Monday, 30 June 2014

The phones were ringing - and so was the cash register!

Across the five Associations operating from West Kent Towers there are around 500 members whose membership has lapsed since 2010. 

Last week our five Chairman wrote to these 500 lapsed members, inviting them to rejoin. Rather than leaving them to reply using the usual freepost envelope, the letter concluded, 

"I, or a member of my team, will phone you next week to discuss any concerns you may have, and ask you personally to re-join. If it is convenient to do so, we can take your payment over the phone by credit or debit card, or you can re-join by sending a cheque in the freepost envelope supplied."

Here is a copy of the letter.

Tonight we had a team of seven volunteers who between them made the first 200 calls. From these 200 calls, we spoke to about 80 members; 50% of whom confirmed they would like to rejoin of which 20 paid there and then using a debit card. 

That's £500 of revenue from 2 hours work, but more importantly 40 memberships renewed that would have fallen by the wayside had we not made the effort. 

We have another team in tomorrow and we are hopeful of a similar response! 

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The case for abolishing membership; fortune favours the brave

For a long time I have held a view that we need fundamental reform of "membership".

I have blogged about this many times, here and elsewhere. I fear that our subscription-based "membership model" is dead, and for as long as we keep it we will struggle to reform and re-build a modern, meritocratic, inclusive party; the kind of broad funding base that the Republicans and Democrats enjoy in the USA.

Habit, reluctance to change and fear of the unknown are all understandable reasons to avoid major reform, but on this I believe we must be brave. Tinkering at the edges will not work, and I fear is simply delaying the inevitable. My vision is for a deep, broad and wide base, drawing support, activism and funding from the widest possible group, thus reducing the burden on our ever-dwindling band of stalwarts. This not only makes political sense but widening the base whilst reducing the individual burden is sound Conservative philosophy.

Allowing membership to "wither on the vine" whilst building a parallel network of activists is creating a two-tier organisation, with each group suspicious and resentful of the other. I have already heard complaints from traditional members that Team2015 and "Friends" don't pay their fair share and I hear just as many complaints from new young activists that  traditional members 'look down their noses and treat us like 2nd class members". The Party will not benefit from allowing this to continue.

To me, there is just one solution: reform the definition, cost and terms of membership so it ceases to be a barrier. And yes, this includes abolishing the £25 entry level which we insist upon before people can call themselves members.

So what are the implications?

Q. If we abolish traditional membership, where will we get our money from?
The truth is, for most Associations, membership income is a small part of the annual total and in almost all cases it is declining. From a typical £25 subscription, £5 is paid to CCHQ and a further £5 is spent on print, postage and time-costs inviting the member to renew.  This leaves £15 per member. For an Association of 300 members this equates to £4,500 of income, money which could be raised far easier if we increased the depth and width of the poll in which we fish for support.

Q. But that £4,500 is the money we need to fight an election.

Indeed, but that's assuming that overall income won't actually increase. If we replace traditional membership with a a "registered supporter" scheme there is no reason to believe that supporters won't (if asked properly) send an additional campaign fund donation of at least the amount they previously gave in subs. In fact, they might even give more. And if we are really brave and bring in new payment methods (such as Pay Pal and text giving) there is no reason why many hundreds of new "registered supporters" won't sign up then make several additional small donations (by which I mean £2 or £5 or £10) two or three times a year. I would much prefer to have 1,000 supporters giving £10 pa than 200 members contributing £15.

Q. But isn't it a huge risk?

Any change is a risk, but burying our heads in the sand and not addressing the problem is simply negligent. We are running up the "down" escalator, and each year we have to run faster just to stay still.  We have a duty to the future of the Party to be brave and at least try to reverse the decline in both money and activists.

Q. But is there any evidence that it will work?

Actually, yes there is. Five years ago Chatham & Aylesford's Christmas raffle raised £400. Last year it raised £3,000. Overwhelmingly that new money (around 80% of it) came from non-members. The Christmas raffle brought in more money than membership income - with about 200 non-members donating to our funds. Each of these 200 people had (in the 12 months preceding the raffle) been invited to join the Party. None of them did so. Evidence, surely, that people are willing to donate (some quite generously) but few would ever join.

Q. But it's not just membership - what about the Patrons' Club?

My proposed changes would have no impact whatsoever on Patrons' Clubs or similar.  I am not suggesting we abolish the voluntary party or do away with participation; all I am suggesting is we redefine membership. Generous members who wish to join a Patrons' Club could still do so, and by deepening and widening the pool in which we fish for financial support; we might even attract new Patrons.

Q. What about the AGM and the Executive Council?
As above, I am not suggesting we abolish participation! But rather than limiting attendance to the £25 per head members, we would send an invitation to all registered supporters. The success of Tonbridge & Malling's open primary, and our confidence in our brand, should give us the courage to fling open our doors and welcome people in.

So, what's next?

I have written to the Party Board outlining my plan and asking for their authority to trial this for a year locally. Their contribution would be to waive the £5 per member fee for the duration of the trial.

If they agree, I will put the plan to one of my Executive Councils (I have already sounded the key people out and secured their outline agreement).

If the necessary permissions are secured, we will contact our existing members to inform them and seek their support for the trial. We will be open and honest about what we are trying to achieve, and inform them that if it doesn't work we will revert in year two.

We will then set-up every conceivable electronic payment method to remove every possible barrier to donating. We will then write, email or hand deliver an invitation to every resident in the constituency inviting them to "become a "Registered Supporter" with no entry level. 

