Sunday, 31 August 2014

MPs get thrashings from Lashings

I have just returned home after the most super day out  - the Lashings Charity Cricket match at Maidstone's Mote Park. We had forty guests there (four tables of ten) as a fund raiser for Helen Grant's campaign fund. I would imagine over 1,000 people in total attended the event. I hosted my own table of ten friends and colleagues.

From left: Jon Botten, Pat Gulvin, Frixos Tombolis, Andrew Kennedy, Mary Streater, Helen Grant MP,
Adrian Gulvin, Paulina Stockell, Tim Streater, Matt Boughton, Richard Stockell, Nathan Gray + guest






There was something about today that was very special, greatly assisted by a burst of late summer sunshine. Sitting outside enjoying the warmth, accompanied by friends and colleagues, drinking (far) too much Pimms and beer, reading the Sunday papers, surrounded by trees and the wonderful sounds of cricket. There really was no better way to spend an afternoon.

The Lashings All Stars (including such international greats as Devon Malcolm, Phil Defreitas, Andy Caddick, Mohammed Yousaf, Saqlain Mushtaq, Min Patel, Mark Ealham, Ed Giddins, and John Emburey). Their opponents today where the Parliamentary XI including John Redwood, Nigel Adams, Crispin Blunt and Guy Opperman. What can I say about the outcome? Well, let's just say that few cricketers make speeches in Parliament as they probably know their strengths lie elsewhere!

The day was rounded-off with a special bonus when our very own intern, Matt Boughton, won the Heads & Tails and walked away with a framed set of F1 photographs signed by Sterling Moss - though I must say seeing a blushing Matt Boughton and unsmiling John Redwood battling it out on stage for with their hands on their heads and backsides, added a great deal of value to a long and boozy lunch!


And here is our main man being presented with his prize by Helen Grant MP. Well done Matt.


Saturday, 30 August 2014

2017 might not just be our best chance - it could be our only chance.

Thirteen years ago when Steve and I met, we spent a lot of time explaining to each other our respective beliefs. Steve educated me about faith and Christianity. I hope I was able to explain and expand his knowledge of politics and Conservatism.

I recall him asking how someone as "moderate and sensible" as me could be so tolerant of people on the extremes of politics. By this he was referring to Enoch Powell, Tony Benn, David Nellist, Ian Mikardo, and the many other "bogeymen" who occupied the fringes. I explained that I believed these people played a vitally important role; their uncompromising positions extended the groundsheet of politics and ensured all those people whose views might be considered unpalatable to the majority where contained within the big tent. Their views may have been anathema to me, but it was better that those who held them were part of a wider political group where they were able to influence but never dominate.

One of my personal regrets about the "centrification" of mainstream parties is the almost radicalisation of the political fringe who have now left our big tent politics and are pitching their own. I see UKIP as a mirror image on the Right of what happened on the Left in the 1980s, with every liklihood of a similar outcomes. Despite a brief honeymoon the only real achievement of the SDP was to enable Mrs Thatcher to win a parliamentary majority of 144 seats with just 43% of the vote. Furthermore, there is considerable evidence that had they stayed with Labour and continue to fight for what they believed, the Labour Party would probably have recovered faster than it was able to do without their influence. 

I have long believed there would be an inevitable realignment in British politics. The old labels of 'Left' and 'Right' being increasingly irrelevant. Under the old politics I would probably be considered "Right wing" and my views on a minimalist state, free markets, leaving the EU, privitisation of the public sector and private property would confirm that. However I am equally passionate about social equality, the disestablishment of the church, an elected second chamber, I am (still) a 'dove' on foreign policy and military intervention, I support open immigration and am perfectly content in a multi-cultural society. What's more, I suspect my own position is not too far from the mainstream view of most conservatives of my generation.

Like the majority of my peer group I wish the Party would take a tougher line on the EU; I would personally be much happier if the narrative around the post 2015 negotiations was a list of UK demands with a recommended 'no' vote if they were not met in full, rather than an ambiguous list of reforms with the PM hoping to campaign for a yes vote if they are acieved. However we are where we are, and if we want a vote on the EU, David Cameron and the Conservatives really are the only show in town. Even Douglas Carswell admits this.

