Saturday, 30 May 2015

Fantastic response to our Thank You leaflet and Registered Supporter scheme

On 13 May I posted details of our 'Thank You' card and 'Registered Supporter' scheme (HERE).  At the time the cards were a prototype with lorem ipsum text. They are now landing on doormats across West Kent and receiving a tremendous response. 

Around 300 pledges signed-up as 'Registered Supporters' in response to a group email and a further 200 have signed-up in the three days after the door to door delivery commenced, making 500 in total in the first few days. Over 40 Associations, as far away as North Yorkshire. Cheshire and the South West, have also been in touch to ask for copies of the design files for local use. As always, we are delighted to help.

This is the front of the card (actual size)

and this is the reverse (again, actual size). The front and back pages are common across each ward / constituency in West Kent.

When the leaflet is 'opened out' it looks like this. The reply card is perforated for ease of return.

The inside pages change not only by constituency but also for each ward, allowing the MP and the local ward councillor(s) an opportunity to add their own localised message of thanks along with contact details. Here is Tracey Crouch's inside page with a ward-specific copy from our three councillors in Aylesford North & Walderslade ward (larger versions of each section below).

We also have generic constituency-wide editions for each MP for distribution in wards with no local elections or to use in direct mail and at railway stations and street stalls. 

Here are some of the various sections in actual size:

Tracey's message on the Chatham and Aylesford edition

Tracey's "generic" bar chart

Sample of ward specific copy from the Aylesford North & Walderslade councillors with contact details

Tom Tugendhat's message of thanks on the Tonbridge and Malling edition

The postage paid 'Registered Supporter' reply card

Thursday, 28 May 2015

All I want is someone to change the light bulb.

A personal view.

Last week we received a call at West Kent HQ. The lady at the end of the phone was in despair. The streetlamp directly outside her bedroom window had been flickering for three weeks and disturbing her sleep. The local parish council said that whilst they owned the grass verge, the pavement was the responsibility of the district council. The district council confirmed responsibility for the pavement, but the lamp came under Kent Highways. Over the following two weeks the lady haS been passed around eight different people at three different councils, none of whom were able assist her or accept responsibility for the lamp. Across these three tiers of local bureaucracy our sleep-deprived resident is represented by eleven elected councillors (seven parish, three district and one county) yet she cannot get her problem sorted. "All I want is the light bulb replaced..."

I write this blog with trepidation as I know the bad will that is generated whenever local government re-organisation is mentioned, even though most local councillors tend to agree that the present system doesn't work and "something must be done".  Securing consensus on the need for change is relatively simple - agreeing the basis for that change is not.  Fear of reform, suspicion about the motives, pride in their council's history and achievements and a degree of self preservation all play their part.

There was a time when local councils reflected their communities, both in name and style. Municipal giants such as Joseph Chamberlain and Robert Barclay made their names as great reformers in their respective cities. Borough, urban and rural district councils reflected their local communities. Residents and politicians understandably felt a degree of "municipal pride".

For right or wrong, much of that changed following the Redcliffe-Maud proposals and their botched implementation in the 1972 Act.  However well intentioned, the creation of the 'metropolitan counties" breaking historical county allegiances and forcing together such unlikely bedfellows as Wirral and Knowsley, or Solihull and Walsall, was sadly destined to fail, regardless of the wider economic and regeneration benefits.  I suspect these changes did much to poison the well and the consequences are still shaping peoples' fears today.

Past failures however must not be used as an excuse to avoid modern need. Councillors rightfully take pride in their work but they should not confuse this with emotional commitment from residents in the largely man made boundaries which now define local government. Although I have only lived here three years I am quite proud to live in Rochester and enjoy showing its historical sites to visiting friends, but whilst I am grateful to live under an efficient Conservative council I have no emotional connection with 'the Medway Unitary Authority'.

In this post austerity settlement money remains tight and taxpayers increasingly demand more for less. On 7 May Bedfordshire's Police and Crime Commissioner asked residents in a referendum to agree a Council Tax increase of 46 pence per week to provide 100 additional police officers. On paper the sum (a quarter of the price of a Sunday newspaper) was not large and the benefits to a community which rank police cuts and fear of crime highly should have been easy to sell. The proposed increase however was defeated by a margin of more than two to one.