At the moment it's just a plan - the biggest hurdle I suspect will be getting it through the Party Board who are rightfully focused on winning in 2015 and might not want the distraction.  But they can be assured that having pulled together West Kent Campaign HQ and probably the biggest Open Primary since the idea's inception, if anyone can make a success of this proposed reform, we can. But if it comes off, it will be very exciting indeed. As always, you will read about its progress (successful or otherwise) here.

I would welcome your comments and feedback. 

Before we can win the minds of men, we must first win their hearts

Back in the 1980s politics was black and white and everyone was judged against the yardstick of "one of us". Life was much simpler for a young Conservative then.

With chilled Champagne and king prawns on skewers delivered by Lycra clad pretty young things appearing on rollerscates from clouds of dry ice (courtesy of David Hart of the Committee for a Free Britain) we cheered Nicaraguan Contra Freedom Fighters, Jonas Savimbi, Unita, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Solidarność. And we booed communists, Nelson Mandela, Irish terrorists and CND.  I do recall one heady fringe meeting when I turned to a sharp suited YC colleague (now an MP) and said, "isn't it odd how we cheer Lech Walesa for standing up for the workers in Poland, but we despise union leaders when they do the same in the UK?"  This produced an outburst of invective of such vehemence I realised, even then, that I might have touched a nerve. 

Leaving one fringe meeting with the sound "ten more years" ringing in my ears and proudly wearing a badge bearing insults to the ANC, I bumped into a respected, wise and moderate member of the Conservative party from Liverpool. His brand of conservatism was completely out of step with the 1980s, but his longevity and seniority was such that he was never dismissed. After a brief chat, he pointed at my badge and said, "when trying to understand what drives and motivates people to do what they do, try to remember that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."  I remember the stark and obvious truth of the statement striking into the heart of my developing psychology, though given my  comments a few days earlier about Lech Walesa, I suspect it was an open target. The phrase, of course, was not original; I think it was first used by Ramsey Clark.

Over the years I have been very careful when I have used the analogy, not because I am ashamed of it, but to avoid the obvious and simplistic reaction from those who take a more robust view of such matters, normally along the lines of, "oh, so you agree with the terrorists, then...."  Which is not only wrong and offensive, but completely misses the point. This blog is not about eschewing violence or terrorism; it's about the importance of understanding what drives and motivates those who hold strong beliefs as a prelude to bringing about change.

Radicalised young Muslims leaving the UK to fight for their beliefs are not the first, nor will it be the last example of such bravado. It's happened many times over the centuries and for many causes. Let's not forget that approximately 600 British citizens joined the International Brigades fighting for the Spanish Republic between 1935-1938 and upon their return were met by Clement Attlee and Stafford Cripps and given a heroes welcome. An enemy of my enemy is not always my friend!

History has taught us that you cannot legislate, bomb or torture beliefs into extinction. The power of the entire Soviet apparatus could not extinguish the hope of those imprisoned in the Gulags. The B-Specials, internment and political exclusion in Ulster did not convince a single Roman Catholic *Republican (see footnote) to rejoice at British rule. Millions of deaths and the most heinous war may have overthrown Hitler and his allies, but they did not destroy National Socialism or Fascism; those concepts are as alive now as they were in the 1930s. The changes we have achieved came about through education and enlightenment.

I am not a policy specialist, or a military historian or a someone blessed with a deep understanding of statecraft. I do however believe I have basic comprehension of the importance of winning control of the narrative as a stepping stone to winning the hearts (and votes) of others. And I believe the same principles apply to so much of what we wish to achieve in life. 

The first rule of winning any campaign is not to give people a reason to dislike you. Then you need to find a message which will encourage and motivate those who do support you to invest their time and faith is securing your advancement. It's a very obvious concept, but I never cease to be amazed at how many candidates and activists completely fail to comprehend its simplicity, then show surprise when the antagonised seek their revenge. 

We are fortunate that in our business, the revenge is only via pieces of paper deposited in a plastic ballot box. For others, the price is much higher.

I am grateful to a friend who phoned me about my reference in this blog to,

"The B-Specials, internment and political exclusion in Ulster did not convince a single Roman Catholic to rejoice at British rule."  

This statement is, of course, incorrect. There are a great many Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland and all across the UK who are proudly British and Unionist. I should, of course, have written

The B-Specials, internment and political exclusion in Ulster did not convince a single Republican to rejoice at British rule.

I am happy to acknowledge and correct the error, and trust any friends or readers who were offended will understand that I did not intentionally wish to cause offence.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Two of my Associations made me very proud today.

I have just returned from what must have been one of the most enjoyable and worthwhile Conservative social events for many years. It was an afternoon tea with Sir Nicholas Soames MP. But rather than being a typical afternoon tea to raise party funds, it had a different purpose. It was part of the Centenerary Celebrations to mark the First World War - and our honoured guests were a very special group indeed.

Two Associations (Chatham & Aylesford and Tonbridge & Malling) had worked together to arrange this event, and we had invited (free of charge) over 200 constituents who were born during or before WWI. Quick mental arithmatic will show that these people would all be at least 95 years of age, many much older. The big surprise to me was that there were over 200!  They were also invited to bring a family member or carer to assist them. We also invited (again free of charge) representatives from various British Legion branches and other veterans' groups, to thank them for their courage and service.