What is so disturbing is the unavoidable reality that by defecting to UKIP Mr Carswell is making the possibility of a referendum less likely and the possibility of a Miliband-led Labour government more likely; just as the Social Democrats walking away from the internal struggle within the Labour Party paved the way for 18 years of Conservative government from 1979-1997.

I usually agree with Matthew Parris, but in this today's Times I believe he is wrong. He wrote that Douglas Carswell's defection (with perhaps more to follow) could pave the way for a realignment of the Right; with a Thatcherite/UKIP split leaving behind a  Blairite/One Nation/LibDem core. He implied that Conservatives should welcome this. In my view this would be a disaster, installing a permanent dividing line through the Right and separating its heart from its head. Such a split would disenfranchise millions of voters like me who would find it impossible to choose between a form of continental-style Christian Democracy on one side and the reactionary certainties of UKIP and the Cornerstone Right on the other.

Where I do agree with Matthew Parris is I suspect many from the Better Off Out / UKIP are afraid of Cameron's 2017 referendum on the basis that it could be difficult to win, and that no referendum is better than a lost referendum.

This view only works if you believe that a 2015 GE defeat will result in a favourable realignment of the Right which will go on to win in 2020 and then fight (and win) a referendum with more hostile anti EU mood music. It falls flat on its face if the subsequent realignment ensures 20+ years of centre left government, by which time the EU institutions would have embedded themselves as firmly into our culture as the Public Sector ethos has into Scotland and much of the North, resulting in an almost unshakable political grip based on fear of change.

Never before has the unity of the centre right been more vital but less assured. It would be a tragedy if Mr Carswell and his friends not only paved the way for a Miliband government but made any future referendum almost impossible to win.

Banging head against brick wall

Just attended a meeting where fundraising was the main item of discussion. The man in charge of fundraising gave his report...

"Well, there's such a lot of apathy about at the moment I have decided it's not worth bothering..."

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Coach to Clacton


No date yet, but we are collecting names for the inevitable West Kent Battle Bus to Claction.

Pick-up points in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Blue Bell Hill.

To register your interest please visit the Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1537846456438400/1537853533104359/?notif_t=like

Or email your name and contact details to westkentconservatives@gmail.com




Douglas Carswell - in his own words!

Hat tip: Mario Creatura

Baroness Trumpington - tickets go LIVE!



Maidstone's Hazlitt Theatre are now selling tickets for our COMING UP TRUMPS - An Evening with Baroness Trumpington.

Members or supporters wishing to buy tickets at the last minute can now do so via their online ticket booking system. The price is still £10.00 although any tickets sold directly by the theatre are subject to 10% commission plus VAT going to the theatre from the ticket price. However, this is an efficient way to book for anyone wishing to attend at the "last minute" or who cannot find their cheque book. 

To buy tickets directly from the theatre using any form of credit or debit card click HERE  



Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Southeastern - FAIL.

Our railway companies are not the most popular group, with above inflation increases and a generally poor service. Personally, I am happy to pay a "market rate" for my train travel, just as I have to pay a "market rate" when I fly, drive a car or take a taxi.

What I really object to, however, is paying high cost for dirty trains and poor customer service. Any company can suffer from the consequences of external issues over which they have little control. However it is how a company reacts and relates to its customers that marks out the good from the bad. 

Like most train operators, Southeastern have a bad public image for many reasons; reliability and price increases among them. A poor, inconsiderate and "jobsworth" approach to your customers, as highlighted below, is something they could easily address.





  


Conservative Mugs!

Confusion reigned in West Kent Towers this morning when we received two cheques, each for £20.00, and both making reference to "we look forward to receiving our limited edition mug."

A quick Google search uncovered this email from CCHQ



Fortunately, having brought five Associations into one office, including the contents of five office kitchen cupboards, we too have an enormous number of (mainly chipped and tarnished) mugs we wish to get rid of. 

