Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Ann Barnes is the best example of why Police & Crime Commissioners have worked

The newspapers, comments sections and social media sites are once again filled with stories about Kent’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Ann Barnes; a woman whose name is prefaced so often by the word “embattled” that it could have been written on her birth certificate.

This time it is confirmation from the IPCC that she did indeed break the law by driving without insurance, though, bizarrely, the CPS chose not to act.
As one commentator on the Kent Messenger website wryly observed, “If I had been driving without insurance, it wouldn’t have taken the police 12 months to investigate me before deciding that I shouldn’t be held to account.”

What I find most ironic are the online comments. Three years ago such comments were crowded with her champions, saying how wonderful it would be to have and “independent” Police Commissioner. These voices are now strangely silent. In their place is an online poll indicating that 90% want Mrs Barnes to resign, and vitriolic remarks about her abilities. I struggle to contain my schadenfreude.
With every catastrophe comes the rehearsal of the stale arguments that the whole endeavour is a waste of money. But Ann Barnes’ incompetence proves exactly the opposite to be true.

For seven years prior to her election Ann Barnes was chair of the Kent Police Authority, an organisation which (more or less) had the same powers as she now wields alone. But her emotional spasms, ineptitude and inability to form sound judgement did not suddenly materialise in November 2012 when she was elected. Her previous leadership must have been affected by the same incompetence, but because she was neither elected nor accountable she avoided the spotlight of public scrutiny. The old Police Authorities were beholden to the patronage of various Council Leaders who had the power to appoint and remove its membership - none of whom were accountable to the people who paid the bills.
Now Mrs Barnes’ inability has been exposed, the people of Kent have the power to remove her from office, which they no doubt will should she be sufficiently myopic to seek re-election. That option would never have been available had direct elections not been introduced.

The office of Police & Crime Commissioner is not perfect, but I hold today the same view that I held four years ago; it is a significant improvement on what went before. The person responsible for police budgets and priorities is exposed to the spotlight of public opinion which was never previously the case, and the public have the power to jeer her off the stage.
It is a tragedy that the people of Kent have had to pay such a high price to enable the point to be made.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Tales from Lord Trimble

Those attending last week's "Audience with Lord Trimble" were entertained by his open, amusing and light-hearted recollections of events during one of the darkest and most difficult periods of recent British history.  Here are three stories which deserve a wider audience.  

In the height of "The Troubles" he was about to leave his regular advice surgery when the local Chief Superintendent contacted him to say, we’ve just discovered an IRA plot to assassinate you…”  It transpired the murder attempt was due to happen 30 minutes later. 
“When you stop at the traffic lights at the crossroads, a motorbike will pull-up alongside your car, the man riding pillion will lean over and place a bomb on your sunroof. When the lights change, the motorcycle will speed off and the bomb will explode.”  The Chief Superintendent continued, “try not to worry about it and act as normal. All being well we will intervene and stop it bike before it reaches you.”

The second story was in reply to a question from someone in the audience regarding which Secretary of State was most effective.  Much to everyone's surprise, the answer was Peter Mandleson. The reason had nothing to do with Mandelson's political position or the Unionist's view of New Labour's policies, but because Mandelson was uniquely close to the Prime Minister and was "able to tell him what to do and we could all be sure it would be done."  

Finally, an indiscreet tale about an unnamed Minister of State who was a regular visitor to the Province, and who would stay at Stormont Castle during his overnight visits. Each evening after the Minister had retired there would be prolonged banging and scraping noise accompanied by heavy breathing coming from inside the Minister;s bedroom. This both intrigued and amused the security detail, who (apart from checking he was OK) never liked to intrude or enquire what was going on. One night, however, the ringing fire alarm necessitated the evacuation of the wing of bedrooms where the Minister was sleeping, and the source of the noise was revealed. The Minister had barricaded his door by piling all the bedroom furniture in front of it. This led to the Head of Security announce, "Minister, if the combined strength of armed units from the RUC, the British Army and Special Branch can't save you I really don't think a Rococo Dressing Table will be much use." 

In his vote of thanks, West Kent Chairman William Rutherford said, 
“It is a great honour to welcome such an internationally renowned speaker; Winston Churchill once said, 'Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen'.  David Trimble showed remarkable courage in being the first Unionist leader to sit down at talks with the Republican leadership, the first to meet with the Irish Prime Minister and the first to lead his community into a peaceful settlement.  I am delighted that we were able to organise this event, and to welcome so many local residents."

