Lord Willis returns to Harrogate to revive 'spirit of 1997' as Lib Dems step up election campaign

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The respected Lib Dem who held Harrogate and Knaresborough for three elections said the spirit of the 1997 General Election was back during a visit to the town.

Flanked by the Lib Dem’s 2024 parliamentary candidate Tom Gordon, Lord Willis was cheered by scores of Lib Dem volunteers as he cut the ribbon on the party’s new Harrogate office.

As passing cars honked their horns in support, Lord Willis said the occasion reminded him of the run-up to his famous victory more than a quarter of a century ago over former Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont.

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"The last time I did this was in 1997 and looked what happened then,” said Lord Willis who was MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough from 1997 until retiring at the 2010 General Election.

Flanked by the Lib Dem’s Harrogate and Knaresborough parliamentary candidate Tom Gordon, Lord Willis was cheered by scores of Lib Dem volunteers as he cut the ribbon on the party’s new Harrogate office on Saturday morning. (Picture contributed)Flanked by the Lib Dem’s Harrogate and Knaresborough parliamentary candidate Tom Gordon, Lord Willis was cheered by scores of Lib Dem volunteers as he cut the ribbon on the party’s new Harrogate office on Saturday morning. (Picture contributed)
Flanked by the Lib Dem’s Harrogate and Knaresborough parliamentary candidate Tom Gordon, Lord Willis was cheered by scores of Lib Dem volunteers as he cut the ribbon on the party’s new Harrogate office on Saturday morning. (Picture contributed)

"I believe when we look back this will be seen as an important day for the Lib Dems and for Harrogate and Knaresborough.

Having only got the keys on Tuesday, Saturday morning’s opening saw the new office full to overflowing as a small army of Lib Dem volunteers prepared to set off across the town in a mass leafletting drive.

Located opposite Westmoreland Coffee House on Westmoreland Street, the new Lib Dem office is bigger with a higher public profile than their recent headquarters off Granby Road.

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Taking to the Harrogate Advertiser, Lord Willis, who remains a popular figure in the town, said the situation was even worse now in the country – and the constituency – than it had been in 1997.

"The country was in a mess when I was first elected MP but it's far worse now,” he said.

"With North Yorkshire Council being run by the Tories it's important Harrogate has a Lib Dem MP.

"Harrogate is a great town but it has its problems and things that needs to be addressed.

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"The council isn't doing much to support Harrogate and neither is its sitting MP."

Created a life peer in 2010 with the title Baron Willis of Knaresborough, the former headteacher was full of praise for the man who would fill his shoes.

"I'm very impressed by Tom Gordon.

"He is the first Lib Dem candidate I have supported in this way since I stood down as an MP.

"I like his attitude. Tom doesn't talk about himself.

"He talks about the things that matter to the town and the people such as sewage in the Nidd and the terrible state of the NHS."

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Less busy than he once was because of health issues, Lord Willis said he now gets on very well with fellow peer Norman Lamont when he sits in the House of Lords,

He does add, however, that all these years later, Lord Lamont recognises the things that had gone wrong during the John Major years.