Friday, 9 December 2016

Happy Treasurers and Luck Winners

We were delighted to welcome Tonbridge & Malling MP, Tom Tugendhat MBE, to West Kent Towers today to pick the winning numbers for the 2016 West Kent Christmas Draw. In total, we raised over £12,000 for our local Associations this year, including Gravesham and Canterbury who joined-in our local Christmas Draw for the first time.

Congratulations to our winners and thank you to everyone who participated and made the draw such a great success. 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Winning elections isn't difficult, it's just hard work, MORE LEAFLETS = MORE VOTES.

I am just back from the count and I am delighted to report that we comfortably won the Tonbridge Trench ward local by-election. The full result was

Georgina Thomas (Con):- 603 (61.2%)
Lab/Progressive Alliance:- 204 (20.7%)

UKIP:- 178 (18.1%)

Depending how you analyse the result, this represents either a 8% increase in the Conservative vote (my figures) or a 17.4% increase in the Conservative vote (@BritainElects figures) compared with 2015.  And given the 2015 result was our best ever performance, to increase our vote share by a further 8% or 17.4% is somewhat satisfactory!

To the outside observer, our 61% share would indicate a comfortable middle class ward in the midst of True Blue West Kent. Far from it. Trench was safely Labour for over 50 years (from 1950 - 2007). Even now, even after helpful boundary changes brought 200 or so owner occupied houses into the ward, over 60% of voters live in social housing.

Just think about this for a moment.... What was once a Labour working class heartland now has a higher Conservative vote share than Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks and Tonbridge & Malling parliamentary constituencies, which are three of the UKs safest Conservative seats. After 6 years of Conservative-led government, for Labour to poll just 20% in this ward is prime example of how far they have to climb to re-establish themselves as serious contenders for office. Even worse for Labour, in this by-election they launched a "progressive alliance" with the Greens and LibDems, both of whom stood aside and backed Labour.  This unholy alliance where political parties attempted to trade their voters resulted in many absurdities which provided us with no end of amusement:

First the Greens took great exception to our candidate claiming they "couldn't be bothered" to field a candidate. This resulted in them delivering not one but two leaflets (the trees, the trees) clarifying their position. This was twice as many leaflets as they deliver when they are fielding a candidate. This added little to the debate other than confirming the view of most people that the Greens are "not quite like the rest of us".

Then they took to Facebook to bemoan the nasty attack, which resulted in the majority of their own followers agreeing with me that they had let down their supporters. On and on they droned about the injustice of it all. And just as the debate was dying down I intervened with this helpful comment.....

Which kicked them off again into another round of foaming at the mouth invective, which was just what I intended!

The consequence of this "progressive alliance" is, compared with 2015, the three parties of the Left saw their vote fall from 35% to 21% proving that you cannot act like feudal barons and trade your supporters as if you owned them.

So, how did we win...?

1. Pick a strong local candidate
2. Fight a positive campaign on the issues that matter to local people (which are not the issues politicians think matter to local people)
3. Work hard

The brutal truth, we worked harder, delivered more leaflets, knocked on more doors, recruited more postal voters, turned out more pledges and came across as more determined and hungry to win than the others. Today we started at 7am and took our last supporter to the poll at 9.55pm. I have said it before and I will say it again.

Winning elections isn't difficult, it's just hard work,

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Christmas Cheer comes to West Kent Towers

Despite the appearance of Scrooge hovering over the franking machine, the appearance of the Tesco Value Christmas Tree and a packet of chocolate biscuits indicates that the Season of Goodwill has finally arrived at West Kent Towers.  

Sunday, 4 December 2016

What's the Spanish for "More Leaflets = More Votes"?