I have now put our Office Manager and our Intern to work creating our own "exclusive range" of West Kent Conservative Party mugs, each lovingly hand crafted and unique. What's more, our range is "eco friendly" as your purchase will save them from landfill.



Our mugs are available at just £10 each (complete with artist signature) or a set (unmatching) of six for just £30. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

My MND Ice Bucket Challenge - with a special Guest Appearance at the conclusion!



With thanks to Steve Bell for nominating me, here is my Ice Bucket Challenge on behalf of MND Association. 

The charity received a triple boost when Jon Botten and Matt Boughton each donated a further £20 on agreement that (i) I wouldn't nominate them, and (ii) they could pour the iced water over me. I think they enjoyed it a little too much!

I now nominate Cllr Andrew Mackness, Karl McCartney MP and Gavin Barwell's "Gobby Factotum" Mario Creatura. 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Leather hats, lycra and chalk stripe suits.

I have recently given up my car and bought a bicycle. The primary purpose is so I can cycle to and from our local railway station each day and catch the train to work. The station is two miles from home and takes me ten minutes (via the coffee shop where I read the Times and have my morning four-shot Americano).  A great way to start the day.


The announcement of our bicycle purchase resulted in a Facebook comment from Martyn Punyer expressing concern that we would turn into MAMILs. For those who don't know (as I didn't), MAMIL is an acronym for "Middle Aged Men In Lycra'. I assured Mr Punyer that we had no such plans.

There is, however, a trait for people to brand themselves, and through this branding comes a sense of ownership, superiority and exclusivity. And as people brand themselves, so they become ever more ridiculous and detached from the mainstream. And here is a lesson; it's as true for politicians as it is for any other group.

When we take our boat out on the inland waterways we tend to wear the same clothes as we always do. If it's warm and sunny -  shorts and t-shirts. If it's cold - jeans and jumpers. If it's wet - rainproof coats. However we often see others who must have an exclusive "waterways wardrobe" for as soon as they get close to a tiller out comes a stupid brown leather Ausie Bushman-style hat and a ridiculous low-slung belt for carrying a windlass. Neither is necessary or even practical - but they do give a sense of being part of an exclusive club.

We found the same this weekend, having taken our bicycles on our weekend away. As we huffed and puffed our way from Abingdon to Oxford we were constantly being overtaken by lycra bedecked people wearing all manner of gadgets and gizmos; the best of which were a middle aged couple with helmet mounted rear-view mirrors, flashing lights built into their heels and Bluetooth walkie-talkies.

Don't get me wrong, if you are a professional yachtsman or cyclist - working for your living or competing for your club or country, then you probably need (and deserve) all the kit you can get. But if you are a 72 year old retired librarian tootling off to the Oxford Green Party's Polenta and Ylang Ylang sale at Jericho Community Hub, then the only purpose of wearing skin tight lycra is to send a message to others that "I am part of the same club as you" as you ding your bell and look disapprovingly at the two slightly overweight blokes dressed in shorts and t-shirts.

And the same lessons apply to politics, too.

By nature I am a Libertarian. If someone wishes to wear a cravat and boating blazer or a three piece chalk stripe suit to go canvassing on a Saturday, then they have ever right to do so. However, just as you have a right to set your own standard of dress, don't be too surprised when others see you as a bit odd and decide to put their faith in the candidate who at least looks and sounds like they do.

As many of you will know my partner is an ordained Minister of Religion and from what I have seen the Church is a cursed as politics in how we are each perceived by the majority. Each has declining numbers, faltering finances, a difficulty to be seen as relevant in modern Britain. Yet each organisation is run by people who enjoy parading around in strange clothes and using syntax which is at best obscure and at worst alien to the majority of those whose support we need to prosper.

