Trevor ‘Jones the Vote’

September 9, 2016 2:19 PM

Sir Trevor JonesThe death has been announced this morning of Sir Trevor Jones, who was well known in Liberal Party days as "Jones the Vote", a former Leader of Liverpool City Council, President of the Liberal Party and one of my original political mentors. He was 89 and died after a recent diagnosis of cancer.

Trevor became a Liberal Councillor in Liverpool's Church Ward in November 1968, the ward in which I grew up and where he joined Cyril Carr whose had been elected in the ward in 1962 with the first ever campaign based on leaflets called 'Focus'. It was Trevor who then spread the Focus campaigning style across the city and such was the effectiveness of his approach and the techniques that he built on that following the 1973 City elections, Liverpool became the first city in modern times to be governed by Liberals, winning 48 of the 99 seats on the City Council.

In the meantime, Trevor oversaw the use of those techniques in the Sutton & Cheam parliamentary by-election in December 1972 where Graham Tope (now Lord Tope) came from third place, 18,000 votes behind the Conservatives to win by over 7,000 votes. The result revived the Liberal Party after its electoral drubbing in 1970 when it had elected only six MPs.

As Party President, Trevor toured the country attending meetings of party members persuading them to adopt the mantra that he taught me, 'the object of the exercise in any election campaign is to find out the issues on peoples' minds and deal with those issues'. This meant getting something done about those issues, then finding a printer and putting out a series of leaflets telling people what you had done and involving them in campaigns. It was revolutionary then and this approach transformed the way in which elections were run.

Trevor's protégé in those early days was a Young Liberal, called David Alton, who had chosen Liverpool to do his teacher training having been inspired by what Cyril Carr and Trevor Jones were reported as doing in the weekly 'Liberal News'. David later became Trevor's Deputy on the Council and the Liberal parliamentary candidate in Liverpool Edge Hill. When a by-election occurred there on the eve of the 1979 General Election, the Liberal Party was at just 5% in the polls. I was a young but full-time volunteer helping organise the campaign that Trevor and David directed. The gaining of the seat from Labour, with a 28% swing, was what saved the Liberal Party in the 1979 General Election.

Trevor at his best was a truly inspirational Liberal who had a 'gut instinct' that helped determine how people felt about issues and how to campaign on them. I spent many hours listening to him about campaigning, messaging and leaflets when I took over writing many of the Focuses in Liverpool, whilst he led the Council. He always pointed proudly to the first Sutton & Cheam by-election Focus on his office wall, with the heading 'Death stalks the crossroads' showing how to write a leaflet to capture peoples' attention, and he spoke of the AIDA formula (Attention, Interest, Desire and Action) being the key to success.

It was from Trevor that I learned much of what I know about election campaigning and then sought to spread across the party when I became a key member of parliamentary by-election teams, eventually overseeing how his techniques could be developed, modernised and professionalised as the Lib Dems won 13 parliamentary by-elections between 1990 and 2006, often at critical points for the party's survival and revival. These by-elections provided to be the models for campaigning in our target seats as we increased our number of MPs to 62 by the time of the 2005 General Election.

For all that Liberals and Liberal Democrats have achieved over all the decades, much is really owed to 'Jones the Vote'.