Sunday, 2 August 2015

We're backing Boughton #Matt4Fant

Matt Boughton is one of the nicest. hardest working and thoroughly decent people in local politics, and his many years of hard work on behalf of others was reciprocated on Saturday when 30 activists came to help launch his by-election campaign in Fant ward (Maidstone) caused by the sad death of incumbent Conservative councillor, Alistair Black.

The above picture shows just one of two teams working the ward on Saturday morning, the other team congregating at the station and working up Tonbridge Road. 

My thanks go to everyone who helped, including (not all in the photo), Anne Marie Nelson
Allan Sullivan, Adrian Gulvin, Sam Watkin, Joe Mamo, Alan Bartlett, Jon Botten, Alan Chell,
Vivian Branson, Richard Long, Jacques Arnold, Chris Brown, Wendy Palmer, Ed Godskin,  Stephen Paine, Brian Moss, Pat Moss, Matthew Dickins, Matthew Scott, Michael Horwood, Piers Montague (+2) and Tom Tugendhat MBE MP- plus Matt's family and me. 

Over 7,000 surveys were delivered in just two hours showing what can be achieved by teamwork.

Friday, 31 July 2015

And the winner is...

Tunbridge Wells MP and Minister for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, was the 'star turn' at West Kent Towers today, when he picked the winners of the 2015 West Kent Summer Raffle.

Our local Associations have always participated in the National Draw, but when it was announced that there would not be a National Summer Draw this year due to its proximity to the General Election, we decided to run our own, in house -  and just as well we did, as had we not done so we would now be £8,500 worse off

Despite our members and supporters contributing generously to the Election Appeal just two months earlier, our 2015 Summer Draw has raised an amazing £9,500. After paying for prizes (£750) and for the printing of the tickets (£200) we were left with £8,550 profit - a record for us in West Kent.  What's more, all the prize winners were local. 

My thanks to all our supporters who bought tickets, to the volunteers who packed the envelopes, and to Jon Botten who opened the post and logged the sales. Most importantly, congratulations to the lucky winners, especially the winner of the 1st prize (an overnight stay at a 4* London Hotel and best tickets for a West End Show) - Claire Browne from Tonbridge, one of our longest serving members who has given over 60 year's service to the Party.

Here is the full winner's list:

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

It's not about me - it's about us...

I tend to take a somewhat sanguine view of what candidates like to refer to as their 'personal vote'. I am not saying personal votes don't exist, but in the overwhelming majority of seats (local and parliamentary) and in all but the most extreme circumstances, I believe a candidate's position on the ballot paper has a much bigger impact on the result than their longevity or local celebrity status. 

We have all seen hard working and long-serving councillors finishing second behind their bone idle but alphabetically advantaged running mates, and if longevity, hard work and name recognition are the bonus may believe them to be, why did Tom Tugendhat poll the highest ever vote share and the largest ever majority in Tonbridge & Malling following 40 year's loyal and diligent service by his predecessor?

Which bring me very nicely onto the reason for this post. 

Last night was the Tonbridge & Malling Executive Council, the first since the election and the first which Tom addressed as the constituency's MP. Speaking of the election, he had this to say,
'We did so well on Thursday 8 May because we worked as a team. I am under no illusion that when people went to vote, they voted for the Conservative team both nationally and locally. For whilst a couple of thousand may have known my name and what I stood for, we can be sure that every single voter knew the Conservative party's name and what it stood for. So our victory in May was nothing to do with me, and everything to do with us.'
One of the KPIs we used to measure our campaign success was 'voter retention' - or what percentage of our parliamentary vote was retained by our local government candidates being elected on the same day.  It is worth noting that the top three constituencies in Kent for voter retention were Tonbridge & Malling, Chatham & Aylesford and Tunbridge Wells, all of which achieved a retention rate of around 95%. 

Perhaps Tom Tugendhat's humble sentiments along with the words 'it's not about me - it's about us'  should be embossed on every candidate application form for the benefit of those who continue to believe their own publicity that they are more important than the party.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Kent Area Considers Party Reforms

Kent Area Management Executive (of which I am an elected member) organised a seminar on Saturday 25 July 2015 to allow local Associations an opportunity to contribute to county's submission to Lord Feldman's review of party organisation.  