As Steve and I travel around the canals and inland waterways we smile inwardly at the wonky-hat brigade with their aloof manner, safe in the knowledge that our boat is worth as much as theirs. And as we puff and blow our way along Sustrans Cycle Route 5 and absorb the patronising smiles of the MAMILs we do so secure in the knowledge that our bicycles are worth just as much as theirs.  And those of us in politics who are tempted to dismiss those who don't dress to our standard or watch BBC Question Time or read The Spectator, we should also remember that their vote is worth as much as ours.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Battle scars


Lunch today with a colleague, and time spent showing each other our battle scars following fierce encounters with voters and activists. He trumped my tales with his encounter with a Frosty Faced Secretary from twenty years ago, when he first tried to join his local Association:

Frosty Faced Secretary: Yes, what do you want?

"Oh hello, could you put me in touch with the branch Chairman of Barchester ward please?"

Frosty Faced Secretary: Why on earth have you come in here to ask me that?
 
"Well, I have just moved here and I would like to join my local branch."

Frosty Faced Secretary: What? You want to join Barchester branch? Really?! Why?

"As I said, I have just moved here and I want to get involved."

Frosty Faced Secretary: You don't want to join Barchester, join the branch next door.

"But I don't live there, I would quite like to join the branch where I live."

Frosty Faced Secretary: The ward next door is marginal, that's where you should join.

"Can't I join where I live and simply work next door - quite happy to work where needed, but I would like to join where I live."

Frosty Faced Secretary: Well, you sound very argumentative. I don't have time for this - please come back at another time when I'm less busy.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Top Trumps in just two weeks time!

Two weeks tonight (gosh it's come around quickly!) around 200 members and guests will be packed into Maidstone's newly refurbished Hazlitt Theatre for our eagerly anticipated "An Evening with Baroness Trumpington". 


She will be interviewed on stage by Tonbridge & Malling's Parliamentary Candidate, Tom Tugendhat, about her extraordinary life; from a Land Girl on Lloyd George's family farm, a Code Breaker at Bletchley Park, part of the Clivedon Set through her time as Lord Mayor of Cambridge then Minister in the Thatcher and Major Governments. I suspect Tom might even dare ask about her now famous "two finger salute" to Lord King in the House of Lords, captured on live TV, after he referred to her age during a debate.

Part of the show will be dedicated to the music and songs which have played an important part in her life, and I have today been sorting out the downloads, copywrite and relevant PRS licences to play them in public.

Tomorrow Jon and I are meeting with the theatre's technical people to work out stage management, lighting, sound and production! All very exciting as it's something we have never done before - and that in itself is a treat to be doing something for the first time.

We do still have tickets available (just £10 donation per person) and we have a special deal for neighbouring Associations who might like to send a minimum of ten people; they can bulk purchase tickets at £2 each and resell them for £10, keeping the profit locally. Please email the office for details; westkentconservatives@gmail.com

If you haven't yet booked - this is your last chance. A wonderful opportunity to hear and meet this truly remarkable lady.


À la recherche du votes perdu

À la recherche du votes perdu

I would like to thank Director of Paperclips, Jon Botten, for nicely capturing the mood with the above clandestine photograph taken earlier this evening. We were out (the 'we' being Jon, Matt and me) delivering Tom Tugendhat's latest mailing to homes in Borough Green and Tonbridge. As we were the night before - and the night before that, too, ably supported by our Deputy Chaiman (Political) Matt Dickins, Council Leader Nicolas Heslop and local activists Frixos Tombolis, Vivian Branson and Michael Payne. 

Some of our more spikey members are prone to remind us that we are paid whilst they are volunteers, which is of course true. It is worth remembering however that the three paid staff all work significantly more than our paid / contracted hours, and we do so willingly and without complaint. In fact every evening meeting, campaign session, phone bank, training day or Saturday Action Day happen in "unpaid time" as none of us claim overtime or time off in lieu - so yes, we do our fair share of volunteering too!

So a big "thank you" to Jon and Matt who so often go above and beyond the call of duty for the Party. 

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?"

Pause.....

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!


Sunday, 10 August 2014

Pyrrhic victories don't form governments

Regular readers will know that I am passionate about bringing new blood and fresh thinking into our organisation. This, of course, includes doing anything I can to launch a Conservative Future (CF) branch or follow any other route which will engage a new generation.

