Friday, 16 November 2018

Defective Defections

I take a degree of absurd pleasure when a councillor who is not re-approved or
re-selected grandly announces that he/she (almost always a he) is defecting to another party.  

Apart from sense of self-flagellation, why would this please me? 

Simple because there is no faster, more definitive or simple way to prove that the Approvals Committee or Branch Committee were absolutely right to dump them in the first place. 

I simply do not comprehend how anyone can suddenly change their core political principles due to actions of the local Conservative Association's Approvals Committee.  

If the Chatham & Ayesford Local Government / Approvals Committee decided to turn their fire on me and dump me as a candidate I would have every right be be irritated / upset / bloody furious / vengeful (*delete as appropriate) with the members of that committee. I might decide they were all a shower ungrateful shockers and resign from the Association or even give my money and energy to another Association nearby.  But the one thing I wouldn't (couldn't) do was suddenly decide after 40 years belief in free markets, small government and personal liberty that I am becoming a big state, internationalist Socialist and fan of high taxes.  

Unless, of course, the councillor was never a real Conservative in the first place, and was just using the party as a stepping stone to self aggrandisement. In which case their defection is not surprising, because clearly it's all about them and not about principles or beliefs.

Which brings me back to my original point..... the Approvals Committee were absolutely right in the first place !

Thursday, 15 November 2018

There's still more that unites us than divides us

As passionate and determined as I am about Brexit, we all need to remember that when it's finally over there will still more that unites us than divides us. And the only alternative to us is Corbyn.

As angry as I am with the 'deal' I do not believe for one moment that those who support it, or take a different view to me, are 'traitors' or 'evil'.  I believe they are wrong. But I also believe that they are doing what they think is right.

I don't take any pleasure in finding myself so opposed to so many of my friends and colleagues. In fact, despite the bravado, I am actually finding this whole business quite disturbing and upsetting. It has divided friendships, families, communities and parties.

I want it to be over, but I will fight to the bitter end for what I believe. As must you, whatever side you are on.  But let's fight with facts and humour and grace, so we can at least pick ourselves up when it finally ends and rebuild those friendships and loyalties that have held us together and made us the most successful political party in the world.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Thank You x 14,000

One of the great but unexpected successes of the West Kent Group is our ability to use our numerical strength to raise substantial amounts of new money. And a good example of this is the West Kent 500+ Club.

The great Ann Widdecombe is the Club's Patron, and having such a respected and popular name involved certainly helps. 

If you opened a letter from Andrew Kennedy asking you to stump-up £30 it would probably go straight into the bin. When you see Ann's familiar face and signature, you at least read what she has to say!

The Club is now coming to the end of its third successful year and has once again raised over £14,000 profit for local Association funds. Since its formation, it has raised over £40,000 and given a similar amount back to members in cash prizes. It takes about 10 hours per month to administer from the office with no burden whatsoever on our Associations. Imagine how many BBQs, Cheese & Wines or Jumble Sales you would need to organise to raise £14,000!

What's more remarkable is the West Kent 500+ Club is a very simple and popular entry point for supporters to help the Association financially. At the end on this year over 50% of our 500+ Club Members are pledges rather than Party members. Many 500+ Club members now also buy Summer and Christmas Draw tickets, attend social events and a few have even got actively involved. 

Ideally you need a group of Associations working together to make this happen. One Association alone will not produce the size of membership required to make joining an attractive proposition. Asking people for £30 with a chance of winning £80 is not that enticing. Asking for £30 with a chance of winning a share of £15,000 (with a top prize of £2,500) really is worthwhile!  You need a critical mass to make it happen.

We are now recruiting members for the 2019 Draw, starting in January. If you'd like a gamble and a chance of winning, please sign up by clicking HERE

And if you are an Association or Group/Federation Chair and you would like to see if the West Kent 500+ Club model could work for you, email me via HERE

Saturday, 10 November 2018

The nine most terrifying words in the English language

President Reagan once said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

For an old school agent who believes elections are still won door-to-door, the nine most terrifying words I now hear are, "We need a committee to improve our social media."

