I managed a few months ago, it seemed churlish to refuse, especially as the guest speaker was Norman Lamb. And besides, it's always helpful even if all you are doing is boost the numbers.

James Sandbach, for it was he who organised the event, lives in Saxmundham and had promoted the event locally and, it became apparent, very effectively too, as the chairs that had been set out quickly filled and extra chairs had to be fetched - I vaguely remember a David Steel story which included that line - as interested local residents streamed through the doors, filling the hall.

It had been arranged that Norman, who was coming from London, would be picked up at Ipswich station, and conveyed by fast car (fast being an entirely relative concept here in rural Suffolk) to the meeting. What perhaps hadn't been allowed for was that it takes about forty-five minutes to get from Ipswich Station to Saxmundham and so, as the start time for the meeting approached, I was detailed to await Norman's arrival outside, in the company of the Press (BBC and the East Anglian Daily Times) and a small group of protesters campaigning to 'save mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk' some of whom were clearly there to be seen by the media and who left when Norman arrived - perhaps if they listened to him, they might be better informed?

Norman Lamb, answering questions
Time passed, and James kicked off the meeting in the expectation that Norman would make it before he ran out of speech and, just in the nick of time, a car pulled out and Norman leapt out of it. Stopping only to give a brief interview to the BBC, he strode into the meeting to be introduced by James and spoke to the assembled audience without notes before taking a series of pre-written questions from a cross-section of the audience, including quite deliberately, some from those of the protesters that had actually decided to take part (I know that because Julia, James's wife and a local GP, and I selected them).

He got through a lot of questions, and got a pretty good response from an audience which was anything but hand-picked, including Liberal Democrat activists from at least four constituencies. All too soon though, the entertainment had to end, and Norman received a thoroughly well-deserved round of applause from most of the audience (you can't please everyone, can you?).

It was a bravura performance, and I suspect that those people who had come to the meeting with an open mind will have concluded that, whilst they might not agree with him on every point, Norman genuinely wants to achieve better outcomes for patients suffering from all kinds of ill health, be it physical or mental, and that equality of priority for mental health funding is something that he has, and will, work hard to obtain.

Much kudos must also go to James and Julia, who put an awful lot of work into organising the event, and to Marian Andrews, who chaired the meeting. Hopefully, people will spread the word about the event and perhaps speak kindly of Liberal Democrats and, in particular, James. He will have a tough struggle to keep the yellow bird of liberty flying in Suffolk Coastal, especially given our poll ratings nationally, but it won't be for lack of hard work and imagination.

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