Thursday 30 June 2022

There's nothing worse than being taken by surprise !

Just returned from Millbank Towers where we were briefed on how we can assist our target constituencies with General Election preparation. Now obviously I am not going to tell any secrets, but 10 minutes of the meeting was so surreal it felt as if I was trapped in a badly scripted Carry On film. What made it amusing was the main characters had absolutely no idea that what they were saying was in any way smutty or open to another interpretation. And the agony enhanced by how deadly serious the conversation was being taken, and how long it continued. For the naughty schoolboys on the back row, it really was the gift that kept on giving.
Talking of mutual aid (campaign support from one Association to another) the CCHQ Oberleutnant announced,
"Now by now you should all know which of you are givers and which of you are receivers."
Within nanoseconds I heard a snort of amusement from my left, as one of my two compatriots was making up his own jokes. I determinedly stared ahead, afraid that any eye contact would only make the situation worse.
"Excuse me, but I'm from Surrey. Are we giving or receiving, I don't know what I am supposed to do", said a man two rows ahead.
"We've always been receivers but suddenly we've been asked the change roles, and we're not sure about it" added  a man in a pink shirt. 
On and on it went, grown men talking about giving and receiving. Then it came, the comment which tipped us over the edge, into the realm hand-biting chair rocking convulsions...
"Well if you want my opinion, some of the receivers should show more gratitude for what they are getting. All they do is take take take and give nothing back in return," said an angry man with a puce face.
We were assured that "roles would be developed locally, taking past arrangements into consideration".  Apparently "no-one from CCHQ would force us into any role we didn't feel comfortable with."
Finally it all died down.
Right, next question. Yes...the gentleman at the back......
"Hello, I'm from (Xxxxxxxxxxxx). I'm worried about UKIP taking us by surprise from behind..."

Monday 20 January 2020

Chairman's Constituency Report 2019/2020

Chairman’s Constituency Report 2019/2020

As a 8 year old in Wallasey, my first chore as a volunteer was to cycle around the polling stations collecting the completed tellers’ lists and to take them back to the “Committee Room”. 

45 years later I am still at it, although not by bike! 

Over that time, I have seen our Party in good times and bad; the rise of Maggie, the Falklands War and miners’ strike, Heseltine’s resignation over Westland, the introduction of the Community Charge and Maggie’s downfall at the hands of disloyal men who owed her their careers and who were largely as feeble as they were useless.
Talking of feeble and useless, Maggie was followed by the dark and leaderless days of John Major; he of elderly maids cycling to communion through the morning mist and the excitement of the Cones Hotline and Black Wednesday, followed by our worst ever defeat in 1997 at the hands of Tony Blair. 

Through 13 years of Labour government we were led by William Hague, IDS and Michael Howard to the rise of David Cameron, when we hugged hoodies and Voted Blue to Go Green (whatever that meant).
Then we won – or almost won. We had five years of the “Dave and Nick” coalition, which was meant to re-shape British politics, when actually it just re-shaped the LibDems (reducing them from 57 seats to 8!) 

The 2015 victory that no-one saw coming, with the promise of “a once in a lifetime referendum; the government will deliver what you decide.” Victory for Vote Leave, the end of Cameron, the rise of Theresa May followed by her inevitable and agonising fall. The leadership election that gave us reason to hope, followed by the victory of Boris and finally – that glorious moment at 10pm on Thursday 12 December when Huw Edwards on the BBC election news announced “our exit poll has just been released and we are looking at a Conservative majority of 80 plus seats”.
Change in politics seldom comes smoothly and we tend to forget just how significant some of those historical changes have been. But when you are living through turbulent times rather than recalling them from the pages of history books, they seem bigger, more colourful and vivid than ever. And the last 12 months will provide historians with enough colour for years to come. How lucky we are to have had a ringside seat at such a fascinating period of our party’s and our nation’s history.
2019 started with growing despair over the Party leadership and unease about Brexit and the Government’s ability to deliver anything of tangible benefit in the hung and paralysed parliament.
Locally we were facing ‘all out’ elections in both Tonbridge & Malling and Medway Councils. On the doorsteps there was anger and impatience; but fortunately, in most of our seats, our supporters had nowhere else to go. The demise of UKIP and their takeover by unpalatable racists made them unelectable. 

