Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The first West Kent Business Plan

Last night was the AGM of the West Kent Executive.

"I was just saying to a colleague at CCHQ how nice it was to spend an evening
with a group who were wholly positive about the future."

- Senior CCHQ Staffer 

The West Kent Executive is the Management Committee for the West Kent Group. It comprises of two representatives from each member Association (normally the Chairman and Treasurer). The West Kent Group meets as and when needed, but it's annual meeting must be held by the end of April, after each member Association has held its own AGM. 

The West Kent Executive has no legal basis within the Party Constitution; its authority rests on the Memorandum of Understanding, which has been adopted by the Member Associations. At the AGM the members elect a Chairman, Vice Chairman and Treasurer, who in effect manage the operation. It is akin to a Board of Directors with me as the CEO. There is also a Staffing Committee to handle pay, appraisals, recruitment and disciplinary issues. 

The Interim Officers (elected last year to oversee the set-up) were unanimously re-elected for 2014. They are:

Chairman: William Rutherford (TW)
Vice Chairman: John Wilson (M&TW)
Treasurer: Allan Sullivan (C&A)

Staffing Committee: William Rutherford, John Wilson, Adrian Gulvin (C&A), Nick de Wiggondene (F&MK) and Alan Bristow (T&M). 

The other members of the West Kent Executive are: Jacques Arnold (T&M), Chris Garland (M&TW), Dave Street (TW) and Patrik Garten (F&MK). Ten in total.

A good, positive working relationship has developed between all five Associations and all ten members of the Management Committee. There is no grandstanding or peacocking; and long may that continue. Yes, there are differences - but these issues are addressed in the hope and expectation of finding a solution, rather than to produce a victor. Long may that continue, too.

Following the AGM attention focussed on our Business Development Plan. One of the joys of the way West Kent is constituted is it enshrines the absolute independence of each member Association; nothing is imposed. The plan was therefore more like an A La Carte menu which each Association could choose from; obviously benefiting from economies of scale from wider participation. I was therefore pleased at the almost unanimous buy-in from all Associations. 

The major projects are therefore as follows:

1. New helper recruitment campaign, spearheaded by our MPs. This will include a personalised mailshot to approximately 15,000 supporters in each constituency requesting assistance as we prepare for the GE (window / garden poster sites - newsletter delivery). The letter will not request money. New helpers will be personally contacted by a local co-ordinator and invited to a helpers Christmas Drinks party to cement their support. 
2. Each association will be targeting pledges in target wards (by phone) to build-up delivery networks. 
3. Teams put together by each DC Membership will be using the Phone Bank to contact every lapsed member to see if they will rejoin, then every donor to see if they would like to enrol as a member.  
4. Following Chatham & Aylesford's example last year, when they raised over £3,000 on the Christmas Draw by writing to pledges, this will be rolled-out across West Kent for Christmas 2014. Also, to overcome the lack of local winners with the NCDS draw, we are also implementing a local draw for "raffle ticket sellers" - with 20 local prizes.This will guarantee local winners and give people "two draws for the price of one". 
5. The Group also agreed to host a Champagne and Canap├ęs reception in November (tbc) with a target of raising £5,000 for two nearby 40:40 seats. This support is in addition to our three coach-loads to Eastbourne to support Caroline Ansell.

So there we are - energy, commitment, planning for expansion and using our strength to work for the benefit of the Party. This is what can be achieved by working together; it really is the way forward.  

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

My blood ran cold. Which candidate could write such a thing...

Jon and I were proof reading 36 individual election manifestos. It's a painful process. 

We have developed a system for this. We each read half of them, then pass our corrected galleys to the other, so we can cross check each others corrections. This normally happens in an atmosphere of silence - two colleagues working away, respectful of each other's space and need to concentrate. 

Suddenly, from the silence, Jon spoke.

"What's a paedo meter?"

AK: I thought I had misheard. "Sorry, Jon - what's a what...?"

JB: "A paedo meter? What's a paedo meter...?"

My blood ran cold. Which candidate could write such a thing? In what context was it written?

AK: "Jon, say it again, slowly..."

JB: "A paedo meter".

AK: "Oh God. Jon, can you read me the whole sentence. In what exact context has it been used..?"

JB: "My trusty paedo meter testifies that every week I must walk 100 miles around the ward, meeting residents and delivering my regular newsletters." 

A wave of relief washed over me. 

"Pedometer, Jon!     P - E - D- O - M - E - T - E - R.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Keeping the blue flag flying in a sea of scarlet red

I want to say how delighted and impressed I am that Conservative Associations in some of the toughest areas of London (politically speaking) are fielding full slates of candidates. 