Our local Associations are hugely supportive of CF and not in the "here's an army of leaflet deliverers who can cover the areas we don't want to go to" kind of way. Most of our local Associations have set aside a sum of money to support the establishment of a CF branch (mailshot, sponsorship etc); the difficulty we have is attracting sufficient people in constituencies which have no campus and where over 70% go up to university or higher education.

I often think back to my own early days in Conservative politics. My marginal north-western constituency could sustain three thriving Young Conservative branches.  Fifteen years later, in the mid 1990s, Wessex Area YCs was still thriviing and run by a team of the most dedicated and committed people imaginable; Paul Gray, Paul Nettle, Peter Fleet, Andrea Stanyer, Andrew Crisp and many others whose names I have sadly forgotten.

I recall watching in awe as they spent hour upon hour of unpaid time writing newsletters, organising training days, social events and campaigning across the Region. When he was Regional Chairman I remember asking Paul Gray why he willingly gave of so much of his time. His reply was that having sought and secured election, he had a duty to do his best and to leave Wessex Area YCs stronger and better prepared than when he took over. He was conscious that his success would be defined by what he had achieved during his year in office: I fear attitudes have changed and for far too many their raison d'etre is to get themselves elected so they have a line for their CV rather than considering what they will actually do with their position once they have attained it.

Very recently someone I knew en passant emailed to ask if I would 'endorse' him for national CF office. The simplest thing would have been to ignore his email, but the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. Over the past two years I had emailed this person four times asking for help or support (once to help launch a new branch - the email was ignored), and three times asking for support with by-elections. Each request was met with "sorry, too busy" and further requests for CF Campaign Support were declined on the basis "no-one is available to assist". Given a national position (especially in a GE year) requires time-management skills, plus the ability to motivate others, I saw no evidence whatsoever that this person possessed those skills, and therefore declined the request for an endorsement on that basis. Moreover, I told him why I was doing so.

We are told that CF has 15,000 members, and I have no reason to doubt that figure. Yet last year only 746 votes were cast for the three candidates standing for Chair. That's a turnout of 5%. Even the unloved Police & Crime Commissioners managed 20%. This year I don't believe all the candidates have yet declared, but we already have websites, endorsements, manifestos and launch parties. I don't know the candidates sufficiently well to make any comment on their abilities, though reading their lists of pledges and priorities gives me a dreadful feeling of deja-vu. 

Whoever wins, I wish them success; stewardship of the organisation which has responsibility for identyfying and motivating the next generation of activists and politicians is far too important to want otherwise. However, I hope that when I email and ask for advice, help and support in forming new branches in West Kent they won't ignore my email as four of the last five national CF Chairmen have done. The one honourable exception being Ben Howlett who understood that the purpose of CF wasn't to talk to each other at black tie receptions in SW1, but to reach out beyond the Westminster bubble to the 99.9% of young voters who we need to attract.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

BBQ Wars



Two of our branches, with a history of inter-Association rivalry, have booked competing barbecues on the same day.  This has resulted in a bit of a frenzy. Each branch claims they had booked theirs first and are therefore refusing to cancel. As a consequence, we have a bit of a battle for the hearts and stomachs of the membership.  Branch A has reduced their ticket price to appeal to those living in "times of austerity". Branch B hit back with "you clearly get what you pay for", implying anyone attending the Branch A event will be served Tesco Value burgers. I am sitting on the sidelines, refusing to get involved. 

This morning, however, events took a turn for the worse.

One of the organisers of the Branch A event called the office and spoke to Jon (who as Office Manager is in charge of tickets and advertising). Jon was told, with absolute certainty, that the Branch B BBQ had been cancelled due to lack of support, and could he therefore circulate an email advising members of this and confirming that tickets were still available for the Branch A BBQ. 

Jon, being a kindly and trusting soul, was just about to hit send when I intervened. 

"Are you sure the Branch B event has been cancelled, Jon? I'd email and check if I were you."  I said, imagining the carnage and recriminations if we had been "misinformed". 

