Thursday, 19 January 2017

Con Hold !

Town and Parish Councils play an important role, in many ways their freedom to freely raise and spend Council Tax allows them greater opportunity to deliver local services and improvements than many district and county councils, who have statutory obligations and spending constraints. Across West Kent we have 200+ parish councils, the overwhelming majority are totally non-party political (rightfully so) though a few of our larger town councils are still contested on party lines.

As a rule, apart from printing canvassing cards and giving advice and guidance, the West Kent Campaign HQ does not get involved in third tier campaigns. However today, we had two such by-elections, one in Snodland (yes, there is a very proud and historical paper and quarrying town in Kent named Snodland - it is in Tracey Crouch's constituency) and the other in Faversham.

The Snodland by-election was caused by the death of my former find and colleague Anne Moloney (though we argued every day for the 14 years we knew each other). Anne was the former constituency agent (my predecessor) and it was her total dedication to her hometown of Snodland which transformed the Conservative Party's image and turned a solid red Labour fortress into a Conservative seat with 5/5 Conservative Borough Councillors and 12/14 Conservative Town Councillors.

The by-election (and the £5,000+ cost to town council funds) was caused by local LibDem activist who mustered all the style and grace at his disposal and delivered the letters calling the by-election at the exact hour we all gathered at Snodland Parish Church for Anne's Memorial Service. What a charmer.

Well, the result is just in...and it's a Conservative Hold.

James Minter (Con) 380
Labour 273
Lib Dem 123

I can claim none of the credit for this result and would not try to do so; that belongs solely to our fabulous branch organiser, David Lettington, and to our candidate James Minter, and our great team of local activists. They worked their socks off and deserved this win. I am delighted; all their hard work paid off and they retained Anne's seat. She too would be proud. Well done and thank you.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

May I count on your support...?

On postal surveys and where our local activists have the skills and time, we always use the 0-10 scale canvassing script. Propensity to Vote (PTV) is clearly the way forward, allowing us to not only identify firm pledges, but also those who are likely to swing to other parties, and most importantly those who might come to us if properly targeted.

Unfortunately, many of our more traditional volunteers struggle with the new script, and in some circumstances an old fashioned "which party are you most likely to support...?" is the best way to go, it is certainly better than no data at all. 

To try and ensure consistency I have produced this canvassing guide for all our candidates, organisers and volunteers. This not only explains the real purpose of Doorstep VI, but also gives real examples of why it is necessary and the difference it can make. 

We have also abolished the P code (one man's probable is another man's possible) which has always been the bane of my life.  Everyone has a different definition of "probable / possible" and unless we understand the psychology of every canvasser, "Ps" are useless.For example, in our December by-election I noticed one hard working canvasser marked down approximately 30% of his houses as P. Should we target these people for GOTV or not? I revisited them personally and spoke to about 20, of which only one or two were ever going to vote Conservative.  We now tell canvassers that P must not be used, unless you can secure a solid VI, leave it blank and we can visit again.

We are also very keen to push the Q code (UKIP voters who would support Conservatives as a second choice). With UKIP now in decline and with a new leader focusing on northern Labour voters, there is now no reason why those former Conservatives should not come back home.    

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

2017 Membership Renewals

For those who take an interest in what we do, we have just completed our membership renewal campaign for Q1 on 2017. Like many Associations, the majority of our members pay in the first quarter of the year, in our case around 60%. I am delighted with the positive direction and clear leadership shown by the Prime Minister today, timed perfectly for our membership renewals ;)

This year we are having a major push to enroll new Patrons, encouraging our members to "trade up" their standard membership to Patrons' Club level. Our Patrons' Club offers great value (a couple pay £350 pa or £175 each, which includes a Champagne Garden Party and a three course meal at the Carlton Club or similar, each event with a first rate guest speaker). By building up our Patrons and our 500+ Club, we hope to negate any lost income from centrally collected membership and the corresponding increase from £5 to £10 in the fee paid to CCHQ.

Bloody Cheek!

We have just received a call from a consultant working for one of the UKs leading Public Affairs companies. He pompously informed me that his firm had been retained by a leading Housing Association and he needed details of Kent Members of Parliament. He wanted me to send him "a spreadsheet of all Kent MPs, their constituencies, office address, email, phone number and the name of "the most efficient person in their office who will do something, not just hit the delete button."  

I told him that the information he needed could be easily obtained online by visiting each MPs website. "Mostly, yes. But it would take me quite some time visiting each one and populating a spreadsheet. It would be much simpler if you could just email it to me."  

