Just home, feet and legs aching, but that happy glow of a job well done.
Tonight was the Management Committee's informal supper, with the ever popular Ann Widdecombe as guest speaker. In fact, with Jacques Arnold chairing the event, Tom Tugendhat attending his first Association function and Sir John Stanley also down to speak, I had more MPs, ex MPs and wannabe MPs than I knew what to do with. I decided to put them all on the same table, so they could spend they evening regaling each other with tales from the halcyon days.
Ann really is great value; and one of those politicians who manages to connect with people at a different emotional level than most. About ten years ago we were running a campaign to save a local post office. It was on the edge of the Chatham & Aylesford constituency and its catchment area slightly overlapped into Maidstone, so I was able to ask Ann to help by posing for photographs with our local campaign team. She readily agreed, but added, "I am off on holiday tomorrow, so the only time I could do it would by at 3pm this afternoon." In the very limited time available we printed flyers and delivered as many as we could. Would anyone turn up at such short notice? Especially as it was a workday. We needn't have worried - they came in their droves, and they brought their friends and grandchildren too. Over 200 turned out. Not many MPs could enter a neighbouring constituency and draw a crowd of 200 on a weekday afternoon at just 2 hours notice, but Ann Widdecombe did.
My issue with Ann isn't her politics (thought I suspect we are far apart on many issues), but it is the certainty of her views. The older I get the more tolerant, liberal and inclusive I become. In a world where people like to speak in terms of right and wrong, or black and white, I am increasingly seeing things in shades of grey. I cannot personally dislike opposition candidates simply because they wear a different coloured rosette. In fact, I often hear myself thinking, "If I was standing in his shoes, I would probably support that, too."
But she was great value, and I agree with Sir John who, in his vote of thanks, said that she should be in the House of Lords.
The evening was a great success in many ways, and a model of how I believe we should now raise funds. Being self-catered and in a village hall, we could keep the ticket prices as really low (£14 per person for two courses). The cooks (ten members who each agreed to cook a lasagne at home and bring it along hot) each received a complimentary ticket to cover their expenses; so the catering costs were minimal. With a low ticket price, more people could afford to come - particularly those who are perhaps "priced-out" of formal annual dinners at £45 per ticket. And they could afford to be more generous with raffle tickets. All together, after deducting costs, I suspect we raised £1,500 on an informal lasagne supper in a village hall.
Yes, it's hard work catering for 100, setting up the hall and (worst of all) cleaning it and putting everything away afterwards. But £1,500 is a fair amount of money to raise from an informal lasagne supper. Most importantly, however, it was inclusive. No-one was sitting at home worrying about the cost of having to hire a DJ or if they could afford the tickets, and I hope no-one who came for the first time could possible walk away thinking "I don't think I can return; they're really nor people like me." A job well done.