Just as well we did. Within 30 minutes of emailing Branch B to check we received this reply:



"You don't think there was a touch of espionage, do you?"  "I am sure it was a genuine misunderstanding, Jon." I replied, confidently. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

A week of positive thinking!

A week ago Sally Roberts invited me via Facebook to participate in the "Seven Day Positive Challenge"; one of those Social Media Round Robins. I normally ignore such things, but I like Sally and I was also enjoying other "positive posts" from friends and colleagues - so agreed to participate. 


I was conscious that I used Social Media to vent, post negative and at times sarcastic posts and generally moan about my lot. Spending ten minutes each day to think of three positive things could do no harm at all - although in typical style it usually took much longer as deciding what to write and form the sentences often sent me on a journey of thought and introspection.


Day One
1. Each morning I wake up with a partner I love. So many people have lonely lives and I am lucky to have found my soul mate and to have had 12 wonderful years so far.

2. I think of all my friends commuting in crowded trains to London each day. My commute is a bicycle ride along the river then the Medway Valley Line train through the Weald countryside.

3. After all this time I still wake up each day looking forward to work and believing that in my own little sphere I can really make a difference. I am very fortunate indeed to be one of the few people who get paid for their hobby!




Day Two
1. I am actually pleased that I have the balls to say what I think and believe, rather than what I think others want to hear. I appreciate my bluntness can sometimes cause hurt but I would rather that than be considered two-faced or a hypocrite.

2. I am enjoying being 48 and I look forward with confidence. I don’t feel and older than I did 20 years ago. There are things I would not repeat given the chance, but there are very few things I have wanted to do and haven’t had the opportunity to accomplish. In that I am very fortunate.

3. Circumstances have recently brought old and long lost friends back into my life and I have been truly delighted to discover how little they have changed over too many lost years.


Day Three
1. I work with two great guys, Jon and Matt, who not only rise to every challenge, but also make work enjoyable.

2. On the whole we have the most fantastic bunch of activists who go "above and beyond the call of duty" on behalf of the Party. Their commitment and dedication to our shared goals is inspirational and cannot be faulted.

3. The three senior people I deal with and report to on a regular basis are three of the most honourable and decent people imaginable, whose judgements I trust and value: West Kent Chair William Rutherford, Party Vice President Steve Bell and Voluntary Party Manager Julian Walden,


Day Four
1. I love living on a boat for so many reasons; the sense of community, the movement of the water, the reflected light, waking up to swans, geese, ducks pecking the boat in the hope of food and the inner peace broughtt from opting out of the high rent / mortgage lifestyle and turning back the clock.

2. Another delight of living on the river is the peace and quiet at night; almost total darkness and despite living within close proximity of the M2 road bridge and the CTRL, the silence – all of which ensure I sleep better at night than I have ever done.

3. The experience of living in a space only half the size of a typical studio flat has brought Steve and I even closer and demonstrated the strength of our relationship.

Day Five

1. Two years later I am still enjoying writing my blog and sharing ideas. The blog is not only turning into a significant resource but also a back-reference for what we have done.

2. I am still hugely thrilled when complete strangers come to me at party events and say they enjoy reading my thoughts, and the greatest delight is when I receive emails and messages thanking me for posting best practice, which others have replicated and used to grow their own Associations.

3. The best thing I have ever done via the blog, however, is not party political. It was my blogpost on my own battles with anxiety 6 years ago. (http://votingandboating.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/keeping-my-own-black-dog-on-lead.html). This led to the most amazing letters and emails (literally hundreds) from strangers and friends alike, thanking me for having the courage to go public and tell my own story. 


Day Six
1. I never fail to remember and appreciate how fortunate I am to have been born when I was. Two generations earlier and I would have fought in WW2. Three generations earlier it would have been WW1. I think this almost every day as I walk past the local war memorial, but this week's commemorations makes it all the more poignant.