Across Chatham & Aylesford the fight was between us and Labour, and while we were not loved, Labour were feared and untrusted. On Thursday 2 May most of our supporters ‘held their noses’ and voted Conservative and we retained control of both local councils. It is a tribute to Alan Jarrett (Leader of Medway) and Nicolas Heslop (Leader of TMBC) that we bucked the national trend to deliver four more years of strong local Conservative leadership with a decent majority in both areas.
Congratulations to our candidates who won: 
David Lettington and Alan Keeley (Snodland West), 
Ruth Lettington and Sue Bell (Snodland East), 
David Cooper and Rob Cannon (Ditton), 
Steve Hammond and Colin Williams (Aylesford South), 
Dave Davis and Roger Dalton (Burham & Wouldham), 
Des Keers and Michael Base and me!, (Aylesford North & Walderslade), 
David Brake and Adrian Gulvin (Medway Walderslade), 
Alan Jarrett and David Wildey (Lordswood and Capstone) and 
Tashi Bhutia and Gloria Opara (Princes Park). 
Commiserations to our candidates who fought hard and lost. Defending traditional Labour or Lib Dem seats that we won at our high-water mark, was never going to be easy and the loss was no reflection on them whatsoever. 

In particular I would like to thank and pay tribute to Mike Parry-Waller, our only incumbent councillor not to be re-elected. Mike was the first ever Conservative in Larkfield North and he worked tirelessly for that ward over eight years. He deserved a better result than was achieved, having done so much for local people and his community.
The EU election on Thursday 23 May was the election that should never have happened, fought against a backdrop of Theresa May’s crumbling government and broken promises over Brexit. Conservatives were humiliated at the hands of our own supporters; 80% of whom either stayed at home or voted for Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party.  

We finished 5th with just 8.8% of the vote, behind the Brexit Party, Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens. 15 of our 19 MEPs lost their seats. This was our worst performance ever in a nationwide election and we should be thankful that the Brexit Party was not registered nor sufficiently well organised to have fielded candidates against us at the local elections.
The following day, 24 May 2019, Theresa May announced her resignation as Leader of the Conservative Party. The ensuing leadership contest resulted in the Parliamentary Party reducing the original ten contenders to two, who were placed before Party members in the country in a secret ballot. A poll of our members locally showed 85% support for Boris, who subsequently went on to win the national vote by 66.4% to Jeremy Hunt’s 33.6%.
We saw an immediate bounce in the polls and speculation rose about a winter election, which was finally called on 6 November 2019 with polling day on 12 December 2019. After a vindictive, accusatory and at times aggressive national campaign, which saw Labour close our poll lead throughout the 5 week campaign, we finally triumphed by a far greater margin than anyone had expected; a parliamentary majority of 80 seats and the best result for 30 years. Labour’s result was their worst in 80 years.
Here in Chatham & Aylesford, Tracey Crouch polled 28,856 (66.6%) and won by a majority of 18,540. This was our best ever result and represented a 9.7% swing from Labour.  

Let’s take a moment to reflect on what has been achieved. 

Ten years ago, C&A was Labour’s safest seat in Kent. It is now one of the safest Conservative seats in the entire country, with a higher Conservative vote share than T&M, Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells and even Chelsea!  In fact, only 19 constituencies in the UK (from 650) have a higher Conservative vote-share than we do. Well done to Tracey and all who helped achieve this.
We end the year in a very good place. Our membership is the highest ever. Despite fighting local, General and European elections, we still have a healthy surplus. In fact, we finish the year with £17,600 in the bank – just £2,000 less than when we started. This is due to our hard-working branches and the generosity of our members.
I am now entering my third and final year as your Chairman. In one way or another I have been actively involved in the running of this Association since 2002. Throughout that time, I have been Chairman (twice), Deputy Chairman Political (three times) and your Agent at every local and national election for almost 20 years! 

I think I have done my share!  

With your support, my priority for the year ahead is to help rebuild our branches, set up a policy discussion group, relaunch the YCs and identify and train the next group of local leaders, including my successor. 

Locally, we have achieved more than I ever thought possible and it is now time to think about handing over to a new generation who can build on what’s already been achieved.
I look forward to my final year as your Chairman with as much enthusiasm as I did my first. I would like to thank everyone who has worked with me on this incredible journey. 
Andrew Kennedy
January 2020

Sunday 19 May 2019

Rules are rules; and they must apply to Lord Heseltine as much as the humble footsoldiers

On Friday 26 April, the weekly organisational bulletin from CCHQ contained the following unambiguous words:
"...the Party Board remains clear that all Party members, including elected representatives at all levels, are expected to fully support the Party in all elections. Campaigning for or endorsement of any other political party is incompatible with membership of the Party, as is made clear in the Party Constitution, and the Board will not hesitate to continue to enforce these rules."
In today's Sunday Times, Lord Heseltine announced that he would be voting for the Liberal Democrats at next Thursday's EU elections.
He went on to say, "I will retain membership of my local Conservative Association and will continue to take the Conservative whip in the House of Lords."
I am afraid CCHQ must act on this, and treat Lord Heseltine's public disclosure of disloyalty as they would with anyone else. Just for Alan Mabbut wrote:
"...endorsement of any other political party is incompatible with membership of the Party."