I know hard we sometimes have to work in Kent to find candidates for leafy villages and towns, so to identify, train and nominate 50,60 or 70 candidates in Newham or Tottenham is a real achievement. 

So, without wishing to sound patronising, well done to people like Chris Buckwell and Justin Hinchliffe (to name but two) for keeping the blue flag flying in some of our most challenging council wards.

Tea and Buns for the workers!

It’s been a busy time at West Kent Towers with a small army of volunteers turning out to help pack over 30,000 envelopes in two days.  The Romans would keep the people happy with “bread and circuses”. All we have to offer is coffee and sticky buns. Fortunately there was plenty of door to door campaigning or deliveries to do if anyway needed to burn off the calories!

Buns for the workers
It's quite amusing how campaigning (like so much else in life) is cyclical. I remember the deep joy 25 years ago when word processing made envelope writing redundant. Here we are, a generation later, hand writing again! 

So a big thank you to the workers - here is the late afternoon shift, hard at work.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

UPDATED! Memories of Maggie - a very special evening

STOP PRESS: Iain Dale has just been in touch to say he would like to donate 100 copies of his book "Memories of Maggie" which we can sell at the event to raise money for Tracey Crouch's GE Campaign. 

The book contains stories and recollections from world leaders, members of her various governments, friends, staff and family. It is a super book, I bought a personal copy when it was first published, and includes a contribution from Sir John. From memory, Sir John's contribution is about a time he left two pages of an important speech behind, and stood in horror in the wings, unable to warn her that the pages were missing as she had already commenced delivery. His heart was pounding as she approached the missing pages, fearing she would stumble. But her impeccable memory won the day - she carried regardless, without pausing, delivering the two missing pages verbatim from memory. 

This is a wonderfully generous gesture from a man who has been an outstanding supporter of C&A and Tracey Crouch since her selection.  Thank you Iain!

What an exciting evening this promises to be. If anyone would like to come, please let me know by email to

The day Europe came to Tonbridge & Malling

It was the Tonbridge & Malling European Action Day today, with three street stalls in our major town centres. But before the excitement officially began, we all gathered in West Malling High Street for a photo opportunity. 

We were joined by seven Conservative EU candidates of varying shades of scepticism as well as Sir John Stanley MP, Tom Tugendhat and the former MP for Gravesend. 

The poor voters of sleepy West Malling didn't quite know what had hit them. Nor, to be brutally honest, did they care.  In fact, the shops directly opposite the street stall sent a note of thanks; foot fall on this traditionally sub-prime retail side of the High Street had never been higher. 

Our candidates were corralled along the railings for a photo op with me the other side of the street with a camera, having first checked there were no "closing down sale" or "end of season clearance bargain" posters in the shop window behind. "It looks like the line-up for the firing squad" shouted one witty motorist as I took aim. 

The group then divided into three, with group one remaining in West Malling, group two to Tonbridge High Street and the third group to Edenbridge.  I thought the equal sharing of misery was the best approach - after all, why should West Malling have all the fun?   Sir John and Lady Stanley, Tom Tugendhat and me following behind - like a camel train. 

When I arrived at Tonbridge there was an altercation taking place; apparently the Christian Healers did not like sharing the bridge with Conservatives in search of the faithful. Jon Botten was leading our side of the negotiations and showing all the diplomatic and interpersonal skills he has learnt from me over the last two years. "I am sure Jesus wouldn't mind which side of the bridge we stood on" I heard him say. The Christian Healers moved their attention to me. Perhaps being married to a vicar gave me the aura of benevolence?  "Have you tried the power of prayer to help you" one enquired.  Apparently, when Tonbridge was flooding over Christmas, they had gathered on the bridge and prayed for the waters to subside.... "and two weeks later, the waters drained away."  I asked if they had a payer to make Mr Farage drain away, but they didn't seem to have a solution.

Out came the correx posters and the camera. "These posters have been in more photo opportunities than Nirj Deva" I said. "Don't be ridiculous, Linda Lusardi hasn't been in as many photo opportunities as Nirj" said one of the candidates (before begging me not to name him on the blog). "Which way shall we turn?"  First they faced south.. "I don't think we should have a castle in the background, might send the wrong message".  Next they faced north. "Now the sun is in the wrong position."  "Let's face the river with the High Street behind", I suggested. They all turned again.  It was European version of RiverDance to the tune of Ode to Joy. 

Next stop Paddock Wood. 

Friday, 25 April 2014

The 2014 Tunbridge Wells Conservative Team

Our outstanding field of Conservative candidates fighting seats in Tunbridge Wells for the 2014 Borough Elections. I am honoured to be their Agent. 

Good luck to them all!

