Thursday, 30 May 2013

Punching above their weight!

It was the Chatham & Aylesford Management Committee this afternoon - my third Management Meeting in a week. My thanks to Adrian and Pat Gulvin for allowing use of their home and providing lunch for 12 people!

I am very fond of Chatham & Aylesford. It was where Steve and I settled when we first moved to Kent 11 years ago and where I re-joined "active political service". As a voluntary member I was soon elected Deputy Chairman Political. I chaired the 2005 Parliamentary Selection (the Association Chairman was an applicant so could not participate). It was in the early years we rebuilt the team who have stuck together for the last decade and achieved so much.  When we began, C&A had just 3 Conservative councillors and a Labour MP; now it has 23 Conservative Councillors and a Conservative MP.

The real reason I am fond of C&A is it is totally focused on what really matters.  The Association has the smallest membership in Kent (the two halves - "Chatham" and "Aylesford" being the Cinderella rumps of two previously strong Conservative seats, brought together against everyone's wishes by the Boundary Commissioners in 1997).  The constituency is divided; geographically by the North Downs, politically by two different local authorities, economically between the proudly blue collar areas of Chatham and semi rural Maidstone suburbia, and economically, too. The average household income in Chatham being 30% less than that in Aylesford.

Yet despite these inherent fault lines, C&A continues to punch above it's weight. In the three years leading to the 2010 General Election they delivered one million leaflets (that's an average of 25 per household!) By polling day we had knocked on every door three times and had built up the largest pledge base in Kent. We had enrolled more postal voters as a % of pledges than any other constituency in the South East, and we were able to turn out canvassing teams of between 8 - 20 people every Saturday for three years. 

Even in these more difficult times, C&A continues to outperform many numerically stronger Associations. It raises enough funds campaign effectively, pay a share of the West Kent Campaign HQ establishment and wage costs, pay everything due to CCHQ and still make a small surplus.

Where many areas complain about inability to deliver a single election leaflet or run an effective GOTV, in C&A they rise to meet every challenge they are given. If I explain that we need four full deliveries to retain our council seats, they will find the time, energy and inner resolve to deliver them, and still meet their local government, business and family commitments (though I know the sacrifices many of their families make during campaign periods).  Even after working with them for ten years, I find their commitment inspirational.

Unlike so many Associations, there are no egos, no prima donnas and no vanity.  It is very rare (in fact it is happened just once in ten years) for a candidate in 'safe' or 'unwinnable' seat to insist on working their own wards when asked to transfer their resources to a neighbouring battleground.  It is this collective teamwork, respect and trust which has enabled us to win and retain council seats which have not been Conservative for 40 years.

Today's meeting saw no splits, complaints or faint hearts. Yes, some may well have reservations about certain aspects of coalition policy, but they know the only alternative to a Conservative government in 2015 is a Labour one led by Ed Milliband.

I wish there were more Chatham & Aylesfords.

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