I have previously blogged about how, within five minutes of Sir John Stanley announcing his retirement at last year's AGM, I received a call from someone on the Parliamentary List who lives in Leicester. How he found out about Sir John's retirement (unless someone at the meeting tipped him off), how he knew who I was (we had never met) or obtained my phone number, I have never ascertained.
Since then, my life has been regularly interrupted by a stream of 'disinterested' hopefuls. They track me down at conferences and meetings, offer to buy me lunch or dinner, ask if they can assist at local by-elections, seek invitations to branch social events, enquire about attending the Kent Area Conference and even ask if they can come on the coach with us to Eastleigh (quite a show of commitment considering they would have to travel further to join up the coach in Kent than to drive there directly). Few actually mention the forthcoming selection, instead they talk in riddles. "Sir John's been an outstanding MP - you'll need someone with big shoes to replace him." Unsurprisingly, most of them have small feet. For the record, I have much more time and respect for those who are upfront, ask for my advice, and are honest with the members they meet. Everyone here knows Tonbridge & Malling is a plum constituency, and lots of ambitious people would like the opportunity to represent it in Parliament. There is nothing wrong with ambition - but at least pursue it with honesty and integrity.
Then we have the 'internals'.
My predecessor as agent, Anne Moloney, warned me that the Association was 'littered' with Parliamentary hopefuls who had moved into the constituency over the previous 20 years to position themselves and build an internal 'power base'. Clearly, the long wait has taken its toll, as all many have achieved is to acquire far more enemies than friends. They can be spotted a mile off; the over enthusiastic branch Chairman who never actually achieves anything for the branch, the eager activist whose only activity is to blow his or her own trumpet, the verbose member of the Executive Council who needs to be noticed by speaking too long and too often, the shiny suit who is always first in line to shake hands with the visiting minister but last in the queue when there are doors to knock or leaflets to deliver. Years of such blatant self promotion is noticed and it takes its toll.
The clumsy activities of their friends and supporters is also cause of amusement. Last night our Chairman reported to the Executive on the likely time frame for the selection process. By the time I had driven home (a 45 minute journey) an email had arrived from someone who told me how hard he had worked 5 years ago (obviously forgetting I had been around Kent for ten years, and I can remember exactly who did what) and asking if a position could be 'created' to give him a seat on the Executive Council, as he felt would all benefit from his wisdom and experience.
I am not sure what is worse; the fact that these people are so lacking in self-awareness, or they feel they can manipulate so many decent, hard working, selfless people who have given their lives to the Party they love for no personal benefit or gain.
Forty years ago the members of Tonbridge & Malling selected a candidate who went on to serve his Party, constituency and country with honour and dignity for four decades. I have every confidence that our members, who pay their subscriptions, walk the streets, bake cakes, sell raffle tickets and serve their communities in a thousand different ways, will make the right choice once again.