2. I am also grateful that I grew up in an increasingly enlightened society, where my sexuality was not an issue. Strangely, I have never been "proud" to be gay - but nor have I ever felt the need to hide it or be someone I wasn't. It's just part of who I am, along with having blue eyes and being 6 ft 2!

3. I am a social libertarian and have been so long before it was fashionable. I am a libertarian first and a Conservative second. I adore living in a open, multi-cultural society and I believe we have nothing to fear from economic, cultural and social integration.


Day Seven
1. I seldom participate in these Facebook "round robins" but did this as Sally Roberts asked me to; and I have to say I have enjoyed doing it. I am conscious that perhaps I use social media too often to moan, be sarcastic or highlight life's buggerances. To actually put time aside and post the positives has been quite cathartic, as each day I have focused on some of the many things which make my life so good. So thank you, Sally.

2. It also made me realise how grateful I am for social media. Yes, it can be abused and it's a dreadful waste of time - but it also brings me into daily contact with hundreds of people whose friendships I enjoy and value, and whose presence in my life would be so much less frequent without Facebook and Twitter.

3. And my final (21st) positive thought. My beloved partner Steve (who was my first positive thought when I began this series last week) has just called to say he's five minutes from home - and he's got pizza! And on that note - thank you and goodnight. xxx

Dishonourable behaviour

I have just read a very moving and thoughtful blog by a former Greenwich Borough Councillor, Nigel Fletcher - who lost his seat in the London-wide pro Labour swing on 22 May this year. Well worth a read. See HERE
I am always conscious of the human cost for defeated candidates of all parties. The reality is that most (though not all) lose, not because they have failed or have been a bad councillor, but because of the regional swing or the fact the other side had more resources or a better GOTV operation.

I am a bit of a political bruiser - but I wouldn't dream of producing a leaflet post election and sticking the boot into a councillor who has just lost his or her seat. That's not just poor politics - but just cheap and unnecessary behaviour.

As many a surprised Labour or LibDem councillor will confirm, I actually make a point of seeking them out privately after the declaration to check they are OK and to wish them well. Nor am I afraid to do so publicly - as below:


And even when we lose, I try to be fair


And even in our Thank You leaflets (delivered whether we win or lose) I insist on the inclusion of a brief message acknowledging the work of the opposition candidates and their supporters:


I really do believe that the overwhelming majority of people become local councillors because they want to do their best for their local community. Politics and elections can be brutal - sticking in the knife after defeat really isn't nice or necessary.


But what do you actually do....?

Many years ago local councils had Committee Chairmen, who had specific responsibilities. I remember there was a Housing Committee Chairman, an Education Committee Chairman, a Planning Committee Chairman, a Social Services Committee Chairman and so on...   It seemed to work. 


A chap visited the office today to sign up locally, having recently moved here from London. Previously he was a councillor and a "Deputy Cabinet Member" in a blue chip London council. I enquired what his portfolio was. 

Apparently, he was...

"Deputy Cabinet Member for Clean Air, Bio-Diversity, Parks,
Gardens and Open Spaces and Community Tsar for Well Being
and the Big Society."

"But what did you actually do?" I asked.  He looked perplexed. "To be honest, I'm not quite sure." 

A bit like the councillor I met at a recent event who proudly gave me his business card, which announced that he was the Cabinet Member for "Social Uplift, Inclusion and Outreach."

I cannot help but think it all ran better when we had people with proper jobs and proper job titles!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

And we're off !

We are packing 20,000 envelopes today and a further 20,000 tomorrow - here is the first morning team working in Paddock Wood. We've already had "Andrew on his knees scrubbing" jokes, we've revisited the problems associated with dry envelope flaps and a new volunteer has spoken about the reason she was only married once is most men cannot multi-task. 

Today's teams are packing Tonbridge & Malling's and Chatham & Aylesford's Activist Recruitment Campaign mailshot - and it is good to see four Associations working together, in the knowledge that the same help will be forthcoming when their Association's literature is due to be packed. Teamwork at it's best!