Monday 13 May 2019

Mayors, Money and Me !

My earlier blogpost about refusing to attend the drinks reception following the annual council meeting and Mayor-making has attracted praise and opprobrium in almost equal measure.

I regret that many traditional and long-serving councillors and their friends have taken offence, that was not my intention. In fact, if you read my original post I was at pains not to make it a personal criticism of anyone in particular or even a criticism of the office of Mayor.

However, as anyone who comes into the West Kent office will testify, for almost two years I have used a broken old chair at my desk, as despite many offers from my Chairman and Treasurer to buy me a new one, I don't want to spend members' money unnecessarily. It is therefore hardly a surprise that I should take an equally austere view when it comes to spending taxpayers' money!

Many people have made the valid point that the Mayor does good work and raises a lot of money for charity. This I do not deny. But for me there are three overarching principles at play in this discussion:

1. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of people in each borough/district who raise money for charity without the reward or encouragement of civic hospitality. In fact, the overwhelming majority don't even receive any civic recognition. For example, a lady in one of the villages I now represent raises £2,000 each year for the local hospice, by opening her garden and selling cakes and teas, in memory of her late husband. As she has advanced in years she now employs paid help to get her garden "up to scratch" so her visitors are not disappointed. Not only does she raise a lot of money, it costs her to do so. If anyone deserves a "free drink" it should be people like her who contribute to the community year after year with little thanks or recognition. I would willingly give up my "free wine" for someone like this.

2. Admittedly (mostly) unfairly, trust in politics and politicians at all levels is lower than ever. One of the reasons for this is we are all seen as "selfish" and/or "in it for ourselves". Turnout is at an historic low, and anyone who stood this year could see the anger by the massive increase in spoiled and abusive ballot papers. "Free drinks" and scenes of councillors congratulating each other behind closed doors at someone else's expense, will simply add to that view. We must be aware of this and not give any reasons to further undermine trust.

3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it's not our money. I was not elected to a "club" or a "fraternity". I was elected to help run a business, but unlike most businesses our customers have no alternative but to pay what we demand, and nowhere else to go if they don't like what they are charged. We simply cannot increase tax by the legal maximum, reduce services and introduce new charges on the basis that we are "cut to the bone" then spend thousands of pounds of civic hospitality at the expense of taxpayers, many of whom struggle to make ends meet and pay their Council Tax. 

So for me this is a point of principle. And I am sorry if my view has offended some of our long serving councillors, but I am reminded of the 4th principle of public life:

"Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this."

I could not with any integrity defend civic hospitality to the poorest residents in my ward, and I therefore cannot support it.

Annual Mayor Making and Civic Hospitality

I have today declined an invitation to attend the "Civic Reception" to mark the election/appointment of Tonbridge & Malling's new Mayor for 2019/2020. 

While I have a great deal of respect for the Mayor-elect, Cllr Jill Anderson, I am a longstanding supporter of the TaxPayers' Alliance and have spent 20 year's campaigning against all forms of civic hospitality. It would be wrong to change my position now that I am elected. 

The letter below, sent to the Group Leader, outlines my position in greater detail. 

I am greatly looking forward to my first "formal" Council meeting and the election of Jill Anderson as Mayor for the coming year. I very much admire Jill's extraordinary service to the residents of Hadlow and East Peckham, and the borough, over many years. She will make a wonderful Mayor and I wish her every success for the year ahead. 

Notwithstanding the above, while I will, of course, respect the Council's constitution (despite my personal misgivings over the need for a ceremonial Mayor in this modern and egalitarian age) I thought I should write to explain why I will not attend the Civic Reception afterwards. 

As you will probably be aware, as a supporters of the Tax Payers' Alliance (TPA), I have campaigned and written against all forms of "civic hospitality" for over twenty years, and I have no intention of changing my position now that I have been elected. Whilst a solitary glass of wine might not "break the bank", two cases of wine along with "nibbles" and paid overtime (or time off in lieu)  for council staff for the duration of the reception, will probably amount to the combined Council Tax of several households.  

