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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Liam Thorp

Carl Cashman is ready to get to work amid swirl of online attention

Carl Cashman is not your typical local politician.

The local government circuit is often dominated by people in later life who, freed from the demands of busy working and family roles, can spend more time sorting out bins and pot hole complaints and delivering leaflets asking for support.

At just 31 Cashman will line up alongside the younger members of Liverpool City Council, the difference however is that he is also a leader.

The former Knowsley Council Lib Dem boss made the leap into the bigger Liverpool pool in May's elections and was immediately the favourite to take over from veteran group leader Richard Kemp when he confirmed he would stand down after a disappointing set of results.

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The feeling was Liverpool's main opposition group badly needed some new energy - enter Cashman.

As well as his age, the new leader has caused quite a stir on social media thanks to his impressively muscular physique (he goes to the gym four times a week), tattoos and a trendy approach to fashion (shoes without socks is a look that stood out).

A recent video of Cashman talking about his plans for the city was met with responses including 'ok now take your shirt off' and 'he could get me voting Lib Dems.'

Speaking to the ECHO in his Wavertree flat, Cashman laughs off the attention his appearance has brought in.

"The online attention has been a bit strange, but mainly it's flattering," he explains, adding: "Some of it goes a little bit far. I have had some strange unsolicited messages."

Cashman, who works from home as a full-time mortgage broker, says he sees his age and his stage of life as an advantage, rather than an issue.

He said: "I would be lying if I said it won't be difficult to balance my life, my full-time job and the leadership role, but I think the advantage is that I am a normal person. Normal people have full time jobs, kids, dogs, they have full lives and I think its good to be taken out of the politics bubble and to realise what everyone is going through.

"I think we have often had councillors and leaders who are retired but I think having a full time worker can recognise the issues people face day in day out."

He adds: "At the annual meeting, three Labour councillors walked past me and said 'aren't you young', I can take it on the chin but I do think part of it was trying to get in my head. I see my age as an advantage, I can identify with people of all ages. In terms of where the Lib Dems go from here, it needs new ideas and fresh energy."

If Cashman is the new, energetic face of the Liverpool Lib Dems then so is his partner Rebecca Turner, 20. Cllr Turner was elected in the Waterfront South ward of the city centre in May, beating competition from established Labour councillor Patrick Hurley.

While delighted to have his partner in the group, the new leader said the result itself provided hope in an otherwise disappointing set of results that saw the Lib Dems reduced to consolidating support in the more affluent south of the city.

He said: "I think for too long the Lib Dems haven't been speaking to the entire city. We have done well in the south but we've got to win in other parts of the city and that victory in Waterfront South, our first in a city centre ward was really important. We won that through hard work and speaking in a way people understand.

"Obviously it was extra special for me because Rebecca won it and I'm glad to have her support on the group - although I know she will always tell me when she thinks I am wrong."

Liverpool Liberal Democrat councillor Carl Cashman (Liverpool Echo)

And that support will be important as Cashman tries to unite a Lib Dem group that was been riven by division in recent years. Some councillors have not been on speaking terms amid disagreements around who would take over from Cllr Kemp. The new leader, who has the support of former council leader - and returning councillor - Mike Storey, says he believes he can bring people together.

"I already think the group is more united than it has been for a long time, it's really important to listen to everybody and draw on all the different strengths and skills people have. The 15 councillors we have all have really important roles to play."

One interesting challenge for the affable new Lib Dem leader is an equally affable new Labour leader in Liam Robinson. The days of furious council chamber exchanges between Richard Kemp and Joe Anderson seem unlikely between these two, but Cashman says he is determined to hold the ruling party to account.

He said: "I've spoken with Liam Robinson, he seems like a decent guy, but I do think he's got a tough job with his group. There will be people in his camp sniping and it will be difficult to control that over the next few years. I'll work with him when I can but I will oppose when I have to."

He cites the recent damning Ofsted report into the council's Children's Services department as an example that many problems remain at the city council two years on from the arrival of government commissioners.

He said: "There has been a lot of focus on certain areas but as we saw there are big problems in other parts of the council and I think we will still find out more things that have gone wrong."

The 31-year-old was part of the wave of young people that got involved with and inspired by the Lib Dems at the time of the 2010 General Election. So how did the 18-year-old university student Carl Cashman feel about Nick Clegg's decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives and to drop key pledges like scrapping tuition fees?

Cashman said: "I was in that first university intake and I just remember thinking this is very naïve. I completely disagreed with what they did as I know many Lib Dems did.

"We got things wrong and I will always say that. I call out the coalition for a lot of issues that have happened in Liverpool, but the Lib Dems here have learnt those lessons and we are on the side of Liverpool voters, we will do what's right for this city regardless of the consequences."

Despite those early setbacks, Cashman is a very committed Lib Dem, so much so that when asked for his dream dinner party guests he included party grandees Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown. When pushed for a non-political addition he chose Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner - who he will see in concert in Manchester this weekend.

So what makes him a liberal? He says it is all about aspiration and the idea that people from any background can achieve what they want. He adds: "I believe that everyone can make their life brilliant and do what they want if they are given the right opportunities. I think the people of Liverpool are aspirational, if you give them the opportunity they will flourish."

And his big mission? "I want to dispel this idea that if you are from a council estate or a poorer background then it is the Labour Party that you naturally identify with. The Lib Dems aren't just here for the leafy suburbs, we are here for the whole city."

So when he's not doing politics, working or going to the gym, what does Liverpool's new opposition leader like to do?

"My perfect night in would be having a curry and watching Star Wars," he admits, adding: "I am a bit of a secret nerd, some people don't realise by the tattoo on my arm is a Star Wars tattoo."

He is also a Liverpool fan and a dog-lover, having just taken ownership of a 6-month-old miniature dachshund called Richie.

But for the next four years Carl Cashman's top priority will be trying to transform the Liverpool Lib Dems into as force that speaks for much more of the city than it currently does.

"This is the best city in the world and we want to speak and win for the whole city."

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