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!