Part two of my review of the SE Region European Selection Conference.
For a summary of the morning session, see HERE
Back inside having eaten our packed lunch by the lake, there was an ugly mood. Suddenly someone who looked as if she hadn't missed a lunch in her lifetime had commandeered the microphone. "Excuse me! I know it's unconventional but I have to make a point". Apparently the food was appalling. £10 for three plain crisps and an under cooked chicken drumstick was an insult to the voluntary party. We should all demand our money back - and what's more, we should write to the Regional Chairman with copies our MP and the Prime Minister! There was a murmur of support. Up jumped the Regional Chairman. He was clearly nervous at having to explain how the leader of the Conservative MEPs had been deselected on his watch without having to deal with 100 letters to the PM complaining about the lack vol-au-vents. Apparently 120 lunches were paid for and 120 were ordered. If there wasn't enough food, it was nothing to do with the ordering. The implication was clear - perhaps those at the front of the queue had taken more than their fair share! By the look of the baying mob I suspect they often did.
Little did we know that hers would be the most impassioned speech we were to hear for the rest of the day.
The Chairman of Tunbridge Wells suggested a game of Euro Lingo Bingo - and we produced a list of phrases to "tick off" as the aspirants read their speeches. It kept us awake if not entertained. One applicant could barely be seen over the lectern and spoke so quietly,could barely be heard. Another so loudly and from such a right wing script it was like being harangued by a Daily Mail reading version of Alexi Sayle. The speeches droned on - QMV, Single European Act, Opt Out, referendum, renegotiation, 2017, Single Market, in, out, when the time is right, Margaret Thatcher - we ticked off the Euro Lingo Bingo words as fast as they came. Interestingly, every single applicant, including the four incumbents, name-checked The Lady at least once. Even after her funeral, her memory dominates and shapes our views.
After each speech there were set questions from the Regional Chairman. "On a scale of 1 to 100, where 1 = immediate withdrawal, 100 = greater integration and 50 = the status quo, where do you stand?" asked Andrew Sharpe. All we wanted was a number, any number. Only one applicant managed to give us one without adding a page of justification. He got my vote for brevity, even though his number was higher than I had hoped. One applicant spoke for 4 minutes 18 seconds (we timed her) when she could have said "64". She'll fit in well in Strasburg. It was like listening to a parade of I Speak Your Weight machines translating the collected work of Solzhenitsyn.
"Right", announced the Chairman, cheerfully. "Thank God, we've finished" I thought, but no, it was time for a tea break - we were only half way through.
On and on it went. Ear trumpet man had glazed over and was probably grateful for his deafness, the lady who had spent the day knitting a powder blue baby grow had run out of wool. A chap walked through with a trolley laden with clanking silver trophies, - I thought they were prizes for those still awake, but they were for the Cha Cha Cha contestants in the adjoining room. Suddenly I was aware of a low hissing sound, apparently the man at the lectern said he would never vote to leave. "That's buggered his chances" I thought, and I was right. I allowed my mind to wander onto long summer days on the Upper Thames, drinking Assam and eating Raymond Blanc's pear and frangipane tarts, then all around me people were clapping, so I clapped too. "Why are we clapping?" I asked Chris Buckwell. "I haven't got a clue, I saw Andrew Mackness was clapping so I thought I should join in." I wondered if the entire room was clapping for no reason.
Then it really was all over. Julian Walden was on his feet and explaining the balloting system. He used the phrase, "I have spoken to Alan Mabbutt who has confirmed..." which is code for "so don't ask stupid questions as the rules won't change." The words "Alan Mabbutt" have that effect on us. Apparently there were ten candidates and we had to choose eight. "Who should I vote for?" asked Allan Sullivan, sitting next to me. "It's so much easier when he prints the ballot papers with the Xs already on them", said William Rutherford, much to the amusement of everyone around me.
Having positioned ourselves directly alongside the table next to the ballot box we were able to vote and leave before the applause following the vote of thanks had died down. "Aren't you hanging around for the result?" asked Regional Deputy Chairman, Jim Flemming. "Do you mind if I don't, Jim, one can have too much excitement in a day"