Friday, 31 January 2014

Meeting the Maidstone In Laws !

It was exciting to address a campaign meeting of Maidstone's Conservative candidates and councillors tonight (drawn from the Maidstone constituency and those parts of Faversham & Mid Kent which fall within the Maidstone Council boundary).

This was the first formal campaign meeting I have run for Maidstone and F&MK, who have recently joined the West Kent Group. Whenever I meet a new Association for the first time there is a degree of nervous tension (on both sides). I often think it's how a new "suitor" must feel meeting the potential in-laws for the first time; both sides overly courteous, curious and keen to impress, whilst needing to establish ground rules along with the terms of the relationship.

Tonight's meeting went like a dream (at least from my perspective). They listened with open minds and appeared willing to adapt to some of the many new campaign techniques which have served the Party well elsewhere in Kent. The questions were intelligent and enthusiastic; and perhaps most important of all for someone as driven as I am - I sensed we had a team of candidates who were hungry to win. I felt the same tingle of energy and determination we had in Chatham, & Aylesford 10 years ago when a small but united team determined to make a real difference. 

So welcome to Maidstone & The Weald and Faversham & Mid Kent. It is good to finally have the West Kent family working together, sharing best practice and supporting each other's hopes and ambitions. I am greatly honoured to be their new agent and look forward to working with some truly great people in the years ahead.  I just need to work out who is the frightening Mother-in-Law!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Funding the new West Kent Campaign HQ

We are now turning our attention to refurbishing the new West Kent Campaign HQ and equipping it with new print and design facilities and a phone bank. To help finance this we are launching an appeal to our members and donors, with an aim of raising £10,000.  My sponsored slim has already raised £2,000 towards the total, so we are 20% of the way to target.

Here is the letter which is going to our members at the end of February, and more interestingly for those who are thinking of forming their own Groups, a copy of the leaflet explaining the rational behind the move, which I think clearly highlights the benefits and what we aim to achieve.


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Exciting internship opportunities at West Kent Campaign HQ

Each day the reality of the new West Kent Campaign HQ draws closer and the excitement mounts.

All of those involved (staff and volunteers) are realistic about the challenges that lie ahead; managing the hopes and expectations of five Associations and almost 3,000 Party members will be not be simple. But we are also excited by what we believe can be achieved by pooling our resources and working together towards a shared goal.

This week we received the draft lease of the new HQ, and today our advert for internships was published on the website.

We are seeking three interns (one full time and two part time) to assist with specific projects. The first is a year long full time assignment to work on Tom Tugendhat's parliamentary campaign. The second is to help implement a membership retention scheme. And the third is to offer practical campaign support in the run-up to the local election campaign on Thursday 22 May.

We take our responsibilities to interns seriously. We pay the minimum wage, but in special circumstances we assist with travel costs too. But unlike some organisations our interns are treated as equal and valued members of the team. Their skills are identified and developed, wherever possible they are given specific responsibility for managing their own projects, and perhaps most importantly we endeavour to help find a full time job at the conclusion of their internship.

Further details may be found by at this link:

Monday, 27 January 2014

All in a day's work

Last night, after blogging (moaning) about the office workload for the week, a local MP Tweeted to say, "you love it, really", and I must admit that he's right!  Too often I meet people who hate their job and are ticking off the days to the weekend (or to their retirement), but even at its worst I still wake up each day champing at the bit and looking forward to the tasks ahead. And in that I know how lucky I am.
Today got off to a good start... we designed, printed and folded the first of the two branch newsletters, I completed the TW accounts and sent them off to the Chairman and Treasurer, we printed 20,000 letters and mail-merged the addresses onto 10,000 of them and Jon caught up with the membership data and even found a spare hour to begin work on sorting out Maidstone's standing order payments.
Still a mountain to climb before the weekend, but we've made a good start. Next week we have two packing teams (team one in Maidstone of 30 people and team two in Tunbridge Wells of 40!) and God help us if the supplies aren't ready.

Jon processing the weekend's membership
Our lovely volunteer book-keeper Edward Pugh
banking the cheques!
John Balcombe keeps the Risograph rolling
Last week's 15,000 target mailshot awaiting collection
by the packing teams

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Not waving, but drowning !

This is the time on a Sunday night when the horrors of the week ahead come barging into my thoughts. Here is what's on this weeks agenda:

  • 12,000 household mailshot for Tunbridge Wells (to be printed and merged)
  • 10,000 household mailshot in Faversham & Mid Kent (printed and merged)
  • Two branch newsletters (2,500 and 3,000 copies) printed and folded
  • Meetings in Westminster with Tracey Crouch and Greg Clark
  • Write and design my Prezi presentation for Maidstone LG candidates training for Friday evening
  • Finalise TW accounts for Treasurer
  • Speak to roofer re repairs to 91 High Street before vacating property
  • Meet Bursar at Tonbridge School to finalise arrangements for Sir John's 40th Anniversary Dinner
  • Chatham & Aylesford Management Committee
  • Four sets of AGM notices, agendas, minutes and nomination papers
  • Recent by-election expense returns

...and no doubt several branch Chairman demanding to know when we are going to print the tickets for their Spring Luncheon!