Attendees were divided into four groups each with a "moderator" from Kent Area and each in turn were asked to discuss the four main topics highlighted in Lord Feldman's terms of reference:

  • Membership and Activist Engagement
  • Organisational Structure
  • Deployment of Resources
  • Candidate Selection 
It was an interesting and useful meeting and an excellent example of what our Area Committees should be doing to encourage participation and involvement. Credit is due to Kent Area Chair, Andrew Mackness, for proposing the meeting and to the four moderators (Samir Jassal, Jane Martin, Allan Sullivan and Rupert Turpin) for leading the discussions. Thanks also to those Association officers and activists who gave up their Saturday morning to attend. 

One of the reasons we organised this was in response to a number of Associations which complained that the two CCHQ organised evening meetings (in Guildford and London) were not convenient for those who work or have evening family or council commitments. It is a shame that none of the Associations who made such comments managed to attend or send any representatives on Saturday either!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

#ToriesForCorbyn should be careful what they wish for

Unlike many of today's activists and social media commentators I recall the political battles with the hard left in the 1980s when Militant Tendency were ascendant. 

By "hard left" I don't mean the quinoa eaters of Holland Park Comprehensive, who wish to change society through adjustments to the tax and benefits system. I mean the real "hard left", the ones who hate us and all that we stand for.

In the late 1980s I was politically active in Merseyside and still bear the emotional scars. It was a tough and unpleasant time to be a Conservative activist. My mother and I were sent hate mail, including letters lined with razor blades, stones and eggs thrown at our windows were a weekly occurrence and one night my car was turned upside down by a group of lads shouting "Tory scum". 

I was campaign manager for Liverpool's last remaining Conservative Councillor, Stan Airey in Childwall, before he was defeated by the rising tide of the Left in a ward which would be 70% Conservative in the south. I was one of the organisers of a group called "Liverpool Against the Militants" which brought together businesses and taxpayers to try - in vain - to stem the tide of anti-enterprise municipal Socialism. And I was there with a ringside seat, when Derek Hatton, Tony Mulhern and Liverpool's Militant Tendency brought my home city to its knees, provoking Neil Kinnock's famous words at Labour's annual conference:

"I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council -- a Labour council -- hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers . . .I am telling you, no matter how entertaining, how fulfilling to short-term egos -- you can't play politics with people's jobs and with people's services or with their homes. "

"Over the water" in true-blue Wirral we had been fighting more or less successfully to stem Labour's rising tide. A pragmatic Conservative council had retained control throughout the early 1980s but, like most of the Metropolitan Boroughs, demographic changes and a general antipathy towards Thatcherism was making it increasingly difficult and our majority was ebbing away. 

The rise of the Militant Left two miles away in Liverpool was, we thought, a godsend. Our messaging changed from one of competence and good management to "don't let Militant do to Wirral what they've done to Liverpool."  How could all those tens of thousands of aspirational middle class voters consider such a thing? 

That year was a bloodbath. We lost almost half of our council seats we were defending and overall control of the Council. The following year Labour became the largest party and a year later they took control. 

What went wrong?  

Looking back I believe we actually fought the best campaign we could, it just wasn't good enough. And this is the threat many of those #ToriesForCorbyn probably haven't considered. 

In the election of 1986 the Tory voters in the middle class aspirational wards poured out in their thousands. In the leafy suburbs overlooking the River Dee our majorities doubled - some wards were won with 75% of the vote and majorities of 4,000. But these wards were always going to vote Conservative - and still do.  Piling up 4,000 majorities in Heswall and Hoylake achieved nothing at the Town Hall. The damage was done in the battlegrounds, which Labour won with ease.   

To understand the threat posed by Jeremy Corbyn we need to consider what happened not just in Liverpool, but in Islington, Coventry, Sheffield,, Lambeth and many other areas too. 

The Conservative Party has always been capable of turning out our vote, and in 1986 with the threat of Militant we managed to increase turnout even further, by a few hundred in most wards. There was also some evidence that some moderate Liberal voters switched to us to stop Militant Tendency, but equally Labour gained many radical votes from the left of the Liberals as we did from the right.    

What we failed to anticipate was the 'radicalisation' of those who had previously given-up on politics or had never participated. Just as those in search of spiritual understanding are attracted by the simple messages of evangelism, so those angry and disenfranchised with society were attracted to the equally simplistic messages of Militant Tendency.  Turnout in the polling stations with the highest levels of social inequality and unemployment almost doubled, swamping any additional tactical Tory votes from elsewhere. One by one the Tory seats fell - and with them control of Wirral Council. We have never controlled it since.  