Local Conservative Party members paid £5 per head supplement to cover the cost of providing the delicious selection of sandwiches, scones, clotted cream and cakes for our guests. Many local businesses, including Waitrose, Tesco and Hugh Lowe Farms, donated scones, clotted cream, cakes and fresh strawberries. Former Association President, Cllr Peter Homewood, personally covered the cost of printing and posting the 200 invitations. As well as raising enough money to provide a free afternoon tea for all our guests, we were also able to donate £1000 to Royal British Legion Industries for the WWI Memorial Gardens.

Sir Nicholas Soames was a real star - he spent two hours here, chatting to every veteran and sharing his own memories of Sir Winston Churchill. He met two ladies who had grown up in Westerham and used to play with him and his sister in the gardens of Chartwell; a lovely co-incidence.

The real star of the show, however, was not Sir Nicholas Soames, or Tracey Crouch or Tom Tugendhat. It was Mrs Freda McGregor - who proudly announced that she was 103 years of age. She was born in 1910 - and she remembers the celebrations at the end of the war. She was as sharp as a button, ate everything in front of her - and even took home a "doggy bag" as "at 103 I don't do much baking now".

It really was a great honour to help organise today's activities. Politics really can be a force for good - two of my local Associations made me very proud today. 

Our eldest guests, Mrs Freda McGregor, who told Sir Nicholas Soames that she was 103.

From left: Tracey Crouch MP, Sir Nicholas Soames MP, Steve Sherry CMG OBE (Chief Executive of Royal British Legion Industries) and Tom Tuggendhat MBE.

A very rare photograph; Khobi Vallis (from Tracey Crouch's office) with her mouth closed. .

Tom Tugendhat holding court.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

But what Does It Actually Mean #2

Whenever I publish a Blogpost about some ridiculous example of  "council speak" I am inundated by further examples by helpful readers. Here is a fine example I was sent last night:

Any Other Competent Business

Last night's meeting of the Tonbridge & Malling Local Government Committee was an example of the Conservative Party at its best. 

It began with a twenty five minute row about who would take the minutes. 

  • Mrs L would have taken the minutes, but she was reluctant to do so as she is deaf and thought she would miss something important.
  • Mr B offered to take the minutes, but as he has submitted an application form to become a candidate, he wouldn't be allowed to do so. 
  • Mr G didn't think he should take the minutes as he didn't want to be known as a Conservative in public.
  • Mr B was already over committed as Secretary of the Village Flower Show.
  • In the end, Mr R agreed, but on the basis it was for a trial period to see how it worked out - and only if he could be referred to as Interim Hon Secretary, as he didn't want people to assume he would do it for ever. 
On that basis, and already 30 minutes into the minutes, we started on the rules and procedures, which surprisingly didn't cause any rows at all. 

Towards the end of the meeting the next stage was being discussed - this would be the meeting when incumbents were to be assessed to see if they should go back onto the Approved List. Obviously at this point councillors seeking re-approval and any new applicants awaiting approval have to declare an interest and not participate in the interviews. I was asked to go around the table and indicate which members could attend which section of the next round - which I did. 

Having done so, our very 'establishment' Chair announced (in all innocence) "right, those of you who have been fingered by the agent need to be available on 8 July". 

There was a variety of snorting, chuckling and biting of lips from the usual suspects, until Cllr Balfour broke the ice with, "I didn't see that under Any Other Business."

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

But what does it actually mean ?

One of my councillors is notoriously frugal, to the point he re-uses pieces of paper which have only been printed on one side. This often results in letters and various event booking forms coming back to me on the reverse of some obscure council minute or agenda, which has been saved for the purpose. 

Today, however, after processing his request for tickets for a forthcoming event, the reverse of the paper caught my eye. It was a very pretty chart (of sorts) which I suspect formed part of an Officer presentation. I have scanned it and obviously deleted any reference to the Council concerned.  

The big question, however - what does it mean ?  

Answers on a postcard please?

Monday, 23 June 2014

The ghosts of Parliament past, present and future!

Don't be fooled into thinking this glamourous collection has anything to do with the annual Patrons' Club Garden Party. It's actually a dress rehersal for our forthcoming production of A Christmas Carol, complete with ghosts of Parliaments past, present and future. There was even a special appearance by Marley's Ghost.

Mr Dickens did used to be a resident of Gravesend, you know!

Fabulous West Kent turnout in Staplehurst By Election

West Kent flexed it's muscles last weekend with an amazing turnout in support of our Staplehurst by-election candidate, Louise Brice. 

A local team from Maidstone constituency was supplemented by helpers from Tonbridge & Malling, Tunbridge Wells and Chatham & Aylesford. Almost 30 activists were on the doorsteps. 

Thank you to all who helped. Here is the roll of honour: Michael Payne, Simon Grant, Jacques Arnold, Tim and Mart Streater, Nathan Gray, Tracey Crouch MP, David Scott, Adrian Gulvin, Peter Oakford, David Elliott, Frixos Tombolis, Nasir Jamil, Bob Backhouse, Julia Soyke, Annabelle Blackmore, Linda Hall, Jeff Tree, Tashie Tamang-Bhutia, Sam Lain-Rose, John Perry, Jon Botten, Stephen Pain, Mike Franklin, Kathy Doody, Richard Ash and of course our candidate Louise Brice.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Access to Elected Office Fund

Doing the election expense returns for the recent local elections I came across a new initiative; it is called the Access to Elected office Fund.  In a nutshell, it is a fund, supported by the taxpayers, to encourage and enable disabled people to seek elected office by providing financial support to enable them to compete on a level playing field. 

Regular readers will know I am passionate about open democracy and encouraging mass participation, so in theory I should be wholly supportive of this initiative. And on balance, I am.

Here is my dilemma. 