Members of Parliament, Parliamentary Candidates and Party Managers from the Ecuadorian Partido Social Cristiano on a visit to West Kent Towers last week

Until recent weeks I have paid little attention to the “outreach” department at CCHQ. I knew it existed and that they did good work with our faith and BME communities, but who they were, how they operated and what they did remained a mystery.  That was until four weeks ago, when my good friend, Dr John Hayward (a former activist from Tonbridge who now works with the Outreach Department at CCHQ) contacted me to ask if West Kent would ‘host’ a delegation of visitors from the Partido Social Cristiano, our sister party in Ecuador. 

I readily agreed as John Hayward is a longstanding friend and I like to be helpful. I am also quite proud of what we have created in West Kent and jump at any opportunity to show off!
That sounds exciting”, I said to our Office Manager, Jon Botten, who had overheard the conversation and was eyeing me suspiciously over his spreadsheets. Jon does not share any of my ringmaster’s attraction to the spotlight, and tends to view anything new or different as a gross interference into the daily ritual of data management and cheque banking.  “How many of them will there be? I am worried that we won’t have enough coffee cups.” I admitted that I did not know.  Do they speak English, as the only Spanish you know is ‘dos cervezas, por favor’?”  I admitted that I did not know. “Where will they all sit, we only have ten chairs? Oh! There won’t be that many of them, I said. I imagine just a car full. This was my attempt to shut down the barrage of goading questions as I knew he was right and that I should have checked all these things before agreeing.

A silence ensued: that awkward silence I imagine descends when a husband is sent out shopping and returns with only half the things on the list, a silence suddenly broken by the “chimes” signalling the arrival of an email.

“Dear Andrew, ECUADORIAN VISIT. Thank you so much for agreeing to host our visitors. Just to let you know, there will be 18 in the party so you will also need to arrange somewhere suitable to park the coach. As most of them do not speak English, we will also have two translators plus a number of support staff. Probably 24 in total. I am sure they would all appreciate coffee upon arrival. I really grateful for you agreeing to help and we look forward to receiving your draft programme of activities.”

In one brutal paragraph, all of Jon’s fears were proved true just as my own laissez faire insouciance was exposed. Undaunted by my poor Spanish, the lack of coffee cups, chairs and space, and nowhere suitable to park a coach, we drew up what I hoped would be an interesting and stimulating programme of activities, bearing in mind this was their third and final day in the UK having already spent a day touring parliament and a day touring CCHQ and meeting Heads of Department. I was concerned that their final day in the UK would be defined by a visit to two soulless rooms above a dry cleaners in West Kent and a 50-year-old, tall, fat Scouser banging on about “more leaflets = more votes”. It seemed an inglorious end to a visit to promote democracy.
Our programme of events included:

·       A presentation by me on the work of the Conservative Associations at “grassroots” level, including building and retaining an activist base, fund raising and street campaigning

·       Buffet lunch at a typical British country pub with three guest speakers; an MP, a Council Leader and an Association Chairman, each of whom were to make brief presentations on how they fit in to the ‘Conservative family’

·       Two hours on the doorsteps “survey canvassing” with local activists who could speak sufficient Spanish to explain what was happening.

·       Finally, an evening event with Lord Baker of Dorking, who spoke about his work in Parliament and what he has achieved with the Baker Dearing Trust since his retirement in 1997, promoting vocational-based technical colleges

I am confident that the day went well and our visitors found it useful, but I believe the highlight for them was the session on building and developing a local activist base. This was scheduled to last 45 minutes but due to the number of detailed questions, it actually lasted for almost two hours, and probably would have gone on longer had we not had to leave for lunch.

What I learned was that in Ecuador (and in most of Latin America) the concept of voluntary activists simply does not exist. Elections are fought at big rallies and by neighbours arguing with each other in town squares and street corners. The concept of a small army of volunteers giving up night after night to deliver leaflets, canvass voters and pack envelopes simply does not exist. The visitors wanted to know, “Why do they do it?” “What do they get in return?” “Are they offered jobs or contracts if your party wins?”  “Why don’t they want payment?” “How do you find these volunteers?”  “How do you train them?” And so on.  The look on their faces when I said our activists not only worked free of charge but actually paid an annual subscription for the privilege of doing so, was met with total amazement. 

