I have been around long enough to see our fortunes ebb and flow. I was an agent during the introduction (and demise) of the Community Charge, when banner waiving protesters barricaded my office (with me inside), and what appeared to be a perfectly rational old lady became so incensed with the perceived injustice she padlocked herself to my desk whilst reading aloud sections of the Magna Carta, which she believed exempted her from having to pay.
I was around for the downfall of Mrs Thatcher; my goodness - if you think people are angry now, you should have heard them then! And for the Anglo-Irish Agreement, when Unionists were so outraged about any form of power sharing with terrorists that they resigned in droves. I recall one particular local election count where over 100 ballot papers were rejected as the words "ULSTER SAYS NO" had been written across them. Then we had Black Wednesday and our expulsion from the ERM, and the Social Chapter vote and withdrawal of the Whip from the Maastrict Rebels. Each of these events brought outraged letters of resignation from members and supporters who genuinely felt betrayed by events they could not support.
I have never doubted the sincerity of those who feel so let down they have to resign, though I am saddened that some make decisions based on an emotional rather than a rational response. Longevity has taught me never to try and persuade someone from resigning if that's what they want to do. It has also taught me that the overwhelming majority of those who support change remain silent, whilst the opponents shout loudest and longest.
At difficult times like these there is always a temptation to retrench. I am pleased that I work for three Associations who take the opposite view. These are the times when we come out fighting; behind the noise of the angry people are a quiet majority who not only understand why difficult decisions are being taken, but in their heart support the type of fairer, more just and inclusive society we are trying to achieve. This is the time we must reach out to these people and invite them in.
Over the last week two of my three Associations have held meetings of their Management Committees, and each have made brave, radical and far reaching decisions.
In the summer, Tonbridge & Malling and Tunbridge Wells will be joining forces to run a series of high profile full page adverts in local newspapers, with accompanying mailshots to hundreds of local voluntary groups and organisations, inviting people to attend an informal seminar on how to become a Conservative local government candidate. We are determined to deepen the pool in which we fish for our candidates and show the wider community that we are open, inclusive and willing reach out to them. And tonight, Tonbridge & Malling voted unanimously to launch a recruitment campaign targeting 18,000 known Conservative pledges, based on a once in 40 year opportunity to help us select a new Parliamentary candidate.
How in these tough times can we afford to do this ? Because three years ago, our local Associations swallowed hard and accepted that it was no longer necessary or practical to pay rent and service charges on three building, three lots of business rates, three part time secretaries, three sets of utility bills and three leases on risograph machines. By pooling resources and sharing back office facilities, we have released £20,000 per anum to spent on campaigning and development - which is exactly what our members and supporters donate their hard earned cash to pay for.