I'm hardly shy and retiring when it comes to social media myself. I am a prolific Facebooker, I have a Twitter a/c with 2,200 genuine followers, I use Insta and my consultancy has a website. And the ward where I am standing for election in May 2019 also has a FB page which is growing slowly and makes a nice addition to our traditional campaign toolkit 

My issue therefore isn't with social media, it's with people who think it can replace traditional campaigning. These fall into two groups:

(i) the new and enthusiastic who genuinely believe it to be true, and
(ii) the habitually bone idle who think it might save them from doing some hard work. 

At present I have two "social media committees" in my patch, each of which is "developing a strategy". Endless meetings are held, policies produced and plans made. But nothing every bloody happens. There are never any outcomes.

I suspect the type of people who convince themselves that they can thumb and tap their way to victory are more or less the same type of people who registered to vote in their millions in the 72 hours before the EU Ref but couldn't be bothered to walk to the polling station to vote. 

One of these committees even convinced the Association to stump up two thousand pound so they had a budget, which they spent employing someone to tweet for them. And that's the problem. Some Orwellian "newspeak" which simply retweets CCHQ propaganda alongside municipal press releases is as much use as a chocolate teapot.

Last year I was sitting at my desk at West Kent Towers half listening to one of our Association's Local Government/Approvals Committees interviewing incumbent councillors in the adjoining room. The senior councillor being interviewed started berating the Association Officers for their lack of social media commitment. As she ranted on I searched her Twitter account; she'd tweeted nine times in the previous three years! "Something must be done!" as long as someone does it for me.  

When she sadly lost her formerly safe seat everyone else was to blame. Not enough support. Not enough money spent in her ward. Not enough time from the agent. Not enough literature. It was never mentioned of course that this ward had fewer pledges than any other, no peacetime newsletter had been delivered in the past ten years and two of her ward colleagues hadn't even been bothered to collect their main election leaflets from the office.  Had that branch spent more time building a relationship with their residents, the residents may have been more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt when they needed it. In politics as in life, what goes around, comes around. 

So yes, social media has its place. But for me it must be local, intimate and immediate. Association Twitter accounts blasting out CCHQ memes will never make the emotional connection with local voters that is vital to success. Councillors and candidates should use their social media pages to build relationships with their residents by posting examples of what they are doing locally and the difference they make to people's lives. For it to make a difference we must use social media to narrowcast, not broadcast. My most popular FB posts on my ward political page are when I post a lovely sunset or a photo of me with a random cat I have met on the doorsteps. These work because they tell a human story, and my goodness, now more than ever, those of us in politics must demonstrate that we are authentic and human.

And being human does not require a huge budget, a committee or a strategy. It requires a phone with a camera and an ability to talk to people on an emotional rather than political level.

And that I am afraid is a skill too few of us have. 

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Best bits....


Regarding this autumn newsletter. I really don't have time to write three stories, so I have sent you a copy of my annual report to my parish councils. Perhaps you could read through and pick out the best bits. I'm very busy you know.

Dear Councillor xxxxxxxxxxx

Thanks for that. I have now read through it twice and I am struggling to find the three 'best bits' to which you refer. Could you narrow it down a bit for me?

Best wishes

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Chairman's Christmas Reception

To book your tickets for the Chatham & Aylesford Conservative Association Chairman's Reception, hosted by Andrew and Steve at their apartment overlooking the River Medway and the North Downs, please use the link below. Space is limited to 25 guests. 

Please be aware we have two very friendly cats (Berty and Mavis) who will jump on you and demand attention, so if you don't like cats or have an allergy to animal fur, best not come!

How many tickets would you like?