Why he thought I would use paid time and Conservative Party time to assist a commercial organisation did not seem to have entered his thoughts or trouble his conscience. 

I told him that I would be happy to provide the information he wanted, all of which is in the public domain, but that I would invoice him for three hours of our time at our standard rate when we work as consultants. This did not please him at all. "What, you expect me to pay you for it...?" "Yes", I replied, "just like you charge your clients when they ask you to do work for them!"

He seemed somewhat affronted by the fact I was not willing to jump at his command and told me I was "unhelpful".  In turn I told him that he had a "bloody cheek" and that I considered his ilk part of the reason Public affairs has such a bad public image.

Drain the swamp!   

Monday, 16 January 2017

Time is running out for Party Reform

It is now almost 18 months since I first wrote about the Feldman Review and the need for Voluntary Party Reform. In that article, published on this site in August 2015, I said,

We must ensure that any changes are bedded-in before our next major electoral challenge. Perhaps the basis for the future should be county-wide Associations or federations, stripping away layers of bureaucracy and introspection. Whatever we do, we should not allow a small number of recalcitrant Associations to use self-interest to block essential reforms which in our hearts we all know must come.

The Party is in a unique position of strength. We have won an election that most people didn’t expect us to win. Our opponents are in disarray. We are ahead in the polls and our finances are strong. The temptation is to do nothing – or simply to “tinker”. To do so would be a dreadful missed opportunity. It could be decades before the moons are in such favourable alignment again. Having helped to win the war, I really hope Lord Feldman and his group have the courage win the peace and bequeath a voluntary party fit for the future.”

The published Feldman Review was much more radical in scope and bold in aspiration than many of us imagined. Unfortunately, as with any bold reform, we have allowed vested interest to, at best, dilute the package or at worst allow sufficient caveats to ensure those Associations who are most in need of reform to opt-out without any sanction or control.

In a few months time it will be two years since our 2015 GE victory. This year we have elections for county councils and city mayors. We have a major boundary review - the most significant in living memory - the fallout from which will occupy minds and attention for years to come. We will then have all-out district elections and a year later another parliamentary campaign, if it does not come sooner. All of this will be played-out against the mood music of Brexit and the uncertainties that will bring. Those who seek reasons to block reform or “put it off until another day” have all the excuses they need.

I believe that the Party Board and Sir Patrick McLoughlin are committed to reform and will endeavour to implement change. I wish them well. My fear is they have allowed too much time to pass and too much fiddling at the edges – and now the urgency has gone. The post-referendum surge has contributed to this, too – providing a false sense of security that all is well.

In July last year I published detailed research into the attitudes and motivations of our new members, based on 250 responses from the 500 new members who enrolled locally; a statistically significant sample. Of these, 76% said the opportunity to vote in the leadership election was a major factor in their decision to join, and over 25% said that they would not have joined had they known that they would not have had a vote. It is therefore highly likely that a least 25% (probably significantly more) will not renew this year. My view is the fall-out rate could be over 50%. There is also some evidence (in Kent at least) that a small but not insignificant number of committed Europeans will quietly let their membership lapse and similarly, a number of those who were attracted by the Cameron project may also fall away. 

These three factors, taken with the sad effects of an ageing core membership and the inability of many Associations to collect subscriptions efficiently, might well result in us ending 2017 in a similar or even weaker position than we were pre-election in 2015. I hope to be proved wrong.

Just before Christmas I was invited to CCHQ to meet with Sir Patrick who was keen to hear at first-hand just what we had achieved in West Kent. After my well-rehearsed speech about the benefits of joint working and the efficiency of grouping, he threw me a “curved ball”. “Excluding internal efficiencies and improvements to administration, what have been the tangible benefits to the party? What have you achieved in the last three years which would not have been achieved had you not formed a group?”

Having spent years speaking to Association, County and Regional Meetings about the cost-savings and benefits of grouping, just what had we achieved? If our efforts were just improvements to administration, have we really achieved anything at all? Fortunately the glowering presence of a former coal miner and Chief Whip, menacingly clutching his “Coffee Mug that works for everyone” did wonders to focus the mind.