The nature of politics and of human affairs

I am sorry that Stephen Harper's Conservative Party of Canada lost the General Election last week. Harper is my kind of Conservative; economically sound but with a soft almost libertarian social policy and a genuine pro-active approach to big-tent conservatism, especially the importance of ensuring the Conservative Party was open and welcoming to migrant communities. On this front we still have a long way to go. 

Whilst it is sad to see political soul mates lose office, change is inevitable in a democratic system. Harper's defeat, however, should act as a warning to all British Conservatives who think that under Corbyn victory in 2020 is 'in the bag'. 

In Canada, as in many other places, the mantra 'time for change' took hold. Unless there is new leadership or a dramatic change of policy, around ten years appears to be the lifespan of most modern democratic governments.
  • John Howard (Australia) 1996 - 2007
  • Stephen Harper (Canada) 2006 - 2015
  • Tony Blair (UK) 1997 - 2007
  • Margaret Thatcher (UK) 1979 - 1990
  • Helen Clark (NZ) 1999-2008

Governments and leaders can of course enjoy longer (and shorter) periods of office, but I suspect after 10 years people simply get bored with the same face and the same voice, and the invasive "time for change" takes hold, which combined with the collective plotting of a decade's worth of enemies, makes defeat almost inevitable. Enoch Powell's words are probably as true today as when he spoke them in 1977. 

"All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs"

For this reason alone I think David Cameron's decision not to seek a third term was probably right, both for him personally and for the party. 

No election result, however decisive, can guarantee the next and no victory lasts forever. We have to keep renewing, keep redefining and keep changing to ensure our message is fresh and relevant. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

When loyalties conflict

There is a strange , though understandable, perception in politics that if you are good in one job, you are bound to be good at another. Councillors often believe they will automatically make good MPs, MPs think they would be good Agents, Parliamentary researchers think they will be great speech-writers ... and agents know that they would be good at everything!
In reality this is often not the case. Very few “old-school” agents have ever made the transition to parliament as, working as closely as we do with MPs, we recognise the required skills are very different. I could think of nothing worse, for me, than being an MP. I have little empathy, less patience, limited diplomacy and few oratorical skills.
One of the hardest things that I face is when a councillor or activist seeks my support for a change of role. I immediately know whether or not I believe they would be good for that position. If I think they are then it is easy to proceed – if not, I face a dilemma. I have to decide one of the following
  • To decline my support and risk causing offense or, at worst, losing a friendship
  • Agree to give a reference, then use ambiguous terms to let the interview panel know  how I really feel
  • Not tell the truth on the reference
Given the second and third options are out of the question, I invariably end up tying myself in knots trying to explain why I cannot offer my support. Occasionally fear of the reaction leads me to ignoring the issue in the hope it will go away. People understandably take this badly, though fortunately (in most cases) they accept the outcome and friendships are rarely damaged in the longer-term.
There are other times (and this must have happened to all of us in the Conservative Party, from the election of a Branch Chairman, to the selection of a Parliamentary Candidate) when you are torn between loyalty to a friend, and loyalty to other candidate(s) who you genuinely believe would be better at the job.
In the end politics is about making things better – not personal ambitions or loyalties.
Recently a very close friend (not at all politically active) told me excitedly about a possible new job. He is hugely successful in his business, but this new position (as a director of a major local company) not only offered more money but greater job security and fewer hours. He asked for my help with his application form, but having slept on my decision, I genuinely didn’t think the job was right for him. His skills are people-focussed, where the new role would be balance sheets and financial. As a friend, should I have encouraged and supported him to take a job I truly believed he would not enjoy and thrive in, or did I have a moral duty to tell him the truth? I did the latter. I know my decision caused hurt, but I believe it was right - and thankfully, our friendship survived. 

Unfortunately, in politics, sometimes they don’t.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Carry on First Minister

Yesterday West Kent Conservatives hosted the third in our series of "An Audience with..." when we welcomed The Rt Hon the Lord Trimble. Previous guests being Baroness Trumpington and Sir Nicholas Soames. 

My meticulous timing was thrown into disarray however when at 4pm I picked up a voicemail - a soft County Down voice informing me that it was David Trimble and he had "caught a somewhat earlier train and was about to arrive in Kent."  'Somewhat earlier' meant 90 minutes early. This created a problem. The Secretary of State for Communities (who was going to travel with him) was wandering around Charing Cross looking for the former First Minister, and the person who was lined-up to collect them both from the station was soaking in the bath signing Nessun Dorma, and completely unprepared for donning his chauffeur's hat.  I dispatched Director of Paperclips in his clapped-out VW Golf to the station to pick up our guest with instructions to bring him back to West Kent Towers, whilst I threw around the Hoover and baked a cake. 