OH! Yes - and 22,000 freepost reply envelopes to overprint !

Saturday, 25 January 2014

5lb loss this week !

After a disappointing result last week, I am pleased to report a 5lb loss this week, bringing me down to 20st 3lb - a loss of 1st 7lb (or 10kg) since I began my diet on 5th January.

For those also dieting and curious about my plan, here are my meals this week (all breakfast and lunchtime meals are fresh fruit). Evening meals

Monday: Mixed grill (rump steak, gammon, kidney, chicken breast, trimmed of fat) with grilled mushrooms and tomatoes and mixed salad.

Tuesday: Poached salmon with asparagus, broccoli and a small amount of reduced fat hollandaise sauce.

Wednesday: Sea bass with green beans

Thursday: Chicken Caesar salad (without the croutons)

Friday: Trio of smoked fish (salmon, trout and mackerel) with couscous and green salad.

As you can see - I am not exactly scraping by on starvation rations !


Thursday, 23 January 2014

Not quite as Gran(d) and far way from Paradise

Just along Wilton Street in an area that desperately wants to be Pimlico but simply isn't, is one of the great "political salons" of the Thatcher era. It's a restaurant called Gran Paradiso.  Back then it was a regular haunt of the Libertarian/Anti-Maastrict right; the very mention of whose names conjured-up images of "white coats flapping" to a beleaguered PM. Over the years I have mastered control of my coat tails.

I returned today for the first time in 20 years. Isn't it funny how things can change whilst still being exactly the same; the same furniture, layout, music - the owner still "loitering" at the bar extending bonhomie to his regular customers. I swear even the menu hasn't changed. But the caravan had moved on. Where once the "arrivistes and garagistes" jostled for tables to stir the pot and spread gossip and intrigue, the only noise today was the clacking of walking sticks and the click of arthritic hips.

The last time I lunched there was with Theresa Gorman. She was sounding me out about going to work for the Anti Federalist League, though no offer was ever made and had it been I would have said no. A few years later the nation could see them in their glorious technicolour, doughnutting John Redwood when he launched his leadership challenge.

Today I lunched with our outstanding PPC Tom Tugendhat and council leader Nicolas Heslop. I am pleased to say that there was no talk of rebellions, Europe, Maastricht or the Whipless Eight. We were discussing such exciting topics as the space ratio in the next In Touch newsletter (who said politics is now about management not ideology). 

With a hint of nostalgia I pointed to the table where I had lunched with Theresa Gorman. The same table was occupied by an eccentric duffer in a crumpled linen suit who, in between mouthfuls of calamari fritti, was shouting abuse down his mobile phone about Asda delivery lorries blocking access to Uxbridge High Street.

It all seemed a little bit more exciting back then!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Keep your head down lest someone notice we're here

I recently visited an Association Office (thankfully not in the West Kent Group) to show them how to do something on Merlin. As ever, I won't name the Association as that is not the purpose of this blog. Their office was in a smart town centre location - and was the tidiest political HQ I have ever seen.

No paper, no piles of In Touch newsletters printed, half printed, waiting to be folded or waiting to be collected. No stacks of canvassing cards or surveys or PV application forms waiting to be data captured.  Nothing.  In fact, it couldn't have been more different from West Kent Towers where the cacophony of noise, human chatter, ringing phones, printing machines chugging and folding machines clacking, blends with the heavy smell of riso ink and the clutter of campaigns to come.

For a moment I was envious of their discipline. Then I started looking at the neat rows of files and folders lining the pristine shelves. "AGM minutes", "Executive minutes" (dating back to 2000), "Management Committee Minutes", "Discussion Group Papers", "Branch Minutes", "Council Group Minutes", "Annual Dinner Booking Forms".

But nowhere was there a single newsletter, PV form or any evidence whatsoever that this Association talks to anyone other than themselves.

"Where's your printing machine", I asked - out of genuine interest. Printing machine envy is a sad affliction for those of my ilk.  "What would we need a printing machine for, the laser printer copes with anything we do," was the equally genuine reply.

This isn't a particularly safe seat - nor is it vulnerable. It's an Association which, in my opinion, chronically under-performs its potential. But it falls between two stools. Not being statistically under threat it's not on the 40:40 radar, not being wealthy or well resourced, few demands are ever made upon it. Slowly it trundles on, managing its decline as gracefully as they can.

This is exactly the type of Association which would benefit most from grouping, but I fear it is exactly type of Association which would be least enthusiastic about joining one. After all, if they were too successful they wouldn't continue to get away with doing nothing!.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Under Starter's Orders in Maidstone & The Weald !

Maidstone and The Weald formally joined the West Kent Group a few weeks ago, and following a very successful and positive meeting with the Association Officers and the leadership of the Conservative Group on the Borough Council, the first mailshot to 15,000 target voters started rolling off our presses today.

