Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Southeastern - FAIL.

Our railway companies are not the most popular group, with above inflation increases and a generally poor service. Personally, I am happy to pay a "market rate" for my train travel, just as I have to pay a "market rate" when I fly, drive a car or take a taxi.

What I really object to, however, is paying high cost for dirty trains and poor customer service. Any company can suffer from the consequences of external issues over which they have little control. However it is how a company reacts and relates to its customers that marks out the good from the bad. 

Like most train operators, Southeastern have a bad public image for many reasons; reliability and price increases among them. A poor, inconsiderate and "jobsworth" approach to your customers, as highlighted below, is something they could easily address.


Conservative Mugs!

Confusion reigned in West Kent Towers this morning when we received two cheques, each for £20.00, and both making reference to "we look forward to receiving our limited edition mug."

A quick Google search uncovered this email from CCHQ

Fortunately, having brought five Associations into one office, including the contents of five office kitchen cupboards, we too have an enormous number of (mainly chipped and tarnished) mugs we wish to get rid of. 

I have now put our Office Manager and our Intern to work creating our own "exclusive range" of West Kent Conservative Party mugs, each lovingly hand crafted and unique. What's more, our range is "eco friendly" as your purchase will save them from landfill.

Our mugs are available at just £10 each (complete with artist signature) or a set (unmatching) of six for just £30. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

My MND Ice Bucket Challenge - with a special Guest Appearance at the conclusion!

With thanks to Steve Bell for nominating me, here is my Ice Bucket Challenge on behalf of MND Association. 

The charity received a triple boost when Jon Botten and Matt Boughton each donated a further £20 on agreement that (i) I wouldn't nominate them, and (ii) they could pour the iced water over me. I think they enjoyed it a little too much!

I now nominate Cllr Andrew Mackness, Karl McCartney MP and Gavin Barwell's "Gobby Factotum" Mario Creatura. 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Leather hats, lycra and chalk stripe suits.

I have recently given up my car and bought a bicycle. The primary purpose is so I can cycle to and from our local railway station each day and catch the train to work. The station is two miles from home and takes me ten minutes (via the coffee shop where I read the Times and have my morning four-shot Americano).  A great way to start the day.

The announcement of our bicycle purchase resulted in a Facebook comment from Martyn Punyer expressing concern that we would turn into MAMILs. For those who don't know (as I didn't), MAMIL is an acronym for "Middle Aged Men In Lycra'. I assured Mr Punyer that we had no such plans.

There is, however, a trait for people to brand themselves, and through this branding comes a sense of ownership, superiority and exclusivity. And as people brand themselves, so they become ever more ridiculous and detached from the mainstream. And here is a lesson; it's as true for politicians as it is for any other group.

When we take our boat out on the inland waterways we tend to wear the same clothes as we always do. If it's warm and sunny -  shorts and t-shirts. If it's cold - jeans and jumpers. If it's wet - rainproof coats. However we often see others who must have an exclusive "waterways wardrobe" for as soon as they get close to a tiller out comes a stupid brown leather Ausie Bushman-style hat and a ridiculous low-slung belt for carrying a windlass. Neither is necessary or even practical - but they do give a sense of being part of an exclusive club.

We found the same this weekend, having taken our bicycles on our weekend away. As we huffed and puffed our way from Abingdon to Oxford we were constantly being overtaken by lycra bedecked people wearing all manner of gadgets and gizmos; the best of which were a middle aged couple with helmet mounted rear-view mirrors, flashing lights built into their heels and Bluetooth walkie-talkies.

Don't get me wrong, if you are a professional yachtsman or cyclist - working for your living or competing for your club or country, then you probably need (and deserve) all the kit you can get. But if you are a 72 year old retired librarian tootling off to the Oxford Green Party's Polenta and Ylang Ylang sale at Jericho Community Hub, then the only purpose of wearing skin tight lycra is to send a message to others that "I am part of the same club as you" as you ding your bell and look disapprovingly at the two slightly overweight blokes dressed in shorts and t-shirts.

And the same lessons apply to politics, too.

By nature I am a Libertarian. If someone wishes to wear a cravat and boating blazer or a three piece chalk stripe suit to go canvassing on a Saturday, then they have ever right to do so. However, just as you have a right to set your own standard of dress, don't be too surprised when others see you as a bit odd and decide to put their faith in the candidate who at least looks and sounds like they do.

As many of you will know my partner is an ordained Minister of Religion and from what I have seen the Church is a cursed as politics in how we are each perceived by the majority. Each has declining numbers, faltering finances, a difficulty to be seen as relevant in modern Britain. Yet each organisation is run by people who enjoy parading around in strange clothes and using syntax which is at best obscure and at worst alien to the majority of those whose support we need to prosper.

As Steve and I travel around the canals and inland waterways we smile inwardly at the wonky-hat brigade with their aloof manner, safe in the knowledge that our boat is worth as much as theirs. And as we puff and blow our way along Sustrans Cycle Route 5 and absorb the patronising smiles of the MAMILs we do so secure in the knowledge that our bicycles are worth just as much as theirs.  And those of us in politics who are tempted to dismiss those who don't dress to our standard or watch BBC Question Time or read The Spectator, we should also remember that their vote is worth as much as ours.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Battle scars

Lunch today with a colleague, and time spent showing each other our battle scars following fierce encounters with voters and activists. He trumped my tales with his encounter with a Frosty Faced Secretary from twenty years ago, when he first tried to join his local Association:

Frosty Faced Secretary: Yes, what do you want?