Thirty minutes later the phone rang again. It was Lord Trimble. Apparently the train had "sailed through" Tonbridge Station, so he had alighted at the next stop, High Brooms. I hurriedly phoned Paperclips to divert him. Too late. He had parked the car at Tonbridge and was walking around the High Street searching for our guest (having left his phone in the car). After an age he returned my call. "I can't find him anywhere!". "That's because he's at High Brooms - drive quick as you can!"  As Paperclips fought his way through rush hour traffic, Lord Trimble phoned again. He had got restless waiting, so had walked through an alleyway and was now unsure of his location. The situation was turning into a Carry On Film with Jon Botten in the role of Charles Hawtrey and the Agent playing Hattie Jacques. "Do you know where you now are, Lord Trimble?" I asked hopefully. He had no idea, but said he would call back. By this time Paperclips was back on the phone. He had arrived at High Brooms but couldn't find him. "That's because he has gone for a walk through an alleyway and he doesn't know where he is!"  

Suddenly the absurdity of the situation struck me. I had a Secretary of State hanging around Charing Cross searching for the former First Minister of Northern Ireland. The said former First Minister and Nobel Prize winner (who, until recently, was high on the IRA's hit list) had already arrived in Kent and was now wandering all alone around various back alleyways in High Brooms, totally lost and carrying a heavy box of books, searching for a scruffy beardy bloke in ripped jeans driving a clapped-out Golf. 

Finally, Lord Trimble phoned again. "I'm outside the High Brooms Dental Surgery" he said. "Don't move, we'll be there in two minutes."  

All's well that ends well - and it was with a degree of relief when our guest arrived safely at West Kent Towers for coffee and a chat, before appearing in front of an audience of 100 guests in a neighbouring village, more of which later.  

Weekend Fun - Where's Wally ?

Tonbridge & Malling's very own Cllr Owen Baldock foolishly sent me a school photograph taken when he was 15 years of age, reproduced below. 

Here is a weekend challenge for all his council colleagues. I have lettered each of the boys from A to P. Which one is Cllr Baldock?  Mark Rhodes is not allowed to participate as he knows too much! 

Leave your answers in the comments below. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Beware the UKIP backed Leave EU Campaign

The UKIP-backed LeaveEU campaign have just phoned Jon Botten asking him if he will be voting to leave, and if so, which of the two campaigns he will be backing. 

When Jon asked how they obtained his number, he was told they were phoning all Conservative councillors using the contact details on the various council websites. 

When he asked why they were asking him which of the competing 'leave' campaigns he was backing, he was told that they were putting together their case for the Electoral Commission and wanted to show strong support from Conservative councillors and members.

I think we need to be aware of this and very wary. My personal view is the official 'leave' campaign must be bi-partisan and fronted by academics and business people, making a strong, unemotional case for withdrawal, whilst dealing calmly with the economic arguments and scaremongering from those who wish UK to remain in the EU. 

Any campaign fronted by UKIP and Farage is bound to fail and will be reminiscent of the 1975 NO campaign with the unholy and unpleasant alliance of Tony Benn and Enoch Powell on every platform.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Christmas Reception with Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP

The Chairman and Officers of the Association are delighted that the Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP (Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party) will be guest of honour at a Christmas Reception, to be held on Friday 11 December 2015 from 7pm - 8.30pm in the Tonbridge & Malling Council Offices, Kings Hill, ME19 4LZ. 

Prior to entering Parliament, Robert Halfon was Chief of Staff for Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP and then Political Director of Conservative Friends of Israel. He contested Harlow in Essex in 2001 and 2005 (losing to Labour by just 97 votes). Robert was elected at his third attempt in 2010 and re-elected in 2015, increasing his majority to 8,350. In July 2014 he was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Rt Hon George Osborne MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Following the 2015 General Election he was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and Minister without Portfolio, with the right to attend Cabinet and sworn of the Privy Council in May 2015.

Tickets for this event are just £12.50 per person, to include an arrival drink and a selection of cheeses. During the course of the evening, Robert will be invited to draw of winners of the 2015 West Kent Christmas Draw. 

To reserve your place please send a cheque for £12.50pp (payable to T&MCA) to West Kent Campaign HQ, Suite 3, Business Centre, Commercial Road, Paddock Wood TN12 6EN. It will save you the time and trouble of finding your cheque book if you paid online, using our secure server - see below. 

If you cannot attend but would like to support this event, there is an option below to send a £5 or £10 donation, which will be used to purchase raffle tickets in your name. 

Christmas Reception with Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP
How many guests?

