Thursday, 24 April 2014

DING DONG ! Steve Bell officially opens West Kent Towers

The Senior Vice President of the Conservative Party, Steve Bell, joined constituency Chairmen, volunteers and the office staff to officially open the West Kent Campaign Headquarters earlier tonight.

From right: William Rutherford (Tunbridge Wells Chairman), Adrian Gulvin (Chatham & Aylesford Chairman),
Steve Bell, Jacques Arnold (Tonbridge & Malling Chairman), John Wilson (Maidstone and The Weald Chairman)
with volunteers from across West Kent

Giving Maggie a polish!  The latest edition for the office wall, kindly donated by
William Rutherford

William Rutherford (Chairman of Tunbridge Wells and also Chairman of the West Kent Group Executive)
thanking Steve Bell and the members. Eagle-eyed readers may spot the shadowy figure of the much mentioned
South Zone Oberleutnant, loitering at the back.

From left: Jacques Arnold, Adrian Gulvin, William Rutherford, Steve Bell, AK, John Wilson and Jon Botten

Ringing the changes - we had ten on the phones and twenty more on the doorsteps. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Sir Winston has arrived!

With grateful thanks to Tunbridge Wells Association President, Alex King MBE, for donating this portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, which once took pride of place in his office at County Hall. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

One swallow does not a summer make, but does 47 Kents make an election?

Almost there - just one outstanding set of papers and we will have a full slate of candidates successfully nominated. 

This  particular RO is different to the other I deal with, insofar as every 'i' had to be dotted and every 't' crossed. I quite admire such attention to detail, but it did catch me by surprise as it's something I have not experienced before. Now I understand what they want, I will try to ensure we meet their standards next time. 

Therefore, my heart sank when the RO appeared with all the papers I has previously submitted - each with dozens of yellow post-it notes attached, highlighting sections needing attention or correction. "How could I have got so much wrong?" I thought, my heart sinking. 

OK - first off can you please change Rd to Road - here, and here and here and here and here..... And initial each one.  And here you have Suite Three and here you have Office Three  - can you change it here, and here and here....and initial each one. 

Now, on this Appointment of Election Agent form it has your address as Manor Lane but on this one it's Manor Ln. Please change Ln to Lane here, and here and here and here. And initial each one.... 

And on this form you refer to your office as West Kent Conservative Campaign HQ but here it's West Kent Conservative Campaign Headquarters, please change it here, and here, and here, and here....and initial each one. 

Now we need to address the Kents. 

I looked, wide eyed. 

Apparently Rochester ME1 3HS was insufficient. It had to read Rochester, Kent ME1 3HS. and here, and here, and here, and here (47 times).  

"You're missing a lot of Kents" said the RO. 

Monday, 21 April 2014

Hey teacher, leave those kids alone

I am surrounded by teachers - there are many living in the marina where we live, and my in-laws are a teacher-heavy family; including his (retired) mother and two of his cousins.

Every teacher I have met is at pains to tell me that "we work really hard during the six week summer holiday.Just because the children are off school, it doesn't mean we are too. We plan coursework, mark school work, attend meetings and training days - in fact, we are lucky to get a week to ourselves."

Given teachers are thinking of taking more industrial action, might it not be a good idea for them to take it during August when their actions wouldn't inconvenience working parents and disrupt the education of the children? After all, the children and their parents are not the cause of their complaints, so action timed not to damage or cause them harm or inconvenience would surely be a good thing? And if teachers really do work hard all through the summer holidays, taking strike action in August would be as effective as in June? Wouldn't it?

Unless, of course, causing inconvenience to parents and children is really their motive.....

Friday, 18 April 2014

"She'll attend the Opening of an Envelope if there's a free drink"

We hosted a reception yesterday for West Kent's finest envelope packers. 

They came from the four corners of the county, brandishing their paper cuts as a warrior would bear his battle scars. The event was an Open Day for our army of packers (or stuffers if you are from Chatham and Aylesford) - the unsung heroes of ten thousand mail shots.
Lady Birch (second left), who would allegedly attend the opening of an envelope if there was a free drink, kindly brought along her Maid, Gardener and Cook
The face than lunched a thousand chips - the Doyenne of the Ladies Lunch Club,
Trish Robinson, with Plate Carrier and Washer-up In Chief, Dr Tony Robinson
Director of Paper Clips, Jon Botten, with Queen of the Raffle, Janet Sergison

Maidstone and Faversham & Mid Kent's finest
(just Norah Batty short of a sitcom)
West Kent Oberleutnant (far left) with a delegation from SAGA holidays,
who wandered in by accident.

