In my earlier post on the Eastleigh by-election I wrote about the importance of building a local party organisation. In particular,
"Yes, the endless branch meetings where the members spend more time talking about the next jumble sale than they do about politics can be tedious, but they bring people into the fold who would otherwise be excluded."
It is therefor poetic justice that I have just finished a one hour telephone conversation about the arrangements for next week's Annual Dinner, by far the longest section of which concerned the organisation of the raffle. But having got my fingers burnt last year, I had to grin and bear it.
Allow me to explain.
Last year the Annual Dinner Sub Committee seemed to think I needed to be involved and consulted on every decision. It was very kind of them to include me, but I actually had total confidence that those responsible could probably choose a menu, organise table decorations and put together a seating plan with far more elegance and efficiency than I ever could. I would simply acknowledge receipt of each email and say how much I agreed with what they suggested. Let's be honest, I wouldn't know a gerbera from a Venus fly trap - so no point consulting me about flowers.
Then a few days before the dinner I was dragged into a dispute.
Mrs S had fallen out with Miss D over the raffle. Or, more importantly, the rules and procedures governing the sale and administration of the tickets and the counting and safekeeping of the cash. Ruffled feathers were smoothed, egos stroked and oil poured on troubled waters. All seemed back on track. The final question, lobbed in my direction was, "how many books of tickets should we buy..." By this point I had relaxed and taken down my guard. To be honest, I was losing the will to live. I am happy to use my contacts to secure a guest speaker, identify a business sponsor, print and circulate the information, administer responses, bank the cash and send out tickets, but getting into the nitty gritty of the raffle was something I wanted to avoid if possible. "Oh you make a decision on the raffle tickets, I really don't mind what you do, I'm sure it will be right."
The big night came and all went to plan. The tables looked lovely, the seating plan worked, the guest speaker turned up, everyone dressed-up and looked the part, the food was as good as it always is at such events.... then came the raffle. The ten volunteers all sold their tickets, lots of money was collected.
There was great fanfare and churning of ticket drum. The prizes were arranged (why are there always so many prizes at a Conservative raffle?) We had everything from a week's holiday in Portugal to "a somewhat pleasant small vase" (clearly donated by someone the Chairman didn't like).
"The first ticket out is....... Blue 57. Blue 57 - anyone...?"
"Here you are", said an excited looking lady, waiving her tickets in the air. "I've got blue 57 too", said another woman behind her. "And me", said someone else. "So have I", and "I also have it."
Suddenly the horror of what was to come hit me.
They had taken my advice and bought the tickets - sadly they had bought ten books of blue tickets, so each ticket had ten potential winners.
But it got worse...
Lords Moynihan (the guest speaker) decided to hurry things along, no doubt keen to get it all over and done with so he could return home to his family. Just as the Chairman had announced 57 Blue, he pulled two more, "16 Blue and 135 blue" he shouted. We now had 30 people waiving tickets in the air, hauling themselves to their feet and walking forward to collect their prizes. The collective clicking of plastic hips and the clatter of walking sticks was deafening. It resembled an aerobics sessions at the Over 60-s day centre.
The raffle then had to be decided by reading out the 8 digit security code, as well as the number.
"The next winner is security code FG27 98864XF ticket number 82. Blue" Was that FG or SG ? F. F for Freddie G for Golf.
And on and on it went...
By the time we reached the Bottle of House of Commons Port signed by Greg Clark, Lord Moynihan was slumped in his seat realising that he probably wouldn't see his family much before midnight. By the time someone claimed the " somewhat nice, small vase" he was asleep.
Now, 57 blue, anyone........
No Lady Fitzrovia, that's your queue ticket for the Waitrose fish couter.....