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Sevenoaks Grammar School Annex - the courage to do the right thing

The entire country celebrated with pride when Team GB were in third place on the 2012 London Olympic Games' leader board, with 29 Gold, 17 Silver and 19 Bronze medals. It was the strongest haul of medals for Great Britain in 50+ years, including the 1980 and 1984 Games, which were boycotted by the USA and USSR respectively. 

Everyone connected with sport, including our athletes, coaches, professional bodies, commentators and officials agreed that identifying potential elite performers and providing them with the investment, training and support they needed to excel in their field was key to their success. I doubt any of our sporting stars would have achieved greatness had their potential not been recognised and nurtured

And that is why I support selection. 

If we are happy to identify and develop the cream of our athletes then celebrate their success, then surely we should be equally supportive of our elite students, and give them the support they need to excel academically?

The mistake we have made as a country is to focus on equality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity, then use that false premise to dumb down expectations and accept mediocrity. 

For the record I attended a comprehensive school, but fortunately one which had been a top performing Grammar School a few years earlier and still maintained an ethos of excellence, under a gowned Headmaster who spoke Latin and put the fear of God into most of pupils. 

Did attending a comprehensive effect my education? Actually, yes it did. Having the ever present 'naughty boys' at the back of each class, who saw learning as a chore not an opportunity, not only ruined lessons but absorbed too much teacher time. But worse was the physical and emotional bullying which made journeys to and from school each day so fearful and which ruined my middle years. It was only later that I found the majority of my school friends faced the same. I have no doubt that if "the lads at the back" had a stronger teacher who could engage with them at a different level and the "geeks at the front" had been allowed peace and opportunity to study at our natural level, both groups would have benefited.    

So that is why I am celebrating the decision by the Secretary of State to allow the opening of a Grammar School annex in Sevenoaks. It is not the reversal of government policy many of us would like, but it's certainly a step in the right direction and it sets a precedent that others might follow. Congratulations to all the parents who have campaigned so hard for this and credit where it is due to Kent County Council for having the political courage to do the right thing in the face of quite strong opposition.  

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

We only see you when there are elections !

Around 150,000 residents in West Kent will receive newsletters from local Conservatives this week, as our MPs and councillors "report back" on their work and various new "outreach" projects are launched. 

First off, around 15,000 residents in Maidstone will receive a Residents' Survey from their local Conservative Team Leaders, the first of three phases which will see 45,000 surveys land between now and Christmas. 

Across the border in Faversham and Mid Kent, 40,000 households will receive Helen Whatley's first Report Back card with local councillors' details on the reverse. 

The poor residents of Fant, just recovering from the by-election, will this week receive the local councillors' latest newsletter raising awareness of a planned housing development in the ward. 

In Borough Green, Tom Tugendhat MP will be joining local Conservative councillor Steve Perry at an Open House meeting which all local residents are being invited to attend.

And around 1,000 pledges in Kings Hill will receive an invitation to attend the branch's annual Cottage Pie Supper and hear Craig Mackinlay MP talk about how he beat Mr Farage in South Thanet. 

What do they say on the doorsteps...

"you only come around when the elections are on...!"

Monday, 12 October 2015

I am now the proud owner of two tetrabytes in a cloud.

I suspect there comes a time in every adult’s life when the brutal realisation dawns that the language of technology is leaving them behind. 

I remember clearly when it happened to my mother, it was 1980 and she had decided to buy a new colour television. We went along to Manweb, the local state-owned electrical retailer.  (The fact that the state owned an electrical retailer and no one questioned why is surely an example of the state of Britain’s centralised corporatist economy in the 1970s).  The salesman persuaded my mother of the advantages of a new-fangled ‘remote control’ and after reassuring her that

(a) The rays wouldn’t cause cancer, and
(b) Changing channels wouldn’t also change the neighbour’s TV sets

she signed on the dotted line.  

At that time, my mother was around 50, the age I am now.

Yesterday I ventured into the land of horror, where all of Dante‘s Layers of Hell meet.  Currys PC World. 

I had researched what I wanted so I could confidently walk up to ‘Darren’ and say “one of these please, no I don’t want an extended warranty, no I done want insurance, no I don’t need a mega doodlebyte upgrade, here is my card, please take your money and let me escape to the Marks and Spencer Food Hall next door where people speak a language I understand.”

I actually managed to say most of the above and was about to pay when I made a fatal error. I asked a question. Why I allowed myself such an indulgence is a mystery. Questions require answers, and it’s the answers I fail to understand. I therefore need to ask further questions to help me understand the first answer, and it’s then downhill all the way, back to a place where an awkward and sullen 14 year old cringed with embarrassment on hearing his mother ask if the TV remote control would cause the neighbour’s sets to also change channel.

