Thursday, 18 September 2014

Form an orderly queue

New out today that Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner, Anne Barnes, is recruiting a Head of Communications. Part of the job role is to "Manage the PCCs public image and reputation". 

The salary? £75,000.  

Form an orderly queue.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

An exciting job opportunity

Don't get your hopes-up - I haven't resigned! And nor has Jon (at least he was still there when I called the office earlier).

I had lunch today with a friend who has just been selected for a parliamentary seat. I don't wish to say which one, so let's just say "significantly north of Kent".

It's not a 40/40 but it's certainly "in play" and my friend wants to give it his best shot. He is prepared to put some of his own money forward to secure the support of a good agent / organiser both to run his GE operation and to help ensure the already active Association receives the professional help and support it needs.

This will be a fixed term job up to 7 May 2015, but longer if all goes to plan! I think he is looking at 20+ hours per week perhaps going to full time as polling day nears. He is prepared to pay a 'generous salary' (pro-rata) for an experienced campaigner with the key skills required for his campaign. By this he means understanding of Merlin, targeted Mosaic-based campaigning, direct mail and data building.

I suspect the ideal candidate GE campaign experience and a knowledge of Merlin (not just how it works but how it should be used). Perhaps a retired agent who wants to smell the gunpowder one more time, or perhaps a 2010 campaign manager or similar.

If you are interested, send me a message (in absolute confidence) using the 'contact me' box to the right. I will call you with a bit more info and if you are still interested I will pass your details on to the candidate. If you are going to Birmingham it would be an ideal opportunity to meet. However, please note I am not recruiting for this job or in any way involved in the campaign; I am simply using my blog to send out a message to all those who might be interested. Therefore please don't send me CVs or ask me about the details - that will be between you and the candidate.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Local Government Cabin Fever

It's dark outside and we still have five candidates to interview!

I am starting to get "local government cabin fever" as I provide support, advice, guidance as well as tea, coffee, biscuits (and occasionally sympathy) for the 18th Local Government Interview & Selection Meeting in the last four weeks. Tonight's meeting (TW Association this time) is the fifth in succession, including all day Sunday. Between the four Associations going through the process (with four different LG Committees) we have interviewed and approved (or not) over 150 new and incumbent candidates. 

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Tonight's session is the last of the "conveyor belt"
re-approval meetings with candidates appearing at 30 minute intervals.  We now enter the "ward specific" selections; the overwhelming majority of which will be will be nem con. However I am currently putting in place procedures for "all member selection meetings" in several wards with in some cases up to nine applicants standing. 

Yes - booking halls, sending out invitations and CVs and co-ordinating all the paperwork is time consuming and tedious, but what a joy to have keen, enthusiastic people jostling for position rather than having to scrape around on the eve of nomination day looking for unwilling volunteers. 

Well done to all our Local Government Committees (between them 35 members) who have given up their time voluntarily and spent long hot evenings sitting around tables talking about campaigning time-sheets, community involvement and council participation. It's a thankless and totally un-glamorous job but a vital part of the democratic process. 

And here is the Tunbridge Wells Local Government Committee in fine form tonight!

Tom Tugendhat's Christmas Card Competition

I appreciate that Tom Tugendhat is not the first Parliamentary candidate (or MP) to do this, but as this blog is a record of what we have done as well as a tool for sharing best practice, I thought it was worth recording and sharing.

Earlier this week 90 local primary schools and nurseries received the attached letter inviting their pupils to send in a drawing / painting for Tom's 2014 Christmas card competition. There will be three winners (based on age : under 5s, 5-7 years and 8-10 years). Each winner will receive a prize from Tom and the child's parent / guardian will also receive 100 cards to send to their own family and friends. 

Our local printer has kindly agreed to print the cards free of charge in exchange for a small advert on the reverse. All in all, a super way to involve the community, harness the excitement and creativity of young people and spread goodwill - all at minimum cost.

I look forward to publishing the winners' drawings in due course!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Separated at birth?

I am grateful to a regular reader who, having seen a photograph of Maidstone & The Weald Association Chairman Michel Foucalt on this blog emailed to ask if he and French philosopher / historian John Wilson had been "separated at birth". 