In this environment and with changed expectations of residents and taxpayers, local government needs to carefully consider if it can continue to justify its existence in its current form. Does Kent really need 12 district councils, one unitary authority and the County Council (with almost 700 elected councillors) to administer its affairs? Are the taxpayers of Kent best served by so many council buildings, Chief Executives, senior officers councillors, portfolio holders and council leaders all drawing salaries whilst duplicating each others work?  Is scrutiny and democratic accountability best served by having two or three councillors representing each ward and three councils representing each community, with each councillor and council blaming the other for non delivery.

In my view there are two levels of service people want from their council. The first are the core services - education, social care, highways, refuse disposal etc. Residents want these services delivered to a high quality at the lowest possible cost.  I don't believe anyone cares about the livery of the bin wagon provided it collects the rubbish when it needs to be collected and does so efficiently.

The second level of services people want from their council are the "emotional" extras. They want nice parks and gardens, safe play areas for their children, well maintained grass verges and nicely planted roundabouts, hanging baskets in public spaces, quality bench seating in places where people walk or gather, a vibrant and accessible village hall or community centre and all those things which build communities and enhance the quality of life. Exactly the things which financially hard pressed councils have neither the money nor time to do as well as they once did.

So I believe it's time for reform of local government and a managed move to unitary authorities. One size seldom fits all, but I think our existing districts/boroughs should be the building blocks. There may be areas where county-wide unitary councils will work, but generally I suspect they will be just too large and remote. When dealing with local government and taxation I am often reminded of the importance of 'community and shared interest'. Paying taxes which often benefit others is somewhat akin to entertaining the more 'remote' members of ones family on high days and holy days; you open your home and share your goodwill, but you do so because you have a sense of responsibility and belonging - you certainly wouldn't open your home and expose your family to other peoples relations.  And so it is with re-distributive taxation.  Wealthier neighbourhoods accept the need to pay more than their fair share if they know the surplus is benefiting those in need in their own town, village or community.  Redistributive taxation which benefits "others" leads to ill feeling and protest; the last thing we need is to create 500 municipal European Unions built on resentment and mistrust.

So in a nutshell, here is my vision

  • Re-empowered parish and town councils filled with volunteer 'local champions' whose ambition is to deliver outstanding local amenities for their local community. 
  • New councils for our historic towns where currently there are none (such as Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Rochester and Chatham) re-empowering communities whose local governance has been previously subsumed. 
  • Reinvigorated and cost efficient unitary authorities based on amalgamated districts, focused on core statutory service delivery. 
  • Re-drawn single member wards and properly remunerated councillors attracting councillors with the skills and experience to promote economic regeneration, attract jobs and businesses and manage large scale projects and contracts.
One of the failures of the 1972 Act was Conservatives opposed the plans, refused to engage then insisted on retrospective change which fell short of what was right or needed. Everyone knows that sooner or later change must come. Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past we should be leading from the front and ensuring our voice in heard in the debate which will shape the future of local government in the the UK. 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Ageist journalism

Last week a reporter at our local newspaper contacted me seeking the ages of our local councillors as they wished to run a story on how the ages of councillors compare with the wider population. I was somewhat irritated by this as 

(a) it's irrelevant, 
(b) it's ageist, and 
(c) it's intrusive

I did wonder how the newspaper would react if I sought the ages of each of their journalists and then published a blog inferring they could not write for older generations as none of their journalists were retired!

The following is my response to the journalists email: 

Dear Edward
Thank you for your email requesting the ages of our local councillors.
I am disappointed that the KM Group is considering such an article as it pre-judges that a councillor's age is relevant or a reflection on his or her abilities. The Conservative Party does not ask for a potential candidates' age, marital status, race or disability on its application form and this is not discussed at any stage during the process. Nor does the official nomination process require this information. We judge an applicant solely on their ability to do the job, if elected, and I am proud of this approach.
I suspect I speak on behalf of all political parties locally when I say we would welcome candidates from all backgrounds and positively seek to encourage applicants who are not traditionally politically active. Indeed, last year, the Conservative Party in West Kent spent around £5,000 on press and direct mail seeking to attract new applicants into local government. It is unfortunate that the press release promoting our well-intentioned, progressive and radical approach did not generate any interest from the local media who appear instead determined to focus on other issues (such as age) which I do not believe the voters consider relevant.
For the above reasons I am not prepared to disclose the ages of our candidates or councillors without their individual consent.
With best wishes
Andrew Kennedy

Saturday, 23 May 2015

How Britain Voted

How Britain Voted; a fascinating snapshot of how the various social groups in the UK voted and the relevant vote movements. Labour only winning first time voters, social renters and the BME vote. 

