Thursday, 21 August 2014

The subversive Andrew Kennedy

En route to work this morning I received a text followed by a phone call from two Parliamentary staffers to say "your Blog has been blocked by the Parliamentary servers."  One even kindly sent me a screen grab.

One smart-aleck kindly added, "I had no trouble logging on to President Assad's Ba'ath Party website earlier, so not sure what you have done to upset them!"

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A window into the soul of Britain's second city.

One of the most common complaints from long standing members is "Party Conference is too expensive now it's moved away from the seaside towns".

I have blogged previously about the delights of the plastic-sheeted bug-infested beds of Ron's Holiday Flatlets in Blackpool, £12.50 per night and worth every penny.

For Birmingham, however, one of my CFers proudly boasts a modern, City Centre hotel for £26.50 per night. I suspect this is probably just as cheap as Blackpool's £12.50 per night allowing for inflation since 1988!

There is however one small drawback. The room is 2 meters wide by 3 meters long. The en suite is a three minute walk away and there's no window. There is, however, a wall mounted CCTV screen linked to a camera relaying "a live Birmingham street scene" allowing guests the excitment of "a windown into the soul of Britain's second city."

Let's just hope for my CF member, who often tells me how he is a clean living Catholic boy, the camera isn't pointing in the wrong direction!

More Tea with Tom

Jon and Matt model the latest Tea with Tom posters - going up in and around the village of East Peckham today. These events are proving very popular and a super way to meet large numbers of people. We display posters in shop windows, email or write to pledges and also send invitations to local community groups and voluntary organisations. Anything from 10 - 40 people come along. Even the people who cannot come appreciate receiving an invitation. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Lashings of fun at Maidstone & The Weald

Great fund raiser and a super afternoon out. Let me know if you would like to attend. 

BBC satire neither condemns the BBC nor excuses Janice Atkinson

I usually agree with Iain Dale but cannot agree with his earlier blog on the Janice atkinson / BBC affair (HERE).

Little Britain is not to everyone's taste, but it is a form of satire. Whilst programmes such as Spitting Image and TW3 and to a lesser extent HIGNFY cast a satirical eye on real people, decisions and organisations, Little Britain holds up a looking glass at the country and perhaps some of our own duplicities and hypocrisies. I suspect we and perhaps excuse friends and colleagues who show similar traits to the grotesque characters paraded on the TV screens by David Walliams and Matt Lucas. And perhaps just occasionally the person we catch a glimpse of might be hidden part of ourselves?

The characters "Mr Dudley and Ting Tong" are actually a little deeper and their story less obvious than a casual glimpse at the narrative might suggest. Like most of the Walliams / Lucas grotesques, the target of their satire isn't the 'mail order Thai Bride' but Mr Dudley's exploitation of and the connivance of Ting Tong to achieve her own goals.

Mr Dudley and Ting Tong are vulgar characterisations; two exploitative, ghastly people praying on each others vulnerabilities. Both are worthy of satire. But to say that the BBC was hypocritical in condemning Janice Atkinson for using the phrase "Ting Tong from somewhere" whilst exploiting "Ting Tong from Tooting" is a little wide of the mark. For example, should the BBC refrain from criticising racism as Walliams/Lucas portray a racist character named Maggie Blackmoor who vomits whenever she comes into contact with a member of the BME community?  Promoting laughter at absurdity is one of the best ways to defeat it. The gales of laughter from the audience at BBCs Question Time as a Minister tried to justify his expense claims was far more effective than a thousand written words in the broadsheets.

What we mustn't do is to allow focus to turn towards the BBC and away from the real culprit, who is Janice Atkinson; just as Labour tried to do after the Gordon Brown / Gillian Duffy incident. This is the same Janice Atkinson who, on a crowded High Street, stuck up two fingers at a reporter and called on him to "eff off".  Her "Ting Tong from somewhere" comment is indicative on many levels; the fact she thought it was acceptable, the lack of respect for one of her constituents, the willingness and ease she will resort to cheap vulgarities, stereotypes and generalisations when it suited her. To me, the "from somewhere" is just as bad as the "Ting Tong" and demonstrates a lack of respect. The fact that the victim of her ignorance was a member of UKIP is actually irrelevant. 

