Regular readers will know that I am passionate about searching far and wide to attract new candidates and activists. In recent years we have probably done more than any other Conservative Association to reach beyond the confines of our paid membership to identify and develop a new generation of candidates, including full page adverts in the local press, mailshots to charities, voluntary groups and community leaders, open days, seminars and street stalls.
See HERE and HERE and HERE for some background on our past endeavours.
It's been hard work; probably half of those who make contact decide public service in local government is not for them. A lot of time and energy has been invested (though not wasted) speaking to new applicants and arranging for them to attend our regular New Candidate Seminars, to hear about the role, meet local council leaders and be allocated an incumbent councillor "buddy" who they shadow to learn more. There have been times when all ten attendees have dropped out before interview, which is frustrating but better than them dropping out just before nomination day.
The upshot of this activity however has been the recruitment of a pool of perhaps 30 potential new candidates who have been available to fill natural vacancies, but perhaps more importantly to give our various Local Government Committees the confidence to challenge non-performing councillors or encourage retirement for those who offer to do "one more term if no-one else can be found".
One man who is standing for the first time is a perfect example of the type of community activist who would never have come forward under the traditional way of selection. His name is Steve Hammond and he is our new candidate in Aylesford South ward. Steve has been helping and supporting our councillors with their newsletter delivery for 5 years but never thought about standing himself. He told me recently that he thought councillors had to be "political animals" and didn't think he had the qualifications to stand. Thanks to the open, friendly and accessible nature of Chatham & Aylesford and with the enthusiastic encouragement of Tracey Crouch MP, Steve is now on board and has taken to campaigning like the community champion he is.
By co-incidence Steve's life story was featured in this months edition of the Royal British Legion Magazine (he lives on an estate for ex-services personnel in Aylesford's RBL Village). Like so many in his position Steve has never bragged nor boasted about his service, all I knew was he was a former soldier. Before joining the British Army he was a professional footballer. He joined the Welsh Guards, served in Northern Ireland and in the Falklands on board the troop ship Sir Galahad when it was hit by an Argentinean Skyhawk missile, which killed 56 of his colleagues and injured a further 150, including him. You can read his moving and courageous story HERE or below.
Steve might not be a professional politician, but he has more experience than most and I have no doubt will bring compassion, understanding and dedication if elected, which I am sure he will be. Here's a toast to Steve Hammond and hundreds like him who have so much to offer, but are too seldom asked.