·       2015 GE results better than the county, regional and national averages

·       Two of the top five LG by-election results in the UK in 2016

·       £20,000 of direct financial support re-directed to our weakest Association

·       £5,000 donated to the London Mayoral campaign

·       Amount spent on office/establishment costs reduced from £55,000 to £20,000 pa

·       £850,000 of property sold and the cash invested to provide long-term income

·       £10,000 worth of printing support to 40:40 seats outside West Kent

·       £6,000 worth of cost-price printing for nearby Associations with LG by-elections

·       Over 2,000 “man-hours” of Campaign Support to Thanet, Lewes, Eastbourne, Rochester & Strood, Clacton many other target seats

·       10,000+ phone calls made from our phone bank to 40:40 seats

There is probably much more that I have forgotten. And we have done this whilst meeting our campaigning, fundraising and administrative obligations to our own five member Associations – at a lower average cost than they were paying previously. And what’s more, for the third year running, we have reduced our running costs (rent, rates, utilities, equipment etc) as we use our numerical strength and buying power to drive down costs from suppliers.

What I was unable to tell Sir Patrick (as it was still in negotiation) is our group of five is soon to become six, with a seventh Association in discussions too. Nothing succeeds like success, and I am delighted that we have not only managed to avoid the internal rancour which has broken-up many similar groups, but that others are knocking at the door to share in what we have achieved.

Wherever I go to speak about grouping I am warmly welcomed and enthusiastically received. I genuinely believe that the overwhelming majority of members, particularly those who are most politically active, can see the advantages of sharing resources whilst maintaining the independence of their local organisation, but the obstacles and objections thrown up by the vested interests and backwoodsmen halt progress before it can happen. I also suspect that the Party nationally does not have the constitutional authority to impose change on failing Associations. So stalemate ensues and little changes.

Time really is running out; change won’t happen unless those who want it to happen are in a place to drive it forward. With your Association AGMs on the horizon it is time to stop moaning from the side-lines and instead put yourself in a position to effect the change you want to see.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Damned by faint priase

Last year we received a visit from the police advising us on how we could improve our internal security. This included a strong recommendation tyhat we always close and lock the internal door leading to the communal landing.

This afternoon, our two star packers (Gill and Glynis) were in packing 2017 membership renewals. One popped out to her car, and when she returned I overheard the following...

Gill: "Have you remembered to close and lock the door...?"
Glynis: "Yes, why?"
Gill: "Apparently it is to keep us safe from ISIS!"
Glynis: "Oh really? They must be hard-up for targets if they are interested in Andrew and Jon." 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

An Audience with Lord Lamont

If any of my blog readers would like to attend, please click HERE to book tickets. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

West Kent Towers says Thank You

People often ask how we keep the West Kent show "on the road" and why our fabulous team of volunteers keep coming back to help, week-in, week out. The answer is simple. Regardless of the banter and the leg-pulling, we go that extra mile to say "thank you" and to let them know that their hard work and support is appreciated. 

Tonight, Jon and I are hosting the first of three receptions to thank the 100+ people who make it all possible. This evening it is "Seafood and Champagne" for our fundraisers and donors, without whose efforts we would not have the money to pay for the printing, the postage, then rent and yes the wages! 

Tomorrow we are hosting a lunch at a local family-run restaurant for our full time volunteers, the team of 20+ who come in at least once a week to pack envelopes and enter data.

Then on Thursday, it's the turn of the staff and interns to enjoy a Christmas lunch at the fabulous Rules at Covent Garden. 

All of the above is paid for by sponsors, who like what we are doing at West Kent Towers and want it to succeed. 

Monday, 19 December 2016

It's not about "me me me" it's all about "us"

This year I turned 50, and I can now officially join the ranks of “Grumpy Old Men”. Many who know me will say I have been a Grumpy Old Man for decades. I would argue if it wasn’t true.

Ask any Grumpy Old Man what irritates them most and top of the list will be Christmas gift shopping.  In recent weeks I have been dragged petulantly around Bluewater, Whitstable and Canterbury, spending hard-earned cash on gifts which the recipients probably don’t want or need and which could have been bought on-line from the comfort of my armchair and delivered to my door free of charge. But no. My other half ‘enjoys’ Christmas shopping, so round and round we go “feeling the quality” of dressing gowns and “seeing what’s available”.  Personally, I would buy everyone a Simpsons-in-the-Strand gift voucher with the offer of a cash value “buy-back” if they didn’t want to go.  That way, they would end up with cash to buy what they really wanted and I would get a good rare roast beef lunch. Everyone’s a winner.

