A gaggle of Tonbridge & Malling's finest door knockers gathered in the shadow of Mickey's Diner, site of a hundred Tracey Crouch post canvassing lunches, at 9am today. This was the rendezvous for our latest Campaign Support Away Day to help friends and colleagues in target seats. Today it was the turn of my old friend Craig Mackinlay who is fighting the good fight in South Thanet.
The convoy was delayed as Lieutenant Colonel Tugendhat was lost. This provided an open goal for Major Richard Long who delighted in asking the crowd "what's the most terrifying thing in the British Army? An Officer with a map."
The missing parliamentary candidate however was the least of our problems. "Where are we going?" said the former Member of Parliament for Gravesham? Matt the Intern said he had emailed the destination postcode yesterday but this caused a degree of consternation as his Sat Nav was manufactured before the technology recognised postcodes and only worked by street name. This brought a chill to my spine as I recalled a five hour car journey to Manchester for Party Conference in the back of the former MPs car with Allan Sullivan complaining about travel sickness in the front. Jacques was on an anecdotal loop with the same stories coming around every 47 miles. By the time we reached Hilton Park Services not only had the SatNav given-up the ghost but we had heard what Ted Heath said to Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman during the Maastrict debate at least 5 times. Suddenly the car started veering across the M6 as Jacques jabbed furiously at the Sat Nav. "What the hell are you doing?" asked a green-at-the-gills Allan Sullivan. "I have to remind it where it is so it knows where it's going" came the reply.
Despite these glitches we arrived in Broadstairs on time and we were greeted at Campaign HQ by Craig, his Campaign Manager Nathan Gray and the lovely Marion Little. Cue hackneyed photo of candidate surrounded by happy activists holding posters.
We split into three groups and went off to different areas. I was canvassing with Matt Boughton and we were visiting a carefully selected target group of residents so it was difficult to gauge how we were doing overall. Obviously there was UKIP support, but for every UKIP voter we found I met two or three who thought it would be a disaster for Thanet and for the country if UKIP won. In all my time in active politics I have never met so many people who were so absolutely opposed to one particular candidate. In fact, in one road by the seafront Matt and I counted eleven (out of twenty) houses with UKIP Not Welcome Here posters in their windows.
After canvassing we headed back to base, but en route came across the UKIP Battle Bus parked illegally on double yellow lines with the local activists inside the nearby pub drinking. What really annoyed me about this was two things. Firstly, the two roads either side of the pub were almost clear of any parking restrictions so the bus could (and should) have parked legally there, but chose not to do so. Secondly, imagine a group of UKIP activists walking down a road and coming across a car with Eastern European number plates parked illegally. There would be outrage and anger at "yet another example of these people disrespecting our laws and traditions and seeking to impose their values." But consistency has never been their defining character, has it?