During the election I campaigned specifically on three key pledges

1. To promote the delivery of only core/essential services to residents
2. To seek all ways to reduce Council Tax by eliminating all discretionary and unnecessary spending
3. To at all times represent local people in the council chamber

At a time when T&MBC is increasing Council Tax and introducing new charges for services (ie, green waste collections) I simply cannot accept civic hospitality paid for by our local taxes, and I must therefore decline. I would however be delighted to attend if the event could be sponsored by a local business, or better still if guests were asked to make a personal financial contribution to cover the costs, rather than them being met by tax payers who have no option but to pay regardless of their personal circumstances. 

I am sorry if this sounds severe, but it would be disingenuous for me to attend given my long held and well published view on such matters.

best wishes

Saturday 13 April 2019

Will we ever be forgiven?

Scattered around the North Downs is a collection of semi-rural communities which comprise the Aylesford North & Walderslade ward; the Tory heart of Tracey Crouch’s Chatham & Aylesford constituency. At the last election this ward was 70 per cent Conservative and, like the rest of Chatham & Aylesford, it voted by a margin of 65:35 to leave the EU.

I was delighted to have been selected as the Conservative council candidate for such a beautiful area.

Over the past few months, my friends and fellow campaigners from across the UK have told me horror stories of abuse on the doorsteps, and angry voters threatening to “never vote Conservative again” and expressing visceral hatred against politicians. So it was with a degree of trepidation that I recently started canvassing for votes in the run-up to local elections.

“I’m calling about your bins, not about Brexit” I would say with a confident a tone as I could manage, trying to deflect the anger I was expecting. Much to my relief, there wasn’t much anger at all.

In the smart houses with well-tended gardens of Walderslade, Aylesford Village and Blue Bell Hill people were not angry about Brexit, they were bored of it. Bored of it in the newspapers and on the news, bored with politicians talking about nothing else and bored that there is no end in sight.

They voted for Brexit and just wanted to get it over and done with. The Conservative vote was holding up and we were even finding new pledges of support.

Two nights ago, my campaign rolled into Eccles. Not the Eccles in Greater Manchester but a village of a thousand houses close to the banks of the River Medway.

With its terraced houses and newer builds, Eccles is far removed from the apple orchards and hop farms of rural Kent. When Theresa May spoke about the “Just About Managing” (JAMs), Eccles is the type of community she had in mind, families who have to work twice as hard for the type of lifestyle that other parts of my patch might take for granted.

My soft ride was about to come to an abrupt end. At the first door my leaflet was thrust back in my face. “Go away, just go away! You b*stards have stolen my dream.” This was a man in his fifties, a traditional Conservative voter and he was as angry as any voter I have ever met.
“You’re all liars and cheats”, he continued. I stood, absorbing the anger, partly because I agreed with him and partly because I didn’t know what to say. After a few minutes he allowed me to speak.

I told him that I had been campaigning for Brexit for 35 years, I pulled out my phone to show him photographs of me campaigning with Boris, handing out leaflets at a Vote Leave street stall and attending the Vote Leave Victory Party.

The man’s anger abated and he shook my hand, saying he would think about voting for me on a personal basis before adding, “I suspect you will eventually let me down like the rest of them.” This is what I faced, without exception, at every single door for the next two hours.

The anger of Eccles was not directed at me personally or even at the Conservative Party. It was aimed at the ruling elite. Those from across all parties who gave the people a right to speak and then refused to listen to what they had to say.

The voters of Eccles are typical of the people who Theresa May dedicated her premiership to on the steps of Downing Street. The people who the Labour Party once spoke up for but abandoned in their search for Guardian-reading Marxists. They feel abandoned and forgotten and who can blame them?

The European Union was formed with the ideal of keeping peace in Europe and preventing the rise of extremists. Yet across Europe, extremism is on the march again. A pattern is emerging of what happens when mainstream parties fail to listen; from the rise of the Freedom Party in Austria, the AFD in Germany and Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale to Golden Dawn in Greece and the re-emergence of the Francoists in Spain.

In Britain our rebellion against the elites was in the form of 17.4 million people voting to leave the EU. If the mainstream parties fail to respect their views, who will those angry people turn to next to have their voices heard?

Andrew Kennedy is a Conservative Council Candidate in Chatham and Aylesford

Sunday 10 February 2019

Where we dither we decline

Two of the issues I often address on this blog are “The Lifecycle of Conservative Associations” and “How the Party develops and supports its Association Officers”.

By “Lifecycle” what I mean is how an association’s fortunes can ebb and flow over a relatively short period of time. The two West-Kent case studies below illustrate the issue.