The chap who brought the existence of this fund to my attention has been a Conservative candidate several times. He is an outstanding candidate who has failed to win because he is determined to stand in his home ward, which happens to be one of the LDs safest wards in Kent. Each time he has stood he has fought a good campaign, got himself around the ward and achieved a result in line with the borough averages. However, up to this year when this new fund was introduced, he managed it without the assistance of public funding. Therefore, in his case, the lack of funding has not prevented him standing or campaigning as he has done so already. 

I have many friends who are registered disabled but don't allow their disability stop them campaigning. One very good friend was born with no legs and one arm, and he has led the most amazing life with the use of prosthetic limbs.  He swims, hikes, canvasses and delivers leaflets as efficiently at the next person - and I have yet to meet anyone out on the campaign trail with him who guesses the level of his disability. Most assume he "walks with a limp". If this man was offered public funding he would probably be quite offended, and would likely suggest it was used to alleviate poverty or cut the deficit.   

I know there are exceptions which prove or disprove any rule, but I cannot help but think this could be a thin end of a wedge.  I have never seen a government scheme, however well intentioned, which does not turn itself into an industry. I fear it won't be long before someone objects to being declined funding and goes to appeal, which will lead to a new mini industry of appeals committees, lawyers and Ombudsmen. Will someone partially sighted use Human Rights' Laws to achieve judicial review to secure pro-rata funding, with a new hierarchy of medical specialists adjudicating on the process. You might well laugh, but did anyone ever think the same laws would be used to prevent Britain deporting Abdul Hamza?   

So yes, on balance, this is a good thing. But I suspect in 5 / 10 years time it will be a beast - handing out discretionary payments in quantities never envisaged when the well meant and perfectly reasonable legislation was first enacted. 

Anyone fancy going into business manufacturing hamster bedding?

A long retired European MP has just been on the phone to inform me that he is moving house, and to ask if the West Kent Office would like to offer a home to his extenesive collection of the European Parliamentary equivalent of Hansard. 

Apparently he has the full set, from the first debate of the European Parliament (in 1979) to date.  

The only thing which could have possibly made the offer more appealing was if he had told me that were written in Esperanto.  

Sadly with West Kent Towers being somewhat bijou we hardly have room for Matt the Intern, let alone 17,000 volumes about Cod Liver Oil Directives. 

If any reader has a large number of wobbly tables which need propping up, or if you require a quantity of doorstops, kindling for camp fires - or if anyone has a spare shredding machine and would like to go into business making hamster bedding - get in touch. I know a man who can help you. 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Staplehurst By Election

Here are the opening shots in our by-election campaign.

Residents' Survey - delivered to every voter last week. 

Calling card for canvassing

Last week's In Touch

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

You know you're the Conservative Party Agent in West Kent when...

You know you are the Conservative Party Agent in West Kent when one of your more aristocratic members returns their Summer Draw tickets, and have used a machine to emboss their family crest onto each counterfoil rather than writing on them.  

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Kent CC Electoral Boundary Review

With spending cuts, pressure to hold down Council Tax, reductions in non core services and all the other pressures arising from the recession, I think many local taxpayers will be "somewhat surprised" to read that some members of the Electoral Working Review Group at Kent CC are not only opposing any reductions in the number of elected members, but some are even hinting at an increase.

At a time when services are being cut, staff numbers reduced and charges increased to help balance the books, any proposal to increase the number of elected Members can only be described as political folly. In fact, it is so absurd and indefensible, I can only assume it is a joke by a mischievous journalist or opposition activist trying to damage the reputation of the administration.

Personally, I would suggest that if the committee examining the boundary review really believe that their numbers should be increased, then a rule should be passed that the present cost (covering allowances and expenses) should be frozen. This would result in a pro-rata reduction for each new councillor elected. I suspect if this was the case, any enthusiasm for additional county members would dissipate.

Thank goodness the highly experienced Alex King MBE is chairing this group. Alex will know at first hand just how angry voters are following last years elections. He is far too astute to countenance any move which is bound to cause such anger amongst tax payers of Kent.  We are in safe hands.

Monday, 16 June 2014

With thanks to Laura Jones for making me think

I was bowled a curve ball earlier by old an friend of 25 years (I actually knew her parents when she was still at school). Laura is now is the armed forces serving with NATO. I haven't seen her for perhaps 8 years but have remained in touch through Facebook. Then tonight, out of the blue, she posted this question on my feed:

"Andrew you are the only person I know involved in politics so if I may I have always been quite intrigued to what you or your colleagues and fellow campaigners might say to me. I am 34, never voted in my life, grew up with a Conservative family, well educated, now in the armed forces, but I have never had the urge to vote as I think I have a similar (naive /negative) view, as the young population, of it all. I believe 'all the main parties are the same', they never listen to the public by sorting out health, education and immigration, we are penalised by cost (taxes) which only punishes the people who don't abuse it in the first place (items such as alcohol) and I am one person of many that are tempted to vote for UKIP as they seem to be saying all the things we want Con / Lab to do and I think I represent the UK massively. Can you convert me?"

Two hours ago I started wrriting my reply. I wanted to be honest and give her the full answer her thoughtful question deserved. But as I started to type, the words poured out. I soon realised that I was not only answering Laura's question; I was answering many of my own, too. Why am I a Conservative? Does it still matter? Does voting make a difference?

The words poured onto the page and at times I found myself "welling-up" as I relived all the injustice that Socialism imposed on my generation, growing up in council housing estates in 1970s Britian. Whole generations denied the chance to soar and fulfill their dreams due to the dead hand of cradle to the grave municpal and national socialist policies.