An election cometh

I am pleased to say the pristine West Kent Towers has started to look, smell and feel like a Conservative HQ as polling day approaches. The smell of paint has been replaced by the smell of riso ink and the pristine empty spaces are being filled with random boxes of literature and piles of mail merged letters. 

Welcome home !

Tom Tugendhat launches Business Group

I wasn't the happiest chappie when I struggled out of bed at 5.30am to arrive at Tom Tugendhat's first Business Breakfast in Hadlow at 7am. But it was very worthwhile. 

Over 40 local business leaders, some from quite major PLCs, others SMEs and quite a few sole traders, made the effort to attend. Tom greeted each one and served them coffee. If he doesn't enjoy being an MP he'd make a great butler in Downton Abbey (no doubt he would say his agent would make a great Dowager Lady Grantham). 

For me, the most interesting aspect were the questions; European and UK regulation, unfair competition from the local councils running commercial companies, a Secretary of State for Business who did not appear to support business, the cost of seed capital, unhelpful banks and hidden costs of employment.  

This was a non-political event; an opportunity for Tom to meet local business people and for them to meet him and raise their concerns. We will certainly do it again - and hopefully make it a regular event before before (and hopefully after) the election. 

Branch relaunch offers nudes, titties and bums !

The local Conservative branch in one of the more refined areas of Tunbridge Wells is holding a relaunch tonight, at which Greg Clark is guest of honour.  They have done really well - with 30 non members attending as well as the committee.

The branch Chairman arrived at the venue a few moments ago to check all was in order - and promptly sent me this text message:

"Oh Lord, there's an exhibition of 'lewd' drawings in the same venue we have hired for tonight's relaunch."

If that doesn't encourage the retired colonels to sign up, I don't know what will!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

DING DONG ! Steve Bell officially opens West Kent Towers

The Senior Vice President of the Conservative Party, Steve Bell, joined constituency Chairmen, volunteers and the office staff to officially open the West Kent Campaign Headquarters earlier tonight.

From right: William Rutherford (Tunbridge Wells Chairman), Adrian Gulvin (Chatham & Aylesford Chairman),
Steve Bell, Jacques Arnold (Tonbridge & Malling Chairman), John Wilson (Maidstone and The Weald Chairman)
with volunteers from across West Kent

Giving Maggie a polish!  The latest edition for the office wall, kindly donated by
William Rutherford

William Rutherford (Chairman of Tunbridge Wells and also Chairman of the West Kent Group Executive)
thanking Steve Bell and the members. Eagle-eyed readers may spot the shadowy figure of the much mentioned
South Zone Oberleutnant, loitering at the back.

From left: Jacques Arnold, Adrian Gulvin, William Rutherford, Steve Bell, AK, John Wilson and Jon Botten

Ringing the changes - we had ten on the phones and twenty more on the doorsteps. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Sir Winston has arrived!

With grateful thanks to Tunbridge Wells Association President, Alex King MBE, for donating this portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, which once took pride of place in his office at County Hall. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

One swallow does not a summer make, but does 47 Kents make an election?

Almost there - just one outstanding set of papers and we will have a full slate of candidates successfully nominated. 

This  particular RO is different to the other I deal with, insofar as every 'i' had to be dotted and every 't' crossed. I quite admire such attention to detail, but it did catch me by surprise as it's something I have not experienced before. Now I understand what they want, I will try to ensure we meet their standards next time. 

Therefore, my heart sank when the RO appeared with all the papers I has previously submitted - each with dozens of yellow post-it notes attached, highlighting sections needing attention or correction. "How could I have got so much wrong?" I thought, my heart sinking. 

OK - first off can you please change Rd to Road - here, and here and here and here and here..... And initial each one.  And here you have Suite Three and here you have Office Three  - can you change it here, and here and here....and initial each one. 

Now, on this Appointment of Election Agent form it has your address as Manor Lane but on this one it's Manor Ln. Please change Ln to Lane here, and here and here and here. And initial each one.... 

And on this form you refer to your office as West Kent Conservative Campaign HQ but here it's West Kent Conservative Campaign Headquarters, please change it here, and here, and here, and here....and initial each one. 

Now we need to address the Kents. 

I looked, wide eyed. 

Apparently Rochester ME1 3HS was insufficient. It had to read Rochester, Kent ME1 3HS. and here, and here, and here, and here (47 times).  

"You're missing a lot of Kents" said the RO. 

Monday, 21 April 2014

Hey teacher, leave those kids alone

I am surrounded by teachers - there are many living in the marina where we live, and my in-laws are a teacher-heavy family; including his (retired) mother and two of his cousins.

