Saturday, 30 June 2012

Shrubsole, Scones and Sceptics.

I presently wear three hats. Agent for Tonbridge & Malling and Tunbridge Wells Conservative Associations and Campaign Director for Craig Mackinlay. Today, I wore all three (sometimes two at the same time).

The day began with a big effort in West Malling & Leybourne where we are just five days away from a local government by-election. Our super candidate is Sophie Shrubsole who, at 22 years old, will be one of (if not the) youngest councillor in Kent if she is elected on Thursday.
For our big GOTV push today we welcomed helpers from our own constituency as well as support from Tunbridge Wells, Chatham & Aylesford and Croydon. In total, we had over 30 campaigners on the doorstepgs, and between them they delivered a leaflet to every house as well as revisiting 500+ voters who were out when originally canvassed. A great day's work.

Greg Clark MP campaigning in Leybourne
with Sophie Shrubsole and Jacques Arnold

One of the teams campaigning in Leyboune today. from left to right Cllr Mike Parry-Waller, Miss Glyns Coates,
Cllr Allan Sullivan. Mike Franklin, Cllr Frank Williams, Kathy Doody, Cllr Bob Backhouse, Valerie Dagger CC,
Jacques Arnold, Cllr Simon Hoare, Sophie Shrubsole, Cllr Steve O'Connell AM and Cllr Phil Thomas. Another team, of equal size, was working in the West Malling half of the ward

For the record, the other people campaigning today but not photographed were David Godfrey, Anne Moloney, William Rutherford, Philip Young, Cllr David Evans, Cllr Nicolas Heslop, Cllr Russell Taylor, Andy Fox and me!

After data capturing all the canvassing responses (and working on Q2's accounts for the Treasurer) there was a quick change of shirt and over to Pembury Football Pavilion for a social and fund raising event where Dan Hannan MEP and Craig Mackinlay (Police & Crime Commissioner Candidate) were both speaking. Greg Clark was also there (our third joint event in 24 hours). In strong and confident speeches, Craig and Dan both appealed to the heart of many of our core members. Pembury branch provided a super afternoon tea and there was a glass of English sparkling wine for everyone from James Tansley - to toast his recent by-election success in Tunbridge Wells East.

Whilst I was outside with the speakers arranging photographs, I apparently won the raffle - and some kind soul selected my prize - which just happened to be the same one as I had donated!  (I am sure it will reappear at some future event. We once had a bottle of De Kuyper Cherry Brandy that did the raffle ticket merry-go-round for three years before someone kept it!)

Left to right: James Tansley CC, Dan Hannan MEP, Cllr Craig Mackinlay,
Greg Clark MP and Simon Bishop
Finally, we piled back into our vehicles and headed north for the Hadlow, Mereworth and West Peckham Branch Summer Garden Party - with guests speakers (you guessed) Craig Mackinlay and Dan Hannan MEP. The event was held in a marquee in the gardens of Mere House, by kind permission of Mr and Mrs Andrew Wells. Mere House is one of the most significant historic houses in the Tonbridge & Malling constituency, built in 1780 for Sir Francis Dashwood. The gardens are open on selected dates through the year both for private group visits and as part of the National Gardens Scheme.  For details about the house and garden, see

I left with the Garden Party in full swing (and sadly before they served the delicious meringues) arriving home at 10pm, 14 hours after leaving this morning. More than enough politics, campaigning and smiling for any man!  

However, I did receive one suprise email upon my return, from the wonderful Cllr Janet Sergison, to inform me I had won a prize in the Hadlow raffle. And guess what? It was the same bottle of Bordeaux which I had donated. 

