I have always seen our County Committees as a potential force for good. They cover a sufficiently small area geographically to allow bonds of trust to develop and to make use of local knowledge, without being too top-heavy or remote. Regrettably, many County Committees have turned into Elephant's Graveyards where former MPs and cantankerous County Councillors are sent to get them out of the way. The new Kent Area Management Team is just the opposite - they are relatively young, with successful constituency Associations behind them and with a very strong bias towards target based campaigning.
One of the first things I wanted to do was a Kent County Conference; an opportunity to bring key activists, donors and supporters together to meet, participate in political debate, share best practice and make new friendships. When I first suggested it I encountered all the tired excuses; we tried it before and it didn't work. What if no-one comes. We might not attract any interesting speakers. What if it loses money. It might clash with something which might be happening elsewhere. This negativity drives me mad.
"We won't do anything new in case it fails, and we won't do anything we have done before as it didn't work last time. Instead, we will sit here, with our thumbs up our arses, and talk about the golden days that never were."
That's not leadership.
After much haranguing (and with support from the newly elected Officers) I was given permission to investigate the options. That was all I needed - I was off like a rat up a drainpipe. By the time I 'reported back' I had booked then venue, arranged the speakers and sent out the invitations. It was a risk, but one I was willing to take.
And guess what...
- In ten days time we have our first Kent Area Conference in the splendid surroundings of Tonbridge School.
- We have a sponsor, DA Printers Ltd of Rochester, whose generosity is covering the venue hire costs, so delegates don't have to pay to attend.
- Our speakers include four MEPs (Dan Hannan, Nirj Deva, Richard Ashworth and Marta Andreasen), three MPs (Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Greg Clark, Party Vice Chairman Bob Neil and Justin Tomlinson), Blogger extraordinaire Iain Dale and ConHome Editor Tim Montgomerie and we have a galaxy of the great and good from the National Party, including Charles Heslop, President of the National Convention and Vice President, Steve Bell.
- We have three break-out groups providing training and support on Membership Recruitment, Postal Votes and Local Government Selections.
- And most importantly of all, we have 170 members attending. Every constituency is sending people - members are even coming from London, Essex and West Midlands to see how it's done, so they can do it themselves in their own counties.
And the reverse
Pulling all this together from scratch and with no base from which to start, demonstrates what one person can achieve. And if we can do it on this scale across Kent, then every Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Branch Chairman and councillor can do something in their own area which will also make a difference.
About 20 years ago, on the eve of opening my Wine Bar and Restaurant, my closest friend, Mark Sands, sent me a good luck card. Written on the inside of the card was the following message
"When first you dream you start to succeed,
and when you succeed, you start to dream again."
I have never found a source for that quote, perhaps Mark wrote it himself.