There was no imprint on the site, which surprised me as in those good old days before the PPERA imprints were placed on everything. In fact I was often surprised that it wasn't overprinted onto the lavatory paper. However, the quarterly newsletters are published by the truly lovely Lindsay Brooke. I first met Lindsey when she was the Deputy Central Office Agent (DCOA) for Wessex Area based in Salisbury, working with Donald Stringer and, if my memory serves, Leigh Jeffes. What a wonderful combination they were. Lindsey (Allinson, as I think she was then) was one of the most approachable, supportive and encouraging people I worked with in my early years. The fact that Wessex Area, COA and DCOA will be completely alien terms to most of today's activists is a sign of just how things have changed.
I spent over an hour looking around the site, which produced some very mixed emotions. They publish a quarterly newsletter, unsurprisingly titled "In Touch" complete with Comic Sans type and lots of clip art. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose! One link contained a long list of familiar names, some of whom I knew very well, people who had trained me and in the early 1990s I considered friends and colleagues. Then a sudden jolt and deep sadness when I noticed the list was headed "Obituaries".
This was followed by the delight of seeing a contribution from Jean Lucas MBE, who (back in the 1970s) was instrumental in forming the Wandsworth Group and was for many years the Group Agent, helping to steer Wandsworth Council back from Militant Socialist control to the rock solid, cost-cutting Thatcherite council it has been ever since. The Group was formed to ensure all Wandsworth Associations shared costs, had professional cover and money could be focussed on campaigning rather than bricks and mortar. It is hard to believe that 40 years later we are still having the same arguments about grouping and sharing costs. Jean's book, The Wandsworth Story has been on my political bookshelf for two decades. I re-read it every few years and what they achieved still inspires me.
Throughout the website there is a sad and at times an angry tone, not surprising given how badly many of them feel they were treated. There is also an inevitable "it wasn't like this when we were running the show" narrative, which I suspect we are all guilty of, though retired Agents seem more prone than most! The truth is, however, that our army of retired Agents are a massive resource who could, if asked, make a valuable contribution. How this could be handled however, without risking undermining their successors or the newly appointed Campaign Managers, would need careful consideration. After all, there is nothing worse than one's predecessor carping on about "how we did it in my day."
In this year's Conference Handbook there is an article, tucked away on p158, launching Conservative Alumni, with a stated aim to,
"...bring together people who have moved on from serving the Party as professionals, elected representatives or as senior volunteers.... to keep members updated on Conservative news and events and enable them to play a continuing role within the Party."
I hope Conservative Alumni is a success and finds a way of utilising the skills and bringing back into the Conservative family all of those who were perhaps made to feel they were no longer wanted, relevant or welcome in the post 1997 Conservative Party.