Every teacher I have met is at pains to tell me that "we work really hard during the six week summer holiday.Just because the children are off school, it doesn't mean we are too. We plan coursework, mark school work, attend meetings and training days - in fact, we are lucky to get a week to ourselves."

Given teachers are thinking of taking more industrial action, might it not be a good idea for them to take it during August when their actions wouldn't inconvenience working parents and disrupt the education of the children? After all, the children and their parents are not the cause of their complaints, so action timed not to damage or cause them harm or inconvenience would surely be a good thing? And if teachers really do work hard all through the summer holidays, taking strike action in August would be as effective as in June? Wouldn't it?

Unless, of course, causing inconvenience to parents and children is really their motive.....

Friday, 18 April 2014

"She'll attend the Opening of an Envelope if there's a free drink"

We hosted a reception yesterday for West Kent's finest envelope packers. 

They came from the four corners of the county, brandishing their paper cuts as a warrior would bear his battle scars. The event was an Open Day for our army of packers (or stuffers if you are from Chatham and Aylesford) - the unsung heroes of ten thousand mail shots.
Lady Birch (second left), who would allegedly attend the opening of an envelope if there was a free drink, kindly brought along her Maid, Gardener and Cook
The face than lunched a thousand chips - the Doyenne of the Ladies Lunch Club,
Trish Robinson, with Plate Carrier and Washer-up In Chief, Dr Tony Robinson
Director of Paper Clips, Jon Botten, with Queen of the Raffle, Janet Sergison

Maidstone and Faversham & Mid Kent's finest
(just Norah Batty short of a sitcom)
West Kent Oberleutnant (far left) with a delegation from SAGA holidays,
who wandered in by accident.

Jon Botten finds Basil Hallward's portrait, which he had hidden in the attic 80 years ago

Thelma, Lady Liptrap of Sherwood, added a touch
of Tunbridge Wells glamour

Consent to Nomination; the mystery deepens

Three days ago I reproduced, in good faith, an email I had received from a local Returning Officer. I did so to warn other agents and candidates of a potential issue with the Candidates' Consent to Nomination Form. One of my ROs had emailed me to inform me that the Electoral Commission had omitted the box for the witness to date their signature, and it was required for this date to show.  The email continued, 

"If you can confirm that the witness did sign the nomination paper the same day as the candidate did could you please mark this date on the nomination paper next to the witness signature. I thought I would let you know this before you came just in case you had to chase to do this before you came in." 

Fortunately in this particular council area every candidate had signed their forms in my presence, so I was able to assure the RO that the witness signature was correct. I was concerned, however, that if I had been unable to verify this (as would be the case in many constituencies) there could be a great deal of inconvenience with candidates being asked to sign the form again. Indeed, had candidates gone away for Easter, it was not inconceivable that they might not be around until after close of nominations, with particularly catastrophic affect. 

Subsequently, the Electoral Commission have published  the following statement (which I am happy to produce in full)

There is no requirement in law for the consent to include a date alongside the witness signature. The form is prescribed in law and the form provided in the election rules does not include an option for the witness to date their signature. However, the prescribed form, just like the form we have produced, clearly asks the witness to state that the candidate has signed the form in their presence. This is accomplished by the witness signing the form. The signature and details of the witness are sufficient for the consent to meet the legal requirements.

As a blogger, with a not insubstantial readership, I feel a duty to be honest and to acknowledge and correct any errors, howsoever caused. I am therefore not only happy to publish this correction but also apologise for any concern my original post may have caused. With hindsight I should have perhaps challenged my ROs ruling or checked the necessary legislation prior to blogging. A lesson I will learn for the future. 

Notwithstanding the above, I must still ask why this advice was issued. Was it, 

(a) Human error on the part of my local RO? After all, everyone can make mistakes - especially when under pressure.  Or,

(b) My local RO adding an additional level of bureaucracy not required by legislation. Or,

(c) Perhaps the council were advised incorrectly (either by a local compliance officer or someone else) and that advice was retrospectively rescinded. 

I deal with six ROs and find them all helpful, accessible and dedicated. Along with the agents representing all other parties, I have no complaints with the service we receive. However, informing an election agent / candidate that candidates might need to re-sign paperwork submitted in good faith could well have caused a great deal of anguish and inconvenience. 

I have written to the RO concerned and asked for further clarification about the events leading to this advice being issued. I am not going to publish the correspondence or name the Council as to do so would simply cause ill-feeling, though I will probably publish the outcome of my enquiries for the sake of bringing the issue to closure.  

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Yes, I am a bit stressed. here's why...

PREFACE: I am grateful to many friends and colleagues (from all parties) who have contacted me with their own "horror stories" about nominations. 