Ten years ago I was drafted-in to help an association which was in decline. Although in one of Britain’s most prosperous areas, and with a 20,000+ majority, this association was haemorrhaging money and had almost drained its reserves. The white elephant was the association’s headquarters; a grand five-storey building which the association could not afford to heat, let alone maintain. The building, including business rates, insurance, tax and basic maintenance, was costing the association almost £30,000 a year. The well-meaning secretary who had very few, if any, campaigning skills cost another £15,000 a year – these two costs were more than the association raised, resulting in £5-10,000 a year being taken out of reserves.

Over the next four years this association absorbed more than its fair share of time and resource but finally, with the support of a progressive team of officers, we turned things around. The property was sold, new branches were launched, new fundraising initiatives were implemented, and for 4 or 5 years the association was in the ascendant; winning elections, paying its bills, and even making a small surplus for a rainy day. This was achieved without drawing any capital from the Trust Fund which had been invested prudently by the Trustees.

Unsurprisingly my attention drifted to associations with more pressing needs. Two years ago the association just managed to break even. Last year it made a small but somewhat insignificant loss. This year they are back in the red. Old branches have folded, with little support and many of the new branches I launched have ceased to function. The fundraising has slipped with the same events we introduced 8 years ago being repeated without any innovation to the point where they became tedious and unappealing. Although the Trust Fund is intact the urgency to raise funds has dissipated as members and activists have become increasingly complacent. Once again time and effort will need to be spent to turn things around.


The story of Association 2 is as positive as Association 1 is disappointing. Association 2 joined the West Kent Group 5 years ago. They too had been losing money and were in decline. A rapid and unhelpful succession of officers led to a lack of stability and no clear sense of direction. 18 months  ago a new team of officers took over and immediately arrested the decline. At their first AGM they almost broke even, and this year have shown a profit of £6,000; their best result in over a decade. But their success is not just with fundraising. They have upped their game with campaigning, launched new branches, and have started gaining seats from the opposition. Their performance is one of the highlights of West Kent. Congratulations to all concerned.

The success of Association 2 is down to leadership; a strong and spiky chairman, who not only leads from the front, but is unafraid to challenge bad behaviour and poor performance.

We need more Andrea Thorpes!

I don’t accept the lame excuse of “a difficult national climate”. This year two of our associations have achieved record results, two others have “held their own”, and two more have gone backwards. The West Kent organisation itself has also had a record year, raising over £30,000 towards our running costs. The national climate has been the same for us all. All that is different is local leadership.

As one of Britain’s chief cheerleaders for grouping it is right that I address the negatives as well as the many positives. Keeping the plates spinning when you have just one association is relatively easy; doing so when you have 6 is more of a challenge. We rely, more than ever, on strong local leadership as priorities elsewhere demand attention.

I have written many times about the need for our Party to identify and develop strong leaders, at all levels of our organisation. Too often a vibrant organisation falls into the hands of the badge-collectors, bureaucrats and bumblers who take over because it is “their turn” without any agenda or any sense of clear purpose. When they do so the damage can take a decade to repair.

I have always maintained that “where we work we win”, it is also a truism that “where we dither we decline”.

Monday 14 January 2019

Beware of the Kitten Eaters

It's that point in the campaign when emotions are running high and we are all getting stressed. This usually results in angry emails from candidates who are understandably upset about the half-truths and misrepresentations in the latest opposition leaflet.

"What are you going to do about it?" Or "We must print and send out a rebuttal."

My advice in such circumstances is DON'T!

Imagine this scenario..... Labour deliver a leaflet claiming, "The Conservative candidate eats kittens."

1. Labour loyalists read the leaflet and believe it as they want to believe the worst about you. But they we're never going to vote for you anyway.

2. Genuine floating voters will probably read it, but being fair and open minded will discard it as "spin".

3. Conservative voters, who will turn out for you, will probably not read a Labour leaflet and therefore will be blissfully ignorant about the cruel and untrue accusation. And if they do happen to read it, will discount the accusation as a "preposterous Labour lie."

We deliver a rebuttal. "I DON'T EAT KITTENS" says angry Conservative candidate.

1. Labour voters (who are the ones who believed the accusation probably won't read your leaflet. And those that do will say "well.... he would deny it, wouldn't he. Bloody Tory."

2. Floating voters, who will probably read the leaflet, will say "why does he need to deny such a ridiculous thing. What has he got to hide?"

3. Conservative voters, who are unlikely to have read the Labour leaflet, will almost certainty read yours and will now wonder why you have gone to the trouble of denying something they didn't know anything about.

What will have also happened...

EVERY voter in your ward will have received TWO leaflets talking about you being a kitten eater. And NO leaflets talking about low Council Tax, good services and your record as a champion for local residents.

My advice has therefore always been the same.