Friday, 29 June 2012

Ladies, Ladies, Ladies

One of our great strengths in Tunbridge Wells is the Ladies' Group. For years they have been the mainstay of the Association - at low times in the Party's fortunes their work has held the Association together and provided a base for our recovery. As well as raising money, spreading the political word, acting as a platform for Conservative discussion and a catalyst to bring together hundreds of like minded people, they are also the most formidable envelope packing machine imaginable - and the one big advantage between the Ladies Group and a modern envelope packing machine, the Ladies don't require an expensive annual maintenance contract (other than constant cups of tea and an odd packet of digestive biscuits).

It is unfashionable these days to have groups based on gender, but my philosophy on such matters is live and let live. CF limit people by age, Women2Win and Emily's List promote female Parliamentary candidates, the Conservative Christian Fellowship probably wouldn't welcome an agnost. If a group of ladies who all share a belief in Conservative values wish to meet, organise events and form bonds of friendship, what right does anyone have to stop them? There has been talk amongst the "men folk" of forming a "Curry Club" - but nothing has come of this suggestion (and probably won't until the Ladies Group get them organised!)

Tonight the Ladies Group held a recruitment evening which about 20 potential new members attended. The event was hosted by Mr and Mrs R Davies Knight at their house in Calverley Park. Greg and Helen Clark were the guests of honour. From the 20 attendees, I imagine 8 or so will join the Party and get involved in our work. If every association in the UK recruited 8 new members, that would equate to 5,000 across the UK.

So, a big thank you to Mrs J Bullet (Chairman of the Ladies Group) and her committee, who do so much to support the work of the Conservative Party in Tunbridge Wells.

In Defence of Nat West

Someone who worked with me during the 2010 General Election said I have the tolerance of an angry scorpion being poked with a sharp stick. I am therefore surprised to find myself sympathetic towards my bank, Nat West.

First of all, the usual caveats. The IT fiasco is a shambles which has caused inconvenience to millions, and probably real distress to tens of thousands of people who struggle to make ends meet. Fifteen / twenty years ago I would have fallen into this category myself, so I understand and sympathise. But having said that, it's worth remembering that no-one at NatWest / RBS wanted this to happen either. It has greatly damaged the brand at a time banks and bankers have never been held in lower esteem. The IT crisis and ensuing bad publicity has knocked tens of millions off the banks share price and done untold long term damage to its reputation.

What has made me really sympathetic and unusually forgiving; however, are two words we too seldom hear in modern Britain. Those words are RESPONSIBLE and SORRY.

In an age where everyone from incompetent government ministers to CEOs of global businesses; from shop managers to errant local government officers twist and squirm to find weasel words to explain away their incompetence, I take my hat off to NatWest / RBS who have refused to follow this route.

Visit the website and the first page is a genuine apology for the fiasco, where they not only say sorry but accept responsibility for the errors, and set out in detail how they are addressing the issues and compensating their customers who are adversely affected.

Visit a branch and every sales and marketing poster has been replaced with large black posters headed "WE ARE SORRY" carrying the same message of contrition and offer of help.

Nowhere have I seen the usual words we find in such circumstances. There has been no "we regret any inconvenience this has caused" nor any of the other 'forms of words' and 'non apologies' which are now trotted out to glibly cover error and failure.

Steve and I have also been affected by this problem. Several thousands of pounds "vanished" from our balance, and cheques deposited a week ago have not been credited to our account. The two Customer Service Assistants I have dealt with (at West Malling and Bromley) were both polite, professional, knowledgeable, helpful and calm. Considering how much abuse and aggression they must have dealt with, they were both a credit to their employers.
In life, as in business, mistakes and errors of judgement occur and these often cause hurt and anger to others. I have made plenty of errors of my own over the years. Learning from ones mistakes and ensuring they are not repeated is important, but how one deals with the consequences of those mistakes is a true test. For me, Nat West could not have handled the issue any better. For this reason alone, they have secured my continued loyalty.

Craig Mackinlay Campaign Photographs

The first of the new official campaign photographs. More location shots will be added to the library in the weeks ahead.