“Is Microsoft office pre-loaded?” I enquired.
You can buy it in a bundle.
“Sorry, I just want to know if Microsoft office is pre-loaded?”
No, but you can get it in a bundle.
“A bundle of what?”
Depends what else you put into it.

At this point, there was a standoff as ‘Darren’ tried to hide his contempt and I tried to hide my irritation.

“What might I need to put into ‘it’ which I don’t already have?”
Whatever you need.
“How do I know what I might need if I don’t know what you have available?”
How about McAfee – you could include 12 months McAfee.

McAfee sounded good – I knew I needed anti-virus software, so that was worth having. But little did I know that installing said McAfee would result in three hours connected to Amnul at “McAfee Remote Assistance”, 7 reboots and bed at 1am.

“OK, how much is that, then?”
That’s only two things; you need at least three things in a bundle. We’re doing a promotion on the cloud.
“A what?”
You can have two tetra-bytes in the cloud.

‘That’s super’, said Steve – who after 13 years knows when I am about to reach breaking point.

I feebly and pathetically handed-over my card – having not only bought my new tablet but also something in a cloud, which I neither wanted nor understood.

As we left a smiley woman with a clipboard approached, “would you participate in a customer satisfaction survey?”

Probably best you leave him alone, said Steve – guiding me out of the door and towards M&S Food Hall.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

The Tory MP and his encounter with a grinder

Amusement of the week.

Witnessing Craig Mackinlay MP trying to ask the waiter (whose English was quite poor) to leave the pepper mill on the table. This resulted in Craig making a semi obscene hand gestures whilst saying GRINDER GRINDER very slowly.

Thank goodness we were not near Canal Street!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

A target even they couldn't miss

Now I am back home and on safer ground, I am happy to admit one of the protesters at Manchester actually managed to hit a nerve. 

As I left the conference hall for the last time on Wednesday I walked through a barrage of "not welcome here" "Tory scum" and "shame on you" - but the bulls eye hit came from an angry red faced woman in rainbow poncho who caught my eye and shrieked, 

"look at this one - he's obviously never had to miss a meal in his life." 


I considered telling her that I came from a single parent family, brought up in a Merseyside sink-estate council flat and got to the size I am by an over-indulgence of hard work which finances my gluttony, but decided I would just take one for the team. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Unwise to say the least....

Last week I published a blog about a Hartlepool council employee, Edwin Jeffries, using his email address to encourage attendance and accept bookings for the Peoples' Assembly coaches to protest at the Conservative Party Conference. 


I am grateful to Hartlepool Council's Monitoring Officer for his prompt and courteous response to my inquiry.
I refer to my earlier e-mail below and the mention that I would undertake further inquiries.
I was able to see Mr Jeffries yesterday and reminded him of the sensitivities behind use of the Council’s e-mail in conjunction with the Council’s ‘E-mail Policy’. That policy is designed to ensure, amongst other things, that such use is not ‘inappropriate’ where the Council could be brought into disrepute. Mr Jeffries is a Trade Union representative and is allowed, by law, certain rights in the performance of his Trade Union duties. Consequently that can include the dissemination of information, but in this case, the contact through the Council’s e-mail system for various ‘bus pick up points’ was perhaps unwise, to say the least.
Mr Jeffries is accepting of that advice and has been reminded of the Council’s policy on e-mail use. He did use his own personal e-mail in connection with attendance at this ‘rally’ on some literature, but was remiss in using solely the Council’s e-mail as mentioned above. In future, I trust in comparable situations he will rely on and use solely his own e-mail as opposed to the Council’s.
I trust the information provided herein is of assistance and I will bring this matter to the further attention of the Council’s Chief Executive Officer. 

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Goodbye Manchester - see you all in Birmingham in 2016

It's been a strange conference and very different from others in recent years. I haven't once set foot inside the main auditorium, though look forward to the PMs address tomorrow.

The highlights for me this year include;

1. Being able to spend time sharing a drink and a chat with old friends - some of whom I haven't seen for years.
2. Enjoying relaxed evening meals with good friends at several fine restaurants.
3. Having the time to visit the various exhibitors and learning about their work, including an invitation to learn fly fishing - something I have been thinking about for years
4. Strengthening my ties with 'Conservatives for Britain' and signing-up to help run the 'leave' campaign should the PM not succeed in achieving a good settlement
5. Continuing my role in the party review and hearing my position paper repeatedly referred to by Lord Feldman at three meetings
6. Co-hosting, with William Rutherford, the fifth and probably best West Kent Tea
7. Meeting with many Associations from the Midlands and the north, keen to discuss grouping and joint working, and helping them on the road to change
8. This evening's fascinating fringe meeting hosted by the Spectator with Andrew Neil interviewing Charles Moore about the second volume of his book on Mrs Thatcher
9. For the first time in my life, having breakfast served in my room by room service rather than rushing out to an early fringe meeting attended by three men and a dog
10. Being invited back to my home city of Liverpool to speak to local Conservatives and help launch their Mayoral campaign

And what I am looking forward to most...