Maidstone Conservative Chairman: Michel Foucalt                 Frenh philosopher / historian: John Wilson     

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Beware the internet machine

OK, I will accept your opprobrium as it's deserved but it's still a good blog story!

I have just been watching the X Factor and up pops a bog standard boy band named "Overload", who won the hearts of the audience and the votes of the judges.

In the VT played before they appeared on stage I thought I recognised their home town so Googled them to see where they were from - turns out they're from Clacton! However here's what I found in an interview they gave to their local newspaper over a year ago (long before the X Factor fame and SyCo's millions beckoned)

Two lessons for us all. (i) Never say never. And (ii) beware what you say on the internet machine as it might come back and bite you on the bum!

The pink feather duster

I am at West Kent Towers all day as one of our Associations are having a full day of Local Government Interviews. 

The first applicant is in the hot seat, I am in my office working on various projects, with half an ear on the events. His interview has gone through the usual set questions and the applicants is doing well. Then comes the blow..

"I am concerned that when we moved offices, the washing-up liquid I donated
along with the feather duster, appears to have gone missing."

Saturday, 13 September 2014

My views on Scottish independence

Despite being half Scottish (my father was from quite an established Lothian family) I have not posted any thoughts on next week's referendum. The reason is two-fold. Firstly, I am not quite sure what I think. And secondly I actually believe it's a matter for the people who live there, not for me. That's why I recoiled when I saw the Saltire being flown from London government buildings and blanched when well meaning English friends started writing to Scottish strangers encouraging them to vote no. I asked one (a prominent anti EU campaigner) if receiving a postcard from a stranger from Brussels might make him change his mind in any 2017 referendum!

Every aspect of the debate leaves me divided. As a Libertarian I consider myself to be a political utilitarian. Yet I still have a love of tradition and only support change if the case for change has been proven. And that's the problem. At a recent event Rory Stewart, whose views on such matters are rooted in deep thought and good sense, spoke of the Union as two halves of a long established marriage which is facing difficulties. He said that both sides should surely try to find common ground upon which to build a reconcilliation and allow the marriage to survive. That of course is true, but can only work if both sides want to find common ground and if the common ground is sufficiently stable. What if one side feels the other is asking just too much? Or as is more likely in this case, the aggrieved party has changed so much over the years that what they have left in common just isn't enough to continue?

Will Britain be diminished? Almost certainly yes, but equally many people believe Scotland would be enhanced. Throughout the world there are cases of larger countries believing they have been diminished by nationalist sentiment and succession - Russia and Ukraine or Spain and Gibraltar to name just two. That however does not give the larger country to dictate the terms of the relationship.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of Conservatives I don't have an emotional attachment to the Union though I still believe there are political, security and economical advantages.
But surely someone who passionately believes in setting the UK free from the so called social and economic union of the EU could not want to dictate that Scotland should not set itself free from the rest of the UK if it wants to do so?

Whatever the outcome next week the result will almost certainly be very close. Unless the margin of defeat is substantial, it is almost inevitable that the issue won't rest and we will probably enter a period of "neverendum" with demands for a new vote following shortly on the heels of this one.  And if I were a Scottish Nationalist I would be demanding that too. After all, the yes vote is solid. People who support yes have made a conscious decision to vote for change. The majority of the no vote are also people who have made a conscious decision to remain within the Union, but it also includes a sizable minority who probably dislike Alex Salmond, or who support Independence but fear the time is not yet right, or who have been swayed by fears of economic Armageddon. For example, if the UK government was not a coalition but actually a majority Conservative government following a more traditional free market Conservative agenda, would that alone not swing the additional 3% or 4% of the votes that the yes camp might be short?

I suspect that change is inevitable; if not next week then sometime in the next ten or twenty years. Each wave of nationalism is quenched by more devolution and thanks to Gordon Brown and with the acquiescence of the three main UK leaders, even if Scotland votes no they will walk away with devo-max. What's left in the bank for next time?

Already Scotland enjoys more funding, more devolution and far better public services than any other constituent part of the UK. That financial and democratic deficit has never been addressed and is allowed to continue only thanks to the munificence of English taxpayers. Thank goodness the English are less demanding than our Celtic neighbours. The question is, will they always be so?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Saving Capstone Valley

For almost 20 years Chatham & Aylesford Conservatives have led the campaign to save Capstone Valley from housing development. Capstone Valley and its Country Park is the last significant area of open space in the main Medway twons; a green lung which provides recreation and an oasis in one of the most heavily built areas on the South East.