Similarly in the 1987 General Election a Militant Tendency-backed Labour candidate came within 279 votes of defeating the popular and respected incumbent, Lynda Chalker, as MP for Wallasey, in a seat which had been Conservative for 100 years. Uniquely in Merseyside the Conservative vote-share held, but Labour's vote increased from 32% to 42%, almost all from higher turnout which, at 80%, was the highest ever. More evidence of how Militant's simplistic messages empowered thousands of voters who had never previously voted. 

Should Jeremy Corbyn win it will be great for our Party in the leafy suburbs of West Kent and Surrey and Dorset - but these are the seats which Labour don't need to win and probably never will. The danger for us is in the dozens of constituencies which we win against Labour with the benefit of differential turnout.   These are the constituencies which will decide the government - and these are the constituencies which almost certainly contain thousands of voters in search of the simple answers than Burnham, Cooper and Kendall won't provide but Jeremy Corbyn might. 

Tories for Corbyn need to be careful what they wish for!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Lord Trimble comes to West Kent

Great excitement at West Kent Towers when Lord (David) Trimble accepted our invitation to tell his life story at our third 'An Audience With....'

These events really are very popular. Thus far we have welcomed Baroness Trumpington and Sir Nicholas Soames. Both were sold-out, and at £10 per ticket it is open and affordable for members and supporters alike. 

An Audience with Lord Trimble will be hosted by Greg Clark MP on Thursday 22 October in Pembury. If you would like to attend please let me know by emaail or simply click the BUY NOW button below.

An Audience with Lord Trimble

Monday, 20 July 2015

Time to prune the dead branches

Have you hard the story about the local Conservative Association branch...

You know the one.

The branch that hasn't held a meeting for three years,
or a properly constituted AGM for even longer.

The one whose members have been 'far too busy' to run a fund raising event,
(or even attend events organised by others).

It's the same branch which hasn't canvassed for 8 years as apparently 'everyone knows campaigning does more harm than good...'
...but strangely never appear to have the time to help those who need help.
The same branch which haven't enrolled a single new member for years and cannot even find the time to visit those who are about to lapse when asked to do so.  

You know the branch...

The one whose members demand a copy of the constitution when they realise they no longer qualify to select their local candidate and threaten to resign unless they get their own way. 

I suspect many of you have branches like this in your Association, too. 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Tom Tugendhat's thoughtful letter to a constituent on Syria / ISIS

Just over a year ago I published on this blog (with his permission) a letter from Tom Tugendhat to a local resident who had written to express concern that he supported Same Sex Marriage. See HERE.  
I tend not to publish MPs letters and speeches as this blog is about my life and work as an Agent, but I was immensely impressed with Tom's deep understanding of theology, but also that he should take such care and trouble to explain not just his vote, but the reasoning behind it. The resident replied to say he had made her 'think again' about this issue and that she would vote for him regardless, due to the effort he had taken to explain his position. 
Just over a year later I am going to do the same thing again, this time with Tom's response to a constituent over Syria and ISIS. I tend to be a 'dove' on interventionist foreign policy and fear Bush and Blair's neo-conservatism must take a share of responsibility for the growth of anti-western sentiment. Regardless, this is the strongest case I have read in support of action.
Today a constituent has written to me about the violence in Syria and the possibility of Britain taking military action. She has said that as a pacifist she opposes any action and would ask me to vote against. Though I do not know what may be proposed, and so cannot say if I would support or oppose it, I think it is important to set out why I would consider endorsing military action in Syria. What follows is my answer. Please share your thoughts.

Dear XXX

Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I'm interested in your points and will bear them in mind should anything be put to a vote. I would simply state that as a former soldier I am very cautious about the use of force. I know its consequences and costs better than many. I have seen the terrible price it can exact on all those connected from participants to families, but inaction in the face of evil allows evil to continue.

Should we have stayed silent during the Holocaust? Should we have stood aside as ethnic cleansing threatened Albanians in Kosovo, or as the Rebel United Front approached Freetown, Sierra Leone, with the sole purpose of murdering everyone in their path? Should perhaps the police stand aside and watch as people in our own society are murdered, raped or robbed? Should we watch the strong brutalise the weak or should we act to stop evil?