Going back to Kent and hugging my lovely partner, who I have missed dreadfully.

As for the protesters; I appreciate some representatives have been upset and intimidated, but those of us around in the 1980s have seen it all before - The Peoples' Match for Jobs, violent striking coal miners and the rise of the Trotskyite Militant Tendency. Threatening violence, shouting obscenities from behind a face mask, telling women they are child murderers and spitting at old ladies are not signs of strength but evidence of impotence and defeat. 

See you all in Birmingham.

National membership and joint working

I was sorry to miss Lord Feldman's speech about party reform on Sunday, though from what I heard from others he made positive proposals about a national membership database, which all sensible and pragmatic members should surely support.

There will be many who object for a whole variety of reasons. Some won't like the apparent loss of 'local control'. Others will oppose 'handing more power' to CCHQ. There will be those - with whom I have sympathy - who will see this as a broken link between the local Association and the membership, and others will complain and oppose because complaining and opposing is their default position.

There will also be some who object as it will expose their past failings and perhaps lack of discipline, such as the London Association officer I encountered in Birmingham last year who was loudly boasting that his Association ran two parallel membership lists, one on Merlin and the real one on Excel 'to avoid having to pay the per member fee'. No doubt this same Association Officer was loudly criticizing CCHQ this year when all those members on his secret spreadsheet were not sent a ballot paper for the Mayoral campaign.

It is not unreasonable that we produce a national membership database and implement systems which ensures its accuracy and enables it to be accessed and shared with all who need it. But for this to work there are some difficult and complicated issues which must be addressed to the satisfaction of all concerned. Failure to address these issues before the changes are implemented could seriously undermine their success and could even turn a bad situation worse.

1. Standing orders - in West Kent around 30% of members (and almost 50% in one Association) pay by SO. How will these be handled? Anyone who has attempted to ask members to increase of change their SO will immediately understand the dangers.  Having signed a SO many have no further interest or involvement, they don't respond to correspondence and  I suspect many may have forgotten they even pay us in this way. In Tonbridge & Malling we still have 40 or so members paying below the recommended £25 rate as despite repeated requests over 10+ years they have never replied. Given we cannot transfer their payment to another account without the account holder's authority, what will happen to those who continuen to pay their local Association?  Will there be a parallel membership list or will these members simply be removed from the national database and redefined as local donors?  I would estimate that changing the collection of SOs could easily result in 20%-30% cancelling their SO and a similar number failing to respond, which might well result in the loss of 20,000+ members nationwide.

2. We also need to establish how those members who pay over the £25 will have their contribution shared. We have hundreds of members who pay £50 or £100 - and many SO payments of £5 or £10 monthly, which over the year reaches a figure far in excess of the £25 recommended payment. How will this additional money be treated and divided?

3. Lord Feldman said the Associations must trust CCHQ with their data. This is not unreasonable but also right. For historical constitutional reasons members join their local Association, but in their minds they join the Conservative Party and see no difference. I believe the national party has every right to write to members seeking financial support- but I do agree with one of the most common grumbles that national financial appeals often arrive at the same time as local appeals, undermining the efforts of both and causing confusion. So that trust really must be mutual. It is not unreasonable for local branches to know what the national party is planning and vice versa.

4. Perhaps most critically CCHQ must quickly establish how membership income will be shared. If the intention is for all membership income to be retained at the centre, this will cause the majority of Associations very real operational issues. If the plan is for a CAMS-like approach with CCHQ retaining the per member fee plus an additional amount to cover collection costs, then a fair and accurate cost allocation must be established and agreed. Locally, with 30% of our members on SO and another 30% paying electronically via PayPal or online, we have managed to reduce our collection costs to an average of around £1.70 per member, including staff time. If the CAMS charge of £4 was used as a base, this would result in West Kent facing an increase of 135% in collection costs for no real local benefit or return. The hard cash figure for us would be an increase cost of almost £5,000 per year. 

Over the last two years, as the party's unofficial ambassador for 'grouping' I must have addressed 40 meetings of individual Associations, regions and Area Councils to talk about the benefits and practicalities of joint working. With just one exception, my presentation has been met with enthusiasm and real determination to make it happen. There have been four further such meetings in the margins of conference this week. Over the last two years I have felt a real change of mood; at first people were examining their options and listening to me with polite curiosity. In the most recent round of discussions there is real determination to make it happen, along with irritation at those Associations who are being recalcitrant and seeking ways to stall progress. One group of four Associations I met yesterday were so irritated at two of their neighbours who were dragging their feet, they have decided to 'go it alone' and leave the other two behind, as they are tired of being held back.