In 2007, when a development application for 9000 houses was last submitted,  Tracey Crouch and the local Conservatives organised a petition (signed by 15,000 residents, but we also put in place a consultative referendum, delivering ballot papers to 22,000 local residents. We also provided polling stations and ballot boxes in local shops and village halls for residents to cast their votes. We had a turnout of around 20% with 98% voting against the plans. See HERE

Now the developers are trying again, this time with a small scale application for just 1000 homes which, if agreed, will no doubt be a Trrojan Horse for bigger future applications which will then be almost impossible to oppose.  Once again the local Conservative team are putting their money and their political clout behind the many non-political residents groups who are uniting to oppose this development.

Tomorrow, 20,000 leaflets and petition forms will be delivered across Chatham.

Spare a thought for the Chairman

There are many unsung heroes in politics; but some are more unsung than others.

Whatever stress and workload we are under, I never forget that I am paid. Councillors also work hard and certainly work more hours than their remuneration warrants. In Kent's rural councils the average backbench councillor probably receives (after tax) £60 a week for their efforts - or £3-£4 per hour. Half the minimum wage. However, there is a certain kudos in being an elected member including the municipal tie, leatherette document case and a badge with your name on it. Plus, most importantly,  the ability to make a real difference to the community you serve.

I don't want or intend to open a debate about who gives what and who is valued most as I have always held a view that everyone who contributes (by working, donating money or time or offering leadership) is making a personal sacrifice which they need not make. There are, however, a select group whose sacrifice and contribution is greater than I believe many acknowledge or understand.  Our Association Chairmen.

On Wednesday night I attended a meeting of Kent Chairmen hosted by the Kent Area Management Executive. Between the car park and the venue I met one of our local Chairman. "How are you?"  I enquired. He looked tired. "A weariness is setting-in", he said. I understood how he felt. This was the fifth time he and I had been at the same meeting in the previous three weeks. "I see more of you than I see of my wife" he joked (though the laughter was ironic rather from genuine humour.)

This poor chap leaves his home at 6am each day to arrive at his desk in the city before 8am. Works a full day, uses his lunch break to deal with Association emails, travels home at 6pm and more often than not goes straight fom the railway station to a local political event or meeting. In addition to the five meetings we had jointly attended he had also attended a local branch meeting, two branch social events and several meetings with members of his Management Team. Often three out of five evenings and most Saturdays are taken up by Conservative Party business.

"It's voluntary - they don't have to do it." you might say. And you are right, they don't. But thank God they do. This particular chap (and many chairmen I know make similar personal sacrifices) probably has far better ways to spend his evenings than eating tuna pasta bake in a room full of stranger. "It would be nice to actually go home and eat a meal with my wife or find my family still awake".

One Chairman I know well talked about the "awful trepidation" of the "serried ranks of poker faced harridans" at the AGM. "Sitting in rows like suburban tricoteuse, sharpening their knitting needles and waiting to attack.What made it worse for this particular tormented soul was he didn't know the names of any of those asking difficult questions or raising points of order as, "despite attending 40 Saturday canvassing sessions and 80% of branch events over the previous 12 months, I had never seen or met any of them."

Another Chairman I know has given 12 years to the voluntary party, as branch Chairman, co-opted Officer, DC Political, Treasurer and now Association Chairman. Like most, he has no political ambition of his own and doesn't need to raise his profile nor blow his trumpet. He makes the sacrifice simply as he believes in the Party and wants to do his bit to help.  However when he moved house (half a mile outside the constituency boundary) he received a petition signed by 20+ members who "seldom lift a finger" decrying the fact that he was no longer local and should consider his position.

Anyone with an area or regional role will visit an Association and spot immediately the quality of the local leadership; whether that Association is simply managing decline or whether it is led by someone with time, vision and commitment. The strength and quality of the senior Management Team is probably the biggest single factor between a failing and a thriving Association.

So here is a vote of thanks to all our volunteers, but in particular to our Association Chairman for the amazing sacrifices they often make for no pay, no glory and too often not even a thank you.