Thursday, 2 May 2013

Off to the count...

It's 6am and I am pacing my hotel room in Tonbridge, where I stayed last night to avoid my having to wake up at 6am to shower, dress and drive to Tunbridge Wells in time for the count. Well, not actually pacing as it's impossible to pace and type, but you get the drift.

I was very proud to be the Conservative Agent for West Kent yesterday. In our battleground seats our members and activists could not have worked harder or done more. In T&M the day started with a 5am Good Morning delivery and went on until 9.30pm in most divisions.

In Kent Lib Dem Leader Trudy Dean's Malling Central Division they have fought like tigers, never daunted by her 60% vote share. Mrs Dean is well entrenched and a wily political operator, the infamous Liberal Democrat Campaign Book advice to "be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly." should be her epitaph.  Our candidate Russ Taylor and I have had a few spats as we are both stubborn and neither of us can ever be wrong, but he deserves to win.

Sarah Hohler in Malling North has fought hardest and longest. For a passing visitor her Division comprises of pleasing villages with timber framed barns and oasts, nestled in the North Downs AONB. These villages and hamlets however only contain a few hundred voters each, and the other end of her Division is the town of Snodland which is Labour's traditional base. Nearly 60% of Sarah's electorate live in Snodland. Sarah, and her Campaign Manager Anne Moloney, have knocked on every single door - all 8,000 of them, and delivered four leaflets. I will cheer very loudly if and when Sarah is re-elected.

In Malling Rural East I have a few jitters. This is the type of area where UKIP appeals most; rural with high numbers of farmers and retired Daily Mail readers. The demography here is very similar to the seats in Hants and Lincs which UKIP won last night. The highlight of yesterday's events here was a fist fight between an elderly aggressive UKIPer and our septuagenarian Conservative teller who's had two heart by pass operations! This was witnessed not only by the staff but also by an audience of wide eyed ladies wearing felt hats and carrying wicker baskets; it's the most exciting thing that's happened here since last year's apple harvest. I understand that punches were thrown but none landed, probably due to the poor eyesight of the decrepit protagonists.  I do hope our candidate, Matthew Balfour, wins here. With a home rolled fag in one hand and a glass of Tesco plonk in the other, he will add a dash of colour and style to an otherwise tweed-suited County Hall.

In Tonbridge our team were magnificent. This is a two-member Division with around 30,000 voters and 15,000 letterboxes. Holding the block vote in difficult political times is always a challenge. It's very easy for disenchanted supporters to give their first vote to the Conservative and play lose with their second vote, having been loyal with their first ballot it makes them less guilty. Our majority last time in Tonbridge was 1800, but this isn't as safe as it appears as it's twice the size of most divisions. In 2009 we polled just under 50%.  It could be tight.  Our candidates worked hard and I am grateful to our campaign assistant, Jon Botten, and my old friend Dr John Hayward from Cambridge, who ran a magnificent GOTV operation yesterday.

In Tunbridge Wells all eyes will be on TW East, where James Tansley is fighting to retain the seat he won in a fiercely contested by-election last year. It's a three-way marginal, with 200 votes separating us from Lib Dems and UKIP. The contest here is complicated by a former Tory councillor standing as an independent and basing his campaign on how awful the Conservatives are. What he hasn't told voters is that just a few weeks before declaring as an independent he was seeking selection as a Conservative candidate. I suspect his intervention is more to do with the fact that every selection committee declined to recognise his outstanding abilities, which are so obvious to him. James Tansley has been supported magnificently by his small but active team of campaigners. 

TW North could also be interesting. It's a very mixed Division with one Borough Council ward being comfortably Conservative, a second being a Con/Lab marginal and the third being a Con/Lib marginal. Our majority here in 2009 was just 100 votes. All three parties have a strong base and a good local organisation. In an even year we should win, but my fear is UKIP will take sufficient conservative votes to allow the seat to slip. It will be tight. Our candidate, Peter Oakford, and his campaign manager David Elliott have fought well.

In a few hours the guessing will be over.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to you T&M is in safe hands, shame about WMalling, Oh dear what a shame, still at least they are the smallest party at County Hall.

    A Hadlow resident