I understand that CCHQ have no wish to take control of membership collection for the sake of it. The proposed changes are to ensure the data is held and maintained efficiently, shared by all who need it, and that income is collected in a proper and timely manner.

Perhaps a way forward would be for CCHQ to allow properly constituted 'groups' which are able to demonstrate they can meet agreed service levels, to be allowed to continue to collect and administer membership locally subject to regular quality audits, and for individual stand-alone Associations without the resource or ability to demonstrate competence to have their membership transferred to a national system, such as CAMS. This proposal would not only meet CCHQs objectives but would also avoid the dangers and pitfalls I have outlined above.  

Such an approach would not only be pragmatic it would act as both a carrot and a stick to encourage further joint working, which I believe is now accepted as the way forward.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

98 today

When I awoke this morning, slightly fuzzy from last night's curry and Cobra, I anticipated a fairly quiet opening day of conference, and a chance to catch up with friends. 

My day started as it always does in Manchester with large strong Americano in Starbucks, opposite the Midland Hotel. Whilst there I noticed four anti-capitalist protesters drinking caramel lattes and texting on their iPhones. I tweeted the irony of banner waving anti-capitalists availing themselves of two of capitalism's greatest products (Starbucks and Apple) and suddenly found it had been retweeted to almost a quarter of a million people...

Next up was an unexpected Tweet from my friend, Neil Garrett, informing me my blog in praise of the Home Secretary had been picked-up by Roland Wihite in today's Sunday Times...

By now it was just after mid day and I was half way through a Bloody Mary with Milly Skriczka when someone told me Breitbart had published Iain Dale's annual list of 'The UKs 100 Most Influential Conservatives' and I was on the list at number 98. This news rightfully and deservedly brought bucket-loads of opprobrium down upon my head, with one group of friends saluting 'Benny Hill' style as I walked past and even the presentation of a '98' badge, which friends thought amusing to ask me to wear. Needless to say the badge remained firmly hidden.

Finally, if this wasn't enough, at 4.30pm my phone starting 'pinging' again as various friends inside the main auditorium texted me to say 'Lord Feldman is talking about you from the platform'. Apparently he was referring to our work in the West Kent Group and how this was a model for the future. 

Does any of this matter? The answer is of course, a resounding no. Whilst inside the sanitized bubble almost everyone I met knew about Breitbart, Atticus or Lord Feldman's kind words, each and every aspect was internal. Tonight, as I walked through Manchester on my way to dinner with friends, not a single person knew or cared about Breitbart, me or what Lord Feldman had said.  My fifteen minutes of fame today won't bring in another pound of campaign funding, another membership or put another Conservative vote in a ballot box. So let's enjoy conference and celebrate what we have achieved. We deserve it. But our future success will be based on what we deliver, not how important we all think we are. 

Saturday, 3 October 2015

West Kent Conference Tea - extra space now available

Following several late requests, I am pleased to confirm that I have just visited the venue and secured a larger room for the West Kent Tea on Monday 5 October. We can now accommodate up to ten additional guests. 

If you would like to attend but have not yet booked, it's not too late. However, please phone me on 07792 924820 or email and let me know that you are coming. The online payment option is now closed. Instead, upon arrival, please pay your £18 to West Kent Chairman, William Rutherford (cash or cheque).  William is settling the bill so late payments should go directly to him, please. 

Finally, just to confirm that this is not a fund raiser and there is no margin. The venue are charging us £18 a head and that is what we are collecting from those who are attending. It is therefore not possible to give complimentary tickets as this will result in William being out of pocket. 

Trains are like walls - they both have ears

Having arrived early in Manchester, I was amused to receive a text message from a London friend informing me there was a chap down the carriage in the same train as him speaking very loudly about me and what I do and the fact I live in a boat. The conversation then went on about his role in the party and this was followed by a very loud complaint that he didn't get his complimentary bacon sandwich, to which the menu said he was entitled. 

A request for a description quickly identified the culprit beyond any doubt, so I promptly sent him a text to say, 'be careful what you say about me and my boat, you are being overheard and every word is coming back to me via text...'

This reminded me of my last visit to Manchester for CPC13, which was held just before the Tonbridge & Malling Parliamentary Selection. On the journey back to Kent I was regaling friends with some of the more lurid stories arising from prospective candidates' attempts to ingratiate themselves, only to find as we pulled in to Euston one of them was sitting directly behind me. 

