Sunday, 5 May 2013

When someone takes the Mutual out of Mutual Aid

I have always liked the concept on Mutual Aid; constituency Associations helping others, either by sharing skills, or more importantly, sending volunteers to help campaign when one area has an election and another does not.

Kent Conservative's Coach to Eastleigh

I think it is fair to say that my Associations lead the field locally, with Chatham & Aylesford perhaps the most enthusiastic. I suspect this is because they were the recipients of so much help and support during the 2005 and 2010 General Elections that they understand its value and are happy to reciprocate.

Over recent years we have sent (and paid for) coachloads of helpers to Norwich (for Chloe Smith), Eastleigh (for Maria Huthings); at the last two London Mayoral elections we have adopted a ward in SE London and ensured it was fully canvassed and delivered. Last year I organised action days on the first Saturday of the month for six consecutive months running and over that time 90+ activists (including all three MP's) travelled from T&M, TW or C&A to assist. And similarly for the London Borough elections which occur at a time when T&M and C&A do not have elections; though not on the same scale as for Boris, I can usually muster several carloads to support Croydon.

It was therefore a little disappointing that during our recent County Elections, when London was not going to the poll, none of the constituencies we had spent so much time and energy supporting in the past were able to reciprocate. I accept that they all have elections next year and they are starting their own campaigns, but in fairness - when we sent people to help them, we too had elections the following year.

Iain Dale picked up on this issue in his weekly diary for Conservative Home:

"So, with county council elections only five days away, it was good to see Croydon Conservatives spending last Saturday campaigning in neighbouring Surrey and helping their neighbouring Conservatives do as well as they possibly could. What’s that I hear you saying? They weren’t campaigning at all? They were sitting on their fat arses holding a one day conference at a hotel five miles from the Surrey border? The conference was all about Britain’s relationship with Europe and how to defeat the UKIP threat. May I respectfully suggest that this conference, vital, though I am sure it is, might have been better timed if it had taken place a few weeks later? One thing is for sure, it would never have happened when Sir Anthony Garner was running the party organisation. You may remember that period. It was when the Conservative Party used to win elections."

Quite!  Especially as Croydon is the London Borough we have helped and supported most over the past ten years! (Though in fairness, Cllr Phil Thomas from Croydon South has been a good friend to us, too).

Will this lack of reciprocation make a difference?  Yes and no. I don't think it will stop us offering help and support; it's the right thing to do and as I have blogged before, teamwork is vital to victory. However, at a recent strategy meeting the Mutual Aid arrangement for the GE were discussed and the provisional plan indicated that West Kent should offer help to a new target constituency. Normally I would have dug-in my heels and made the case for West Kent to continue supporting the areas we had previously. After all, we knew the local people and had started to understand the local issues (and how to find the Association HQ!).

Sadly, due to the lack of mutual support, rather than making a case for the status-quo I simply agreed to the new suggestion and looked forward to meeting new people in a new Association. Ultimately, we will still be doing our bit, just in a new area.

For Mutual Aid to work it must be just that. Mutual. No-one expects a small Association with a handful of councillors and a membership of 100 to provide the same number of foot soldiers as we can
. But just one car load would have been nice, or perhaps the offer of GOTV by telephone, anything to show a degree of gratitude for the effort we made for them.

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