My favourites being:

The Labour organiser from a very wealthy Home Counties town, under pressure from HQ to field a candidate in every seat, ended up approaching wives, husbands and children of members to stand as paper candidates. On receiving one completed nomination paper from a particularly prosperous village, he noticed the party description was "Labour and Waitrose". When he asked the candidate where the name had come from, he was told "I noticed from the list that Labour and Co-Op was allowed, but no-one shops in the Co-op around here."

Or the Surrey LibDem who was frantic with one reticent candidate who was constantly late, finally handing in her nomination paper two hours before the deadline. He rushed it into the Council Offices just in time and returned to his home only to pick-up an answer-phone message from the Returning Officer to say, "sorry about this, but your candidate appears to have entered the assenter's telephone numbers rather than their polling numbers..." 

And finally the Hampshire UKIP candidate who submitted his paper on time and neatly completed in fountain pen. However, alongside "description" (where the party name should be entered) he had written, "five eleven, greying, clipped moustache. Married."

Nice to see it's not just us!

One of the things members often say when they phone is, "Oh, you sound a bit stressed..."

There's a good reason for that. I often am.  And here's an example why.

We are now on the cusp on local government nominations. Two weeks ago I spent a whole morning briefing and training candidates, in detail, about how to complete their nomination papers. In fact, 70% of the paperwork was completed there and then, with me going through line by line, advising them what to write. All they had to do was get the requisite ten signatures (for which I gave them an electoral register to check they were registered voters). 


As usual, with no names mentioned...

Candidate One managed to submit a paper with seven of the ten signatures invalid. When I asked why so many non-residents had signed his paper he replied, "I took it around my local pub".  But two thirds of them don't live in your ward....  "well, that might be the case, but they were in my ward when they signed the paper..." 

Candidate Two managed to ask a Thai lady, who is not even a UK citizen, let alone a registered voter, to sign her paper. Strangely, however, despite not being registered she had a roll number alongside her name (although the number didn't exist). When I asked where the roll number came from, the candidate replied, "Oh I couldn't find her, so I added her to the end of the list and made-up a number for her." 

Candidate Three: Not a single roll number matched the ones on the register, though fortunately everyone lived in the ward. Apparently, the candidate couldn't find the electoral roll I had given him four days earlier, so used last year's.  "Does it really matter?" he asked.  

Candidate Four: Now this is a first. This candidate got "somewhat confused" over the paperwork and entered me as the candidate and him as the election agent. When I pointed out the error, he asked, "Oh that's OK - would you like to stand instead?"

Candidate Five: This candidate couldn't find a tenth signatory, so signed the form himself. 

SO, if you are a branch Chairman and phone the office during an election (when we have 50 candidates to look after) and ask me to print your luncheon tickets (which you have known about for months), or ask if we can photocopy 20 copies of your 200 Club accounts and post them to you (when it would be cheaper and quicker to run them off on your own printer) or even phone, demand to speak to me, then ask me to look-up a councillor's phone number (when you could have found it yourself on the council website), please don't be surprised if I sound "stressed". 

Andrew x

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Oh dear - this is what happens when you create layers of unnecessary bureaucracy...

Just received this from one of my local Returning Officers

As it happens, all of my candidates complete their forms in my presence, so I am able to confirm with absolute certainty that the witnesses did actually witness the candidate complete the form and sign, as required by law. Just imagine, however, if an Agent or Association officer had given each candidate their forms with a return date - and was unable to make such a declaration. Or even worse, if a candidate, having handed in their forms in good faith, went on holiday (as many have done over Easter) and were not back in the UK until after nomination day. Would that candidate be disqualified due to the Electoral Commission's error? 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Campaign? Oh God no - who'd want to do a thing like that ?

I am a great fan of Party Conference and encourage as many people as possible to attend. I am pleased that most who attend on my recommendation usually return in future years. This year I have signed-off over 50 applications for members from Kent - which I think is a record (at least in recent years).

Earlier today, however, I took a phone call from a  young chap whose name I recognised, but whom I have never met. He is not a member, at least locally. He paid a few years ago but has not responded to membership reminders since.

He wanted to attend conference and was hoping I would countersign his form. The form in question requires me to sign a statement that "I have personally known this person for a minimum of six months".  Unfortunately, in his case I couldn't even say that I had known him for six minutes. And whilst I wanted to be helpful, given this form is part of the Special Branch / Police security process, I was not prepared to lie. Nor, in fairness, did he ask me to (though he did say the person who had signed his form last year had never met him - which does cause me concern!)