I thought it was ironic that the voluntary party, which is too often taken for granted, sometimes even patronised and ignored, is the part of our organisation which our visitors from Ecuador would have given the “eye teeth” to have working on their behalf! A lesson for us all in how we might not realise the value of what we have until it’s gone, and by then it will be too late.

The visit was financed by the non-partisan Westminster Foundation for Democracy, whose vision “is of the universal establishment of legitimate and effective multi-party representative democracy.” The training and development is delivered via established UK political parties, who each receive funding to host likeminded democratic parties and train them to develop the campaigning, policy development and communications skills we take for granted in the UK. In terms of promoting democracy, strengthening British interests, and building worldwide alliances, I believe it is a worthwhile endeavour. See for more information about their work.

Our visitors were charming, appreciative, eager to learn and determined to win. They left West Kent with arms full of surveys, leaflets, training documents and recruitment pamphlets. The electoral maths are stacked against them and their chief opponent, the incumbent Socialist president Rafael Correa (a close friend of the late Hugo Chavez) is well established, with deep roots in the machinery of the state. I would like to think that in the battle which lies ahead, a fresh-faced and newly-recruited volunteer will be standing on a doorstep of Quito – handing over a show card and asking, in a refined Liverpool accent, “on a scale of one to ten, how likely are you to vote for Partido Social Cristiano on 19 February 2017?” 

If so, the little known and seldom acknowledged Conservative Outreach Department (along with West Kent Towers) will have, in some very small way, contributed that that success.

Friday, 2 December 2016

A few thoughts on Richmond Park

Richmond Park: We should remember that the Lib Dems turned this into a referendum on Brexit and they polled under 50% of the vote on a 56% turnout in one of the UKs strongest Remain constituencies. This is a good result for them, but it is far from a mandate to change the terms of Brexit.

They say "failure is an orphan but success has many fathers". This  is no exception.

1. Zac's badly fought Mayoral campaign and the bitter taste that must have left in with many socially moderate voters.

2. Irritation at a costly and unnecessary election, remember the last "vanity by election" in Haltemprice resulted in a massively reduced turnout, too.

3. The consequence of a candidate who thinks he is bigger and more popular than the party brand he was elected to represent. The same thing has happened locally in West Kent; deselected councillors have stood as independents and ended-up finishing third or fourth.

4. A piss-poor ground operation which delivered only half the number of leaflets delivered by the LibDems and secured voting intentions from 10,000 voters compared with 50,000 by the Lib Dems.

I have said it before and I will say it again and again and again. "Winning elections isn't difficult, it's just hard work. More leaflets = more votes."

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

An Audience with Lord Lamont of Lerwick

Over the past two years the west Kent Group have hosted a wonderful range of guests at our regular "An Audience with..." series, including Baroness Trumpington, Lord Trimble, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sir Nicholas Soames, Charles Moore, Lord (Kenneth) Baker and Boris Johnson MP. 

I am now pleased to confirm our first confirmed guest for 2017. 

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord (Norman) Lamont will be interviewed on stage by Tom Tugendhat MBE MP on  Thursday 23 February 2017 at 7pm at the E M Forster Theatre within the grounds of Tonbridge School.

The Rt Hon Lord Lamont of Lerwick (Norman Lamont) was born in the Shetland Islands where his father was the islands’ surgeon.  After reading Economics at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge he worked for N M Rothschild & Sons and became director of Rothschild Asset Management.  

In 1972 Norman Lamont was elected as Member of Parliament for Kingston-upon-Thames in a by-election. He served in successive governments under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, including stints at Energy, Industry, Defence and the Treasury.  He served as Chief Secretary to the Treasury whilst John Major was Chancellor, and became Chancellor of the Exchequer in November 1990, when John Major was elected Leader of the Conservative Party. During the leadership election he ran John Major’s campaign.