Already a  new air of optimism is evident in the Association. A venue has been booked and a small army of volunteers are coming forward to pack the 15,000 envelopes. A councillor has been on the phone asking if his ward can be included in the campaign - a refreshing change from the "we cannot participate as we have no-one to help with deliveries" that we too often hear elsewhere. And today a long serving member in her late 70's called to say how excited she was that she felt "wanted and needed" again.

Too often I visit Associations and hear the old chestnut, "there's no-one to help" usually from councillors who find the time to attend every committee, advisory board and civic reception but never have the time to deliver leaflets to the very people whose support they will need to get themselves re-elected.  They get very short shrift from me!  One Association I know didn't deliver a single newsletter last year but had 8 meetings of the Executive Council. I often wonder what they talk about when they don't actually do anything. I suspect they sit around crying into their gin telling each other how hard it is as they don't have any help. I did suggest that if the 35 people who attended each meeting actually went out and delivered 200 newsletters they would get 7,000 homes covered. They looked askance!

So three cheers for Maidstone and The Weald Association and to their Chairman, John Wilson, who was unexpectedly landed with the job at last year's AGM and has shown real courage, vision and leadership.

And if you are in or around Maidstone on Tuesday 4 February - and would like to join a team packing 15,000 envelopes, do get in touch. You would be very welcome - and you'll get a free lunch. The team starts work at 10.30am.

(PS - and if you are in Tunbridge Wells on Thursday 6 February - there's another 10,000 to pack there, too). Please email your offers of help to

Last Saturday's weigh-in

With all the political activity this weekend I didn't have time to post my weigh-in details, though I did stop off at Boots in Tonbridge to jump on their scales.  After a great first week (week one is always the easiest) I was a bit disappointed to lose just 1lb in week two, though not altogether surprised. I have had a couple of business lunches and dinners - and whilst I try to make sensible choices, sometimes it is difficult without being rude (especially if it's a set menu and someone else is the host).

Anyway, 1lb off is better than nothing.

This week:

Last week:

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Addressing the Surrey Area Conference

I appear to be developing a new string to my bow, as the Party's local ambassador for grouping and resource sharing. I am not a natural nor confident public speaker, but I do see the value in sharing our experiences and as a result I always try to help if I can.

Yesterday I addressed the Surrey Area Conference in Woking. They had a super turnout of 120+ people I would guess and I think my presentation was well received.  Certainly the questions were plentiful and thoughtful, and the queue of people wishing to chat to me afterwards prevented me from reaching the delicious looking buffet (which was no bad thing for my diet).

I was up immediately following on of the party's most charismatic and eloquent speakers, Dan Hannan, which made me feel a bit like Attlee following Churchill (hat-tip to Andrew Sharpe for that one!)

Thank you to Surrey Area Chairman Andrew Colborne-Baber for the invitation and to all the people who tweeted kind messages afterwards.

Greg Clark campaigning in Tunbridge Wells

Greg Clark MP led 18 volunteers on Saturday, campaigning in Sherwood ward for our popular local councillor Bob Backhouse. Another great turnout from a great team!

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Toast of The Oast!

After months of planning, tonight was the much anticipated Association Magical Cabaret at Tonbridge's lovely Oast Theatre. The evening was a huge success. Jonathan Shotton was a consummate professional on stage (see his website HERE). The volunteers who run the Oast Theatre did all that was asked of them, and more!  Despite dropping the quiche and a row about the social etiquette of slicing cucumber, the Aylesford Conservative team provided a wonderful buffet supper for 120 guests and helpers.  Janet Sergison once again ran the raffle and raised nearly £400.

In the end, despite a few faint hearts who thought it wouldn't work, we sold every ticket and had a waiting list of 30. And raised £1,500 for Association funds!

So a massive thank you to Jonathan Shotton and all the volunteers who worked so hard to make the evening a great success. Here are a few photographs, sorry some are poor quality but they were taken in a darkened auditorium.

Every seat in the house was taken, and we had a waiting list of 30. 

 Never mind "When Harry met Sally" here is the sequel, "When Botten met Shotton"
Long suffering Jon was (naturally) called on stage to participate in an illusion
involving a strap-on and a pint of milk

West Kent staff photo with the star of the show!
Or as my partner cruelly said, from left to right:  "Botten, Shotton and Rotten".

Finally, with PPC Tom Tugendhat

Friday, 17 January 2014

Does anyone need an envelope full of broken elastic bands?