I suggested his local councillor or branch chairman / organiser could be asked to sign. He didn't know who that was - he had never met them. How about your Association Chairman or another Association Officer. That was no good either - he had never attended a meeting. How about the person who organised the last campaign event you attended. He sounded somewhat bemused by this! Apparently, he had never gone out campaigning - he was far too busy to do such a thing (though clearly not too busy to attend Party Conference on the discounted Party Members' ticket!). When I pointed this out to him he seemed surprised that people actually "do that sort of thing". Quite!

After five minutes of going around in circles, I simply ran out of ideas, and suggested he should contact Fingerprint Events for advice. I am sure he isn't the first completely inactive activist  to have this issue.  

"If you ask me it's a stupid system with dumb rules" he said. "Well, maybe if you'd like to come out and help with the local elections I will have the chance to meet you, and then next year I will be able to sign your form", I offered, more in hope than expectation.   "Oh God no - who'd want to do anything like that."  

Tom Tugendhat launches West Kent Phone Bank

We were pleased to welcome Tonbridge, Edenbridge & Malling's new Parliamentary candidate, Tom Tugendhat, to the West Kent Campaign HQ today to officially launch the Phone Bank. 

Tom Tugendhat (seated centre) with (from left) Brenni Wilson, Elizabeth Thomas, Allan Sullivan, John Wilson, Jon Botten and Bill Hills). 

We had all ten lines in use and made over 200 voter contacts in just over an hour! 

Candidates have each reserved two or three evenings on the Phone Bank between now and the 22 May elections. A tremendous campaign asset for our local candidates!

My busman's holiday in a draughty Rochester attic

Sunday was a Busman's Holiday. I spent a day as a volunteer - for my local Conservative Association!

In fairness, my day job extends into most evenings and weekends, and as a consequence I have little time to help the Rochester and Strood Constituency Conservative Association, where I live and where I pay my membership subscription.   I was therefore pleased to accept an invitation from their Executive Council to be one of a five-strong panel charged with interviewing and approving incumbent councillors seeking re-election for May 2015. 

As I have previously blogged, I am a strong supporter of the Mandatory Selection Guidelines, which give real power to Associations to control their Approved List and ensures local branches, where properly constituted, have the right to select their candidates. Associations and branches must have a sanction against non-performing councillors, and ensuring all incumbents are interviewed and assessed against agreed Key Performance Indicators is a marked improvement on the old system of nods and winks.  

Rochester and Strood is one of the South East's most politically astute Associations, and the performance standards agreed by the Executive Council were appropriately rigorous. Each incumbent was interviewed and assessed against five performance indicators:

(a) Motivation and experience
(b) Council record and achievements
(c) Campaigning and communication skills
(d) Community involvement
(e) Branch development and supporting the Association's wider goals

To be re-approved, each incumbent had to attain a certain score and pass each of the five KPIs. It was a tough process, and I am sure I was not alone in feeling a degree of sadness when I found myself giving a low mark which I suspected might contribute to an incumbents removal from the Approved List, but we all had a duty to be honest. 

Many might say that such a demanding process might be unduly harsh and would deter people from being councillors, but it appears the reverse is true. The day previously (Saturday) a different selection panel had interviewed new applicants, and amazingly fourteen new prospective candidates were added to the Approved List.  As a consequence, there are probably three applicants chasing each vacancy. How many Associations (outside London) could claim such political activism? How many associations would love the opportunity for open and fair competition? It is to Rochester and Strood's credit that they have such a politically active and motivated Association. 

It was a long day - we started at 9.30am and finished at 5pm; but it was worth it. I was asked by the Association Chairman to say a few words at the start of the meeting, and this is what I said,

"Local participatory democracy is a tripartite process. It is right that the Conservative Association controls the quality of people who are on the Approved List. It is right that local branches, where qualified to do so, choose the best people from that list to be their local candidates. And it is right that ultimately the voters elect the person they want to represent them in the Council Chamber. The right to select candidates goes to the heart of why people join political parties; and today's meeting is one of the most important any of us could attend at Association level. By ensuring we have the best possible pool of talent available we ultimately ensure the best possible Conservative councillors are elected."
Many Associations could learn a thing or two from Rochester and Strood's example. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The weird and wonderful life of a political agent #125

My week on a page:

Sunday: up at 7am for a full day interviewing and assessing candidates.
Monday: breakfast with a leading member of Kent's Greek Cypriot community followed by the launch of the West Kent Phone Bank.
Tuesday: Lunch with a Silicon Valley millionaire in Soho
Wednesday: West Kent Open Day - how many of the 200 invited will come, and will they all come at once? Also, packing 4,000 Voter ID surveys and handing in two sets of LG nomination papers.
Thursday: meetings with Council leaders re manifesto. Meeting in Westminster re implementation of Individual Voter Registration.
Friday: day off!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Our three final intern applicants made me proud to be a Conservative

Much of today was spent with Tom Tugendhat preparing our questions then interviewing three truly outstanding intern applicants.

