This morning, as I was driving to Chiddingstone to campaign for the Kent CC elections, an email arrived. The writer had been to the dinner and had enjoyed herself. However, she continued,
"The fact that the attendance, despite such a high profile speaker, was half what it was last year, is clearly down to the unpopularity of the government and its policies."
If this statement, written as fact and perhaps repeated to others, was true, then the writer would have a valid point. The fact is, it is far from accurate. Last year's dinner was attended by 135 guests. This years by 112. A difference of 23. Of those, 20 could be accounted for by two local businessmen who each bring a table of ten, but were unable to come as one was at a family birthday celebration and the other was away in Australia. We knew this when the date was booked. Had they been available, both would have come and brought twenty guests with them. Their absence was nothing to do with the 'unpopularity' of the government - just bad luck!
No sooner had I corrected the above misunderstanding, then another member of the same branch committee emailed to say that she had heard a rumour that Mr and Mrs (x) had resigned from the Conservatives and joined UKIP, and didn't I agree this was an awful reflection of the governments policies. Another quick email (copied to the six other people she has sent hers to) informed her that far from resigning and joining UKIP, Mr and Mrs (x) had just renewed their subscription, and increased their payment to £300 to join the Patrons' Club.
Now I do not believe for one moment that either of these people deliberately circulated an untruth to cause trouble. However, what they did do was circulate incorrect facts without bothering to check their accuracy. Many would say one is little better than the other. Clearly, both of these ladies have concerns and both were more than willing to believe what they were told (and circulate those 'facts' to others) to substantiate their arguments. This is an example of my post a few evenings ago; people tend to surround themselves with like minded friends then assume that just because their immediate circle thinks a certain way, then obviously everyone else does too.
Now imagine that you are a floating Conservative-inclined voter living in the village where these two ladies are well known activists, and you hear on the village grapevine that, (i) The Conservative's annual dinner was 50% down on last year, and (ii) two high profile village bigwigs had resigned and joined UKIP. This would clearly add to your sense of gloom and encourage you to believe it was a sinking ship. This is exactly how bandwagons start to roll - and we all know the effect they can have politically.
However, imagine if that same floating Conservative-inclined voter would react if he heard the facts; (i) despite being in the middle of a recession and mid-term of a parliament, the Conservative dinner was a great success and even made more money than last year, and (ii) the local village BigWigs are so happy they have increased the amount they donate and have even joined the Patrons' Club.
Such positive news would completely change the political narrative and transform the perceptions of that floating Conservative-inclined voter.
There are times I despair. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. How much better it would be if we honestly acknowledged the difficult mid-term position we are in, but at the same time talk about some of the things we have achieved despite having not won a majority in 2010 election and the appalling economic inheritance from the last government.