Tuesday, 6 October 2015

National membership and joint working

I was sorry to miss Lord Feldman's speech about party reform on Sunday, though from what I heard from others he made positive proposals about a national membership database, which all sensible and pragmatic members should surely support.

There will be many who object for a whole variety of reasons. Some won't like the apparent loss of 'local control'. Others will oppose 'handing more power' to CCHQ. There will be those - with whom I have sympathy - who will see this as a broken link between the local Association and the membership, and others will complain and oppose because complaining and opposing is their default position.

There will also be some who object as it will expose their past failings and perhaps lack of discipline, such as the London Association officer I encountered in Birmingham last year who was loudly boasting that his Association ran two parallel membership lists, one on Merlin and the real one on Excel 'to avoid having to pay the per member fee'. No doubt this same Association Officer was loudly criticizing CCHQ this year when all those members on his secret spreadsheet were not sent a ballot paper for the Mayoral campaign.

It is not unreasonable that we produce a national membership database and implement systems which ensures its accuracy and enables it to be accessed and shared with all who need it. But for this to work there are some difficult and complicated issues which must be addressed to the satisfaction of all concerned. Failure to address these issues before the changes are implemented could seriously undermine their success and could even turn a bad situation worse.

1. Standing orders - in West Kent around 30% of members (and almost 50% in one Association) pay by SO. How will these be handled? Anyone who has attempted to ask members to increase of change their SO will immediately understand the dangers.  Having signed a SO many have no further interest or involvement, they don't respond to correspondence and  I suspect many may have forgotten they even pay us in this way. In Tonbridge & Malling we still have 40 or so members paying below the recommended £25 rate as despite repeated requests over 10+ years they have never replied. Given we cannot transfer their payment to another account without the account holder's authority, what will happen to those who continuen to pay their local Association?  Will there be a parallel membership list or will these members simply be removed from the national database and redefined as local donors?  I would estimate that changing the collection of SOs could easily result in 20%-30% cancelling their SO and a similar number failing to respond, which might well result in the loss of 20,000+ members nationwide.

2. We also need to establish how those members who pay over the £25 will have their contribution shared. We have hundreds of members who pay £50 or £100 - and many SO payments of £5 or £10 monthly, which over the year reaches a figure far in excess of the £25 recommended payment. How will this additional money be treated and divided?

3. Lord Feldman said the Associations must trust CCHQ with their data. This is not unreasonable but also right. For historical constitutional reasons members join their local Association, but in their minds they join the Conservative Party and see no difference. I believe the national party has every right to write to members seeking financial support- but I do agree with one of the most common grumbles that national financial appeals often arrive at the same time as local appeals, undermining the efforts of both and causing confusion. So that trust really must be mutual. It is not unreasonable for local branches to know what the national party is planning and vice versa.

4. Perhaps most critically CCHQ must quickly establish how membership income will be shared. If the intention is for all membership income to be retained at the centre, this will cause the majority of Associations very real operational issues. If the plan is for a CAMS-like approach with CCHQ retaining the per member fee plus an additional amount to cover collection costs, then a fair and accurate cost allocation must be established and agreed. Locally, with 30% of our members on SO and another 30% paying electronically via PayPal or online, we have managed to reduce our collection costs to an average of around £1.70 per member, including staff time. If the CAMS charge of £4 was used as a base, this would result in West Kent facing an increase of 135% in collection costs for no real local benefit or return. The hard cash figure for us would be an increase cost of almost £5,000 per year. 

Over the last two years, as the party's unofficial ambassador for 'grouping' I must have addressed 40 meetings of individual Associations, regions and Area Councils to talk about the benefits and practicalities of joint working. With just one exception, my presentation has been met with enthusiasm and real determination to make it happen. There have been four further such meetings in the margins of conference this week. Over the last two years I have felt a real change of mood; at first people were examining their options and listening to me with polite curiosity. In the most recent round of discussions there is real determination to make it happen, along with irritation at those Associations who are being recalcitrant and seeking ways to stall progress. One group of four Associations I met yesterday were so irritated at two of their neighbours who were dragging their feet, they have decided to 'go it alone' and leave the other two behind, as they are tired of being held back.

I understand that CCHQ have no wish to take control of membership collection for the sake of it. The proposed changes are to ensure the data is held and maintained efficiently, shared by all who need it, and that income is collected in a proper and timely manner.

Perhaps a way forward would be for CCHQ to allow properly constituted 'groups' which are able to demonstrate they can meet agreed service levels, to be allowed to continue to collect and administer membership locally subject to regular quality audits, and for individual stand-alone Associations without the resource or ability to demonstrate competence to have their membership transferred to a national system, such as CAMS. This proposal would not only meet CCHQs objectives but would also avoid the dangers and pitfalls I have outlined above.  

Such an approach would not only be pragmatic it would act as both a carrot and a stick to encourage further joint working, which I believe is now accepted as the way forward.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

98 today

When I awoke this morning, slightly fuzzy from last night's curry and Cobra, I anticipated a fairly quiet opening day of conference, and a chance to catch up with friends. 