"Oh hello, could you put me in touch with the branch Chairman of Barchester ward please?"

Frosty Faced Secretary: Why on earth have you come in here to ask me that?
"Well, I have just moved here and I would like to join my local branch."

Frosty Faced Secretary: What? You want to join Barchester branch? Really?! Why?

"As I said, I have just moved here and I want to get involved."

Frosty Faced Secretary: You don't want to join Barchester, join the branch next door.

"But I don't live there, I would quite like to join the branch where I live."

Frosty Faced Secretary: The ward next door is marginal, that's where you should join.

"Can't I join where I live and simply work next door - quite happy to work where needed, but I would like to join where I live."

Frosty Faced Secretary: Well, you sound very argumentative. I don't have time for this - please come back at another time when I'm less busy.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Top Trumps in just two weeks time!

Two weeks tonight (gosh it's come around quickly!) around 200 members and guests will be packed into Maidstone's newly refurbished Hazlitt Theatre for our eagerly anticipated "An Evening with Baroness Trumpington". 

She will be interviewed on stage by Tonbridge & Malling's Parliamentary Candidate, Tom Tugendhat, about her extraordinary life; from a Land Girl on Lloyd George's family farm, a Code Breaker at Bletchley Park, part of the Clivedon Set through her time as Lord Mayor of Cambridge then Minister in the Thatcher and Major Governments. I suspect Tom might even dare ask about her now famous "two finger salute" to Lord King in the House of Lords, captured on live TV, after he referred to her age during a debate.

Part of the show will be dedicated to the music and songs which have played an important part in her life, and I have today been sorting out the downloads, copywrite and relevant PRS licences to play them in public.

Tomorrow Jon and I are meeting with the theatre's technical people to work out stage management, lighting, sound and production! All very exciting as it's something we have never done before - and that in itself is a treat to be doing something for the first time.

We do still have tickets available (just £10 donation per person) and we have a special deal for neighbouring Associations who might like to send a minimum of ten people; they can bulk purchase tickets at £2 each and resell them for £10, keeping the profit locally. Please email the office for details;

If you haven't yet booked - this is your last chance. A wonderful opportunity to hear and meet this truly remarkable lady.

À la recherche du votes perdu

À la recherche du votes perdu

I would like to thank Director of Paperclips, Jon Botten, for nicely capturing the mood with the above clandestine photograph taken earlier this evening. We were out (the 'we' being Jon, Matt and me) delivering Tom Tugendhat's latest mailing to homes in Borough Green and Tonbridge. As we were the night before - and the night before that, too, ably supported by our Deputy Chaiman (Political) Matt Dickins, Council Leader Nicolas Heslop and local activists Frixos Tombolis, Vivian Branson and Michael Payne. 

Some of our more spikey members are prone to remind us that we are paid whilst they are volunteers, which is of course true. It is worth remembering however that the three paid staff all work significantly more than our paid / contracted hours, and we do so willingly and without complaint. In fact every evening meeting, campaign session, phone bank, training day or Saturday Action Day happen in "unpaid time" as none of us claim overtime or time off in lieu - so yes, we do our fair share of volunteering too!

So a big "thank you" to Jon and Matt who so often go above and beyond the call of duty for the Party. 

The subversive Andrew Kennedy

En route to work this morning I received a text followed by a phone call from two Parliamentary staffers to say "your Blog has been blocked by the Parliamentary servers."  One even kindly sent me a screen grab.

One smart-aleck kindly added, "I had no trouble logging on to President Assad's Ba'ath Party website earlier, so not sure what you have done to upset them!"

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A window into the soul of Britain's second city.

One of the most common complaints from long standing members is "Party Conference is too expensive now it's moved away from the seaside towns".

I have blogged previously about the delights of the plastic-sheeted bug-infested beds of Ron's Holiday Flatlets in Blackpool, £12.50 per night and worth every penny.

For Birmingham, however, one of my CFers proudly boasts a modern, City Centre hotel for £26.50 per night. I suspect this is probably just as cheap as Blackpool's £12.50 per night allowing for inflation since 1988!

There is however one small drawback. The room is 2 meters wide by 3 meters long. The en suite is a three minute walk away and there's no window. There is, however, a wall mounted CCTV screen linked to a camera relaying "a live Birmingham street scene" allowing guests the excitment of "a windown into the soul of Britain's second city."

Let's just hope for my CF member, who often tells me how he is a clean living Catholic boy, the camera isn't pointing in the wrong direction!

More Tea with Tom

Jon and Matt model the latest Tea with Tom posters - going up in and around the village of East Peckham today. These events are proving very popular and a super way to meet large numbers of people. We display posters in shop windows, email or write to pledges and also send invitations to local community groups and voluntary organisations. Anything from 10 - 40 people come along. Even the people who cannot come appreciate receiving an invitation.