Tonbridge & Malling's Executive Council met tonight at Hadlow Manor, and we were delighted to welcome Sir John Stanley MP, who addressed the meeting at the close of formal business.
Having listened to politicians address meetings like this for 30 years I am often interested, intrigued or surprised at what they say. It has been a long time since I was emotionally moved. But tonight was an exception.
Even though we have two years to go, and there will probably be many more meetings of the Executive Council, this was the last one before we commence the process to select a new parliamentary candidate; and the reality is that once that person is selected, even though Sir John will remain our Member of Parliament, the spotlight will slowly fade on him as the focus turns to the new candidate. For an incumbent MP, especially one who has represented a constituency for as long as Sir John has represented Tonbridge & Malling, handling the transition must be very difficult indeed. Not many of us will ever understand how that must feel.
Sir John spoke movingly about the process we are about to undertake, and I tried my best to record his words, as below.
"Ladies and gentlemen, in 1938 members of a Conservative Association, just like ours, met in a room just like this. The members were people just like you. The constituency was Epping, and they met to discuss and vote on perhaps one of the most important resolutions ever debated by a Conservative Association in history, though they would not have known this at the time.
The motion was one of no confidence in their Member of Parliament, Winston Churchill. Had the motion been carried it would have brought some pleasure to the then Prime Minister and his Chief Whip. As it was the motion was defeated by 100 votes to 44, defeated by people just like you, who listened to the arguments and reached their own judgement.
Had Winston Churchill lost that vote he would have lost the Conservative Whip and would have left Parliament. He would not have been available to lead the country in May 1940. Almost certainly Neville Chamberlain and the arch-appeaser Lord Halifax would have continued to lead the government after Britain's dark days following the invasion of France and our failure in Norway. Chamberlain and Halifax would have almost certainly surrendered whilst trying to achieve the best possible outcome. Vichy Britain almost certainly would have followed Vichy France. And we would never have heard these stirring words, which did so much to lift the hearts and souls of our nation,
... we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall
fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend
our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we
shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the
streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
Without a strong ally and a safe base, America would not have entered the war, and the future of Europe would have been very different than the one which emerged.
Those 100 loyal, independent and resolute members of the Epping Conservative Executive, people just like you, not only saved Winston Churchill's career, but also saved our country.
As you begin the journey to select a new candidate, I wish you every success. I hope you show the same independence of mind and determination to stand firm by what you believe in and do what is right. It has been a great honour to have represented this constituency since 1974, and I wish you success and strength and wisdom in the decisions you are about to make."