Sunday, 30 November 2014

Brief Encounter (on the 1201 from Paddock Wood)

Every few months I meet with Tom Tugendhat in London for lunch. I would like to say it's to discuss strategy. In fairness we do talk strategy, though I certainly don't always remember the finer strategic details at the end of the meal. Our lunches are a good opportunity for the two of us to get to know each other. We cover the broad direction of his campaign, he then trusts me to implement the details whilst I trust him with being the Parliamentary candidate; it's a good relationship, each recognising and respecting the other's strengths and abilities.

Our Christmas lunch, held on Friday last week, was memorable for another reason. In the train from Paddock Wood to Charing Cross we chanced to sit opposite three ladies (mother and two daughters-in-law) en route to London for a "girlie weekend". There they were meeting three other members of the family for a pre-Christmas break.

By Tonbridge they had retrieved a bottle of Prosecco, plastic glasses and a tube of Pringles from their bag and generously offered us some. We politely declined, though I did hesitate and hoped they would ask again. By Sevenoaks they did and I didn't need to be asked a third time! By Orpington they had opened another bottle and all reticence has gone out of the window! 
We got chatting over the aisle and it soon came out that Tom was a budding politician and I was his "spin doctor" (their words, not mine). "What Party are you?" asked the older of the ladies (who'd already told me she was a widow, 74 and lived in Ashford). "Conservative", said Tom. I waited for the reaction. "Thank goodness you're not UKIP" she said. "Dreadful man, that Nigel Farage. Dreadful - he's a disgrace"

She spat out the words with venom I didn't expect.

"Why don''t you like him?" I asked, genuinely interested not only in her response but also what lay behind her ferocity.

"I grew up during the war in Whitechapel, all our neighbours were immigrants, mainly Jews who had escaped Hitler.  When I married and settled down my husband's job was a mechanic with London buses, all his mates were the black men who had come here to drive and fix buses, they came because we invited them. One of my oldest friends is the widow of a chap who came from Jamaica in the 1950s - she's lived in this country longer than any of my children. I might be in my 70s and live in a nice flat in a nice part of Kent, but I don't have any time for racism."

By now she was a on a roll

"In the 1970s we had saved a bit of money and had moved to a little house in Bromley. I had a job in Littlewoods, in the restaurant. When Maggie got in, the other staff would ask each other who we had voted for, and when I said I was with Maggie all the way they would ask "what have you got to conserve? - you're one of the workers, you should vote Labour."  I told them that my husband and I had worked hard all our lives, I had two jobs to make ends meet, to ensure our children had a nice home and food on the table. Until drawing our state pension we had not claimed a penny of state benefits in our lives. We made our kids work hard so they could all pass the 11+ and go to Grammar Schools, which they did, so they could have better lives than we did. All through my life Labour have run the country down and Conservatives have cleared-up their mess. And as for that Ed Miliband - God help us if he gets in."

When our train arrived at Charing Cross I said to Tom, "keep them talking whilst I run to the shop". I bought them a bottle of wine to replace one of those we helped drink and also a box of chocolates for them to enjoy in the taxi on the way to their hotel. 

The whole episode was a lovely, chance encounter. I don't even know this lady's name - and unless she has the memory of an elephant she won't remember mine or Tom's either. But for that hour between Paddock Wood and Charing Cross she made me proud to be a Conservative, and she reminded me just who, and what, we are fighting for. 

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