Norman Lamont was the government’s key negotiator on Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) which led to the Maastricht Treaty and the single currency, to which he was strongly opposed. Lamont set out two objectives: first to ensure Britain did not have to join the single currency and second, to ensure the opt-out was legally water-tight. To the surprise of his officials, he achieved both objectives.

Under Lamont’s Chancellorship inflation fell dramatically, the economy started to recover from the recession, and tough measures to reduce the deficit were taken. Britain was ejected from the ERM which most commentators believed we had joined at an unsustainably high rate under John Major’s period at the Treasury. 

In the weeks immediately following the UKs withdrawal Lamont appeared sanguine, telling journalists in Washington that his wife had heard him ‘singing in the bath that morning’ and in May 1993 when asked about his term as Chancellor, replying Je ne regrette rien. Three weeks later Lamont resigned, refusing a demotion to become Secretary of State for the Environment. He subsequently delivered his now famous resignation speech, accusing the government of being in office but not in power’ and stating that the Prime Minister had instructed him not to resign during ’Black Wednesday’ and had allowed him to carry the can. Sir Alan Walters, Economic Advisor to Lady Thatcher, described Norman Lamont in his post ERM actions, “to be not only the most effective but also the bravest Chancellor since the War.”

In 1994 Lord Lamont hit the headlines at the Conservative Party Conference by saying he would see no “unambiguous” benefit from Britain’s membership of the EU and one day we might have to choose between being in a European state of leaving the EU. He campaigned for the Leave side in the recent referendum.

At the 1997 General Election the Kingston-upon-Thames constituency was abolished in boundary changes and he was adopted for Harrogate, which was lost in the nationwide anti-Conservative swing at that election. In 1998 he was elevated to the House of Lords by William Hague as ‘Baron Lamont of Lerwick’.

We are delighted to welcome Lord Lamont to West Kent and look forward to hearing his personal account of his time in government under Margaret Thatcher and John Major and his views on how to handle Brexit.

Tickets for An Audience with Lord Lamont are £15.00 per person for the show (or just £12 if booked before 20th December 2016), or £30.00 per person if you would like to stay for the after-show “Wine and Canape” Reception. 

To reserve your tickets using a credit/debit card or PayPal, please use the payment button below. Alternatively, please send a cheque (payable to West Kent Conservatives) to Campaign HQ, Suite 3, Business Centre, Commercial Road, Paddock Wood TN12 6EN.

How Many tickets?

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Six great Party Chairmen and the difference they made

The post of Chairman of the Conservative Party is widely regarded as a poisoned chalice.

The appointment is the personal gift of the Party Leader, but the holder of the office must balance many competing demands, from managing the finances and creative chaos at CCHQ, motivating and enthusing the voluntary party in the country, defending the Party’s public image and reputation in the media whilst always maintaining the Party Leader’s confidence and support. It is a broad skill-set possessed by few, including sadly several of those who have held the office.

The first Conservative Party Chairman (from 1911-1916), was Arthur Steel-Maitland and there have been 43 since, with an average term in office of just 2 years and four months. This average tenure is extended however by six Chairmen who were in- situ for five plus years: remove them from the calculation and the average term is just over 18 months. With such short periods at the helm, it is little wonder that so few have made any lasting impact and one or two are not even remembered.

During my time in the Party (as a volunteer or agent) I have “served” under 23 of them, starting with Lord Thorneycroft in the late 1970s (yes, I started young). It is these Chairmen I am going to examine, and they tend to fall into three categories:

Consolidators: Post-election appointees with a remit to ‘calm things down’ after a period of upheaval and ensure internal housekeeping is done before the campaign to come. I would include in this group John Selwyn-Gummer, Peter Brooke, Caroline Spelman, Sir Norman Fowler and Cecil Parkinson (2nd time around) – he is, to my knowledge, the only person to be appointed Party Chairman by two different leaders.