(c) Ipsos MORI

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The next moves forward

Last week I blogged about the importance of using the post-election honeymoon to rebuild the voluntary party and seek new and innovative ways to engage with our supporters - see HERE

Part of that initiative is a series of constituency-wide hand delivered "thank you" leaflets sent jointly by our parliamentary and local candidates, which include a reply-paid tear off slip enabling residents to become "Registered Supporters" at no cost. (see HERE). The first two constituencies worth of cards have been signed off and are with the printer. 

This afternoon the following email was sent to a sample group of around 2,000 known Conservatives who have given us their email address. By 9pm almost 250 (significantly over 10%) had responded positively and signed up to be "Registered Supporters".  I expect that number to increase to 20% by the weekend.  Perhaps I am being naive, but I am very encouraged by this positive response, especially as we excluded from the mailing all those who already help or support the party financially.

Finally, the West Kent Chairman, William Rutherford, has been invited to write a piece for ConHome on the new methods we are using to rebuild the voluntary party in area. All good stuff and exciting for the future. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Linking love and triumphs

Politics can be a consuming, brutal and unforgiving business - especially so for our partners left at home, more so if they do not share or obsession and commitment.

My own partner, Steve, is a case in point. In peacetime he puts up with me being out at least three evenings per week and many Saturdays, too. During elections I am seldom here unless to sleep and shower. Phone calls at 11pm are common as is the inevitable "crisis" whilst on holiday. We look back and laugh, but three consecutive holidays were interrupted by various "trouble at mill" phone calls. 

One of his favourite dinner party stories is the time we were boating up the Thames and had just arrived at Cliveden Reach when the "gay marriage" issue broke. Greg Clark's support for the measure resulted in a few raised eyebrows in the more "disgusted" areas of his constituency. I was briefing the newspapers on the importance of equality and justice, but being on the water and in a natural rural valley, the only way I could get a signal was to stand on top of our narrowboat ducking overhanging branches - to the bemusement of other boaters queueing for Cookham Lock. "Don't let the buggers get him down" said the sympathetic reporter. I didn't know if he was referring to the members or the gays.

With stoic understanding Steve has come to accept that for at least one month a year he lives with a stranger. Even if I am here in body, my mind and my attention is elsewhere. He once said living with me during an election is like being married to a man with 165 demanding mistresses. I do my best to leave work behind, but I know I fail. He says that it was my drive, energy and determination which he fell in love with and he wouldn't want me to change. I am lucky to have a man who loves me so unconditionally as without him I would be lost. 

Each year since we met he has marked the end of the election with the gift of silver cuff links, always left for me to find when I return from the count. I am a tad pernickety with cuff links - I don't really like those swivel bars which are so common now, much preferring solid bars or chains.  He told me that researching and buying them gives him great joy as it means the campaign is drawing to an end and he's about to get his partner back. How lucky am I to be so loved?

Today I was sorting out my little leather box in which I keep my cuff links, collar stiffeners and shirt studs. Each pair of 'election cufflinks' brought back memories; my favourite set being the first he bought - truly lovely square Art Deco silver and mother of pearl ones from the early 1930s.   

So here's a toast to Steve and all the wives, husbands and partners of politicians, apparatchiks and activists who spend too many nights alone than is fair or just. I for one would be lost without my partner's love and support. I suspect I am not alone.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

West Kent THANK YOU cards about to land in the doormats

I have always been a strong advocate of delivering a THANK YOU leaflet following the election, regardless of the outcome. Having bombarded residents with paper asking for their vote, the least we can do (win or lose) is thank them for their support. 

This year I have designed a nice, good quality card sent jointly from the local council candidates and the MP. It includes a perforated tear-off freepost reply card inviting residents to sign-up to be "Registered Supporters". 

This is how the front of the card will look on the doormat:

This is the front once opened out

And the reverse, localised for each ward

Please let me know if you would like a copy of the InDesign file for use locally. 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Can anyone spot what's missing?

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council election results... 