Mr Dudley and Ting Tong are two unpleasant and exploitative characters who pray on each others fears and insecurities for their own self advancement. An accurate and parallel with Ms Atkinson and her party, 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Don't worry Royal Mail - we are only a customer

As you can imagine, with five Associations, 2,000 members, 200 councillors and five MPs, the West  Kent Campaign HQ is a reasonable-sized customer of Royal Mail. I estimate we spend over £25,000 a year on their services. 

On an average day we receive 30 items of mail. At busy times (membership renewals, appeals and during elections) we could easily receive 200+ items of mail per day. It is not difficult, therefore, to spot when something goes wrong and the mail ceases to be delivered. 

In recent weeks, that has been the case. The steady flow of Business Reply Envelopes had dried to a trickle. Although August is traditionally quiet politically, we still have plenty going on - so I was quite surprised that our postal deliveries had been reduced to one or two items a day. However, the fact that one or two letters were being delivered indicated that all was well. If there had been a problem with our post, none would have arrived. 

Until today. 

In today's post was a note from the local sorting office that 38 items of mail were awaiting collection at a £1.53 per letter surcharge. The reason they were not delivered, apparently "our Business Reply Service" had been cancelled.

Jon popped along to the Tonbridge sorting office with the money to retrieve these items, only to be told "there's another 23 items here which arrived today". That's another £35.19.  In total £93.33 to retrieve our post from a closed account which we had never closed. 

Then the blow. Apparently Tonbridge sorting office had just returned another 30 letters to the Royal Mail Returned Letters Centre in Belfast as we had not been to collect them. Unfortunately, had we been told they were holding them, we would have called to collect them. 

A quick (35 minute!) call to Royal Mail's Business Services identified the problem. When we closed down our old Freepost service for the office in West Malling, they also cancelled the existing Business Reply Service at the same time. Given the two accounts have (i) different account numbers, (ii) different license numbers, (iii) different signatories and (iv) different addresses - I am not quite sure why they did this, and when asked why they did it they didn't seem to know. 

We have been assured that our account will be re-instated, and they have promised that the extra money we have had to pay to retrieve our mail will be refunded. And they "hope" that the 30 letters sent to Northern Ireland can be retrieved. So perhaps all will be OK. 

This, however, does not address the real issues. 

1, Why did they close our account without authority or instruction? 
2. Why did they not inform us that our account had been closed?
3. Would it not have been nice if we had been informed that 30 items of mail (most containing cheques, event bookings, membership payments and donations) had been returned to sender?

Maybe I have an old fashioned view of such things, but isn't this an odd way to treat a customer, regardless of how much they spend with you?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

It's not about me, and it's not about you.....

Over the past year I have spent quite a lot of time visiting other Associations to help with training and best practice. One of the things which has struck me is how Associations, even those in close proximity, can develop very different personalities and cultures. I have given this a lot of consideration, as whilst this "individualism" can ensure a degree of vibrancy it can too often be the source of cronyism and introspection, albeit often unwittingly. By way of example...

A man has just found himself elected Chairman of a moderately sized but somewhat moribund Constituency Association or Constituency Labour Party (I have no doubt that every party has them). After his election, he takes stock and comes to the conclusion that he needs new blood and some loyal lieutenants to help him revamp the local organisation. Unable to find anyone internally (they've all been there too long or are too busy) he asks around his friends and colleagues. Now (let's avoid anything too controversial), our newly elected Chairman is also Hon Secretary of the Barchester Bird and Wildfowl Spotters Club (most volunteers have multiple interests). It is therefore natural that he will ask around his fellow Bird and Wildfowl enthusiasts and hopefully recruit a handful to help him in his political endeavours, and being good friends many might be willing to support him.