It's a bit lengthy and at times indulgent, but by God when I got to the end I had no doubts that I am as secure in my politics as I ever was. Once I finished I decided to just tidy up the spelling and grammar, not rewrite it. It was raw and I think a bit better for being so.  Don;t feel you have to read it - but if you do I hope it explains who I am. 

Andrew Kennedy Hi Laura Jones, talk about bowling me a curve ball, but I will do my best to answer you honestly and fully.

No party is all bad or all good. I once said that I was a Conservative because they were the least bad option. I still think that now. No party can get it right for everyone, all the time. If they did they would never lose an election. Society is at different levels and always will be; health, poverty, aspiration, ability. No party can look solely after one group or the other; there has to be balance.

Historically I believe that the pendulum has been roughly right - prolonged periods of Conservative government followed by short periods of redistributive Labour governments, which rebalanced society and thee tax base. I know it's a cliché, but I passionately believe that "you cannot make the weak strong but making the strong weak". You can only do that for so long before the wealth creators stop creating wealth, or move their money, jobs and taxes overseas. That is truer today with a global economy than ever.

It is a blunt truth that the overwhelming majority of people work hard to make themselves, their families and loved ones, perhaps even their friends, happier, more comfortably off and more secure. But in working hard they pay more taxes. By increasing their wealth they spend more money – and pay more VAT. This is the money the government needs to improve public services and spread equality of opportunity.

However, society depends on the creators of jobs and wealth, without them there would be no taxes, no social welfare, no safety net. And whilst we always have a responsibility for those who cannot look after themselves, we must reward enterprise and hard work.
In general terms I think the country has, more or less, made the right decisions, even though I have never voted anything other than Conservative. No-one could argue (with any integrity) that John Major should have won again in 1997 or that Gordon Brown deserved to be re-elected in 2010. Similarly, I genuinely believe a Conservative government deserves to be elected in 2015. I have not supported everything David Cameron or the coalition has done, but on balance he has done the best possible job given the parliamentary arithmetic and the state of his economic inheritance. And do you really think our country would be better government by Ed Miliband.

Apart from the economic arguments, I have never been happier to be a Conservative than when I review how we have moved on social issues. The Conservative Party has always been tolerant, but we did a magnificent job of pretending otherwise. The legislation on Same Sex Marriage (which, in fairness, was supported by Labour and the Lib Dems too) was a courageous, decent and good thing. David Cameron showed guts and true leadership, and for that alone I admire him greatly.
Unlike you, Laura, I was born in real poverty. My parents divorced when I was a young child and my mother moved back to Liverpool from Scotland, to be close to her mother and support networks. Apart from some limited financial support from my father’s family, they had nothing. My grandfather was a dock worker and my grandmother worked in a cotton mill. I was raised in a two bedroom  council flat in Wirral and educated at the local comprehensive. I was lucky. I had a mother who believed in hard work and self-reliance and a school which still retained its previous grammar school ethos, under a Head Master who believed in discipline, hard work and respect. The estate I grew up on was Labour to its core – unthinking, dependency-culture Labour. I saw from the earliest age what Socialism did to individuals. It created (indeed required) a client culture to survive. It removed hope by keeping people dependent for their jobs, benefits and houses. Comprehensive education rewarded mediocrity – no one failed but no-one excelled; the triumph of the lowest common denominator. You may think this odd, but for a young boy who had hopes and dreams, I hated Socialism and all it stood for. And I still do. Some theorists say it’s ‘fair’ – the only fairness is the equal sharing of misery. It is telling that hardly anyone in the upper echelons of the Labour Party grew up in poverty; had they done so they would never want to impose it on others. Many people were born into the Conservative Party; I didn’t. I chose it because I believed it offered me hope.

So what about UKIP.

As I have grown older I have become far more socially tolerant and liberal in my outlook, whilst remaining as free market and right wing on economic issues as I ever was. I don't see immigrants as a threat, I don’t look at every Muslim person and think they are a security risk. I believe that Britain has been enriched and enlivened by generation after generation of immigrants who come here for a better life and new hope. And who can blame them? Our High Streets are lined with Indian, Chinese, Italian, Mexican and Thai restaurants - all here because the UK has been home, opened businesses, provided jobs and paid taxes. Too often we dump our old and sick relatives in care homes staffed by care workers from the Philippines or West Indies. We cheer soldiers from the Brigade of Ghurkhas for their patriotism and we salute Indian and Polish soldiers and air crew who fought side by side with Britain in two World Wars. Are thee the immigrants Mr Farrage wants to send home" for as far as I am concerned they are home, and have as much right to be here as I do.

We live in a modern, open, tolerant and forward looking country. We are a more decent, egalitarian and open society than ever. Walk through any park, sit in any café in any town or city and you will see that – we cannot turn back the clock even if we wanted to. Our High Streets are packed with black, Asian, oriental people who are friends, lovers and partners; this new generation don’t see race or creed – they see each other as individuals and equals. And I celebrate that too.
UKIP is not about the future, it’s about the past. It’s angry, intolerant and negative. Its doctrine is to spread fear and intolerance. I don’t believe their supporters are all mad or racist, far from it. But their leadership is happy to stir up racial tension and intolerance, exploiting fears for their own political ends. They do not represent the Britain I want to see or live in.