We won the war, now let's win the peace

In the euphoria following the unexpected scale of our victory we must not avoid addressing the very real problems we have with our ground troops. We would be failing in our duty if we missed this once in five years opportunity to rebuild our activist base and reform the relationship between the party and those who support us in the country. 

We won on Thursday due to the accuracy and strength of the "air war",  and thank God for it as I doubt very much we could have won had we been solely reliant on "boots on the ground". 

There are of course exceptions. We still have Associations who manage to maintain a first rate campaign organisation with the sole purpose of winning elections.  In my own patch, Chatham & Aylesford is a prime example.  Despite being Kent's smallest Association with just over 100 members, C&A activists, with no outside help, delivered this year eight pieces of literature to every household, canvassed every voter and went back on the outs. Over 80% of C&A members were actively involved in the campaign. I even had to deploy C&A activists into other "safer" Kent seats with 3x the membership to assist with clerical and delivery tasks. 

Despite sending over 1,000 "man hours" of campaign support to 40:40 seats and our phone bank making in excess of 5,000 GOTV calls, I still received a degree of flack for putting too much resource into our West Kent "safe seats". I took much of this on the chin, but I did respond snippily to one senior figure by reminding him that his own target seat had a 13,000 majority in 1992 and was considered "safe" - had we not taken it for granted we probably wouldn't have lost in in 1997 and then had to spend 15 years and so much money to win it back. He graciously accepted the point. 

I absolutely accept the need to deploy activists where they are required, but there must be a balance. In our so called "safe seats" we may still have a large membership, but most are into retirement and far from fit and active. In many of these seats a lack of a sense of urgency, little professional support and a laissez fair approach to campaigning has weakened our base and deskilled our activists.  I have visited many such constituencies in recent years and I despair at how often I hear that "canvassing irritates people", "more than one leaflet puts people off" and "there's no point doing anything on polling day as people have already made up their minds". Too many branches spend their days finding tellers for polling stations and run lovely "Committee Rooms" but then don't do anything with the information the tellers provide as "we don't have the manpower to knock-up". When I suggest that perhaps the one or two activists they have would be better knocking on doors reminding people to vote than sitting at a polling station looking at those who have already voted, I am viewed with suspicion and horror. Apparently, "if people go to the polling station and there is no Troy teller, they will change their mind and vote for another party". Really?

On the other end of the scale, in large swathes of the country there is little or no Conservative organisation at all. I know these are seats we will probably never win, but we have done politics and our own campaigning ability no favours by allowing ourselves to become irrelevant in so many constituencies. There are now entire cities with no Conservative councillors and I know of three large cities where there are fewer Conservative Party members than we have in an average branch in West Kent. 

Does this matter? Actually yes it does. In 1992 my home constituency of Wallasey was held by 279 votes in no small part thanks to dozens Liverpool activists, knowing they couldn't win locally, coming to help Lynda Chalker defeat Labour. If we relied on that campaign support now it simply wouldn't happen as those activists are not there. In the 1980s Merseyside returned seven Conservative MPs with majorities of between 5,000 - 20,000. Now there are none. When we have no-one on the ground shaping the narrative we cannot be surprised when the narrative (and the ballot boxes) are dominated by those with opposing views. 

The Conservative Party is at its best and strongest when we are part of the day to day life of our local communities. That doesn't mean busing-in coachloads of willing activists in the weeks before an election. It means having Conservatives on Neighbourhood Watch Groups, residents' associations, parish councils, credit unions, parochial church councils, play groups and all the other groups and societies which form part of our communities. I accept that Kent isn't Merseyside or Manchester, but there are wards in West Kent which elect Conservative councillors with thumping 60% majorities despite having equal levels of social inequality as any areas in our great northern cities. Why? Because we have identified and nurtured activists from within these communities who share our values, work hard for local people, gain their trust and subsequently win their hearts, minds and votes. 

In West Kent we are going to strike whilst the sweet taste of victory lingers. Within weeks there will be a thank you card to every voter (localised by ward) and a pre-paid reply card for people to sign-up as a "registered supporter" at no charge.  We will nurture this group for the future, as I believe from within them will come our next generation of activists, councillors and community leaders. 

