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Saturday, 19 September 2009

Liberal Democrats and Post Offices

I haven't given an example of Brent Liberal Democrats breaking their promises for, well, days, so I thought I would talk about Post Offices.

Anyone who reads their literature will know that the save the Post Office line is a standard Lib Dem line. Indeed I recall during the Brent East by election a Lib Dem leaflet headlined "9 days to save Brondesbury Post Office". Brondesbury Post Office closed a few days after polling day, and let's face neither Sarah Teather or anyone in her team could possibly have believed that they would prevent its closure by winning the by election.

In fact, the Liberal Democrats never really do anything to help prevent branch closures. I once went to a briefing about Post Office closures with George Hooper in Brent Town Hall. This was back in 2004. Sarah Teather, who was also there, announced that none of her lobbying on Post Office closures ever worked, although of course that doesn't prevent her from claiming that it does.

Flashing forward to the 2008 Queens Park by election, I recall that the Liberal Democrats put out literature claiming that the branches in Queens Park were under threat. There was a closure programme at the time, but none of the Queens Park branches were named, as I am quite sure that the Liberal Democrats knew. However, the Liberal Democrats spreading lies that they were going to close almost certainly hurt their business (Once a branch is announced as closing, the business starts moving elsewhere even before it goes). Thus, not only did the Liberal Democrats do nothing to help the Post Office branches, they actively attacked them.

Aside from that, the only activity I recall the Liberal Democrats engaging in during that round of Post Office closures was an attempt to wreck Dawn Butler MP's event on the subject. Dawn held a meeting in St Mark's Church Hall, which I chaired. The Post Office branch on Harrow Road NW10 was under threat. The Liberal Democrats tried to pack the meeting with rent-a-mouths from other parts of London to criticise her. Personally, I think they just made themselves look foolish, but perhaps if they had engaged on the issue that branch might have been spared.

I also recall the Overview and Scrutiny meeting that Cllr Lesley Jones organised for representatives of the Post Office to come to. Lots of local councillors like myself lined up to plead for the branches in our own wards. The exception was Conservative councillor John Detre who declared that he hated the Post Office, and that he was looked forward to the election of a Tory government that would privatise the Post Office and close more branches. The Post Office people were pretty gobsmacked at this, but he really wasn't joking. The Liberal Democrats and Tories have now elected him as Lead Member for Regeneration, so he will be leading on any future threatened Post Office closures.

The one thing you never read about in a Liberal Democrat leaflet on Post Offices is their actual policy, which is to privatise them. The idea is sell off the profitable bits and use the proceeds to subsidise the existing network. What is missing is any idea about what to do when the proceeds run out and you are left with a wholly unprofitable retail network with an outdated business model.

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