One of the Associations joining the West Kent Group are moving out of their office this weekend. Having rescued the silver cups and trophies, paintings, computers, financial records and donated the old minute books to the county archive, the Officers asked me if I would remove any supplies or equipment which would be useful at the new office.
Whilst there is consensus that the new office should not be a dumping ground for five Association's worth of accumulated detritus, there was much that could be used or re-homed, such as reams of paper, boxes of envelopes, printer cartridges and such like.  As we went from room to room, however, we found some gems. I suspect that at the time these items were stowed safely away in the cellar and attics they had a purpose, but the passing of time (and the accumulation of dust) does make one wonder why any political organisation would have use for the following:
1. A strong tin box with a sign taped to the outside, reading "this box contains 82 ping pong balls. These may not borrowed or removed without permission of the secretary."
2. A photograph of the formidable former MP with a life size papier mache cow.
3. A large brown envelope with "broken elastic bands, to be kept for Judy" written upon it
4. A collage made up of the heads of every Conservative MP (cut out from a newspaper) circa 1965.
5. A public address system with a sign attached "loud speakers not very loud, cannot be heard above engine".
I suspect every Association office in the country has similar objects and memories (if only anyone could remember what the story behind them was!). Goodness only knows what we will find in our attic when we start to clear out 91 High Street.  Whilst such discoveries can be amusing, I also found them endearing and couldn't help but feel a touch of pathos. It brought home to me that despite the professionalization of politics, the emergence of the so called "political class" and the changes in the way we campaign and communicate, politics is still a human business, with all the emotions, peculiarities and eccentricities that make people (and life) so special. 
Things change, and there is little to be gained by looking back to halcyon days. By nature I am neither sentimental, not do I like clutter. Many years ago I took over from a long serving agent who had been in situ for perhaps a parliament too long. I was genuinely saddened when he told me "when you come to design eve of poll letters or knocking up leaflets, there's a file on the computer. Save yourself some time - just use last years and change the date. I've been doing it for years, no-one has ever noticed."   This saddened me as this particular man was, in his prime, one of the stars of the profession. What made him give up? Will that one day be me? I hope not, though I have little doubt that in twenty years a new Andrew Kennedy will be sorting through my files and will say "the Tonbridge & Malling guide to running an Open Primary - who the hell wants to read that?" DELETE. 
Plus ca change plus c'est meme chose.
I recall once finding a box full of empty Smartie tubes in the attic, each with a member's name written upon it.  I asked around and managed to put together the story. Apparently many years beforehand the Treasurer had bought each member of the Executive Council a tube of Smarties and asked people to keep the tube once they had eaten the sweets. They were asked to fill it with 5 pence pieces and to bring it back when it was full, whereupon he would swap it for another tube of Smarties to start again. Over the year he raised in excess £800, the equivalent of £3,000 today. Such innovation should be recorded and celebrated, sot simply written-off.  
As we move towards West Kent I am acutely aware that each Association has its own character, style and tradition, shaped by the collective memories and experiences of hundreds of people over decades or shared endeavour.  We may be sharing an office, but we should celebrate those differences and do whatever we can to keep local traditions and differences alive. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Cheesecake and Pie in Shoreham

I was singing for my supper tonight in Shoreham. I had been invited to share my thoughts with the Sussex Area Management Committee and the local Association Chairmen and women about resource sharing and grouping.

Tonight's chairman has already made a guest appearance on this blog (here). He was the one who caused schoolboy sniggering at the Red Lion when speaking about 'Member Penetration'. With this in mind I was somewhat amused to pass a pub called the Amsterdam, then another called the Cottage, a fish and chip shop called Cod Piece and finally S&M Auto Spares. "Where's this road taking me" I wondered? Sadly, as so often is the case with these Tory dinners, it took me past all the chic and gigi eateries and stopped at a neon lit pub with plastic pavement furniture and a motley collection of tokers gathered around the door, as if auditioning for a Oasis album cover.

The pub was clearly where Shoreham's Trendy Young Things go to drink Jagermeister bombs and shoot pool, so twenty Tory grandees (and the Southern Zone Oberleutnant) did not look at all out of place. To be fair, it wasn't a bad pub, in a Hollyoaks meets TOWIE kind of way, and the private dining room was actually very nice. As indeed was the food. For some reason I had been asked to pre-order my meal when Halley's Comet was last passing earth, so by tonight I had forgotten that I had ordered fish pie followed by cheesecake. As those around me enjoyed their cod, steak chips and spaghetti vongola, I forlornly fished lumps of salmon out of the cream sauce, by-passed the mashed potato and pretended to enjoy my boiled broccoli. And, despite the temptation, the large slice of home made cheesecake stood in front of me, untouched though much desired.

I like the Sussex Tories; almost all of whom I have met before tonight - and they all appeared to read my blog! They seemed genuinely interested in the concept of resource-sharing and the questions were intelligent and considered. There was a time when "grouping" was considered a sign of failure; an admission that you can no longer stand-alone. Increasingly grouping is seen as "best practice" - a way to maximise resources and ensure money is spent where it matters most (on campaigning rather than bricks and mortar).  From the reaction tonight I expect there will be at least two formal groupings in Sussex by the end of 2014 - and I wish them every success.

Yes, there are still many Associations with the income (and reserves) to finance a stand-alone operation without any concerns about paying the bills. Two of mine, Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge & Malling, fall into this category. There is little reason for them to share with others, but they have done so because it is the right thing to do. There is a growing realisation, at least in Kent, that it is wrong for an Association to finance a grand office when the critical marginal next door is struggling to print a newsletter.  It is an ideal worth campaigning for.

Now - here is a picture of my uneaten cheesecake. Get behind me, satan!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

That Tracey Crouch can work wonders

Prior to the General Election we had a disposable email address "Team Crouch" which was used to send out canvassing instructions and internal comms. It was only used by key activists and party members, and to be honest I had forgotten all about it.   Until it was hacked this morning and 35 local activists each received an email from Tracey Crouch entitled "would you like a bigger penis"?