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Suicide is no laughing matter

In life and politics I am far from a snowflake. I dish it out and I roll with the punches when they come my way. I don't think I have ever, in over 30 years, made an official complaint or demanded an apology. Politics is a rough business and if you cannot stand the heat get out of the kitchen. In Kent even my most hardened political opponents will begrudgingly admit that I always play the ball, never the man. 

But there are limits - and the poster which appeared at yesterday's People's Vote March simply crossed the line. 

In the late 1980s I lived in Southampton. My best friend at that time lived in a suburb called Woolston. There was nothing remarkable about Woolston, an average suburb on the edge of a city where old Victorian terraces jostled for space with post war estates and new build waterside properties. In the "postcode lottery" my friend had unknowingly drawn a dud. His waterside terrace was directly beneath the River Itchen Toll Bridge, which towered above. Twice in two years he was woken by the police and Health Service workers who had come to scrape the broken and twisted bodies of two poor wretched souls who, for whatever reason, decided death was easier than life, and had unwittingly selected the section of the bridge above my friends patio as their final cry for help. 

All along the handrails of the Itchen Bridge were posters from the Samaritans urging those looking into the face of their darkest demons to call for help. Another good friend Richard was one of those who answered the calls. He never spoke about his voluntary work, but occasionally he would miss our after-work pint as he has been up the night before until 6am listening to someone for whom a bottle of Nembutal and a razor blade seemed better companions than whatever came with the dawn. After three years he walked away, broken with emotion after someone he had spoken to for five hours committed suicide while he listened on the phone. 

I personally "came out" on this blog about five years ago. For me, the 'coming out' was not about coming to terms with my sexuality, I had done that thirty years earlier, but telling my own story about my battles with mental health, and in particular anxiety. But not even in my darkest hours did I consider suicide, though I know many who have, and two who actually did. 

The work the government is now doing to address mental health, loneliness, suicide and all the related issues is truly outstanding. I will always be hugely grateful to Greg Clark and Tracey Crouch for their support when I published my own personal story, as I will cherish the support I received from my husband Steve who stood with me unflinchingly throughout my ordeal, and ever since. 

Suicide, mental health and loneliness are human tragedies often beyond the understanding of those who have not themselves looked into the abyss. But just as you don't need to be Jewish to know anti-Semitism is wrong, so you don't need to have lived with mental health or considered suicide to know making them into jokes for cheap political gain is quite simply vulgar, hurtful and also wrong. 

I do not know who produced these posters, who paid for them or where they were displayed (I believe on a coach carrying People's Vote supporters from Chesterfield). However they came to be produced and displayed is now immaterial.

But whoever was responsible (and someone quite senior in that organisation must have signed them off) would do themselves and their campaign a lot of good if they had the courage and humanity to hold up their hand and say sorry for the hurt they have caused.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

The things they say

Something that really irritates me....

Whenever a parliamentary candidate is selected they invariably post a thank you message on social media and include the line "the hard work starts here."

For most marginal constituencies the hard work probably started decades ago, often before the new PPC was even born (and certainly before he/she had ever stepped foot in the town). And if the new PPC isn't elected, the hard work will continue after he/she has left for a safer seat.

I just think this phrase is very insulting (though almost certainly unintentionally so) to all those hard working volunteers who have spent a lifetime slogging away for no reward and little thanks to hear their new parliamentary candidate so easily and dismissively write off their past efforts.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Jingle Bells

It's the Christmas Raffle at West Kent Towers - and my thanks to Bill Hills who has just spent 4 hours solid franking almost 5,000 raffle ticket packs for the post!  And of course to the team of 7 volunteers (Gill, Owen, Chris, Glynis, Sue, Thelma and Janet) who packed them all. 

For those who follow what we do, here is this years appeal letter.


Good to see the very first post of my relaunched blog made it into the Atticus political gossip column in yesterday's Sunday Times. Just like the old days, though I do feel I told the story better. I suspect Roland White didn't want to name JP Floru in case of libel threats, though he need not have worried. I suspect seeing himself in as gossip column would be the highlight of JPs week.