The morning packing team at Paddock Wood - Bills Hills, David Elliott, David Cure, Sarah Barker,
Sonia Williams, Sue Nuttall, Janet Sergison, Vivian Branson and Howard Rogers handing around the doughnuts!
And here is the afternoon team - looking a little bit hot and bothered after a long day.

The afternoon packing team: Jon Botton, Ben Elks, Andrew Kennedy, David Cure, Peter Bolt, Susan Potter, Owen Baldock,
Chris Baldock, Mary Bowden and Bryan Potter.
And this is team three working in Aylesford with Tracey Crouch!





Monday, 4 August 2014

Only in Tunbridge Wells...

Very honoured and humbled to have received this email on the Tunbridge Wells Conservative Association account today:




West Kent Campaign HQ - Members' and Supporters' Newsletter August 2014

Here is the second West Kent Newsletter, emailed to our local members and supporters today. 




If you are struggling to read the above, you can read it online by clicking this LINK. 

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Help and advice appreciated launching a CF branch

In West Kent we do a reasonably good job across the board, but I am not too proud to say there are areas where we are weak - and I am grateful for advice and guidance. One such area is Conservative Future.

Launching and maintaining a vibrant CF branch is particularly difficult for us for three reasons:

1. We have no universities - so no wide or deep pool to recruit from
2. Our constituencies are denuded of potential members as most people 18-22 years of age leave West Kent to go up to universities elsewhere in the country (probably getting politically involved there), and
3. Upon graduation, few can afford to move back to West Kent given property / rental prices.

A combination of the above factors makes it difficult to get a CF branch up and running. When we do find a potential group of 16-18 yo's they soon leave following their A levels, and by the time they can return to West Kent (or can afford to do so) they are in their 30s and probably have no time to be involved as they are working all the hours God sends to earn the money to pay their West Kent mortgages.

This is a great shame because most of our local Management Committees and Executives are desperately keen to establish and support a CF branch - and not just as cannon fodder and foot soldiers. We want to bring young people into politics, we want to encourage and empower a new generation of activists and we want to build an open and inclusive organisation. And we know we cannot accomplish this if we cannot attract younger people.
 
At our recent Open Primary in Tonbridge & Malling we went to the most extraordinary lengths to involve first time voters; every resident aged 17 -22 received a written personal invitation in the post (about 5,000 people). We ran Facebook Ads targeting young people aged 17 - 25 within a 10 mile radius of Tonbridge. We organised stalls in local schools and 6th form colleges to publicise the event and worked through the politics teachers to encourage attendance. And despite this investment and activity, only three 18 - 23 year olds registered to attend, and of these only one actually turned-up on the day. This was desperately disappointing; not because of the considerable time and money we had invested in reaching out to first time voters, but because so few of them responded. At least we tried.

So I am opening this to "the wisdom of crowds". What are we doing wrong? I am sure we are not the only Associations to suffer from the issues outlines above - but other areas appear to have thriving CF branches.

Any recruitment literature or examples of best practice would be really appreciated. Advice and ideas equally welcome. Please send your suggestions to westkentconservatives@gmail.com

I really would welcome your advice and help!

Friday, 1 August 2014

West Kent Reception at Party Conference

I am pleased to confirm details of the ever-popular West Kent Afternoon Tea / Reception at the Conservative Party Conference, which this year will be held at Hotel du Vin in Birmingham on Monday 29 September commencing at 4pm. 

Tickets are £15,.00 per person and will be allocated on a strictly first come - first served basis. The hotel can only accommodate 30 / 35 guests so early booking is essential. 



Recruiting new Local Government Candidates

We are continually seeking to deepen the pool of talent in terms of local government candidates, ensuring branches where there are vacancies have the widest possible selection of applicants to choose from. 

Over the next three weeks we will be delivery a letter to 20,000 Conservative households inviting supporters to offer assistance with the GE campaign (see HERE and HERE). I have just put together this handy DL sized card to be included with the letters in those wards which are seeking new candidates.  Produced in house the cost is minimal.

As always, happy to provide samples in Publisher if colleagues would like to use similar in their local Associations. Please get in touch.