The full time paid internship is to work as part of the West Kent Campaign Team, but seconded to Tom Tugendhat's parliamentary campaign. Tom has raised the money to cover the salary, but any spare time will be used to assist with the general running of the West Kent HQ. Jon and I  are looking forward to a new member of the team, bringing new ideas and fresh thinking.

All three final applicants would have been outstanding, and each would have brought different qualities to the job. In fact, we had a to have quite a long discussion over the balance of the strengths we were looking for, to enable us to reach a decision. It was a hard choice.

One of the areas we decided to test was each applicant's ability to cope with hostile questions, and in particular how they would cope defending a party line if it conflicted with their own views; something they will need to deal with on the campaign trail.  We chose equal marriage as the potential point of conflict. Tom asked, "I am a Roman Catholic and many people of faith strongly object to the redefinition of marriage they believe it is wrong and find it offensive. Don't you agree? "

It was tough question. At the Open Primary  all four finalists confirmed their support for equal marriage, but the applicants weren't to know that.  Would they say what they they thought their potential employer wanted to hear? Would they defend the government's policy?  Or would they try to find words to avoid answering the question?

I need not have worried. All three stated unambiguously that they supported equality and social justice, two even telling Tom that they thought he was wrong. All three were fearless, principled and clearly determined to stand up for what the believed to be right, even when the thought the guy offering them a job may hold a different view. They should all be proud of their courage and principles, I am not sure if a 23 year old Andrew Kennedy would have demonstrated such tenacity and clarity of thought.

So the process is over, and Tom will be contacting all three applicants tomorrow to thank them for their efforts and congratulate the successful applicant. All of them indicated that they read this blog, so I wanted to add my personal thanks for the interest shown; not just the three we invited for interview, but to all applicants who responded to our advert. We really were spoilt for choice. But to the three who attended our interview today; you were all outstanding and I would have been personally delighted to work with any of you. Thank you!

Ringing the changes!

If any readers from outside West Kent would like to come and help, they would be most welcome!

I have deleted the dates and wards for obvious reasons, but do get in touch to offer assistance. FREE PIZZA!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Nice work if you can get it

A few weeks ago I blogged about the proliferation of outsourcing companies offering campaign services to Associations and MPs.  See HERE. As I wrote at the time, I don't blame these companies, they have seen a gap in the market and are exploiting it, which is what free enterprise is designed for.  Many of these companies are run by former CCHQ employees who know what they are doing. If Associations have lost the local skills to deliver campaign goals, it is hardly surprising they will turn elsewhere, even if they have to pay a premium. 

This morning I received an email from one such company - run by former CCHQ staffers. It was offering a package of telephone canvassing or telephone surveying. Here is a screen grab:

I know the guys who run this company, and I actually like them. But 200 contacts for £575. Really!  That's £2.87 each! An average ward has a legal spending limit of £750, so if any councillors are considering doing this as part of their election campaign, they will be spending 76% of their legal budget to phone 200 people (who you could visit personally over three evenings canvassing for 25p of shoe leather). 

If people are willing to pay for these services, good luck to them. However, if does demonstrate how fortunate we are in West Kent in that we have our own in-house phone bank, capable of making 500-800 calls in an evening, at a cost of £10 (yes, that's ten pounds not £575).  

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Touching-up Bill Hills

Just back from our excellent printers (DA Printers in Rochester) where I signed off the Sorry You Were Out cards.  Here is Caroline (DA's graphic designer) touching up Bill Hills!

Come on ladies, wave your legs in the air

That got your attention!

Steve and I have just done something out of character. No - we didn't 'wave our legs in the air'; we attended a dinner and "Songs from the West End Sing-a-Long".

The reason being it was a prize. The owners of the High Rocks Inn  in Tunbridge Wells, the venue for the Association's Annual Dinner, kindly donated two tickets for the meal and show as a raffle prize. The lady who won it didn't really wish to attend (she lived quite some distance away). I offered to buy the prize from her , donating the money to Association funds, which she agreed. Everyone a winner!

The venue owners, Guiseppe and Maggie Cappalazzi, were incredibly generous. Not only did they give the prize, but also sent across a bottle of Champagne and liqueurs. We were also seated at the best table in the room; directly in front of the stage. They couldn't have been kinder. And the food was super. 