Rumours that three of them replied "yes please" before realising it was SPAM cannot be confirmed.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Is the show already over for C&A Labour

One of the skills of a campaigner is knowing which fights are worth fighting, where the cause is lost and where the effort is simply surplus to requirements.

Thankfully politics is a human business, full of normal human emotions, hopes and dreams. Hence candidates of all parties, who are emotionally involved, are the worst possible judges of how a campaign is going or the most likely outcome.

Everyone in my position faces the frustration of candidates in difficult seats who genuinely believe that with "one more push" they will pull off a surprise victory, matched only in irritation by their counterparts in rock solid seats who demand additional resources, refusing to accept the electoral reality that their historic 78% vote share probably means that they are not going to lose (and if they do, the bloodbath must be so great it's no point worrying about it!)

Often candidates and activists can only keep themselves motivated by believing the "one more heave" theory.

Take Chatham and Aylesford for example with it's 6,069 majority. Labour, in their hearts, probably believe they are in with a shout. "If Tracey Crouch could only win by 6,000 at a time when Labour was really unpopular, what chance does she have next time...? they must tell themselves, conveniently forgetting that the Conservative majority is more than twice as large as Labour scored in their halcyon 1997 election when the swept all before them.

But, in those vulnerable silent moments when they switch off the bedroom lights and dark thoughts are no longer protected by the warmth of day, Labour's C&A strategists must fight to keep the harsh political realities from sapping their hopes. 

They know that Tracey Crouch's incumbency bounce takes her majority to over 8,000.

They know that the loss of Jonathan Shaw's personal vote reduces their 2010 vote share by a further 5%.

They know that at the 2013 county elections they didn't come close to winning Malling North (and with the PV included they couldn't even win in Snodland, which was once their local base).  

They will remember that at the same time in the last electoral cycle, Conservatives won Luton & Wayfield for the first time in 40 years with a record swing.

They will know from their own research that Tracey Crouch is polling substantially ahead of the Conservative Party and has higher name recognition after 4 years than the previous Labour MP had after 13. 

And they will know that despite it being mid term, Tracey's personal popularity resulted in C&As Christmas raffle raising over £3,000 -  from hundreds of small individual local donors, the majority of whom were not party members. Something they must dream about when they wait in hope for the next Trades Union donation.

Yet still they must struggle on, the triumph of hope over experience.  After all, Chatham & Aylesford is on Labour's list of target seats, even if it is at number 103.

Isn't it....?

Well, not according to the well written and influential  "Labour Uncut" blog, which under the headline LABOUR IN KEY SEAT RETREAT wrote,

Before adding,

Which must be a bitter pill to swallow for C&A Labour who were 103 on the list, and now appear to have fallen off the bottom.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Greg Clark and team campaigning in Pembury

Tunbridge Wells MP, Greg Clark, joined local councillor Paul Barrington-King and a team of 14 on the doorsteps of Pembury village yesterday morning. 

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Weigh-in Saturday 11 January 2014

Well, it's been a week and I had my weigh-in this afternoon, and I am delighted. I have lost an amazing 15lb (that's a full stone and one further pound on top!).

Here is this weeks weigh-in slip (last week my weight was 21stone 10lb. (In case you are wondering, Steve and I went to Ramsgate to visit a shop which specialises in reclaimed theatrical lighting which we want to install onto our new boat - but that's a story for another day).

Now, before you all start saying "be careful" or "that's impossible" there are a few extenuating circumstances. Last week's weigh-in was taken directly after lunch and I was also wearing heavier clothes than I was today. I imagine this inflated last week's weight by probably 4lb. But even taking this into consideration, I have still lost 11lb, which is a real boost to my morale.

However, as anyone who has dieted will know, week one is always the easiest and I know from experience that it gets harder as time moves on.

A few people have asked which diet I am following. It's the Slimming World "red and green" diet, where you limit your diet to either proteins (red days) or carbohydrates (green days). You can eat unlimited fruit and vegetables any day.  Fats, chocolate and dairy etc are removed almost completely.  I do, however, have a daily allowance for "treats" which I can spend how I wish; so a chocolate bar would use up all my "treat allowance" for a day or I could choose 50g of Stilton and a couple of crackers instead. Sadly, if you don't use your allowance on any given day you cannot carry it forward for a Saturday night blow-out! 

For example, over the last week breakfast has been cereal with skimmed milk (previously it was toast and marmalade) and lunch has been lots of fresh fruit with sparkling water (previously a roast beef sandwich, can of Pepsi and a chocolate bar!).  My evening meals have been:

Monday: Poached salmon fillets with fresh asparagus and salad
Tuesday: Chilli with brown rice
Wednesday: Grilled fillet steak with peppercorn sauce and fresh vegetables and a jacket potato
Thursday: Grilled sea bass with vegetables
Friday: Roast chicken (skin removed) with jacket potato

As you can see, I am hardly on "starvation rations"!  In fact, the only thing I really miss is Friday evening fish and chips and my usual large helping of cheesecake or profiteroles or apple crumble and custard after my evening meal - which is what got me to this predicament in the first place.