Having won an election the easiest thing is to celebrate then do nothing in the safe knowledge that we have five more years.  If we don't strike now we never will. By November the gloss will have faded and the cold winter nights will deter. By spring it will be business as usual and the moment will have passed.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Well done to the Tally Team

I blogged earlier in the week about the training we provided for our Counting Agents, with particular emphasis on sampling. We even want as far as running a fake "count" with a real ballot box filled with almost 2000 (dummy) ballot papers with the tables set-up as they would be at the count. This allowed the Counting Agents an opportunity to practise their sampling in "real time" in as life-like an environment as possible. 

A number of people asked if it was "worth the effort" and / or "was it sufficiently accurate" to be useful. To which the answer is a resounding "yes".  By 2am, 6 full hours before the declaration, I was able to call Tracey Crouch and say "you've won by 11,000". We now also have a detailed picture from each of the 50 polling districts showing were out strengths and weaknesses lie.

The skill is having Counting Agents who are able to remain focused, dispassionate and thorough even when exhausted. Our guys did a great job. 

Here is the summary of the sample with the actual result alongside.

Standing Proud for Conservative Votes

Highlight (or perhaps the low point) of all the counts I attended was finding myself in a heated debate with a Presiding Officer over a spoilt ballot paper.

A voter had drawn seven penises alongside the names of all seven candidates on the ballot paper. Six were flaccid, apart from the one alongside the Conservative, which was standing proud. The Presiding Officer declared it an invalid vote. I wasn't giving up without a fight. To me it was a clear intention.  I even found Case Law - previously a judge had accepted that a "happy face" drawn alongside the name was a valid vote. If a "happy face" is allowed surely a "happy willy" should be accepted, too. 

The row between a bloody-minded agent and a somewhat po-faced Presiding Officer raged on for several minutes before the absurdity of the situation got the better of me and I gave up the fight. The Labour candidate sniggering next to me didn't help nor did the intervention of a Lib Dem activists who asked "how can one be sure that an erect penis is a sign of approval?"

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Why my life-long Christian Socialist partner is voting Conservative tomorrow.

Tomorrow, Thursday 7 May, my partner for the last 13 years will do something for the first time. A lifelong Christian Socialist and former member of the Labour Party, Steve will be voting Conservative. 

In truth, this is actually the second time he has voted Conservative - but the first time was at the Rochester & Strood By Election when he would have voted for whichever party was best placed to stop Mark Reckless.  

Tomorrow he will be voting Conservative because he wants the Conservative Party to win and for David Cameron to remain Prime Minister. 

This is not some Damascene conversion. Nor has he switched allegiance under pressure from me or for a peaceful life at home. He remained a Socialist and voted Labour for 12 of the 13 years we have been together. 

His change is due to two things

  • He wants to vote on Britain's membership of the EU and he knows that only one party can realistically offer that, and
  • He simply doesn't trust Labour with Britain's economy. 
Many years ago I accepted that we would probably never agree politically and whilst we talked about politics we resolved to never let such differences divide us.  I am not going to say I am proud of him for changing his politics as I am proud of him regardless of how he votes. 

However, it speaks volumes for the state of today's Labour Party when a man as committed to Labour's cause as he was, who happily voted Labour under Kinnock, Blair and even Gordon Brown, now feels he cannot vote for them under Miliband and Balls. 

Ringing for Kelly

The first two teams manning the phones at West Kent Towers today - between them making 3,000 phone calls into Rochester and Strood to help Get Out The Vote for Kelly Tolhurst. 

Real movement back to Conservatives from previous undecided voters. She's going to win!

Landing on the doormats today!

Across West Kent today over 80,000 Conservative supporters will be receiving a personalised pledge letter delivered in a hand addressed envelope.  A great effort from our volunteers and parliamentary candidates. Thank you to everyone involved in making this happen. 

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

May I take a small sample ?

Today we ran training for Counting Agents with particular emphasis on ballot box sampling. There was a time when Conservative Counting Agents would automatically sample each ballot box, but this has declined in recent years, with increasingly counts being seen as a "jolly" or a social event  - to my great and often vocal irritation.

Sampling each ballot box not only provides the candidate with a heads-up but more importantly it pinpoints areas of strength and weakness, vitally important for future campaigning. 

So today, as well as going through the theory we also spent time conducting a "dummy count" with a proper ballot box, 2,200 dummy ballot papers, count staff, a Presiding Officer and Counting Agents armed with clipboards and spreadsheets. 

We sampled about 20% of the dummy votes in the ballot box and based on that relatively small sample we predicted the outcome to within 1.8% - proving it does work! 