Campaigners: Attack dogs with a good campaigning reputation to put the party on a war footing and see us through a General Election. Norman Tebbit, Chris Patten, Brian Mawhinney and Cecil Parkinson on his first incarnation).

Reformers: These are fewer in number and often their zeal for reform comes after their appointment and subsequent understanding of what really needs to be done. I would place Francis Maude into this group and, of course, Lord Feldman. But the greatest and most successful reformer of all, must have been Lord Woolton (1946-1955). I think it is no surprise that both Feldman and Woolton had similar backgrounds. Both were very successful businessmen before getting involved politically. Both were brought into CCO/CCHQ with the specific task of reshaping it after a difficult period of decline, and perhaps most importantly, neither felt constrained by their past emotional connections or misplaced loyalties to a party structure clearly not fit for purpose.

So, putting aside the present incumbent and all those whose tenure predate my own involvement, who were the five great Party Chairmen, and why?

The following list is mine alone, though in compiling it I sought the views of my blog readers and I am grateful to several senior members of the National Convention who shared their own thoughts in confidence. So, in no particular order:

Lord Tebbit was a Rottweiler and in the mid-1980s he appealed to the heart and soul of Thatcher’s Britain and to the new generation of Party activists. His political skills were at their strongest and his narrative successfully hit its target audience. He oversaw a sharpening of CCOs printed and broadcast message. “The Next Moves Forward” campaign gave new direction and purpose to a government fighting its third election and in danger of looking tired. It is a shame that the biographies and history books have focused on his 1987 rows with Lord Young and Thatcher’s “wobbles” mid campaign, which damaged their relationship. 

David Cameron’s friend and loyal lieutenant, he took over a party in financial collapse, restored its balance sheets to the black, reformed CCHQ and gradually won the grudging respect of the membership, despite one or two own goals. He clearly had no political ambitions of his own and took on a difficult role as a favour to his friend. Over time he grew in confidence and stature. By the time I contributed to his Party Review, he was on top of his game and knew exactly where we needed to go. It is a shame his early departure led to a watering down of those changes, and I fear the Party will live to regret that. I was pleased when every mention of his name in Birmingham drew warm and much deserved applause.

Ken (Lord) Baker took on the role in the darkest days of the 1987 government during the poll tax riots and whilst the government was tearing itself apart over Europe and the leadership. His confident and optimistic media performances provided hope and stability, and his handling of the 1990 local election meltdown, by focussing the media’s attention on the only two good results in the UK (Wandsworth and Westminster) was nothing short of genius. By co-incidence, I greatly look forward to welcoming Lord Baker to West Kent this coming Thursday.

A man whose intellect and moderate demeanour made him an unlikely choice for an election Chairman, but who is widely acknowledged for delivering a victory few of us expected in 1992. “Labour’s Double Whammy”, “Labour’s Tax Bombshell” and “gobsmacked” are the three defining phrases of that campaign, which was ruthlessly “on message” and waited for Labour to implode.

I believe Francis Maude’s tenure is overlooked and underrated. He came in at a bleak period, after three dreadful election defeats, and he had the courage to speak truth to those who probably didn’t wish to hear it. He recognised that the Conservative Party’s image at that time was so bad that “it was damaging good conservative policies” and he implemented a series of reforms which not only paved the way for David Cameron’s leadership but also changed the party’s position and image which was necessary for it to win in 2010.

The above list however excludes the man who, for me, was the greatest Party Chairman of them all, even though he died two years before I was born.

Lord Woolton took over a battered, bewildered and defeated Conservative Party in 1946 and remained its Chairman until 1955. His nine years at the helm was the longest ever for one individual to hold the office. He reformed constituency finances, widened party membership, raised the money to recruit and train a new generation of agents, reformed parliamentary selections, limited the amount parliamentary candidates could donate to just £25, thus reducing the tendency to select only wealthy men, and in doing so forcing Associations to widen their base and seek new support. He strengthened the Research Department, launched the Young Conservatives and brought in major reform at local level by renewing the Party’s local government selection rules.