Craig Mackinlay - Campaign Formal

Craig Mackinlay - Campaign Informal

Craig Mackinlay - Tunbridge Wells Location Shot

Thursday, 28 June 2012

A Very Special Gift

Within 30 minutes of the call from "Mrs C Boscowan" (see below) a courier rang the bell and delivered a package from Berry Bros & Rudd, which turned out to be a bottle of Vintage Pol Roger (Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill) my favourite Champagne. It was a gift from a Branch Chairman in Tunbridge Wells, to thank me for all I did to help the branch during the local election campaign. 

What a lovely, generous and thoughtful thing to do, especially as the sender was not a candidate and we didn't even win in his ward!  Things such as this put it all it perspective and make me realise that the vast majority of people I work with are truly delightful. 

When I  spent my first day with a qualified Agent (in Chester) as part of my induction, she told me, "remember, every time we win an election, it's thanks to the popularity of the candidate. Every time we lose it's due to the incompetence of the Agent."  

I won't mention the sender by name as I don't wish to embarrass him, but I know he reads my blog - so a heartfelt THANK YOU!  I look forward to drinking this with Steve when we move onto Barleywood in Rochester Bridge Marina.

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells

Ring Ring, Ring Ring

"Tunbridge Wells Conservative Association, how can I help?"
(You can tell Jon Botten answered the phone by the polite greeting)

Is Andrew Kennedy there?
"He's a bit tied-up, can I help you?"

And to whom am I speaking?
"Jon Botten, Andrew's assistant."

Well, this is Cynthia Boscowan (not real name) from Langton Green and I am phoning to complain about the raffle tickets. They're not good enough.
"What exactly don't you like about them?"

Well, I don't like the labels. The address labels which you sent with the tickets to put on the counterfoils. I just don't like them. Unacceptable.
"What exactly is wrong with them?"

Everything! They're just not appropriate.  And another thing, my name was wrong on the labels, it's not good enough.
"What did we do wrong with your name?"

You put Mrs Boscowan and it should have been Mrs C Boscowan.  Standards are slipping. I hate it when you get things wrong. 
"Well thank you for phoning and I will note your comments. Just so you are aware, since we started sending self addressed labels, sales have nearly doubled, so some good has come from them."

Well, that's immaterial - you still got it wrong. It's not good enough.


Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Never Forget the Day Job

In the glamour of crossing off names at Bluewater and visiting disused cement factories in Snodland, there is also a day job. And right now, we are fighting an important by-election in West Malling & Leybourne, caused by the sad death of Cllr Mark Worrall OBE, who had represented the area on the Council for 30+ years.

Our candidate is the feisty Sophie Shrubsole (aka Juicy Peach). The name came about when our Association Chairman, Jacques Arnold, announced on the day the Statement of Persons Nominated was published, "Well, all the fruits are in the basket, and we have the juiciest peach of all."  

Tonight's canvassing received a boost when Craig Mackinlay, Conservative Candidate for Kent Police & Crime Commissioner, joined the team.  Thanks for your help, Craig!

Craig Mackinlay (centre) with Jon Botten and Juicy Peach

Agent Andrew's 10 Laws of Political Reality

1. There is a direct reverse-correlation between members who are always free when a Minister visits, but are never available when there are leaflets to deliver.

2. The Executive Council members who complain loudest about postage are invariably the same people who need to be sent two or three reminders to pay their subscription.

3. The 'Keyboard Warriors' who believe elections can be won online have never actually won any election in the real world.

4. An experienced Agent can spot within minutes the member or volunteer who is simply seeking to build his (or her) CV to impress the Parliamentary Selection Board.  Yawn. 

5. If all the people who phone to say "I am never voting Conservative again" were telling the truth, we would not have any supporters left at all.  

6. The Conservative Party is not "literally dying on it's feet". Look at any old newsreel footage through history - we have always been packed to the gunwales of old dears in tweed suits.