NEVER allow the opposition to dictate the campaign narrative.

NEVER justify a lie by repeating it.

NEVER let your opponents see they have irritated or upset you.

NEVER be distracted into talking about the issues they want rather than the issues we want.

Tuesday 8 January 2019

Where's my money? Hair today - gone tomorrow!

As well as being our hardworking West Kent Agent and a Borough Councillor, Jon "Paperclips" Botten is also in charge of fundraising for his local branch in Tonbridge, and on 17 January he is hosting a fish and chip supper with Angus MP, Kirstene Hair. 

But all is not well with the finances!

When the Association's book keeper published the draft accounts, nothing was showing against the Tonbridge branch quota as income for this event, prompting an enquiry from Paperclips "where's our money gone?

After a great deal of head scratching, back came the reply:

"My knowledge of Scottish MPs is limited. Sorry. When I saw entries in the ledger for K Hair Event I assumed it was an evening about hair products and allocated the income to the Woman's Committee."

I should place on the record that our book keeping is outsourced and he is not a Party member!

Friday 28 December 2018

The 2016 Conservative Party Leadership Campaign pt 3

Deja-vu - but grander. Another oak-panelled room packed with too many portly men sweating profusely in their suits, with Andrea's campaign team squashed at the back - three arses fighting for every two chairs. It was like the Cinnamon Club all over again, but this time it was the beginning of the end, not the end of the beginning

House of Commons Committee Room 14 was buzzing with excitement, booze and body odour as we nervously awaited the arrival of Sir Graham Brady with the final result. How and why was it taking them so long to count 329 votes?

Then he was there; a booming voice announcing that Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May would be going forward to the members' vote. Huge stamping and cheering all round. I was sitting with Tom Borwick, Helen Mayer and William Norton. We exchanged nervous glances; Andrea's vote had increased by 18 to 84, but she still only commanded 25% of the parliamentary party. If she went on to win the members' ballot, would she be able to command the party in parliament with so many voting against her?  It was something we had privately discussed several times; but that was someone else's problem for another time. "That's pissed on Nick Boles" I said. 

We all traipsed to another Committee Room for a meeting of the campaign team, and to hear an address from Andrea. There must have been 40-50 people in the room. And we waited, and waited...and waited, for almost an hour. Stewart Jackson MP was sitting next to me and turned his notepad to my eyeline, "I don't like this, I hope she isn't going to withdraw."  I suspect many of us were thinking the same. Helen Mayer and I were already thundering having been told we couldn't do any more work on the grid as Bill Clare wasn't available over the weekend and he had insisted on being present for any and every decision. Oh, the irony!

Finally Andrea arrived with her husband Ben and the core parliamentary team. For someone maybe ten weeks away from being Prime Minister, she didn't look or sound particularly enthused, though she spoke generously and with sincerity as she thanked her team "both within the parliamentary party and all those working so hard outside parliament, for their trust, loyalty and support."

It was then announced that we were to all have the three day weekend off to "recharge our batteries". This was when we knew something was very wrong. No campaign comes out of such a momentous day and then stalls for three crucial days, allowing the opposition to set the narrative and dominate the agenda. 

Before we all departed Andrea announced that she was returning to Northampton but was stopping en route for a major interview with one of the UK's most hard-hitting writers, Rachel Sylvester, which would be published in the Times on Saturday 9 July. It then transpired that the interview would be held without any support staff in attendance and in the cafeteria of Milton Keynes railway station. What could possibly go wrong?

(c) Rachel Sylvester / Times Newspapers

At this point any commentary becomes subjective. She was tired, even exhausted. She was distracted. The noisy and bustling surroundings of a coffee shop at Milton Keynes railway station was wholly unsuitable for such an important interview, it should never have been agreed. And it was wrong that a candidate who was in the final two for the leadership of the Conservative Party (and the final two to become Prime Minister of the UK) was not accompanied by a press officer. All of this is true.

Many others would argue that the above is immaterial. If Andrea had been elected leader and Prime Minister there would be many more occasions when she would be much more tired and the consequences of a mistake would be immeasurably higher. Therefore she had a duty to hold it together, and her inability to do so indicated she was not ready for the highest office. I can see there is truth in this too.

My view? We are all human, even politicians. We all make mistakes. Every day in almost every conversation someone will say "what I meant to say was..." and in doing so clarify a remark which had been misunderstood. I don't know if Andrea "mis-spoke", whether she made a dreadful error of judgement, whether her remarks were misconstrued or taken wholly and disproportionately out of context, but what I do know is the option to say "what I meant to say..." was not an option for Andrea. As soon as it was said, it was recorded, written and reported. 

