The next key decision came in 1978 when, having been seconded to Grimsby to undertake a particular project, I was offered the opportunity to make the move permanent. In the event it took a full year, from the time the idea was put to me, for the board of the subsidiary company to arrive at their decision to make the offer. When it came it was generous, a substantially higher salary and financial assistance with the cost of moving. I became a part of the management team of that manufacturing unit, holding a variety of engineering based posts over the next 7 years. I was sent on management training courses and had the opportunity to stay up to date with techniques of project management as well as the design and development of the equipment and processes we used.
Implementation of the decision having been delayed for so long meant that we made the move at the last possible moment for Ian’s secondary education. He was due to embark on the curriculum for ‘O’ levels in September of 1979, two years ahead of the actual exams.
It turned out that moving away from Coventry, where he had many friends at school and in the scouts, was more of a wrench for him than either of us ought to have realised at the time. But he soon made friends in his new school and scout troop. It also meant that I was severing links with the Community Broadcasting Service, of which I had been a founder member, and my wife was leaving a job in which she, too, had become a well regarded member of staff. As I said at the start of this mini-series, once we form relationships our decisions have implications for others as well as ourselves.
Joining the Liberal Party early in 1981 was the natural conclusion of my having supported the centre-left of British politics for many years. It was prompted by the belief that a realignment was underway following the decision of senior members of the Labour Party to resign and set up a new party. It seemed to me that I ought not to be content with merely voting Liberal at every opportunity but that I should do whatever I could to encourage others to do the same. And, if that were to lead to the chance to actively engage in representative politics, I would welcome it as the fulfilment of a long held ambition.
To some extent that ambition had been satisfied by my involvement in the staff association, representing the grievances of colleagues in discussions with management. Perhaps it was now time to take this to the next level and seek to represent members of the wider community in government.
My initial campaign, seeking election to the county council in 1981, I found exciting and energising. As well as visiting neighbours to seek their support, I had a role in producing the policy document on which both the Liberals and SDP members based their campaign literature. In the process I got to know a lot of the people already involved in local government in the district and, with that, the key issues that faced both the county and the two neighbouring district councils.
Of course I did not win on that occasion, but I was enthused and determined to maintain those contacts and to continue campaigning over the next four years, at the end of which I would once again seek election. At this stage the decision had yet to have any significant impact on either my wife or son. It was when the work load of a councillor with the casting vote on vital local government matters began to impair my ability to attend to my day job, to the point where I was faced with the choice of cutting back or leaving my job, that this changed.
By then our son was settled in Lincoln as a trainee mental nurse, no longer fully dependent on us. The redundancy package that was offered to encourage me to leave was generous, far more than required by law, and included the promise to pay my pension five years early. The decision to accept did lead to a significant disruption in our lives, not just during the immediate years whilst I was a councillor, but in the years that followed, as documented in the series of Monday Memories posts sub titled ‘Back in the real world’. Nevertheless I believe that what the four Liberals achieved in the county during the period 1985-9 was worth the sacrifice. In particular, I am proud of my contribution to the overhaul of the education system in Grimsby in 1988-9. Moreover, the whole decade, from 1981 to 1991, brought us many friends who shared our political outlook and ambitions as well as opportunities to travel to various European destinations and discover the reality of European unity.