THE new leader of Bolton’s Liberal Democrats says social media means that his party can still be effective — despite only having one politically-active councillor.
Cllr Andrew Martin will be the only member of Bolton Council’s Lib Dem group this year, with former leader Cllr Roger Hayes having been sworn in as mayor and Cllr Carole Swarbrick suspended from the group.
But the 25-year-old says that the party’s active social media presence provides a new means of involving residents in local democracy.
Cllr Swarbrick was suspended from the Lib Dem group after likening the social media tactics of “aspiring Lib Dem spin doctors” to the serial killer Harold Shipman, as well as claiming that Cllr Hayes was “courting UKIP”.
The new party leader, who was first elected to represent Smithills in 2014, said: “I think we can be very effective. One thing that we have seen in Bolton is that our social media strategy has been highly effective, particularly in highlighting issues like the Asons scandal and encouraging the public to participate in holding the council to account.
“I think it says a lot about the strength of our social media that it does come under frequent attacks from our opponents.
“The reason that we are always calling for the council to be more open and transparent is that, as liberals, we believe in participatory democracy and everyone playing a role. There are so many different ways that people can get involved in local democracy now, they don’t just have to go through the traditional channels of their local councillors.”
Cllr Martin, who is a fitness instructor, also stood as the Lib Dem candidate in Bolton West at the 2015 General Election, finishing fourth.
Among the key issues he says the Lib Dems will be focusing on in the coming year is the protection of green belt land, which has come into focus again recently as Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham pledged to rewrite the controversial spatial framework housing plans.
“Cllr Martin said: “That framework was agreed by the council leaders but it has put a lot of our green belt at risk of development.
“We welcome Andy Burnham’s announcement that he is going to revisit the spatial framework and I hope that they can come up with a good alternative.”
He added that ensuring Bolton is ready for Brexit will also be a key aim, saying: “What we need is a sign that the council is ready to manage the situation. There are going to be a lot of challenges and I will be pushing to make sure the council is ready to face those challenges.”