Jon Botten finds Basil Hallward's portrait, which he had hidden in the attic 80 years ago

Thelma, Lady Liptrap of Sherwood, added a touch
of Tunbridge Wells glamour

Consent to Nomination; the mystery deepens

Three days ago I reproduced, in good faith, an email I had received from a local Returning Officer. I did so to warn other agents and candidates of a potential issue with the Candidates' Consent to Nomination Form. One of my ROs had emailed me to inform me that the Electoral Commission had omitted the box for the witness to date their signature, and it was required for this date to show.  The email continued, 

"If you can confirm that the witness did sign the nomination paper the same day as the candidate did could you please mark this date on the nomination paper next to the witness signature. I thought I would let you know this before you came just in case you had to chase to do this before you came in." 

Fortunately in this particular council area every candidate had signed their forms in my presence, so I was able to assure the RO that the witness signature was correct. I was concerned, however, that if I had been unable to verify this (as would be the case in many constituencies) there could be a great deal of inconvenience with candidates being asked to sign the form again. Indeed, had candidates gone away for Easter, it was not inconceivable that they might not be around until after close of nominations, with particularly catastrophic affect. 

Subsequently, the Electoral Commission have published  the following statement (which I am happy to produce in full)

There is no requirement in law for the consent to include a date alongside the witness signature. The form is prescribed in law and the form provided in the election rules does not include an option for the witness to date their signature. However, the prescribed form, just like the form we have produced, clearly asks the witness to state that the candidate has signed the form in their presence. This is accomplished by the witness signing the form. The signature and details of the witness are sufficient for the consent to meet the legal requirements.

As a blogger, with a not insubstantial readership, I feel a duty to be honest and to acknowledge and correct any errors, howsoever caused. I am therefore not only happy to publish this correction but also apologise for any concern my original post may have caused. With hindsight I should have perhaps challenged my ROs ruling or checked the necessary legislation prior to blogging. A lesson I will learn for the future. 

Notwithstanding the above, I must still ask why this advice was issued. Was it, 

(a) Human error on the part of my local RO? After all, everyone can make mistakes - especially when under pressure.  Or,

(b) My local RO adding an additional level of bureaucracy not required by legislation. Or,

(c) Perhaps the council were advised incorrectly (either by a local compliance officer or someone else) and that advice was retrospectively rescinded. 

I deal with six ROs and find them all helpful, accessible and dedicated. Along with the agents representing all other parties, I have no complaints with the service we receive. However, informing an election agent / candidate that candidates might need to re-sign paperwork submitted in good faith could well have caused a great deal of anguish and inconvenience. 

I have written to the RO concerned and asked for further clarification about the events leading to this advice being issued. I am not going to publish the correspondence or name the Council as to do so would simply cause ill-feeling, though I will probably publish the outcome of my enquiries for the sake of bringing the issue to closure.  

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Yes, I am a bit stressed. here's why...

PREFACE: I am grateful to many friends and colleagues (from all parties) who have contacted me with their own "horror stories" about nominations. 

My favourites being:

The Labour organiser from a very wealthy Home Counties town, under pressure from HQ to field a candidate in every seat, ended up approaching wives, husbands and children of members to stand as paper candidates. On receiving one completed nomination paper from a particularly prosperous village, he noticed the party description was "Labour and Waitrose". When he asked the candidate where the name had come from, he was told "I noticed from the list that Labour and Co-Op was allowed, but no-one shops in the Co-op around here."

Or the Surrey LibDem who was frantic with one reticent candidate who was constantly late, finally handing in her nomination paper two hours before the deadline. He rushed it into the Council Offices just in time and returned to his home only to pick-up an answer-phone message from the Returning Officer to say, "sorry about this, but your candidate appears to have entered the assenter's telephone numbers rather than their polling numbers..." 

And finally the Hampshire UKIP candidate who submitted his paper on time and neatly completed in fountain pen. However, alongside "description" (where the party name should be entered) he had written, "five eleven, greying, clipped moustache. Married."

Nice to see it's not just us!

One of the things members often say when they phone is, "Oh, you sound a bit stressed..."

There's a good reason for that. I often am.  And here's an example why.

We are now on the cusp on local government nominations. Two weeks ago I spent a whole morning briefing and training candidates, in detail, about how to complete their nomination papers. In fact, 70% of the paperwork was completed there and then, with me going through line by line, advising them what to write. All they had to do was get the requisite ten signatures (for which I gave them an electoral register to check they were registered voters). 


As usual, with no names mentioned...

