Early in 1993 I had a visitation by Chris Rennard to my home. I was the Chairman of the local LibDem party and our MP for Newbury, Judith Chaplin, had sadly died recently. Discussions were held in my lounge. Then, at one point, Chris, myself and the Vice-Chair crammed ourselves into my study to pore over a document on my computer. At the time, my very small study was dominated by a huge roll-top desk (which was my pride and joy). This left a small space of about 4 feet by 6 feet for three chairs and the three of us, all big lads, shall we say. It was quite comical as we sat there, cheek by jowl.
I soon realised I was completely out of my depth, in terms of the impending excitement of the by-election campaign, and stood down as chair the next day, which was a Sunday. Two days later my son died, so it turned out to be just as well that I had stood down. With the trauma of the grief, it was actually quite nice to be involved in the campaign from the sidelines. It was an amazing campaign and it was quite awesome to witness at first-hand the superb organisational and campaigning skills of Chris Rennard - all the more interesting because it was all on our "home patch".
Chris had a laser-like ability to spot weaknesses in the opposition and exploit them mercilessly. For example, the Tory candidate came from Somerset. Needless to say, the word "Somerset" occurred in our leaflets only slightly less frequently than "the" and "a". The poor unfortunate Tory candidate, just after being selected, flushed with success, was interviewed by the press. 'What is your connection to Newbury?' - they asked him. "Oh, I've visited it occasionally while passing through on business" he said. Big mistake. Chris ensured that this sentence was printed thousands of times in our leaflets. But it was perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont's statement, made at the Tory HQ in Cheap Street, Newbury during the campaign, which received the biggest stick in our campaign. 'Je ne regrette rien', was his reply to the question 'Chancellor, which do you regret most, seeing green shoots or singing in the bath?'. I think there was even a little cartoon of Norman Lamont with a loofah, scrubbing under his arms in the bath as he sang, on our leaflets.....or is my memory playing tricks on me?
It's no exaggeration to say that many LibDem councillors and MPs owe their election directly to Chris. His whole suite of tricks and techniques are enshrined within the party.
But that misses the point. Most of all, Chris inspires Liberal Democrats. Just to know that he is occasionally sitting upstairs in the by-election HQ, without actually seeing him, is enough to send me and hundreds of other LibDem activists scurrying out to deliver masses of leaflets - all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Chris is regarded with awe and adoration, approaching love by me and many other activists. He is the nearest thing there is to an embodiment of the Liberal Democrats in human form. He is the Liberal Democrat party more than anyone else.
And we should not forget Chris' impish sense of humour and fun, inter-twined with his passion for politics.
Of course, he has been a superb Chief Executive in his smart suits. But I prefer to think of him in his shirt sleeves, surrounded by piles of freshly printed leaflets, in front of the computer with other activists, chuckling away at his latest devilish wheeze to skewer the opposition.
It is a sad day for the Liberal Democrats. But, no doubt, we will continue to see Chris and Ann involved in our party. Doubtless. But for the moment I want to say, simply: Thank you, Chris.