Lord Woolton realised that political parties could only rebuild and reconnect from the bottom up, not the top down. A lesson we should remember today as the political establishment reels from the victories of those who seek to “drain the swamp” and “take back control”.

Effective Party Chairman Poll

In my ConHome column tomorrow I am writing about past Party Chairmen and how they are perceived.

Based on "wisdom of crowds" I would appreciate your help. From the list below, please select the holder or holders of that office you think were the most successful and impressive Conservative Party Chairmen. You may select more than one. Then, if you feel strongly, please feel free to use the "contact me" widget to the right to tell me briefly why you made that choice.

I am using this information for background research only and nothing you say will be attributed in any form.  Thank you for your help!

Please select the most effective Conservative Party Chairman in recent years

Cecil Parkinson (1981-1983)
John Selwyn Gummer (1983-1985)
Norman Tebbit (1985-1987)
Peter Brooke (1987-1989)
Kenneth Baker (1989 - 1990)
Chris Patten (1990 - 1992)
Norman Fowler (1992-1994)
Jeremy Hanley (1994-1996)
Brian Mawhinney (1995-1997)
Cecil Parkinson (1997-1998)
Michael Ancram (1998-2001)
David Davis (2001-2002)
Theresa May (2002-2003)
Lord Saatchi joint (2003-2005)
Liam Fox (2003-2005)
Francis Maude (2005-2007)
Caroline Spelman (2007-2009)
Eric Pickles (2009-2010)
Baroness Warsi (2010-2012)
Lord Feldman (2010-2016)
Poll Maker

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Still hungry to win!

Even after ten years as Agent in this lovely corner of Kent, I am still at times overwhelmed by the support and dedication of our local members.

One example - we are presently fighting a council by election in Tonbridge Trench ward and on this cold, grey and wet November day I counted over 40 activists involved in various campaign-related activities, including...

  • A team of eight delivering newsletters
  • Sixteen on the doorsteps canvassing VIs
  • Twelve manning the Phone Bank making almost 500 calls in two hours
  • Four working in shifts data-capturing surveys and canvass data
  • Six hand writing and packing envelopes
  • Plus four more who came in to pack the Christmas Draw reminders!
People often comment on our strength in West Kent - the reason for this isn't just because we have a fully functioning office with paid staff, or because we have enough money to spend on colour leaflets and surveys, or because we use the latest campaign technologies. It is because our members and activists take absolutely nothing for granted. They fight for every vote and every seat as if the future of democracy depended on it.  Tramping the streets tonight were members in their 80s and others who left home at 7am to commute to their desks in the City and joined the canvassing team directly from the train back to Kent.

No Agent or candidate could ask for a better team.

Here is a roll call of today's team: Nicolas Heslop, Jon Botton, David Cure, Thelma Huggett, Vivian Branson, Pam Bates, Georgina Thomas (and her mother!), Glynis Coates, Gill Levine, Sophie Shrubsole, Allan Sullivan, Ben Walker, Trevor Walker, Dougie Dick, David Lettington, Jon Botten, Michael Payne, Paul Cooper, Elliott Self, Janet Sergison, Owen Baldock, Chris Baldiock, Phil Thomas, Howard Rogers, Mark Rhodes, Richard Long, Max Martin, Stephen Frome, Frixos Tombolis, Mark Beaumont, Brian Moss, Pat Moss, Catherine Adams, David Adams, Jacques Arnold, Dennis King, Piers Montague, Sylvia Woodward, Matt Boughton, Joe Mamo and Sarah Hohler. 

Conservatives Calling

Great team working at West Kent Towers tonight phoning residents of Trench on behalf of our by-election candidate, Georgina Thomas. Hitting our target of 200 calls per hour!