A salutary lesson to us all this week, walls (and trains) have ears.

Friday, 2 October 2015

CPC15 - My Conference Diary

Looking forward to catching-up witth as many friends and colleagues as possible over the conference. Here is my diary for the period - give me a shout on 07792 924820 if you are free for coffee or wine. See you all in Manchester. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Something fishy in the town of Hartlepool

Glancing through 'The Peoples Assembly' website my eye was drawn to a list of contact details for supporters to book subsidised coach travel to their protest at #CPC15. Towards the bottom of the list I found this

I was surprised to see a publicly-funded local government email address being used in this way, especially as most councillors are (rightfully) not allowed to use email addresses for political campaigning purposes. A visit to the Hartlepool council website however showed that Mr Jeffries was not listed as an elected member, though I quickly found this page which gave some more information about his role

In fact, a quick Google search returned dozens of references to Mr Jeffries' left wing  political activity in Teeside with each one giving his email address as a point of contact.

From this we must assume that either Mr Jeffries is a full time Trades Union organiser paid by Hartlepool taxpayers, or he is (as stated in his profile piece above) 'employed in local government' and using council time and resources to further his political agenda.

Ironically, in today's online edition of the Hartlepool Mail, the Labour Council Leader is blaming government cuts for the town's deprivation. Perhaps if the Council didn't employ trades union agitators at taxpayers' expense, they would have more money to spend on the core services their community needs.

I have this evening emailed the Council's Monitoring Officer asking if Mr Jeffries' use of Council resources is compliant with the council's code of conduct. 

UPDATED: here is my email to Hartlepool Council's Monitoring Officer, Peter Devlin

Dear Mr Devlin

I believe that you are Hartlepool Council's Monitoring Officer and I am writing to you in that capacity. If I have emailed the incorrect person, please accept my apologies and perhaps you would forward this email to the relevant Officer.

This evening I noticed on The People's Assembly website (link below) a list of contacts for supporters of The People's Assembly to book coach travel to attend a 'Reclaim Manchester' protest at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on Sunday 4 October 2015. I also attach a screen grab of the relevant section of that page, in case the page to which I refer is removed or changed.

As you will see, people from Hartlepool, Darlington, Middlesborough and Stockton are instructed to contact 'Edwin Jeffries' for further details and to reserve tickets on the coach. The email address provided for such contact is
Given Mr Jeffries is not an elected member of Hartlepool Council I assume he must be an employee of the Council as he has a email address. To avoid confusion would you kindly confirm:

1. In what capacity is Edwin Jeffries employed by Hartlepool Council ?
2. Whether the use of Hartlepool Council resources and a Hartlepool Council email server for the promotion of coach travel to a protest rally organised by a pressure group with no formal connection to Hartlepool Council is compliant with the Council's Code of Conduct and the terms and conditions of Mr Jeffries' contract of employment.

Thank you in anticipation of your reply.

Andrew Kennedy

The lady at the end of our table looks remarkably like the Home Secretary

Conservative Home today has their usual round-up of the runners and riders for the post-Cameron leadership, and I noticed Theresa May was still "on the rise". This is what CH printed: 

  • Theresa May: In generational terms, the Home Secretary is an oldie, having entered the Commons in 1997.  In political terms, though, she is evergreen.  Osborne, if he succeeds Cameron, might well seek to demote her out of the top three posts – perhaps to Defence.  But she will surely stand against him in the contest to come, and he will presumably want to keep her on board if he defeats her.  She might not want to stay on in such circumstances, but she would probably have the option – and can thus stay in the Cabinet until 2020 if she wants to.

I have never blogged about the Rochester & Strood by-election and I am not about to do so now, but there is one Theresa May story which deserves to be told. 

All MPs and Ministers visited Rochester & Strood at least three times during the campaign, including Theresa May. During one such visit there were concerns from Special Branch relating to security, and for whatever reason she did not go out doorstep canvassing. Many Ministers might take this as a cue to return to Westminster, but this did not happen. She looked around and saw a large team of volunteers hand-writing envelopes, and without complaint, hesitation or persuasion she joined them. As did her husband who had travelled to Kent with her. And there they sat, for three or four hours, chatting to volunteers and hand writing envelopes. In fact, she was so low-key about it that one volunteer, who was sitting four or five places along the table, came up to me and said, 

"Don't you think the lady at the end of our table
looks like the Home Secretary?"

I will leave the story there with no further comment, other than I found it truly remarkable that someone who held one of the great "Offices of State" for almost five years should still be so charming and grounded.