So, so far so good.  Thank you all for your help, encouragement and support - and, of course, your sponsorship!  So far, I have been pledged an amazing £1085 to lose 4 stone by end May. 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

A disappointing result in Borough Green and Long Mill.

I am sorry to say that we lost the Borough Green and Long Mill By Election in Tonbridge & Malling, by 104 votes. The Independent candidate, Mike Taylor, who is Chairman of Borough Green Parish Council, was the winner; and I send him my congratulations.

The full result was:

Independent - 692 (39%)
Conservative - 588 (34%)
UKIP - 349 (20%)
Labour - 84 (4%)
Green - 68 (3%)

It never feels good to lose a by-election but that is part of the democratic process. If seats never changed hands we would never have a change of government. We are happy to claim credit when we win - so we must be equally ready to accept the verdict of the voters when we don't.

What is interesting about this result, however, was the changing vote shares across the ward, which comprises four distinct communities; Borough Green has c 50% of voters, Platt 25%, Plaxtol 17% and Shipbourne 8%.  In the three rural parishes our vote share (including absent votes) was identical to 2011 (when the seat was last contested) and actually showed an increase on what was achieved in the County Council result last May. This was not sufficient, however, to counter the independent candidate's appeal in his home village. Our share of the vote in Borough Green fell from around 40% in 2011 to 15% tonight, with the independent candidate on around 60%.

Had the by-election been a referendum on the Conservative Council, the Government or the local campaign, then we would have lost support across the board. That didn't happen; in three of the four polling stations our share improved. We lost this election due to a massive 25% swing against us in one village; Borough Green.  What we need to do is identify why; after all, they all had the same leaflets, the same number of knocks on the door, the same GOTV campaign. 

I am surprised? In truth; no I am not. I picked-up the first signs of the independent candidate's bandwagon starting to roll on 2 January. By yesterday I knew the writing was on the wall. My blog on the by-election (posted last night) was trying to prepare the ground. Those who know me well picked up on the nuances, for example...

" I fret endlessly over what we could or should have done differently..."

" In 2011 the independent polled 900 votes compared with the lowest Conservative vote of 1,250 - so our majority is just over 350 in a ward of 5,000 voters."

"The issue is further complicated by the fact UKIP did not stand last time, but are standing now."

...and by 9.30am today, I knew we had lost. In fact, I told Jon Botten and the Association Chairman to expect defeat as soon as I had seen the first three teller's slips.

My biggest disappointment is for all those hard working and loyal volunteers who gave their time to help deliver leaflets, canvass residents, address envelopes, take numbers at the polling stations and help GOTV; they are a magnificent, selfless, dedicated and honourable team whose commitment makes me proud to be their agent. 

So well done again to Mike Taylor, I really do wish him well.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Good luck to Stuart Murray tomorrow

A few people have asked why this blog has not been updated as often, or written is as much detail, as it used to be. The reason is simple; since mid December we have been organising the Borough Green & Long Mill By Election in Tonbridge & Malling. Whilst I am happy to share best practice and campaign tips throughout the year, such benevolence does not extend into an election campaign when it would benefit the opposition! 

The Tonbridge & Malling Conservative team on the first Campaign Day.
So here we are on the eve of poll, the time when no matter how large the previous vote share, I fret endlessly over what we could or should have done differently. I never predict outcomes, but looking back I am confident that we have fought a good campaign. We have delivered three pieces of paper to every house plus three more to Conservative pledges, we have knocked on every door across the four parishes which make up the ward (2,500+ homes) and revisited many of the outs. Today we delivered a letter in a hand written envelope, personally 'topped and tailed' to our target voters. Tomorrow we will visit these target voters again. Not a bad effort in a four week campaign, considering Christmas and New Year fell right in the middle and we have also had floods and storms.

After literally hundreds of campaigns I still feel a rush of nervous energy and a tingle of excitement
whenever I load the election day supplies into my car.
 Our candidate, Stuart Murray, has worked his socks-off and done all that could be expected - then some more. Stuart is one of those unassuming decent local heroes who works tirelessly for his community without ever blowing his trumpet. He is an honourable man and he will make a bloody good councillor if elected.

There are five candidates tomorrow. Apart from our own Stuart Murray there is Labour, Green, UKIP, and an Independent who Chairs the Parish Council in the largest of the villages which comprise the borough council ward. In 2011 the independent polled 900 votes compared with the lowest Conservative vote of 1,250 - so our majority is just over 350 votes in a ward of 5,000 voters. The issue is further complicated by the fact UKIP did not stand last time, but are standing now. UKIPs candidate is an experienced campaigner, having fought and lost many campaigns in recent years. 

What I do want to place on the record is how fortunate I am to have such an outstanding team of activists and campaigners working with me. The Association never fails to raise to the challenge - too many people to thank in this blog post, but let's just say Stuart will be writing over 100 letters of thanks!

So wish us well for tomorrow - I post the results on Twitter and Facebook as soon as I am legally allowed to do so. 