Personally, I joined the army to defend the weak. That is why today I stand with the victims: the thousands of Yazidi women sold into slavery and subjected to the most brutal sexual violence; the Syrian men compelled into violent attacks on their neighbours for fear of becoming victims themselves; and the children, some as young as nine or ten, turned into executioners by this hateful regime.

It is wishful thinking to say that talks would protect them or change by one iota the appalling religiously-inspired violence being conducted in Raqqa. The leadership of ISIS are clear that they are carrying out god's work. Talks will change nothing and pacifism would merely confirm to the leadership that we are more afraid to lose our own comforts - both moral and physical - and lack the courage to defend those suffering. Though it is true that we cannot be everywhere and help everyone, we, who are truly blessed by a standard of living and freedoms that are the envy of the world, have a responsibility to help those who are helpless. Sometimes directly, at other times by enabling friends and allies. That is why I support the aid budget but that alone is not enough. Sometimes we must use the armed forces to act.

I have not seen the details of what the prime minister is suggesting so I cannot comment on his proposals but there is nothing moral about tolerating the rape of children and the murder of women. There is nothing moral about pacifism at the gates of Auschwitz or Raqqa. Inaction is a choice and though it may not be easy to act, not to may be the same as tolerating evil.

It is of course true that all action has unintended consequences. People are hurt when bombs go astray or soldiers miss their targets, just as innocents are sometimes arrested by the police and mistakes are made in all human institutions. We must do all we can to prevent so-called collateral damage. But when people do not act, that may not protect the innocent. Allowing war to continue, as it is in Syria today will see many thousands killed and generations maimed. Stopping it, including with accidents, may save thousands, indeed millions of lives. Inaction too has a price.

Please to think hard about the price we are asking others to pay if we choose not to act. Please think about what we are saying about the value we place on the lives of others if we are willing to defend ourselves from such brutality but not others. I appreciate that this is a very difficult moral question but as St Augustine first argued almost 2,000 years ago, there is such a thing as a just war when it is the only option left to protect the innocent and prevent a greater harm.

I wish you the very best and will continue to to think hard about the questions you have raised. They are not easy to answer and the answers are not free from consequences, whichever choice you make.



Saturday, 18 July 2015

Labour leadership contest

I am a great supporter of democratic reform, particularly how we (and other political parties) engage with the community with regard to candidate selection. I have championed Open Primaries and even campaigned and secured agreement from the Party Board for Associations to use postal primaries for local candidate selections - running the first two postal primaries for LG selections here in Kent. 

Throughout this process I have constantly come up against the understandable concerns from our more traditional members that an open primaries will result in "infiltration" by the opposition parties. I have always managed to convince doubters that this won't happen, and locally there is no evidence that it has.

Now I appreciate this might make me sound prissy, but I am therefore quite disappointed to read many people are signing-up as supporters of Labour simply to vote for Jeremy Corbyn - and if what I read on Facebook is accurate, most of those are from the generation which is largely supportive of the type of reforms I campaign for.  

If this really is happening - and I suspect it's more social media bravado than reality - I think it's not only immature but also very damaging to those of us who wish to see reform. Whilst in no way illegal it certainly isn't honourable, and it fatally undermines our own arguments about widening the franchise and reforming our relationship with the wider community.  

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Inappropriately proportioned millinery!

I am not sure if this is a local issue or something which "irks" others, but I am plagued by people who send emails and cc'd them to everyone under the sun - and even worse are those who need to "reply to all", almost always circulating the most mind numbing tedium to the entire membership.  

I kid you not; we recently endured a string of emails when the formidable wife of a councillor decided to contact the Council Group Leader, with "cc" to every elected member (of all parties), the entire senior management of the local council, the MP, the membership of the Association Executive Council and dozens of Parish Councillors, to complain that at the Annual Meeting / Mayor Making "A certain councillor who shall remain nameless wore inappropriately proportioned millinery which blocked the view and therefore ruined my enjoyment of the ceremony."  She then went on to suggest that the Mayor's Office "may wish to consider circulating guidelines to avoid future difficulties of this nature." 

The icing on the cake however was the opening line of her email, circulated to 92 people, which read,

"I don't wish to cause unnecessary fuss or draw unnecessary attention
to a matter which may cause personal embarrassment to another, but....."