Nick Clegg visited Northumberland yesterday to mark the changing of the guard in his party’s local ranks.
The Liberal Democrat leader was at Alnwick to mark Sir Alan’s Beith 40 years as Berwick MP, and the unveiling of Julie Pörksen as the party’s candidate to succeed him.
Sir Alan announced recently that he would not be seeking re-election at the 2015 poll, having held the seat since 1973.
At a hustings on Thursday night, Ms Porksen was chosen as the Lib Dem’s candidate to fight the constituency.
Speaking at the event at the town’s Northumberland Hall, Mr Clegg told scores of party members, councillors and politicians, including Berwickshire MP Michael Moore, how he had been just three years old when Sir Alan was first elected.
Afterwards, he said: “Sir Alan has been a huge figure in British and both Liberal and Liberal Democrat politics over an astonishing four decades.
“He has been a passionate advocate for Berwick upon Tweed constituency and the North East region, and is rightly respected on all sides of British politics.
“Julie Pörksen is a fantastic local campaigner who shares Sir Alan’s passion to get the best deal for the people of Berwick upon Tweed.
“I can think of no one better to continue fighting for a stronger economy and a fairer society, and look forward to working with her to ensure her success in 2015.” Sir Alan told The Journal: “I am delighted to see so many people here, some of whom helped me back in ’73.
“There is a real air of enthusiasm and I am even more delighted that at the same time we are introducing Julie Pörksen.”
Of his retirement, he added: “I have been thinking of it during this parliament because I would be committing myself to nearly another seven years because we now have fixed-term five-year parliaments.
“I would like to spend more time on the things I enjoy as well as politics. I am not giving up interest in politics.
“I love the countryside in Northumberland. I have two grandchildren I want to spend time with.”
The veteran MP cited the saving of RAF Boulmer, the guarantee of a new high school at Alnwick and being able to help constituents as some of his greatest achievements, but said he would have liked greater progress on dualling the A1.
Of Ms Porksen, he added: “I am delighted with the choice of Julie because she is well-respected locally.
“If we all put the effort in and work hard as we did when I was first elected, she will be elected.
“There are a lot of people committing themselves to help Julie.”
Ms Pörksen is a farmer’s daughter and party campaigner from Hepscott, who missed out on becoming Northumberland County Councillor for Amble West with Warkworth at May’s elections by a single vote.
She defeated rivals Neil Bradbury and Mike Rumbles in Thursday’s hustings.
Yesterday, she said: “It is a real, real honour and it is a very big responsibility that I have been entrusted with.
“Because the work that Alan has put in is really important to individual people, it is really important that you have an MP who does listen and take action, and I think what is really important is that you have to work hard to make sure that everything you have in the rural area in the Berwick constituency, it is of good quality.
“Just because you live in a rural area does not mean you do not have the right to enjoy good service.
“I will work hard and I will work with a big team of people to make sure that I respond to the needs across all our communities, because every constituent is different in the Berwick constituency.
“I am obviously younger but I think I have the same approach – I really believe in people and that we should do everything we can to improve the quality of life for everybody.”