So why should you vote? You could argue that one vote doesn’t make a difference – and probably one vote won’t. But voting is not just about a cross on a ballot paper, it’s about engaging, reading, learning and deciding. It’s about being part of civil society. When you vote you will also discuss it with others and seek to influence their vote too. When you see thousands of brave Zimbabweans lining up for ten hours to vote, do you not feel a sense of wonder and pride in their dignity? Do you not feel the same sense of rage as I feel when they are cheated by corrupt governments fixing the outcome? This alone is enough reason to drive me to vote – regardless of all the issues I have listed above, in which I believe and wish to see succeed. Basically, you vote because it’s an expression of who you are, what you believe in and what type of country you wish to help create.

So there you are. I hope I have answered your questions as best I can. I have tried to explain not only why I vote Conservative, but why I cannot support Labour or UKIP.

Thank you for asking the question; writing this reply has really made me think about my politics and I have enjoyed this opportunity to write it down.

Andrew x

Open and democratic selections produce surprising outcomes!

Louise Brice joins Maidstone & The Weald Association Chairman, John Wilson and the team
to launch the Staplehurst By Election campaign on Saturday
 "What a lovely village, not sure I've been here before", said Jon Botten as we drove around Staplehurst earlier this week. "You'll know every inch of it by 24 July", was my reply!

I will blog about the campaign in due course, but I really wanted to say a few words about the candidate selection.

When the vacancy was announced there were the usual concerns about finding a candidate. With the consent of the Association Chairman, I wrote to everyone in Staplehurst who had any connection with the Party (members, donors, activists, poster sites etc) inviting them to get in touch if they wished to be considered. In total, six people made contact. From these six, two withdrew when they heard how much work would be involved, and four asked to be sent application forms and three of these applied and were interviewed by the Local Government Committee.  Of these three applicants only one was previously known to us as a candidate, the other two were just waiting to be asked. This goes to show that when we open-up the process we find new people.

All three would have made outstanding candidates and ward councillors, and I know the Local Government Committee had a difficult job choosing between three strong candidates. In the end, Louise Brice was selected. She was outstanding during the interview and is also proving herself to be an excellent communicator.

I have blogged many times about opening-up the process and attracting new people and this is another example of the results we can achieve when we do so.

What amuses me, however, are the howls from some of the 'old guard' when these new, open procedures are implemented. One former councillor, who lives in the neighbouring constituency, emailed (cc'd to every Conservative in his address book, why must they cc / reply to all) to demand to know who made the selection and why the seat wasn't offered to him!   Interestingly when I had taken over managing this Association's membership I noticed this particular member had "forgotten" to pay his subscription for three consecutive years. Amazing how he believes he is entitled to be a candidate but thinks paying his membership fees is an optional extra. What a dreadful sense of entitlement.

Anyway, onward and upward - we have a great candidate and are raring to go.

Good luck to Louise Brice, and if you can spare an evening on the campaign trail in the lovely Weald countryside, please let me know - email

Friday, 13 June 2014

Welcome to The Twilight Zone

Does anyone remember a 1960s cult TV series called "The Twilight Zone".

According to the narrator, the Twilight Zone could be found...

"somewhere between now and then in the hours from dusk to dawn,
- where no-one is quite what you think, and nothing is quite what it seems."

I am not sure what made me think of that, it must be thirty years since it was last on TV, perhaps hosting the Kent Area Management Executive at WK Towers!

The Kent Area Management Executive is akin to a nomadic herd of ageing bull elephants, roaming around Kent in search of a purpose. Don't get me wrong; the concept is fine. The Area Management Executives should provide an important link between CCHQ, the Region and the Associations. Their purpose is to share best practice, help with the training, development and management of the Associations (on a peer to peer basis) and to generally encourage, support and motivate. The problem is it has no real sanction, so cannot enforce. As a consequence, those Associations who are open to change and willing to listen are the ones which least need changing and the ones which perform least well are those who are afflicted by a permanently closed mind.

Anyway, I digress.

Almost as soon as the meeting commenced we entered the parallel universe. The South Zone Oberleutnant suggested circulating the latest West Kent News to the every Association in the area as an example of good practice, but the Chairman couldn't recall seeing it. After a lot of paper shuffling he remembered that he had, but apparently it was lining the cat's litter tray. This set off a bizarre round table conversation about cats, during which time the South Zone Oberleutnant informed us that he had just spent £800 at the vets whilst someone else had problems with fleas. That started Allan Sullivan off scratching his arm. Then came the most surreal moment of all; someone turned to Tracey Crouch MP and said (completely free of irony) "how is your pussy following your trek up Cotapaxi".

We then had a long discussion about holding a Kent Area Conference, and for the fifth successive meeting we all agreed that it was a good idea. We resolved to do something about it - but we would delay a decision until after the anticipated cabinet reshuffle in case the person we invite to deliver the key note address is sacked.

Then yet another debate about the Kent Area website. The Kent County Council Conservative Group owns the domain the Kent AME want to use - and there have been discussions for two years now about transfering ownership. I have personally attended two meetings, the last one being at Manchester during the 2013 conference, where this was agreed, only for reasons to be found for it not to happen. So we had yet another discussion - and guess what ? We are going to set up a sub committee to discuss the options. 

Then came the wimmin. The excellent Cllr Jane Martin is i/c wimmin - but she started her report by saying "an awful lot of Conservatives wonder what the wimmin are for" which is ironic as most Conservative women clearly think the same about the men.

