Saturday, 16 February 2013

I have found The Big Society

Yesterday included organising a mail-shot to 300 members and supporters, a meeting with the C&A Treasurer to discuss finance and the forthcoming annual dinner, a long but productive meeting of Kent Area Management Executive, two hours with Jon on office administration and finally arranging for part time assistance with data management. 

At 6.30pm I headed off to market town of Edenbridge for their branch annual dinner.  Edenbridge, and the stunningly beautiful villages which surround it, are part of Sevenoaks; they elect councillors to Sevenoaks DC, have Sevenoaks post codes and are just 5 miles from Sevenoaks town centre. Yet thanks to the Boundary Commission they are part of Tonbridge & Malling constituency. We love having them, and I believe the local members and activists are happy to be with us! 

En route I picked up our constituency Chairman, Jacques Arnold (he used to be the MP for Gravesend, you know). Jacques knew a shortcut, which involved 20 miles of single track dirt roads and driving through two flooded rivers. "Oh, but the surrounding countryside is beautiful", he said. Perhaps so, but it was 7pm and pitch black. Serves me right for taking navigation advice from the former MP for Gravesend (has he ever mentioned that?) 

Edenbridge is the perfect example of how a Conservative branch should be run. If a plague of locusts were to descend on West Malling and wipe out the Association HQ, I suspect they wouldn't notice that we had gone (perhaps until the year-end when the branch Treasurer would report that their cheques towards their branch quota had not been cashed). They are self sufficient, efficient and well organised.  

There must have been sixty guests at the dinner, the majority of whom were non members (exactly what should happen - friends bringing friends who end up joining / supporting through shares interests). It is to the shame of the Conservative Party that we have allowed our branches to wither on the vine, and something we must address if the voluntary party is to rebuild.  

Tickets were £15.00 which was for a three courses with wine and coffee included. The meal was cooked and served by a team of volunteers. Home-made oxtail and root vegetable soup, chicken pie with roast potatoes and vegetables and a trestle table groaning with cream-laden cakes and puddings. 

The guest speaker was Rt Hon Damian Green MP, the Police Minister, who is quite a catch for a branch event. I suspect the branch Chairman being a retired Commander at New Scotland Yard might have opened a few doors. By the time various Parish Notices were read out, including the 'Women’s Institue Make & Mend Training Day" and the annual meeting of the Town Council, plus arrangements for the Edenbridge Flower Show, it was 9.35pm when Damian was introduced. "he has to be away by 10pm so please keep your questions brief..." Damian give a good defence of the governments record, but my favourite line was, "Many of you might know that I was one of the principle supporters of David Davis's leadership campaign, and after David Cameron's election as Prime Minister I was rewarded for my loyalty by being appointed Immigration Minister."  

The questions were surprisingly brief and quite progressive. One chap asked if we were too tight on our immigration policy would it prevent people coming to the UK who do the jobs that the British don't want to do for ourselves. There as another question on presumption of innocence, and someone else wanted to know what Damian could do about the price of bus travel for 18 yo's.

It was a perfect example of what the Conservative Party is about. Volunteers were selfless with their time and generous in their effort. The same people who did the work last night will be running the Town Council, organising the Flower Show and the Town Carnival, running the WI, the Rotary Club, the Townswomen's Guild, arranging the flowers at the Church, running the local Meals on Wheels Service, organising the tea counter at the local hospital, shopping and caring for their elderly friends and neighbours. David Cameron called it The Big Society - I call it all England.

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