After a few years the bird spotters also get elected to positions of seniority, and it's only natural that the Chairman will support them as he wants people around him he knows and trusts. Everyone is happy to vote for a willing volunteer (especially if it means they don't have to volunteer themselves!).

Now, out of the blue, someone new appears. He/she might have just moved in, or perhaps has suddenly been inspired to get involved and help. He/she will be invited to a meeting and will be welcomed. However, it won't be quite right - most of the people there will appear to know each other and share more than politics. Most will be cut from the same cloth. It will be obvious than many have met outside and decisions reached (or at least a consensus sought) before the meeting even started. In the pub afterwards they will share private jokes and stories about non-political issues. No-one will make the newcomer unwelcome, but it will be painfully obvious that they are an outsider - not part of the 'club'. The chances are they will never come back. This, in turn, leads the bird spotters to worry about no-one new getting involved, which will encourage them to bring along more of their own kind to make up the numbers. And so it continues.  No doubt they see themselves as a group of bird spotters who are kindly giving their time to help run the local political party. To an outsider, it probably looks like the local bird spotters have "taken control" of the Association. In such cases, perception is reality.

Now - swap bird spotters with Trades Unionists or Freemasons or Evangelical Christians or Anti Globalisationists or .........

Wherever I go I always make a point of saying that politics is not about me and it's not about you. It's about a shared endeavour towards a common goal. That common goal is not the re-election of Fred Jones or the doubling of Dorothy Jenkins' majority, or the fact that Elaine Ross has managed to halve the LibDems majority in their safest ward. As nice as any of these outcomes are, they are nothing more than a vanity. Our only purpose is to ensure the election of the largest possible number of Conservative candidates.  If candidates in unwinnable seats have to be scarified on the altar of electoral reality and councillors with 2000 majorities have to take a hit and see their mountains reduced to foothills - then so be it. If that's the price of redirecting resources to ensure the 10 marginal wards are won it's a price worth paying.

Sadly this is often not the case. Too often I have witnessed internal party groups (CF, CWO / LGBTory and others) putting resources into seats where there are other CF / CWO / LGBT candidates, regardless of the electoral realities and sometimes to the detriment of the real party's true priorities.  And if our own internal groups who must know and understand the importance of targeting fall into this trap, it is no wonder that groups of friends who have shared outside interests should do so, too.

That is why the most successful Associations are those which draw their membership and more importantly their activists from the widest possible field, with no group or vested interest having too much influence.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Don't knock on too many doors!

Discussion with an angry member about our recent by-election loss. 

Angry member: We delivered too many leaflets and knocked on too many doors. 
Me: "
We delivered the same number of leaflets as the opposition" 
Angry member: So you don't deny we knocked on too many doors!
Me: "We canvassed every house and called back on the outs."
Angry member: Precisely. We overdid it, that's why we lost.
Me: "Who says we overdid it?"
Angry member: Everyone!!!
Me: "Such as?"
Angry member: Well, lots of people
Me: "OK, interestingly our vote went up from 33% to 36%, I would have thought the share would declined if we had angered everyone?"


Angry member: That's just a statistic. We still delivered too many leaflets, there's no denying it. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Drink labelling and minimum pricing - we should educate, not legislate

Do Libertarians who oppose labeling orders also think signs like this should be removed?
As a Libertarian I tend to eschew any form of government social activism, especially the imposition of 'bureaucratic do-goodery' on matters of personal choice.

I recoiled from the nanny statism of Labour's "cook your turkey" and "don't eat more than 28g of salt per day" advertising campaigns and I am equally suspicious of labeling legislation, minimum pricing policies and attempts to control opening times of fast food shops.

Like most people, my political positions have come from a partial adherence to a pre-defined ideology softened by personal circumstances and life.