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Now you see it - and now you don't !

I am delighted to report that, despite a few faint hearts who didn't think we could "pull it off" the Association's first venture into theatre is a great success. Our Magical Cabaret & Buffet Supper at Tonbridge's Oast Theatre, staring Britain's "Champion of Magic" Jonathan Shotton, is now fully booked, with all 110 tickets sold.

The show will take place on Saturday 18 January.  Guests will enjoy an hour long stage show from Jonathan followed by a two course buffet meal - with close-up table magic for all guests. Tickets were £20 (adults) and £15 (children). Joyce Gadd and her team from Chatham & Aylesford are providing the catering.  This is a very exciting venture and quite a change from the branch quiz or supper.

Rumours that Jonathan Shotton will wave his magic wand and give Ed Miliband a stunning personality have not been confirmed.

Point of Order, Mr Chairman

I learnt very early on that the Party Constitution can be your best friend. It is sufficiently flexible to allow Executive Councils and Management Committees the room they need to achieve what they want to achieve, but also sufficiently precise with regard to process, which can save a great deal of dispute and ill feeling.

Anyone who has worked with me will know that I am a strict "constitutionalist". When asked I will always give honest and transparent advice, uphold the rules fairly and equally (even when people don't wish to hear it) and act in accordance with the constitution. No-one has ever appealed and found the advice I have given, or a judgement I have made, to be wanting. Yes, some of the rules I don't particularly like or even agree with - but that is an issue above my pay grade. Each Association is a branch of the national party, and if the Party Board agree a rule, then so be it.

Notwithstanding the above, there is one phrase which is guaranteed to send a shiver down my spine. "Can you send me a copy of the constitution."  The shiver is not due to fear of being proved wrong, but because the request almost always presages a row over some matter of utmost triviality, which will act as a diversion from our overriding aim (as set out in the preamble to each Association's constitution)... provide an effective campaigning organisation in the Constituency; to secure the return of Conservative Candidates at elections; and to raise the necessary funds to achieve these objectives; to contribute to the central funds of the Party.
Sadly (with a few honourable
exceptions) 'demanders of the constitution' are seldom in the same group as "knockers on doors" or "raisers of funds" or "recruiters of members". Interestingly, our latest correspondent has found the time (and the energy) to write five lengthy emails questioning some obscure sub clause of a branch committee's rules, but sadly had not found the time to respond to any of the requests to help in our marginal local government by-election this coming Thursday. 

In fact, I suspect the raison d'etre of those who "demand the constitution" is to provide the demander with all the detail they require to criticise others for not working hard enough.

Monday, 6 January 2014

The scales don't lie

Well, this is painful and embarrassing, but I said I would publish my weight on this blog today with weekly updates as my diet progresses, so here it is:

Not good, not clever and nothing to be proud of, and a full stone heavier than I was when I last seriously dieted 5 years ago. There are no excuses, I have fallen into a habit of eating the wrong food and too much of it often too late at night.

So the diet has commenced and apart from the main benefits of losing weight and making myself healthier, fitter and happier, I will also be raising money for the Party to pay for the installation and running costs of an eight-line phone bank at our new Campaign HQ in Paddock Wood.

Already I have raised over £800 in sponsorship from friends and colleagues from across the UK; your generosity and encouragement mean a great deal. Thank you. 

My first target is to lose 4 stone (56lb) by the end of May 2014, which my dietician has said is a tough but not unrealistic goal. If you would like to sponsor me (either a set amount to reach my target or so much per lb lost) I would be really grateful; you would not only be encouraging me but also helping raise funds for a West Kent phone bank to help the party win in 2015.

You can download a sponsorship form by right clicking on the picture below, then printing it using your home printer. Alternatively (and much simpler) just send me an email to with either the lump sum of the amount per pound you are willing to sponsor me for.  Thank you!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The first Campaign Team photograph of 2014!

Despite the most ghastly weather, over 20 campaigners came to help in Borough Green & Long Mill this morning, where we delivered a personalised GOTV card to every Conservative pledge. The following photograph was taken in the pub, where many of us regrouped for lunch afterwards. It was particularly good to welcome Richard Robinson, who is one of the Conservative Party's European Parliamentary Candidates, joining us on the doorsteps.

From left to right: Bill Hills, Richard Robinson, Andrew Kennedy, Jon Botten, Joanathan Galbraith, Richard Long, Jacques Arnold, Matthew Balfour, Sophie Shrubsole, Stuart Murray, Chris Brown and Sue Murray.

Also out helping but not in the photograph: Nicolas Heslop, Mark Davies, Allan Sullivan, Mike Parry-Waller, John Balcombe, Chris Baldock, Dave Davis, Russell Lancaster, Sarah Hohler, Valerie Dagger, David Cure and David Godfrey.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Please support my sponsored slim !

There's no kind, simple or easy way to say this -  so I won't even try. I am very overweight and I have resolved to do something about it.

I wish I could blame hormones or genes; but I can't. I simply eat too much food, often too late at night, and apart from running up the phone bill, chasing rumours and jumping to conclusions, I take too little exercise.

