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.