By this point Tracey Crouch was getting restless as she had another meeting to go to. "I must head off", she announced. The Chairman, whose mind had probably wandered elsewhere completely misheard. "Tracey Crouch has just said she's going to take her clothes off", he announced loudly, adding to the sense of confusion and absurdity. Even the South Zone Oberleutnant managed to look surprised, and he's had 30 years experience of hiding every emotional reaction at meetings like these.  "I am not going to take my clothes off", said Tracey, to the *relief / *disappointment (*delete as appropriate) of all concerned.

"Oh" said the Chairman. Shall we move on to the Treasurer's Report?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

That awful realisation when.....

That feeling when you realise that many months ago in a fit of benevolence and enthusiasm, you said "yes" when you were asked if you would host the quarterly meeting of the Kent Area Management Executive, and the awful realisation that the day is tomorrow.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Candidate Selection - Groundhog Day!

Two piles of paper, in adjoining rooms, sum-up the life cycle of a political agent / activist.

In my office, spread across the floor, are the first 15 (of 38) sets of election expense returns for 22 May local elections.

Meanwhile, on the table next door are the first set of application forms and interview assessment sheets for new applicants hoping to stand in 2015. The Local Government Committee is commencing it's work tonight!

Making a spectacle of myself!

A very strange parcel has just arrived at West Kent Towers, which Botten and Boughton seemed to find highly amusing. 

The package turned out to a be a gift from a nearby constituency Chairman, thanking me for spending a day at their office helping and supporting their new Campaign Manager. The gift was three pairs of spectacle frames, particularly thoughtful as over the weekend I posted on Facebook that I had had an eyesight test and needed replacement spectacles, having lost my two pairs over the last 12 months. 

The Chairman of this constituency happens to be an optician and not only linked the two events, but also sent me frames similar to those he had seen me wear in various photographs. 

What a generous, kind and considerate thing to do!  

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Beyond absurd

Rumour has reached me that one of our local 'independent' councillors is about to resign.

Why ?

Well, if the story is to be believed (and I have now had it confirmed by three different sources) he objected to how one of the other "independent" councillors voted at the Annual Council meeting last week and has decided to quit as a consequence.

Now perhaps I am wrong, but the clue is in the title. "Independent". If you are elected as an "independent" surely that is what you are; independent. If you have a group policy, or threaten to resign when other "independents" don't do as you want them to, people might just start to think that you are not as "independent" as you claim. Particularly if you won your traditionally Conservative seat as an "independent" with the LibDems failing to field a candidate against you. Just like Mrs Barnes.

Tea with Tom 'v' Beer with Botten

West Kent Towers shut up shop an hour early today to hit the streets of West Malling, to deliver invitations to our first "Tea With Tom" event. The idea is not new or revolutionary, but from a campaigning, PR and practical perspective, it ticks many boxes.

"We didn't burn him"
- The West Kent Towers League of Gentlemen out on the road

To promote the event we have delivered 500 invitations (that's almost the entire village), put up posters in local shops, and to ensure no-one is upset or feels "snubbed" a separate written invitation has been posted to all local members, donors and activists.

The event is being held between 10am - 11am in a private room of a local gastropub, or in the gardens if the weather is clement. I don't anticipate a major turnout (perhaps 20 residents) but that's not the point. Everyone has been invited, and even those who cannot come will have received a point of contact with a reply card on the reverse, encouraging them to get in touch or offer assistance. There is a practical element too; given Tom's campaign day starts at 7am, by 10am he will need a break by mid morning, so this kills two birds with one stone.

Sadly Jon and I have a by-election to fight so we won't be hob-nobbing with the digestives, instead we marked the event early with our own post leaflet delivery event ... Beer with Botten:

Monday, 9 June 2014

Tom Tugendhat and Same Sex Marriage

Several months ago, not long after the open primary at which he was selected, Tom Tugendhat received emails from local Christian groups, questioning his attitude to same sex marriage and how he justified that position within the boundaries of his own declared faith.

Tom's reply, which I reproduce in full below (with his consent), is perhaps one of the most articulate and thoughtful defences of equal marriage I have yet read.

Although Tom has not shared the correspondence with me, and rightfully so, he informed me today that the group who wrote to ask for his views have replied and stated that whilst they do not share his view on this subject, they will be voting for him in 2015 due to his thoughtful and considerate reply.

It is a lengthy reply, but no-one could read it and not be moved by Tom's intellectual clarity or personal honesty. If anyone should wonder why this apparent "outsider" managed to get selected for one of the UKs safest seats, this should leave you in no doubt.


Thank you for taking the time to write to me.  I hope you will forgive the delay in responding but I wanted to make sure I gave a considered answer and not a quick one-liner.

I was glad of the opportunity to talk with you.  I was grateful to be challenged in my views as it is only through challenge that we think hard about what we think and therefore understand it ourselves.  It would be good to arrange meetings with people in the community frequently so that I can hear views and learn what matters to the our friends and neighbours.  I believe politics is a responsive calling based on principle.  What I mean by that is that it requires an understanding of what people feel as well as a bedrock of considered belief before one can know how to act.  For me that is where the Judeo-Christian tradition comes in.

Before I start down that road, perhaps I should set out my own background in faith.  I would not, as I believe I told you the other day, call myself a strong Christian.  I come from a strongly Roman Catholic home and was brought up with the principles of the Church firmly taught by my family.  I do not claim that this made me a saint, nor that we lived fully by the teachings of Christ, but it shaped an understanding of our place in the world, in society and the role of the individual, the state, and more importantly, the Christian principles that underpin the British political settlement.  Because as you so rightly say, Britain is a Christian country.  Our ethos emanates from the tradition of individual rights, the rule of law, justice and equality that are all to be found strongly rooted in both the Old and New Testament.  Indeed, whether you are of any faith or none, if you are British or merely share British values, you imbibe a Judeo-Christian tradition.  You are quite right to point this out.

