Many of you will know that swans are territorial, and when nesting or with their cygnets can be incredibly aggressive. A pair of swans will colonise a section of a lake or river, fighting any other local swans for control and dominance. Often they fight to the death, with the dominant bird drowning the weaker. Other water fowl can also be attacked and killed, especially if food is scarce. If they are allowed to remain they do so on the swan's terms and conditions.
Up to last year there was a longstanding pair of swans on our section of the Medway. For some unknown reason only one remained this year, and seeing an opportunity a new pair moved in and built their nest. Within the last week a solitary cygnet was hatched and is now growing stronger by the day. The proud parents parade with their cygnet up and down the river, taking their pick of the bread and feed offered by boaters, with various ducks, gulls and terns picking up what the swans leave behind; a literal example of "the pecking order".
The old swan, however, rather that fighting battles he must know he cannot win, has instead retired with dignity to the far end of the marina, coming out in the evenings when the triumphant pair have had their fill and left the stage. Everyone still loves him - and as a result he probably gets better and more plentiful treats than the others.
The dignity of the evening swan can teach many of us in politics a lesson.
How many of us in politics (at all levels - activists, branch and association officers, councillors, agents and even MPs) fail to recognise when it's time to go with dignity? Perhaps, like the old warhorse who smells the gunpowder, we cannot resist one last fight, even when we know we no longer have the fire inside us. Perhaps it's fear, loneliness or simply arrogance. Instead we go on one election too many, and as a result are not remembered for all we have achieved, but instead are looked upon with pity and even pathos for what we have become.
Although I am not yet 50, and feel I have quite a few elections still to fight, I fear this might apply one day to me. If it does, I hope my friends will tell me it's time to hang-up my rosette and exit (stage right, of course!) and I hope I have the dignity and sense to listen. For I would hate to be remembered, not as a passionate driving force seeking better ways and relishing every fight, but as a bitter and angry yesterday's man, trying to undermine my successor in a bid to prove who I used to be.