7. There is no link between serving on Council committees and winning elections.

8. The members who delight in phoning to inform me what the Lib Dems are doing are always the same people who never actually do any work themselves.

9. The Councillors who complain most about the new mandatory re-selection rules are those who have most to fear from them.

10. And finally, there is nothing wrong with MERLIN. It works perfectly fine - better, in fact, than Blue Chip. The only thing wrong with MERLIN are the negative people who operate it with the intention of proving that it doesn't work!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Team Mackinlay

Following yesterday's gathering at Bluewater, the Mackinlay Campaign Team held an impromptu meeting to further clarify roles and responsibilities.  

Team Mackinlay
Our preferred venue was La Tasca, but they wouldn't let us in unless we were eating, and as we wanted to talk and not eat, we were moved on.  We then veered towards Dunkin Donuts and commandeered a small Formica table, before we spotted a BBC journalist, sitting directly behind us, with his ears flapping. I drew the team's attention. We all stared. He stared back. So up we got and off we went, leaving behind a hurt looking waiter and a bemused journo, no doubt wondering who on earth we were and why we had all stomped off.

For a moment we wandered around aimlessly, like the Israelites looking for the Promised Land, (or at least a promised cup of tea). Then we spotted Balans.   As some of you will know, Balans started out as a gigi Cafe Bar in Old Compton Street, selling overpriced patisserie and Chai Lattes to The Gays.  It's a tribute to liberalism that it is now so mainstream that it can be used for Conservative meetings without prompting letters of outrage to the Daily Mail.

So there we sat, sipping our cappuccinos served by pert waiter (nipple piercings and tattoos proudly on display) with Scissor Sister playing in the background, and agreed the following structure:

  • Chairman of the Campaign: Graham Riddick
  • Candidate: Cllr Craig Mackinlay
  • Agent: Gordon Williams
  • Chief of Staff: Cllr Andrew Mackness
  • Campaign Director: Andrew Kennedy
  • Press & Media: Dot Luckhurst
  • Social Media & IT: Dr John Hayward
  • Parliamentary Liaison: Chris Buckwell
  • Campaign Administration & Diary: Jon Botten

For those who think that it's a formal structure, it's worth remembering that Kent has 1.4 million voters covering 17 Parliamentary constituencies - there are 75 countries or self governing protectorates in the world with smaller populations!  

Please do get in touch with the relevant team member if you have any questions.  

Next Meeting: Vauxhall Tavern???

Monday, 25 June 2012

Ticking Off Names

As I mentioned yesterday, David Cameron visited Kent today to deliver his keynote speech on welfare. At least, that's what I believe he spoke about, as I spent the entire meeting sitting outside the door, with my Agent colleague Gordon Williams, ticking off names. We have done a lot of ticking off names recently; Tonbridge, Canterbury and Rochester in the last two weeks alone. In fact, we have become quite proficient at it.  We turn up 30 minutes ahead of time and are given a list of names. We find a table and two chairs, which we move into place to form a barrier between the door and the room where the meeting is taking place. We then place the lists on the table in front of us, search pockets for a pen that works, then sit and wait. After a period of time people arrive. We ask their name, find the name on the list, and tick them off. Simple. In fact, so renowned are we for ticking off names, we are thinking of offering a service. If you have a list of names you need ticking-off, please get in touch.

Today's ticking-off names sounded simple. We had a short list of 90 names, one small door through which people had to walk, and a deadline of 12.20pm when the 'to be ticked' had to arrive. What could possibly go wrong? 

""Hello, are you the ticker's off" asked a pretty lady from Millbank.  "Yes".  "Oh good, let me explain what to do...".  Having shown us how to tick-off names, off she went 'ok yah-ing' into her Blackberry.