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Crouch's Tigers!

Joyce Gadd and Tracey Crouch with the first of the 38,000 pledge letters they packed last Friday
I want to pay tribute and record my thanks to Chatham and Aylesford Association President Joyce Gadd, and her amazing team of volunteers who work tirelessly from her home in Aylesford (now referred to as the West Kent Towers Annex).   

On Friday her team of 30 volunteers started work at 8am and by lunchtime had packed 20,000 pledge letters for Tracey Crouch.  Then, following wine and sandwiches for lunch, they started again and by 5pm had packed a further 18,000 pledge letters for a nearby target seat.  That's 38,000 letters packed in one day!

Well done Joyce and all the volunteers (too many to mention) for all you do for the Party. And thank you also to Charles (Joyce's long suffering husband) who I am sure would be very happy if he never saw another box of Tory envelopes, but smiles stoically throughout and doesn't complain. At least not within our earshot. 

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells

There was a degree of tutting over the breakfast table when two vulgar purple UKIP posters appeared side by side in one of Tunbridge Wells' nicest residential areas yesterday. 

So outraged was one neighbour, he took revenge with a display of typical Tunbridge Wells politeness.

Hat tip to local councillor, Nicholas Rogers, for the photograph!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

We must address confusion over postal votes.

This post is not meant to be a criticism of any of our local councils or their 'election teams' but rather a general complaint about the system and its lack of clarity. 

This week my office has been almost paralysed by calls and emails from confused or concerned voters regarding late or missing ballot papers. By Wednesday we stopped logging the calls as the number had reached 200. I am sure the local councils were inundated, too. 

The main problem seems to be where council and parliamentary boundaries are not co-terminus and where one authority is responsible for issuing local government ballot papers and another for the parliamentary ballot papers.  

For example:

Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council is responsible for issuing postal vote packs to all residents for the Borough Council election as well as those in the Tonbridge and Malling Parliamentary constituency. Voters in the Tonbridge & Malling constituency therefore received two ballot papers, one for the Borough election and the other for the Parliamentary election. However, a resident in one of the eight Tonbridge & Malling Borough wards which fall within the Chatham & Aylesford parliamentary constituency, you would have only received one ballot paper (for the local election). The second (parliamentary) ballot paper came almost a week later from Medway Council, who are running the parliamentary election in Chatham & Aylesford.

This issue alone has caused endless confusion and concern:
  • Residents swamped the office with calls and emails concerned that their parliamentary ballot paper had forgotten or left out of the envelope
  • Others wanted to know why Tracey Crouch's name was not on the ballot paper
  • Some were angry over the additional cost of sending two ballot packs
Then there was the anger that many people had applied for a postal vote as they were going on holiday, but the later than expected delivery meant many had left home before the ballot pack had arrived and had been effectively disenfranchised. 

I am now receiving concerned calls and emails because many postal voters (a high number of whom are elderly or housebound) have sent both ballot papers back in the same envelope or accidentally sent them in the wrong envelope. 

It is interesting to note that we have received almost no complaints whatsoever from areas where the same council is handling both elections; these problems only seem to occur when one council is dealing with residents in a neighbouring borough. 

There must be a  better way of doing this for the benefit of all concerned, especially the voters who are at the end of the day the "customers" and whose democratic rights are being affected. 

For example:
  • I do not see why the same authority cannot issue both district and parliamentary ballot papers then simply transfer the parliamentary ballot papers to the relevant parliamentary authority at 10pm on polling day. After all, the same process happens in reverse when the parliamentary authority verify the local government ballot papers and transfer them to the borough after the verification.
  • It would also help if the much maligned Electoral Commission set a mandatory date when all postal ballots must be posted by 1st class mail.  This would enable residents planning a holiday to know exactly when the postal ballot would arrive and avoid hundreds of people being disenfranchised by late delivery. 
After the election I will be pushing as hard as I can for some degree of national standard regarding the issue of postal votes, in particular a set day when all councils must post out their ballot packs. Such clarity would (or should) be welcomed by political parties, Returning Officers and the public - and I can see no logistical or administrative reason not to do so.  Most importantly, it would enable residents going on holiday to opt for a proxy vote rather than finding their unopened ballot papers on the doormat when they return from holiday on Saturday 9 May, as will be happening to hundreds of local residents in my part of Kent.