Thursday, 12 July 2012

Memories of Mark

Today I had the honour of attending Mark Worrall's Memorial Service. Mark was a Councillor for West Malling & Leybourne, Leader of Tonbridge & Malling Council and, most importantly, a friend.

I first met Mark in 2002 when Steve and I moved to Larkfield in Kent. I reported for duty as a volunteer at the local Conservative HQ in West Malling and was asked by the then Agent, Anne Moloney, if I would take on the task of running Mark's re-election campaign. I thought the opportunity to run the Group Leader's election seemed an ideal way to get myself known and establish my credentials as a good campaigner.  Then came the blows!  Firstly, Mark was living with multiple sclerosis and was unable to canvass or deliver leaflets, secondly he was defending a majority of just one vote, thirdly a local boundary change had removed two Conservative inclined villages from his ward leaving a notional Lib Dem majority of 100+, and finally, there was no local branch nor any activists, my only helper would be a 65 year old man with lumbago.

Undeterred, we set off with no intention of losing. Between the two of us we canvassed every house, then went back on the outs, and back again and again and again. By polling day we had a voting intention for 90% of residents. When we weren't canvassing we were delivering leaflets. At first one leaflet a month, the fortnightly and as election day approached, weekly. In the closing days of the campaign we were doing street by street editions. Mark, frustrated at not being able to campaign on the doorsteps, sat at home following-up every single issue by phone and churned out pages of stories to fill as much paper as we could print and deliver.

We had collected so much data that we produced a personalised manifesto for each voter using mail merged "variable paragraphs". We established a network of street captains who kept us informed of everything that happened in their road. Not a street lamp flickered or a crisp packet littered without us knowing about it, reporting it and claiming credit!  One particular incident caused us great amusement. The husband of one of our "street captains" was standing at the bar in the Joiners Arms in West Malling and overheard the son of the Lib Dem candidate telling his mates that the following day he and his Mother would be collecting signatures along London Road against a planning application to replace the existing telephone mast with a larger one.   He called his wife from the pub to tell her what he had heard. His wife phoned me. By 11pm that night I had written our leaflet and was in the Association office running them off. By 8am the next morning, Ed Pugh had delivered one to each house within the vicinity of the phone mast. "Conservatives say NO to Monster Mast - sign our petition overleaf."  The Lib Dem petition never saw the light of day!

On polling day we won. Mark's one vote majority increased to 600. All three seats in West Malling & Leybourne were gained with ease, we regained control of the Council and Mark was elected leader, a position he held until his death a few weeks ago.

Many will say that I am biased, but Mark was the best Council Leader I have ever had the fortune to work with. Despite an increasingly debilitating illness, he never allowed it to break his spirit nor effect his humour and good grace. He was a Tory to his bones, yet he ran the council with a spirit of bi-partisanship and openness I have never before seen. How many Leaders, having cleared out Labour from every seat they held, would then co-opt former Labour councillors onto various committees to ensure the voice of the Labour Party was represented in the decision making process?  

His mastery of detail (all committed to memory as he was unable to hold a pen or turn a page of a written text) was legendary. On form, he could write like an angel. Under Mark's political leadership, and the outstanding management of David Hughes and his team, T&MBC was rated the best performing council in the country year after year - a beacon of how local government should be, but seldom is. The staff turnover figures (one of the lowest in the country) speak volumes.  In my eight years dealing with T&MBC, I have never had an interaction with the Council which has not been resolved speedily and satisfactorily. No phone call or email has ever needed to be chased.

Mark Worrall was not personally responsible for this level of customer service, but he was responsible for providing the leadership which empowered Officers to make those decisions. He was responsible for the climate of respect. He was responsible for culture of openness which pervaded everything the Council did.  He was responsible for the teamwork and sense of direction which united both Officers and Members towards a shared vision and agreed goals.

It was an honour to know Mark and work alongside him for nine years. I will miss him. 

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