My day started as it always does in Manchester with large strong Americano in Starbucks, opposite the Midland Hotel. Whilst there I noticed four anti-capitalist protesters drinking caramel lattes and texting on their iPhones. I tweeted the irony of banner waving anti-capitalists availing themselves of two of capitalism's greatest products (Starbucks and Apple) and suddenly found it had been retweeted to almost a quarter of a million people...

Next up was an unexpected Tweet from my friend, Neil Garrett, informing me my blog in praise of the Home Secretary had been picked-up by Roland Wihite in today's Sunday Times...

By now it was just after mid day and I was half way through a Bloody Mary with Milly Skriczka when someone told me Breitbart had published Iain Dale's annual list of 'The UKs 100 Most Influential Conservatives' and I was on the list at number 98. This news rightfully and deservedly brought bucket-loads of opprobrium down upon my head, with one group of friends saluting 'Benny Hill' style as I walked past and even the presentation of a '98' badge, which friends thought amusing to ask me to wear. Needless to say the badge remained firmly hidden.

Finally, if this wasn't enough, at 4.30pm my phone starting 'pinging' again as various friends inside the main auditorium texted me to say 'Lord Feldman is talking about you from the platform'. Apparently he was referring to our work in the West Kent Group and how this was a model for the future. 

Does any of this matter? The answer is of course, a resounding no. Whilst inside the sanitized bubble almost everyone I met knew about Breitbart, Atticus or Lord Feldman's kind words, each and every aspect was internal. Tonight, as I walked through Manchester on my way to dinner with friends, not a single person knew or cared about Breitbart, me or what Lord Feldman had said.  My fifteen minutes of fame today won't bring in another pound of campaign funding, another membership or put another Conservative vote in a ballot box. So let's enjoy conference and celebrate what we have achieved. We deserve it. But our future success will be based on what we deliver, not how important we all think we are. 

Saturday, 3 October 2015

West Kent Conference Tea - extra space now available

Following several late requests, I am pleased to confirm that I have just visited the venue and secured a larger room for the West Kent Tea on Monday 5 October. We can now accommodate up to ten additional guests. 

If you would like to attend but have not yet booked, it's not too late. However, please phone me on 07792 924820 or email westkentconservatives@gmail.com and let me know that you are coming. The online payment option is now closed. Instead, upon arrival, please pay your £18 to West Kent Chairman, William Rutherford (cash or cheque).  William is settling the bill so late payments should go directly to him, please. 

Finally, just to confirm that this is not a fund raiser and there is no margin. The venue are charging us £18 a head and that is what we are collecting from those who are attending. It is therefore not possible to give complimentary tickets as this will result in William being out of pocket. 

Trains are like walls - they both have ears

Having arrived early in Manchester, I was amused to receive a text message from a London friend informing me there was a chap down the carriage in the same train as him speaking very loudly about me and what I do and the fact I live in a boat. The conversation then went on about his role in the party and this was followed by a very loud complaint that he didn't get his complimentary bacon sandwich, to which the menu said he was entitled. 

A request for a description quickly identified the culprit beyond any doubt, so I promptly sent him a text to say, 'be careful what you say about me and my boat, you are being overheard and every word is coming back to me via text...'

This reminded me of my last visit to Manchester for CPC13, which was held just before the Tonbridge & Malling Parliamentary Selection. On the journey back to Kent I was regaling friends with some of the more lurid stories arising from prospective candidates' attempts to ingratiate themselves, only to find as we pulled in to Euston one of them was sitting directly behind me. 

A salutary lesson to us all this week, walls (and trains) have ears.

Friday, 2 October 2015

CPC15 - My Conference Diary

Looking forward to catching-up witth as many friends and colleagues as possible over the conference. Here is my diary for the period - give me a shout on 07792 924820 if you are free for coffee or wine. See you all in Manchester. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Something fishy in the town of Hartlepool

Glancing through 'The Peoples Assembly' website my eye was drawn to a list of contact details for supporters to book subsidised coach travel to their protest at #CPC15. Towards the bottom of the list I found this

I was surprised to see a publicly-funded local government email address being used in this way, especially as most councillors are (rightfully) not allowed to use .gov.uk email addresses for political campaigning purposes. A visit to the Hartlepool council website however showed that Mr Jeffries was not listed as an elected member, though I quickly found this page which gave some more information about his role

In fact, a quick Google search returned dozens of references to Mr Jeffries' left wing  political activity in Teeside with each one giving his hartlepool.gov.uk email address as a point of contact.

From this we must assume that either Mr Jeffries is a full time Trades Union organiser paid by Hartlepool taxpayers, or he is (as stated in his profile piece above) 'employed in local government' and using council time and resources to further his political agenda.

Ironically, in today's online edition of the Hartlepool Mail, the Labour Council Leader is blaming government cuts for the town's deprivation. Perhaps if the Council didn't employ trades union agitators at taxpayers' expense, they would have more money to spend on the core services their community needs.

I have this evening emailed the Council's Monitoring Officer asking if Mr Jeffries' use of Council resources is compliant with the council's code of conduct. 

