When Sir John Stanley first announced his retirement, many of my colleagues were quick to infer that we were in for 'good times'. "All those wealthy hopefuls willing to pay to ingratiate themselves", was a standard comment. "Make the most of it..." and so on.
I recoiled from such comments.
Firstly, perhaps I am naive, but I still believe that the desire to serve your country in Parliament to be a noble ambition. Secondly, I am by nature an egalitarian, and do not think an applicant should be favoured by wealth. And thirdly, I simply do not think it is fair or right that applicants should be expected to pay large sums of money in the hope it will buy support and recognition. The fact that so many colleagues thought the selection process would bring in riches, and that so many applicants have subsequently enquired about joining our Patrons' Club at £300 a time, leads me to fear that this is indeed the expectation. If so, it is wrong.
I have no problem with a potential applicant joining the Association at a standard £25 membership subscription. I see nothing wrong with them wishing to receive our newsletters to find out what is going on, or to attend branch events to meet people and court support. That is all part of the process. It is also fair that should potential applicants seek such information, they should contribute to the cost of providing it, so the Association is not out of pocket. But that is as far as it should go.
Applicants should also be wary of what message their potential generosity will send. Tonbridge & Malling is a professional, mature and serious Association. We have a wide and varied membership of students, working people and retirees. We also include Lloyds names, stockbrokers, farmers, lawyers, tweed jacketed country-folk and the odd aristocrat; the type of people who wouldn't dream of wearing a business suit to campaign on a Saturday. If sharp-elbowed newcomers with no connection with the constituency suddenly start appearing at the Patrons' Club, the reason will be obvious and will probably not help their cause. Tonbridge & Malling will be selecting a candidate best qualified to represent this lovely constituency in Parliament, not one with the cash to buy recognition.
My personal advice to applicants is simple; if you wish to build recognition - don't do it with your wallet. Far better for you to come and help us win on Thursday 2 May. At the end of the day, the only true objective of a political party is to win elections; everything else we do is a building block towards this goal.
But if you do come, be open, honest and proud of your objectives. There is nothing whatsoever wrong about wishing to be our next Member of Parliament and there is nothing wrong with you coming to the constituency to find out a little bit more about local issues and the people who make things happen. The prospective applicants who turn up unannounced as they "happen to be passing through and thought they would help" are, quite frankly, ridiculous (and don't fool anyone).
So, please come and help! But when you do, be honest with people about why you are here; ask them about their role, don't just brag about yours. Ask what the issues are in their ward or branch, take notes, show interest and be genuine.
In 1972 Tonbridge & Malling Conservatives selected, in John Stanley, an unassuming man who went on to represent the constituency in Parliament for four decades. In that time he was to become Margaret Thatcher's PPS, then a Minister for Housing who was responsible for the greatest act of popular capitalism of all (the selling of council housing), and who was also Minister for Northern Ireland and then Minister of State for the Armed Forces. However, during those forty years you can count on your fingers the number of Executive Council meetings has has missed, often traveling down to speak then dashing back to Parliament to vote. When I asked him why he came so often, his reply was simple. "It is my duty to appear before the Executive Council to inform them of my work and to speak for the actions of the Party in Parliament."
Duty. A word which sadly is not often heard in the modern politician's lexicon.