As we entered and were escorted to our seat, Steve said, "there are an awful lot of people here staring at you.  Now they're waving."  I nervously glanced around the room to see two thirds of those attending were local Party members. With fifty pairs of eyes watching, I waved in the general direction of the crowd; a bit like Eva Peron from the balcony of The Casa Rosada. Any hope of a quiet, low key evening out with my partner quickly evaporated, however, when the following announcement boomed over the PA system, "Ladies and gentlemen, please give a big welcome to our Conservative Party prize winners, Andrew Kennedy and Steve."  

All around me I could hear them chuntering. "I knew he was one of those" and "is that what Steve looks like". Then, right on cue, just as the background music died away, one old duck at a table behind could be clearly heard saying to her guests, "he's supposed to be on a sponsored slim, not sure if he's started it yet."  Another formidable Grande Dame appeared in between courses, and without so much as a "hello" or "how are you" said to Steve, "you don't look much like a vicar to me." Don't you just love Tory women! 

My heart went out however to the entertainers; two perfectly nice singers who had to try and get a response from what must have been the most critical audience in Kent. "Join in on the chorus", "sing along if you know it", "come on - everybody sing" were all met with stony silence. Finally, in an attempt to get some participation, "wave your arms in the air". Nothing. At this point he was standing alongside a table containing Tunbridge Wells Conservative's very own coiffured Hyacinth Bouquet. "Well, if you cannot wave your arms, how about waving your legs in the air" he said, with a wink in her direction.  

The thought of this particular member waving anything in the air, let alone her legs, was too absurd to contemplate. Unfortunately, this was the very same lady who in the very same room a year earlier had almost passed-out when Stanley Johnson told her that the RSPCA had given him the Dick Large award because he has a large dick. She had clearly remembered the slight. As she left she stopped at my table, eyes narrowing, and said, "I suppose you put him up to that, I don't find such smut at all amusing."

That was an interesting evening, said Steve as we left. Maybe next week you'd like to come with me to the Church Quiz Night. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

LibDems: When you needed them most, they were not there....

On Saturday we launched our EMPTY CHAIR campaign in Maidstone, highlighting the irresponsible behaviour of the Borough's Liberal Democrat councillors, who publically boycotted the Council's Local Plan meeting, abdicating their responsibilities as the Borough's official opposition and letting-down the people they were elected to represent.

Conservative Council Leader, Chris Garland, summed the situation up nicely;

"When Maidstone Council was discussing the most important Local Plan for generations, local Lib Dem councillors failed to show up. The promised to stop development in the countryside, but when the crunch-time came they bunked-off and let down the very people who elected them to look after their interests. This is a wholly irresponsible approach, motivated purely by self-interest.

They have demonstrated, by their absence, that they have no courage, no ability to shape the debate or make the difficult decisions which go with the responsibility of elected office. 

This is in stark contrast to a Conservative Group which fights the corner for local people, and has the mettle to take tough decisions when they need to be made - such as providing new homes in suitable locations across the borough."

I designed this "Empty Chair" leaflet to accompany the campaign. 30,000 copies of which will be delivered across the Borough over the next two weeks. I am actually quite pleased with the stark simplicity of the front page.

Motivating Maidstone

I was pleased to organise a Candidates' and Key Activists' Training Day for Maidstone Borough's Conservative Candidates yesterday (Saturday 5 April). It was a great turnout with every available candidate attending. The promise of free bacon sandwiches and coffee must have done the trick!  After my own presentation on the forthcoming campaign, Maidstone & The Weald MP also addressed the meeting.

I will blog further photographs soon, though everyone enjoyed the irony of the meeting being held in the Motivation Suite! 

We also used the meeting to launch our powerful "EMPTY CHAIR" campaign, highlighting the irresponsibility of the Borough's opposition Lib Dems, who boycotted a recent meeting to discuss the Borough's Housing Plan, demonstrating a total lack of leadership and letting down the very people who they were elected to represent.

Sponsored weight loss - the target is in sight!

It's been a few weeks since I posted my weight loss on the blog, though I have been keeping a public record on Facebook. However, with seven weeks of my diet remaining, I am pleased to say I am almost hit my first target.
Yesterday (Saturday 5th April) I weighed-in at 18stone 6lb - a loss of 1lb on the week, following a great loss of 5lb the week previously. Since my sponsored diet commenced on NY Day I have lost 3 stone 4 pound, leaving me just 10lb to lose. Provided I hit target by the end of May, I will raise almost £3,000 for Party funds - which is ring-fenced to pay for the new Phone Bank we have installed at Paddock Wood!   
It's not too late to sponsor me if you would like to do so. Simply email me at with either the amount per pound (remembering my target is to lose 56lb by end of May) or with a set figure (ie £10 / £20 etc) if I hit my target weight by 31 May 2014. Thank you.