Five years ago I went on a diet and over a six months I lost four stone. My target was five. Unfortunately, before reaching my target the wheels fell of the waggon - and within 6 months my weight had returned to where it had previously been. I was angry with myself for months; to be honest I still am. Having lost four stone I felt fit, healthy and good about myself. Shops which I hadn't been in for a decade were open to me again, I lost 6 inches from my waistline; suddenly when I shopped for clothes I was able to buy what I wanted to buy not just what was available in my size. Typing this five years later I recall vividly how good it felt, so I am going to try again. 

I am blessed with the most amazing willpower - many would say I am as stubborn as a mule. Ten years ago I went from smoking 40 Marlboro a day to not smoking at all. I gave up overnight, with no medication, patches or pills - once I had made the decision to quit that was it; I haven't smoked since.

So here we go again; and to keep me focused I am going to seek sponsorship for a good cause. My aim is to raise £2,500 which will pay for the installation and 12 months running costs for an eight-line Phone Bank at the new West Kent Campaign HQ in Paddock Wood. It will be great for Kent to have its own Phone Bank for by-elections, target wards and to assist our local 40:40 target seats.

Next week I shall be returning to Slimming World and I will publish my weight on this blog - and each week (whether good or bad) I will publish an update. I am seeking sponsorship for each pound I lose by the end of May (five months time, give or take). But if you are kind enough to sponsor me please be careful!  Last time I did lose four stone - which is 56 pound; so sponsoring me £1 per pound could result in quite a large sum! Please bear this in mind as I wouldn't like you to feel committed to a sum you couldn't really afford. Perhaps instead of offering so much per pound you might offer £x if I reach my target by end of May (which is a loss of four stone).    

Here is a sponsorship form which you are invited to download, print off and return, should you wish to sponsor me.

Thank you in anticipation of your support and encouragement.


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

We should celebrate multiculturalism, not fear it

There really are times when I think some people live in a parallel universe to the one I and almost all of my friends happily occupy.

It's a world where every "foreigner" is here to do us harm. A world where only white, Anglo-Saxon Daily Mail readers are honourable. A world were every new wave of immigration is going to "swamp" our history and traditions. Well, I am going to once again prove that I am a dangerous liberal, but this world doesn't exist, except in the minds of those who want it to, or those who make political capital by spreading intolerance and fear.  

There is something very unedifying about listening to people who list their favourite foods as chicken tikka, sweet & sour pork or a pepperoni pizza whilst complaining about the danger immigration poses to our cultural heritage. Or those who whisper that immigrants threaten our 'traditional family values' but are happy to leave their ageing and confused relatives in anonymous care homes staffed by Sri Lankan care workers on a minimum wage. Or eat fruit and vegetables picked by Polish and Latvian labour, because farmers cannot find British workers willing to do the job. Or ride in trains and buses with West Indian drivers, whose parents were encouraged to come here in the 1950s by the British Nationality Act. Of course when challenged we hear, "oh, they're different, they've been here years" conveniently forgetting that each new waive of migrants have faced the same kind of abuse, hostility and often violence as those coming here today.

Then we have the old chestnut, "I am not a racist, but I do object when they try to impose their traditions on us."  Let's forget the irony that our industrial wealth and heritage was based on our forefathers imposing our values on others, and ask ourselves "have we really changed?

The Costa del Sol , Costa Blanca and much of the Algarve is packed with British ex-pats who live in English speaking enclaves in someone else's country, too often making no effort to learn the native language. I am sure their are thousands of Spanish looking at these people eating their all day breakfasts, drinking pints of lager and shopping at the Calahonda branch of Morrison's supermarket and think exactly the same. And I know from experience that many of these ex-pats, when asked why they left UK, will say, "I had to get out of England, the country's going downhill - it's overrun by foreigners."

But what about "all these foreigners" taking over our country? Really? Sixty four years after the British Nationality Act paved the way for large scale immigration from the New Commonwealth, over 87% of UK citizens are White British and over 98% of people who live in this country were born in this country. And if you exclude Greater London and Birmingham and Manchester, the figure for "White British" exceeds 95%. Yet despite these figures, "immigration" is raised in questionnaires and on the doorsteps more often than Europe! Whenever I am canvassing in a leafy suburb of West Kent and someone raises immigration, I look surprised and ask "how exactly has immigration affected you?" To this day, no-one has actually been able to give me an answer, the most common response being, "well, it has never caused me a problem, but you read all these stories in the papers, don't you..."  One postal survey returned to West Kent HQ from a leafy road in the Weald of Kent contained the line, "one seldom hears English spoken in Tunbridge Wells these days..."

Personally, I cherish the excitement and fusion that comes from being part of a multi-cultural society. I celebrate that fact the Britain is such a great place that despite the nastiness and scaremongering of Mr Farage and his ilk, young people still want to come here in search of hope and to provide a better future for themselves and their families. And who can blame them? Many will come, most will return. Some will marry or settle here and will add their own piece of the ever changing jigsaw which makes up our great country. I wish them every success and happiness in doing so.

Happy New Year to all my readers.