UPDATED: here is my email to Hartlepool Council's Monitoring Officer, Peter Devlin

Dear Mr Devlin

I believe that you are Hartlepool Council's Monitoring Officer and I am writing to you in that capacity. If I have emailed the incorrect person, please accept my apologies and perhaps you would forward this email to the relevant Officer.

This evening I noticed on The People's Assembly website (link below) a list of contacts for supporters of The People's Assembly to book coach travel to attend a 'Reclaim Manchester' protest at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on Sunday 4 October 2015. I also attach a screen grab of the relevant section of that page, in case the page to which I refer is removed or changed.

As you will see, people from Hartlepool, Darlington, Middlesborough and Stockton are instructed to contact 'Edwin Jeffries' for further details and to reserve tickets on the coach. The email address provided for such contact is edwin.jeffries@hatlepool.gov.uk.
Given Mr Jeffries is not an elected member of Hartlepool Council I assume he must be an employee of the Council as he has a hartlepool.gov.uk email address. To avoid confusion would you kindly confirm:

1. In what capacity is Edwin Jeffries employed by Hartlepool Council ?
2. Whether the use of Hartlepool Council resources and a Hartlepool Council email server for the promotion of coach travel to a protest rally organised by a pressure group with no formal connection to Hartlepool Council is compliant with the Council's Code of Conduct and the terms and conditions of Mr Jeffries' contract of employment.

Thank you in anticipation of your reply.

Andrew Kennedy

The lady at the end of our table looks remarkably like the Home Secretary

Conservative Home today has their usual round-up of the runners and riders for the post-Cameron leadership, and I noticed Theresa May was still "on the rise". This is what CH printed: 

  • Theresa May: In generational terms, the Home Secretary is an oldie, having entered the Commons in 1997.  In political terms, though, she is evergreen.  Osborne, if he succeeds Cameron, might well seek to demote her out of the top three posts – perhaps to Defence.  But she will surely stand against him in the contest to come, and he will presumably want to keep her on board if he defeats her.  She might not want to stay on in such circumstances, but she would probably have the option – and can thus stay in the Cabinet until 2020 if she wants to.

I have never blogged about the Rochester & Strood by-election and I am not about to do so now, but there is one Theresa May story which deserves to be told. 

All MPs and Ministers visited Rochester & Strood at least three times during the campaign, including Theresa May. During one such visit there were concerns from Special Branch relating to security, and for whatever reason she did not go out doorstep canvassing. Many Ministers might take this as a cue to return to Westminster, but this did not happen. She looked around and saw a large team of volunteers hand-writing envelopes, and without complaint, hesitation or persuasion she joined them. As did her husband who had travelled to Kent with her. And there they sat, for three or four hours, chatting to volunteers and hand writing envelopes. In fact, she was so low-key about it that one volunteer, who was sitting four or five places along the table, came up to me and said, 

"Don't you think the lady at the end of our table
looks like the Home Secretary?"

I will leave the story there with no further comment, other than I found it truly remarkable that someone who held one of the great "Offices of State" for almost five years should still be so charming and grounded.  

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Does this new youthful face ring a Bell?

All across the UK, Conservative activists are opening their 2015 Conference Handbooks and staring in amazement at the new and youthful Steve Bell. The above "before and after" photographs show what an amazing transformation there has been in the last 3 years. 

Social media platforms and the comments pages on Breitbart, ConHome and Guido are awash with people inferring that Conference Organisers have used the magic of airbrush to ensure our President doesn't frighten the horses, but I can now exclusively reveal the secret of his truly remarkable transformation:

Special Offer for all Conservative Associations: buy a jar of BELL-O-GENICS anti-aging cream and with one simple application you can turn all your hard and crusty old activists into a new and youthful foot soldiers. 

Exclusively available from Andrew or Jon at the West Kent stall in the Market Place. 

Friday, 25 September 2015

Canterbury Tales

In the train en route to meet Canterbury Council Leader, Simon Cook. 

Shortly before arriving at Canterbury, two charming elderly ladies sitting opposite me started to gather their belongings.

"Do you think Canterbury's historical connection with pilgrimage and Christianity might result in the town displaying outwardly higher moral standards than most?' asked one lady, hopefully. 

Her friend gave the question a few moments careful consideration before replying, "I cannot see how living in close proximity to such values could not have a cleansing effect, though I fear the young will have been corrupted by modern sins, as they have been almost everywhere else."

Knowing many Canterbury Conservatives very well I was tempted to reply, 'I can assure you none of the young people I know in Canterbury have been so afflicted' but I could hardly lie to two nuns, could I? 

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

ABC = Always Be Campaigning

Hot on the heels of our two recent by-elections, we are off again tomorrow as we set our sights on five opposition held seats at next May's local elections. 

Thirty packers will be working in shifts up to 9pm to pack 14,000 Residents' Surveys - which will landing on the doormats on Saturday.  The desks are polished, supplies printed and mail-merged, doughnuts ordered and we're ready to go. 

As Cllr John Moss says, 'Always Be Campaigning'.