The reason every  major celebrity, sportsperson, captain of industry and politician has a press /communications team by their side is to help ensure these human errors don't become the headlines. And at that moment, tired, distracted, exhausted - her press operation let her down. Allowing that interview in those circumstances ranks for me alongside the march on parliament as an act of folly and a poor reflection of those who were meant to support her.

Over the next three days her team continued to build the campaign infrastructure, but the energy had gone. And as the headlines from Saturday's Times began to circulate and the feeding frenzy began, any hope left started to turn into despair. 

Amongst the gloom there developed a sense of gallows humour, with the wonderful JP Floru unwittingly being the source of much of it. For over a week in anticipation of us getting into the final two, JP had been tasked with identifying a suitable house within the Division Bell for our HQ.  Various members of the team fed-in suggestions which JP would dutifully investigate, and having done so report back via WhatsApp. "Too much dust; would be havoc for asthmatics". "Oh my Lord, the stains were beyond what any normal person would consider acceptable" and my favourite, "The cat was so ugly it would frighten itself in the mirror". 

Finally a suitable property was offered in Cowley Street, a wonderful Georgian terrace which was the London home of Sir Neil and Lady Thorne; the same property used by John Major for his HQ during his "back me or sack me" leadership campaign in 1995. The Thorne's kindly offered use of the ground-floor dining room, an adjoining sitting room and the kitchen., on the understanding that the campaign would remove and store their antique furniture, pictures and silver. Cue another flurry from Floru: "can anyone lend me a spanner?"  "Where can I buy bubble wrap on a Sunday" and then, "This Georgian dining table weighs a ton, can anyone help me move it?" Several such pleas went unanswered; I have never been more grateful for being 35 miles away in Kent. Finally Tom Borwick took pity and offered assistance. WhatsApp fell silent for two hours and we all speculated what had gone wrong.  What a way to go, crushed to death in Cowley Street by Sir Neil Thorne's dining table. JPs wicked sense of humour and kindness kept us hopeful in those dark days and I wish to record how much I appreciated his company.

On the Friday night I had returned to Kent as I was hosting An Audience with Jacob Rees-Mogg, which had been in the diary for many months. At the time Kent had around 10% of the Party's national membership - a significant block vote - and most of the local opinion formers would be present. 
I had already spoken to Jacob and he had confirmed that he was going to endorse Andrea, but he wanted a private chat before the event to discuss the mechanics. 

We agreed to meet privately in the margins for a quick chat but when he arrived there was nowhere to go; the lobby was bustling, the kitchen was packed with the catering team and the loos were busy. I saw a storeroom, opened the door and pushed him inside, before the crowds closed in. Unfortunately it was more a cupboard than a room, 3ft square with no light. Two mop buckets filled the floor space and low shelving prevented us from standing upright. So there we were, in the pitch black, with JR-M bent in double and me standing with one foot in a (fortunately empty) mop bucket, we agreed the plan. Rather than him just announcing his backing, I would arrange a suitable question which he would answer with a fulsome endorsement and I would then "live tweet" his position. 

Having agreed the plan we tried to leave the darkness of the cupboard with a degree of dignity, only to find a large and curious crowd had gathered outside, trying to hear what was going on. As the door opened they all started clapping. Quite what they thought we were doing in a small cupboard which was worthy of applause remains unsaid, but Jacob smiled graciously and started shaking hands as if it was a regular occurrence.    

That weekend the campaign was close to meltdown, with Rachel Sylvester's story running from Friday night through Saturday and Sunday and hints of further "revelations" to come. Andrea's political enemies briefed against her like fury to keep the story alive, then came rumours (subsequently found to be untrue) that she had falsified her CV. Talk about hitting a woman when she was down. However awful it was for us it must have been 100 times worse for her and her family. Even when she came out of her home to issue a statement, rather than reporting her words they criticised her fence panels and queried the value of her property. It was journalism at its worse and I wondered why anyone would wish to put themselves ans their familiges through such an ordeal.

For the sake of accuracy I must record that we all had wobbles that Sunday. During the course of the day, we spoke to each other about our personal positions. Could Andrea recover? Could the campaign continue? And were we each prepared to sacrifice three months of our lives on what may well be a pointless endeavour? After much heart-searching, we all came to the same view; for as long as Andrea wanted to stay and fight, we would stand with her. My personal view was clear. Andrea had trusted me, and put her faith in me, I was not going to abandon her at the first whiff of grapeshot. It was, however, a difficult call. Some of the team were taking unpaid leave (me included) – if the campaign imploded, would our employers welcome us back? For others they had, or were about to, relinquish valuable contracts elsewhere. Still others had arranged childcare, and other domestic matters to make themselves available. The easiest thing that day would have been to walk away; none of us did.

