|South East Conservatives gather at the Lakeside Darts Club |
to select European Candidates
Sandwiched between the security-gated mock Tudor mansions of the Camberley nouveaux riches and the Basingstoke Canal is the Lakeside Entertainment Complex.
Like much of Surrey, Lakeside consists of a number of utilitarian buildings of little architectural merit. There's a gym, two hotels, various sporting venues for pool, golf, squash and snooker, a mobile home park, Beepeys Nightclub and the building which hosts the annual World Darts Championship. And there's also the Lakeside County Club, specialising in Asian Weddings, Ladies' Nights (of the Chippendale rather than Masonic variety) and, for today, the South East Regional Conservatives European Selection Conference. In the adjoining building they were hosting the Surrey Latin American Dance Competition. This explained the signs "the use of spray tan is strictly forbidden" and the occasional appearance of nubile young couples in figure hugging outfits, who offered a welcome distraction as the day wore on.
Never before have so many people gathered to select candidates for a Parliament they wished did not exist, nor candidates apply for selection on the promise that they would vote themselves out of a job as soon as they could. It was akin to a meeting of atheist vegetarians selecting turkeys which then looked forward to Christmas.
We gathered at 9am. The collective sight of the Party faithful on a weekday is fine, as most wear business suits or Harris Tweed. Saturdays however, are something to behold. Out come those special garments saved for such occasions; all manner of cravats, blazers, stay-pressed slacks in various shades of grey and striped jackets of a type which can only be found in the High Streets of Marlow and Henley. One chap had an ear trumpet and kept shouting for people to "speak up", which did make me wonder why deaf people always sit at the back then complain they cannot hear!
First up were the incumbents, Richard Ashworth, Nirj Deva, Dan Hannan and Marta Andreasen (in that order). Incumbents receive special treatment; provided they receive support from 60% of those present and entitled to vote, they are guaranteed one of the top places on the Regional List. I wasn't going to talk about the result in this blog, but as a fairly comprehensive report has already appeared on ConHome, I will confirm that neither Richard nor Marta Andreasen reached that threshold. I feel very sorry for Richard. We are on totally opposite sides of the European debate, but he was a decent, dedicated and hard working MEP and was unstinting in his support for the three Kent Associations I work for. He does not deserve some of the nasty and vitriolic comments posted on ConHome celebrating his failure.
Given the announcement was delayed due to a recount, the result was clearly very close and I suspect he failed by a handful of votes. I have little doubt that the "swivel-eyed loones" comment resulted in a backlash against those seen as "establishment" candidates, and probably swung sufficient votes to make a difference. Something for those who make such comments to consider before making them again.
Nirj spoke well and his speech was by far the most amusing with some lovely self deprecating one-liners, including that he had once been voted "most popular MEP, "though I suspect that won't do me any favours in here" and, "I have been told that I can punch above my weight, which is quite a claim when you re the size I am."
To a huge cheer came on the darling of grass roots, Dan Hannan, who delivered his usual strong performance based patriotism, Shakespeare and outrage. Halfway through his speech his microphone failed. Thinking of yesterday's press reports of retiring Euro MP James Elles, who called on Dan Hannan to be expelled, I posted the following Tweet (which went viral after Dan retweeted it to his 35,000 followers!)
Finally it was UKIP defector, Marta Andreasen. Marta was very helpful to us in West Kent during the recent County Council campaign. She joined us canvassing several times and wrote a very useful article on why she left UKIP, which was helpful in minimising defections of Conservative pledges, (though memories of her on her hands and knees on Tonbridge doorstep shouting through a letterbox, "I am looking for two Cox", will remain with me for a long time. Despite handling some hostile questions adequately, I sensed she was not connecting with many of those in the audience and was not surprised when she also failed to reach the threshold.
And that, readers, is the morning session. I will blog later about the peasants revolt over the chicken drumsticks and the joys that came later. Reliving it is better than watching the Eurovision Song Contest (though only marginally so).