What irritates me most about Christmas shopping is not the traipsing around soulless malls with endless jingly music and surly disinterested assistants dressed-up as elves. The real problem is being forced into close proximity and prolonged exposure to the selfish “me me me” society.  By this I don’t mean crowds of loud people with sharp elbows. I am referring to thoughtless and self-absorbed behaviour which would not have been seen or tolerated a generation ago, but is now increasingly the norm and appears to be accepted as an unfortunate by-product of modern life.  Four examples

·       People at the till gabbling endless tripe on their phone, whilst the poor harassed cashier waits for payment and the queue grows ever longer.

·       Those who step off the escalator laden with bulky bags, and think that is a good place to stop to discuss where to go next, oblivious to the fact they are blocking the way of everyone else. These are the same people who stand in doorways to send a text message, update Facebook or apply more make-up with complete disregard to the inconvenience they are causing others.

·       Passengers who place bulky suitcases on train seats and seem to have no shame or moral compass when they can see there are people all around them, often elderly or disabled, having to stand whilst their luggage takes up an (unpaid-for) seat.

·       Drivers who double park on busy roads as they are just “popping in” and think putting on their hazard lights excuses the danger and congestion they are causing to other road users.

These examples, and I could have given many more, are not a result of a failing education system, or income inequality. We cannot even blame Brexit! They are a result of a “me me me” culture, where no-one else matters “provided I get what I want, when I want it”.

Sadly, I can see the same selfish behaviour is starting to invade politics, too.

Many years ago what we now call “Campaign Support” was called “Mutual Aid”, the idea being people would help and support each other. By redefining Mutual Aid into Campaign Support we appear to have created a “welfare state” where people think they are “entitled” to receive help with no offer of anything in return.

Very recently a local County Council candidate sent a prickly email to neighbouring Association Chairmen complaining that he wasn’t getting as much support as he thought he was “entitled to”.
I replied by listing the nine local government by-elections we have fought in his area over the last few years and suggested that the best way to attract help would be to contact all those candidates he had supported when they needed help and ask them to reciprocate. I suspect he will be waiting a long time. “Me, me, me”.

Likewise the branch Chairman who emailed to complain that so few from outside her village were supporting her event. “Why don’t you contact all those branches whose events you have been to this year and ask if they could buy tickets for yours?”  No answer came!

Last week in West Kent we pulled off a magnificent victory. In a council by-election in a ward which had been solidly Labour from 1950 – 2007, and which still contains over 60% social housing, we polled 61% of the vote compared with 21% for Labour and 18% for UKIP. What was most delicious is the fact that Lib Dems and Greens had withdrawn from the election and backed the Labour candidate in what they called “an anti-Tory progressive alliance”, only to see their combined vote share fall from 35% to 21%. We increased our vote by 17.4%.  We achieved this through team work. Volunteers came not just from Tonbridge, but from Tunbridge Wells, Chatham & Aylesford, Maidstone, Sevenoaks, Croydon and many other places where we have previously helped. This great effort enabled us to knock on every door three times, record voting intentions for 70% of the population and deliver seven leaflets. As I have said so often, “winning elections isn’t difficult, it’s just hard work. More leaflets = more votes.

After Christmas, our attention in most of the country will turn to May’s county council elections. These provide a great opportunity, as four years ago (when these elections were last fought) UKIP were on a high and we lost many Divisions that we should normally win. If ever there was a time to demonstrate “it’s not about me, it’s about us” then this is it.

It is a vanity for candidates in safe seats to add 500 to their majority at the expense of the marginal candidate fighting for his political life next door.

It is an ego trip for candidates in unwinnable seats to demand resources to reduce their opponents majority by 200, when those resources should be employed winning back a seat from UKIP.

And it is simply not acceptable for borough/district councillors to sit on their hands as “these elections are nothing to do with me” because every election is a launch pad for the next, and every victory is a building block for future success.

As the May elections approach our candidates need to decide if they are the double-parked driver unconcerned about the progress of others provided they get what they want, or are they the decent bloke who holds open the door for the heavily burdened person behind, easing their progress at little personal loss.

Until then, Happy Christmas from West Kent Campaign HQ and thank you for your feedback, comments and suggestions over the past twelve months.

Friday, 16 December 2016

West Kent Members' Christmas Newsletter

In addition to our five Associations keeping their members informed about what is happening locally, twice a year the West Kent Campaign HQ distributes a newsletter promoting the work we do at Paddock Wood. Here is the Christmas 2016 edition, sent out today. Click image to enlarge.