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Meet the People: Paula Keaveney

Larry Neild puts the questions Liverpool's new Lib Dem leader

Published on May 11th 2011.

Meet the People: Paula Keaveney

PAULA Keaveney signs on this week in her new job as leader of the main opposition Liberal Democrat Group on Liverpool City Council.

The academic lecturer replaces Warren Bradley who quit as leader after an investigation was launched into the nomination of his son, Daniel, in last week’s town hall elections.

The Cressington councillor beat political warrior Cllr Flo Clucas 12-9 in a straight fight for the hot seat.

Both councillors face the electorate next May knowing the Lib Dems were trounced last Thursday, losing 11 of the seats they were fighting.

I asked a seasoned Labour councillor
who they wanted to see across the
floor in the opposition hot seat. The
reply was instant: 'Oh, Paula Keaveney,
Joe will run rings around her'


Among the victims were Peter Millea, Cllr Keaveney’s ward colleague, and John Clucas in Allerton. He served in the ward alongside wife Flo Clucas.

Richard_Kemp_Liverpool.jpgAt a meeting of the 21 Lib Dem councillors this week, veteran Richard Kemp (right) – one of only two councillors to hold on to their seats – was chosen as deputy leader of the group.

Between now and May 24, when the council’s AGM is held, Cllr Keaveney will have to name her shadow cabinet and also name Lib Dem candidates for other jobs. It’s likely some councillors will have to double up by taking several jobs.

Cllr Keaveney was first elected to the city council in Speke-Garston ward in 2002, but in 2007 she was beaten by Labour. A year later she was back in the council chamber fighting the seat vacated by Beatrice Fraenkel who defected to Labour. In 2008 Grassendale was still considered a safe Lib Dem seat, so she moved to Kirkdale, a rock solid Labour ward.

The new Lib Dem leader lives in Garston, lectures in public relations at Edge Hill University in Ormskirk. She is currently the Liverpool party's spokesperson for regeneration and transport.

At last Thursday’s election count, I asked a seasoned Labour councillor who they wanted to see across the floor in the opposition hot seat.

The reply was instant – “Oh Paula Keaveney, Joe (Anderson, the council leader) will run rings around her.”

Indeed Paula Keaveney is an unknown quantity in serious frontline politics. I would guess few people in the city will ever have heard of her.

It’s probably the fact she is relatively unknown that won her the job, an injection of new blood on the front bench as Labour seek to quench their thirst for yet more Lib Dem seats.

So, as she woke today as one of the key figures in Liverpool politics, how does Paula Keaveney herself see the future?

LN – What’s your first task?

PK – I want to talk to the staff and my fellow councillors, and also to our members, telling them what I stand for. I am determined to see our depleted group pull together and rebuild. We have to show the people of this city we are a ruling party in waiting.

LN - Was Monday night’s meeting like a funeral wake?

PK – No. Of course there was disappointment. We lost some solid and hard working local councillors who didn’t deserve to go. I do not attach blame to any of them, they were punished by the electorate who wanted to show their feelings towards the Coalition Government.

LN – Next May there could be another round of casualties, including yourself.

PK – This has been an electoral tsunami for us and I don’t think it will ever be as bad. In a year’s time, things will become clearer. I think the party nationally has to be clearer on the impact it is having on political decisions.

LN – What will be your main priority?

PK – I want us to be strong on leisure and culture as I fear we will soon start to see proposals to close some of our libraries and leisure centres. We want to help keep those community facilities open and protect them from Labour closure plans.

LN – How will you win back support from former Lib Dem voters?

PK – The Lib Dems have done many good things in this city, just look at the amazing transformation. We were good for Liverpool and we will be good again for the city. I think people saw some of the internal squabbles and started to trust us less. We need to show people things are now different.

joe anderson.jpgLN - What’s your feeling about squaring up to Joe Anderson (right)?

PK- I can’t do the shouting like he does. He will find me much quieter, but I’m no pushover either. Joe Anderson and Warren Bradley had exchanges where they were virtually challenging each other for a punch up outside. I don’t do shouting.

LN – Will you be intimated if confronted with shouting from Joe A and the Labour ranks?

PK – No. They sit on the other side of the chamber. But in any case I find shouting quite pathetic. Joe Anderson, Paul Brant and their members are not going to convince me to support anybody but the Lib Dems and I don’t expect I’ll ever convince them to support anything other than Labour. So shouting is pointless.

LN – So, what will be your weapon of attack?

PK – Intelligent, calm and a rational debate.

LN –Labour has over 60 councillors, you have 21 including yourself. Is this job worth it?

PK – Well there is a big mountain to climb, but it will be about focusing on the issues we need to raise. I am looking forward to it.

LN - Have you jumped into power politics without thinking about the impact?

PK – I thought hard and long before putting my name forward for leader. Will I be able to withstand what’s thrown at me – yes I will. It will affect my social life, but won’t affect my college work.

LN – How long will you give the job of leader?

PK – Well I’m up for re-election in my ward next year so I have 12 months to show the people of Liverpool I’m working hard for them. Remember this, the more powerful Labour become the more important it is to have an effective opposition to keep an eye on them.

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