And so, at 7.30am on Monday 11th July 2016 we all gathered in Cowley Street for the first day of the campaign proper. The mood was grim but, apart from a few furtive glances, the weekend’s events were not mentioned, as each of us focused on our tasks. Slowly the MPs started to arrive and fill the room, and we all waited for Andrea.

Needing distraction, I popped to the kitchen to make tea, and was joined by Lady Thorne:

“What are you chaps doing for lunch?”, she asked.

“I don’t think we’ve thought that far ahead!”

“When Mr Major was here in the 90s, I organised a rota of ministerial wives who each provided food. One day it was hotpot, then a casserole or a game pie”. 

She then giggled: “I remember that every fifth day a Rolls-Royce would pull up and two liveried footmen would deliver a Fortnum’s hamper.”

“I suspect there will be no Cabinet wives or Fortnum’s hampers for us”, I said. “More likely a trip to Tesco Express for their “Meal Deal”!

Lady Thorne smiled diplomatically – I suspect she had no idea what a Tesco Meal Deal was.

By now, Andrea had arrived, and it was clear that all was not well. After wishing us all good morning, she disappeared into the drawing room with her closest advisers. 

Andrea Leadsom with MPs Steve Baker, Tom Pursglove and William Wragg, drafting her statement
announcing that she would be withdrawing from the leadership contest. Photo courtesy of JP Floru.  

The mood darkened. Half an hour later Tim Loughton called us to attention, and invited Andrea to speak. To a silent, and crestfallen, team she confirmed what we already suspected – that she would be withdrawing from the leadership contest with immediate effect. She informed us that, whilst the weekend press had been a factor, her main concern was the damage a ten week campaign would do to Britain’s economy. The Stock Market and the Pound were already in freefall following the referendum, and she simply did not believe that the economy would stand 70 days of the country having no leadership or clear sense of direction. This, together with her fears about uniting the Parliamentary Party, had left her with no choice but to withdraw. She apologised profusely for letting us down and thanked us for our dedication and loyalty. She then returned to the sitting room with her advisers to draft her resignation statement.

Photograph taken from Tim Shipman's book "All Out War".
The "Three Musketeers" Helen Mayer, Tom Borwick and me can be seen around the top left hand corner of the table. 

Later that same morning, on the other side of London, Angela Eagle MP was launching her bid for the leadership of the Labour Party. Conscious not to clash, and determined to get our story out first, the press statement was hurriedly drafted and emailed to the Press Association for 11am. Unfortunately, an angry senior MP, who had not been consulted on Andrea’s withdrawal, had furiously kicked the router, and broken it. JP was dispatched upstairs to borrow a screwdriver from Sir Neil Thorne, and we all stood around impatiently as JP attempted to repair it. By this time we had missed the deadline, and the statement had to be twice rewritten putting back the press conference. 

Despite JP’s best endeavours, the little green light of the internet refused to flicker and the final indignity was having to send Shane Frith down Cowley Street, with a laptop, to use the Ibsgigute of Economic Affair's WiFi.

Andrea Leadsom announces her withdrawal. Photo courtesy of JP Floru. 

And so, nine short days after I was offered the job of Campaign Manager, while I was standing in a muddy field in Eynsham, it was all over.

The one joy of an otherwise bleak day was to see Angela Eagle floundering at her press conference, as Britain’s media bandwagon stood up and walked out half way through her launch to record the bigger event in Westminster.

“What do we do now?”, asked Tom Borwick. “Let’s go to Rules for lunch!”, I said, “The Champagne’s on me!” On the way to Rules, in a taxi, a friend at the CCHQ Press Office sent me a text, “Well, at least you upstaged Angela Eagle…you guys did one thing right”

I never admitted that even that was an accident – thanks to a broken router – I was determined to bank one small, albeit Pyrrhic, victory. 

A week after the campaign finished I received a call from Andrea’s office. There was a letter for me, and a bottle of Champagne – could I come to collect it? I was not planning to be in Parliament for some weeks, so I arranged for a friend from the TPA to collect them for me, and to keep them safe until we next met. The Champagne was welcome, and the hand-written letter was a nice touch; but enclosed with the letter was a cheque covering a substantial portion of what I would have been paid for the whole 3 month campaign. Others on the team received similar. Andrea was under no contractual or moral obligation to do this; none of us asked for, or expected, payment. The fact that she gave it so freely is a mark of her sincerity and decency, which I have never forgotten.