So far, I think we agree.  I will set out my further views for consideration.  Perhaps we will disagree, if so, I would be very grateful if you would let me know so I can understand where your perspective better.  I don’t promise that we will end this discussion in full agreement but I value the opportunity express my opinions to an intelligent critic.

My comment on religion in Parliament is a very specific one.  It is based on Parliament’s role setting laws based on Church teaching.  In this I think we must be very careful because the teaching of the Church has changed over time as they have interpreted the words of Christ in their age.  Though it is shaming to us now, the Church once supported slavery and chauvinism as part of doctrine and many other abuses as part of practice.

But you rightly challenge me to move beyond the failures of men and women who hold Church office and focus on Christ’s message in the Gospel.  Today of all days I am reminded of the anointing at Bethany in Mark’s Gospel, just before the betrayal.  You argue that the place of women throughout the Gospel is one of equals and though I would agree with you many fellow Christians would not.  I note that the first to see the risen Christ are Mary, His mother, and Mary Magdelene but others, including in my own Church, focus on the fact that none of His apostles are women.  This alone has been used to argue that women should not hold leadership positions in the Church.  My own Church in particular has resisted female ministry and Pope Francis shows no signs of changing this teaching.  But none of this has stopped us passing equal rights legislation in the United Kingdom.  Indeed, if we instead focus on the Pauline message in Galatians about the equality of all before God we can see something approaching the origins of our own equal rights legislation, though St Paul does not argue that slaves should be freed, rather that all who are baptised are children of Christ.

The Church of England chose to change the role of women in the Church’s ministry in the 1990s.  When it did so it was not for Parliament to block the move, even though there were many who disagreed.  It would be quite wrong for Parliament to legislate on the nature of ministry even in the established Church as each Communion must set the parameters for the leadership they seek.  The same is true of marriage.  Each Church must take its own decision on what a marriage is.  My own Church, as you know, does not recognise divorce.  This means that the union of divorcees is not recognised as a marriage in the Catholic Church although it is perfectly legal in, say, the Baptist Church, or indeed in Judaism or Islam.

So in a case like marriage or the role of women or the many other areas in which faith communities divide, what should the state do?  Indeed what is the role of Parliament?  I believe this is where the role of Parliament is to act on the basis of the Judeo-Christian traditions of the United Kingdom but ensure they are open to further interpretations which are not inconsistent with that tradition.  I would argue that this is where equal marriage sits. I know many will disagree but perhaps you will allow me to expand my position.

As I said, the concept of marriage is one which has various meanings, even in Judeo-Christian cultures.  We understand polygamous marriage and the Old Testament is full of examples of it.  Protestant Churches recognise second unions of divorcees as marriages.  Some Churches permit unions between cousins or other close relatives that the Anglican Communion would not.  There is not one standard understanding of the term ‘marriage’, although it is true to say that the term has always historically defined a mixed-sex relationship.

This is where I would argue that I come at the question of equal marriage from a Judeo-Christian perspective, not a humanistic one.  While I would in no way compel my own Church, or any other, to recognise or celebrate same-sex unions, it is a matter of belief for the Church to decide upon itself, not for the state to legislate for, likewise it is not for the state to limit the individual rights of citizens.  This division of roles goes back to the 'render unto Caesar’ tradition when Christ threw the money changers out of the Temple and has a strong tradition in Judeo-Christian heritage.

This is the basis of my position on civil partnership which as a contract in law with no religious requirement falls under the equality legislation not religious jurisdiction.  Furthermore, it could be argued that the concept of equality which it draws from has its wellspring in St Paul’s injunction to the Galatians.  Though admittedly homosexuality was not considered at the time nor were things, including racial segregation.  That, tragically and wrongly, some Churches have used the story of Noah and the Book of Genesis to justify.

So for me, the concept of a union between two women or two men is a civil matter and therefore one on which the State, and Parliament, can therefore make a ruling based on the British, and before that Judeo-Christian, tradition of equality.  From that point on, the change of title from civil partnership to marriage is, in reality, inevitable.  Simplification of language, equality of terms, and the media all mean that the term will grow in prominence until it becomes appropriate to change the term from ‘civil partnership’ to ‘equal marriage’.  Indeed, if one looks at the law the change is merely one of wording.  But that wording imposes nothing on the churches, mosques, synagogues or temples around the country.  It changes nothing in their faith or practice and imposes no requirements upon them.  So today, just like female ministry, or the union of divorcees, the question remains one for the individual Communion of believers and not the State to decide.  Indeed that is all the Act of Parliament has done.  By legislating for equal marriage, the State has legislated for equal secular marriage.  The law has, quite deliberately, excluded all Churches and other places of worship from the Act and it is up to them to decide if they wish to recognise or celebrate the union of same-sex couples.

Though I understand that this is not the answer that many in faith have come to, it is not, I believe, incoherent with the Judeo-Christian traditions of which we are rightly so proud.  Nor - and this is equally important to me - does it infringe upon the freedom to worship and practice of those who find the change incompatible with their beliefs, anymore than calling the union of divorcees a marriage changes the definition for a Roman Catholic.

I don’t doubt that there is much in this with which you will disagree and to which you may indeed object but I hope that you can see that I come at this not in a utilitarian, nor humanistic fashion, but based on my own history as British citizen raised in the traditions of my family's faith and Church.

At this Easter time I wish you every good wish.

Tom Tugendhat