In my earlier years I think it is fair to say that I was a bit of a boozer and a heavy smoker. I am not proud of it, but not ashamed either. It formed part of my personal development and my experiences shaped and informed who I now am. Pubs and nightclubs were part of growing-up; where I relaxed after work, met my friends and a far better alternative than going home to an empty house.

Cigarettes are another matter. Through my teens and early twenties I was always anti-smoking, but I remember precisely the time and day when I had my first cigarette. It was the 1992 General Election, I was sitting at my desk - it was D-3 (ie the Monday of polling week) and anticipating the arrival of Angela Rumbold for yet another ministerial walkabout. Our YC Chairman had left his Marlboro Lights on my desk. I called out, "can I have one of your fags" and the next thing I knew I was on 40 Rothmans a day!

So there I was, far from well-off financially, I hope of at least average intelligence and fully and painfully aware of the health risks. Both of my grandparents, my mother and several uncles had died far too young from smoking related heart and respiratory disease. I even had good reason not to drink as my favourite uncle and my Godfather had both been alcoholics and died of cirrhosis of the liver. If ever there was someone who really should know better, it was me. But still I did.

"Why" is harder to answer. I couldn't really afford it, I knew and feared the health consequences and I hated myself for being addicted. I suppose I smoked as it was sociable, all my friends smoked - peer pressure and acceptance. And yes, there was a degree of self-indulgence. And no amount of health warnings or scaremongering would force me to stop, if anything, being lectured made me more stubborn and determined to do what I wanted to do. And in that I suspect I am far from alone. I simply do not believe that anyone who smokes can be in any doubt of the likely health-related consequences. 

And that is the root of my opposition. I don't like the 'nanny state' but my principle opposition to such schemes is I genuinely don't believe they work. People who smoke, drink or eat too many chips and burgers know the risks, but I suspect they either don't care or their addiction is such they simply cannot quit.

But does that mean the government doesn't have the right to try?

This is where I will differ from many of my Libertarian friends and colleagues. Libertarianism applied in its pure text book simplicity and without any filter through the reality of human endeavour is not realistic. If we take a purely "mind your own business" approach to the human condition and say "people must be allowed to make their own decisions and live with the consequences", shouldn't that be applied equally across life. 

For example, would any Libertarian seriously suggest that we should abolish workplace safety legislation, allowing employers to send people onto building sites without protective clothing or encourage workers in heavy manufacturing to wear carpet slippers? After all, people know the risks!

Should we allow Network Rail to remove all fencing from railway lines, take down the danger signage and remove barriers and warning lights from rail crossings? After all, people should know the danger of the railway - why legislate for signage and fencing to keep them safe?
And what about food hygiene regulations? If the government has no right trying to legislate to keep people safe from tobacco and alcohol poisoning why should they keep people safe from food poisoning. 

I stopped smoking after 10 years not because of legislation or for financial incentive but because my life circumstances had changed. I had met Steve and moved to Kent. Our circle of friends and focus of my life had changed. Suddenly smoking was socially unacceptable and barely tolerated. I had gone from a circle of friends where smoking was de rigueur to a group where often I was the only smoker. It stopped being big, sophisticated, sociable and clever (not that it every was). When the 'fun' went out of it, that's when I stopped. 

In conclusion; I oppose labeling and pricing controls because I do not believe they work. Having said that, nor do I believe the government should wash its hands on this matter any more than it should allow poisoned meet to be sold in restaurants. History has taught us that prohibitions do not work; the answer is education not legislation. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

National Excellence Awards...

There was a frisson of excitement around West Kent today as each of our five Chairmen received in the post an invitation to attend the National Excellence Awards. An accompanying letter informed them that the West Kent Group has been nominated for the Campaign Support category, in recognition of our mutual aid for by-elections and the party's 40:40 target seats.

Obviously there will be other perhaps more worthy nominees, but the very fact that we have been nominated and shortlisted is a great honour, and recognition for the outstanding work our local volunteers do in support of the party's wider political goals.

Congratulations to all concerned!