We settled down for a gossip, soon interrupted by two burly workmen with another table and chair, which they placed alongside ours. "What's that for?", I asked. "Dunno mate - I'm not paid to ask questions, I just do what I'm told."   Soon we found out. It was for Ok Yah's friend who had a list of her own to tick off.  Her list contained different names to ours.  Then another layer of complication.  Bluewater's own security team appeared, and they too had a list of names to tick off. But their list was not as up to date as ours, and contained fewer names (and none of Ok Yah's Friend's names were on the Bluewater list either).

The stage was set.  Cue arrival of first tweed-suited guest. "Hello, what is your name please?"   "Cllr Mrs Margot Dawson-Daines".  Three head's go down searching in vain through lists. "Did you reserve your place over the weekend or earlier today?"   "Yesterday".  "She should be on your list Andrew." " No, but I have got a Marjorie Baines - might you be Marjorie Baines...?"  "Possibly, my friend booked my place and she has an impediment."   Every few minutes someone arrived who was on Ok Yah's friend's list but not on ours - but we couldn't tick them off as Ok Yah's friend's list contained important people and only she could tick them off, but more often than not she had wondered off to speak to ffiona, or tell Harry what type of sandwich she wanted from Pret. 

Then the Prime Minister arrived.  Ok Yah's friend vanished, leaving her list behind.  Bluewater's team sloped off for a fag. Gordon was dispatched to guard the lift and I was left alone - with all five versions of the list. Sadly, by that time, there was no-one left to tick-off. 

Gordon and Andrew - Specialists in Ticking-Off Names

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Exciting Times

About six years ago I wrote a blog.  It started well. I blogged about Conservative politics and life in general. Over several months I built up a regular following of 30 loyal readers (although many told me afterwards they read it out of a sense of fear in case I questioned them about what I had written!) Then one morning I noticed my "hit counter" increase from the usual 50 to over 1,000.  As I sat admiring the massive spike on the graph, a friend phoned.  "I see your blog was featured on Iain Dale's Diary this morning..... he was slagging you off." In ten minutes my mood went from euphoric to despondent. Suddenly I realised that my new found "fame" was not based on anything other than mass ridicule by proxy. My enthusiasm soon waned.

Over the intervening years I often wished I had shown more resilience. Major events have come and gone. The 2009 Kent elections, when I was county-wide Campaign Manager, helping win a record 74 seats. The 2010 General Election, when I had the honour of being Tracey Crouch's Campaign Manager in Chatham & Aylesford, helping win the seat from Labour on twice the national swing. The 2011 local elections and No to AV Referendum, again helping secure the Conservative's strongest local government performance in the UK and a massive NO vote in the referendum.  These events came and went, with all the accompanying stories, amusement, intrigue and histrionics, without any record, other than fading memories and recounted tales.

So here we go again.  Over the next six months there are two major events happening in my life; one personal, one political. In July, my partner, Steve, and I (along with out two cats) will be moving from our London flat to live on our narrow boat Barleywood, which is being taken by road from the River Wey in Guildford to her new residential mooring at Rochester Bridge Marina. And co-terminus with this, and up to 15 November 2012, I have the honour of being Campaign Director for Craig Mackinlay, the Conservative candidate for for the first ever Police & Crime Commissioner elections in Kent.

I believe both of these are worth recording, and even if this blog serves no greater purposes than allowing me to vent my frustrations, it will be worth while. Sadly in politics, some of the best stories must remain untold, as they involve real people and the behind the scenes cock-ups which no apparatchik would wish to commit to public record. However, I will be as honest as I can, even if this means changing a few names on the way, or writing some posts and not publishing them until after the event!

For now, here is a picture of Barleywood, as she leaves her mooring at Guildford for the last time (taken yesterday - Sat 23 June 2012). She is spending two weeks at the TLC boatyard at West Byfleet having various changes and improvements necessary for us to live on board, before her trip by road to Medway. 

Tomorrow... I am off to an as yet undisclosed venue in North Kent with the Prime Minister, before returning to the office to organise the 2012 Summer Raffle.  The joys of being a Conservative Party Agent !