Candidate One managed to submit a paper with seven of the ten signatures invalid. When I asked why so many non-residents had signed his paper he replied, "I took it around my local pub".  But two thirds of them don't live in your ward....  "well, that might be the case, but they were in my ward when they signed the paper..." 

Candidate Two managed to ask a Thai lady, who is not even a UK citizen, let alone a registered voter, to sign her paper. Strangely, however, despite not being registered she had a roll number alongside her name (although the number didn't exist). When I asked where the roll number came from, the candidate replied, "Oh I couldn't find her, so I added her to the end of the list and made-up a number for her." 

Candidate Three: Not a single roll number matched the ones on the register, though fortunately everyone lived in the ward. Apparently, the candidate couldn't find the electoral roll I had given him four days earlier, so used last year's.  "Does it really matter?" he asked.  

Candidate Four: Now this is a first. This candidate got "somewhat confused" over the paperwork and entered me as the candidate and him as the election agent. When I pointed out the error, he asked, "Oh that's OK - would you like to stand instead?"

Candidate Five: This candidate couldn't find a tenth signatory, so signed the form himself. 

SO, if you are a branch Chairman and phone the office during an election (when we have 50 candidates to look after) and ask me to print your luncheon tickets (which you have known about for months), or ask if we can photocopy 20 copies of your 200 Club accounts and post them to you (when it would be cheaper and quicker to run them off on your own printer) or even phone, demand to speak to me, then ask me to look-up a councillor's phone number (when you could have found it yourself on the council website), please don't be surprised if I sound "stressed". 

Andrew x

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Oh dear - this is what happens when you create layers of unnecessary bureaucracy...

Just received this from one of my local Returning Officers

As it happens, all of my candidates complete their forms in my presence, so I am able to confirm with absolute certainty that the witnesses did actually witness the candidate complete the form and sign, as required by law. Just imagine, however, if an Agent or Association officer had given each candidate their forms with a return date - and was unable to make such a declaration. Or even worse, if a candidate, having handed in their forms in good faith, went on holiday (as many have done over Easter) and were not back in the UK until after nomination day. Would that candidate be disqualified due to the Electoral Commission's error? 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Campaign? Oh God no - who'd want to do a thing like that ?

I am a great fan of Party Conference and encourage as many people as possible to attend. I am pleased that most who attend on my recommendation usually return in future years. This year I have signed-off over 50 applications for members from Kent - which I think is a record (at least in recent years).

Earlier today, however, I took a phone call from a  young chap whose name I recognised, but whom I have never met. He is not a member, at least locally. He paid a few years ago but has not responded to membership reminders since.

He wanted to attend conference and was hoping I would countersign his form. The form in question requires me to sign a statement that "I have personally known this person for a minimum of six months".  Unfortunately, in his case I couldn't even say that I had known him for six minutes. And whilst I wanted to be helpful, given this form is part of the Special Branch / Police security process, I was not prepared to lie. Nor, in fairness, did he ask me to (though he did say the person who had signed his form last year had never met him - which does cause me concern!)

I suggested his local councillor or branch chairman / organiser could be asked to sign. He didn't know who that was - he had never met them. How about your Association Chairman or another Association Officer. That was no good either - he had never attended a meeting. How about the person who organised the last campaign event you attended. He sounded somewhat bemused by this! Apparently, he had never gone out campaigning - he was far too busy to do such a thing (though clearly not too busy to attend Party Conference on the discounted Party Members' ticket!). When I pointed this out to him he seemed surprised that people actually "do that sort of thing". Quite!

After five minutes of going around in circles, I simply ran out of ideas, and suggested he should contact Fingerprint Events for advice. I am sure he isn't the first completely inactive activist  to have this issue.  

"If you ask me it's a stupid system with dumb rules" he said. "Well, maybe if you'd like to come out and help with the local elections I will have the chance to meet you, and then next year I will be able to sign your form", I offered, more in hope than expectation.   "Oh God no - who'd want to do anything like that."  

Tom Tugendhat launches West Kent Phone Bank

We were pleased to welcome Tonbridge, Edenbridge & Malling's new Parliamentary candidate, Tom Tugendhat, to the West Kent Campaign HQ today to officially launch the Phone Bank. 

Tom Tugendhat (seated centre) with (from left) Brenni Wilson, Elizabeth Thomas, Allan Sullivan, John Wilson, Jon Botten and Bill Hills). 

We had all ten lines in use and made over 200 voter contacts in just over an hour! 

Candidates have each reserved two or three evenings on the Phone Bank between now and the 22 May elections. A tremendous campaign asset for our local candidates!