Tuesday, 29 November 2016

An Audience with Lord Lamont of Lerwick

Over the past two years the west Kent Group have hosted a wonderful range of guests at our regular "An Audience with..." series, including Baroness Trumpington, Lord Trimble, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sir Nicholas Soames, Charles Moore, Lord (Kenneth) Baker and Boris Johnson MP. 

I am now pleased to confirm our first confirmed guest for 2017. 

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord (Norman) Lamont will be interviewed on stage by Tom Tugendhat MBE MP on  Thursday 23 February 2017 at 7pm at the E M Forster Theatre within the grounds of Tonbridge School.

The Rt Hon Lord Lamont of Lerwick (Norman Lamont) was born in the Shetland Islands where his father was the islands’ surgeon.  After reading Economics at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge he worked for N M Rothschild & Sons and became director of Rothschild Asset Management.  

In 1972 Norman Lamont was elected as Member of Parliament for Kingston-upon-Thames in a by-election. He served in successive governments under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, including stints at Energy, Industry, Defence and the Treasury.  He served as Chief Secretary to the Treasury whilst John Major was Chancellor, and became Chancellor of the Exchequer in November 1990, when John Major was elected Leader of the Conservative Party. During the leadership election he ran John Major’s campaign.

Norman Lamont was the government’s key negotiator on Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) which led to the Maastricht Treaty and the single currency, to which he was strongly opposed. Lamont set out two objectives: first to ensure Britain did not have to join the single currency and second, to ensure the opt-out was legally water-tight. To the surprise of his officials, he achieved both objectives.

Under Lamont’s Chancellorship inflation fell dramatically, the economy started to recover from the recession, and tough measures to reduce the deficit were taken. Britain was ejected from the ERM which most commentators believed we had joined at an unsustainably high rate under John Major’s period at the Treasury. 

In the weeks immediately following the UKs withdrawal Lamont appeared sanguine, telling journalists in Washington that his wife had heard him ‘singing in the bath that morning’ and in May 1993 when asked about his term as Chancellor, replying Je ne regrette rien. Three weeks later Lamont resigned, refusing a demotion to become Secretary of State for the Environment. He subsequently delivered his now famous resignation speech, accusing the government of being in office but not in power’ and stating that the Prime Minister had instructed him not to resign during ’Black Wednesday’ and had allowed him to carry the can. Sir Alan Walters, Economic Advisor to Lady Thatcher, described Norman Lamont in his post ERM actions, “to be not only the most effective but also the bravest Chancellor since the War.”

In 1994 Lord Lamont hit the headlines at the Conservative Party Conference by saying he would see no “unambiguous” benefit from Britain’s membership of the EU and one day we might have to choose between being in a European state of leaving the EU. He campaigned for the Leave side in the recent referendum.

At the 1997 General Election the Kingston-upon-Thames constituency was abolished in boundary changes and he was adopted for Harrogate, which was lost in the nationwide anti-Conservative swing at that election. In 1998 he was elevated to the House of Lords by William Hague as ‘Baron Lamont of Lerwick’.

We are delighted to welcome Lord Lamont to West Kent and look forward to hearing his personal account of his time in government under Margaret Thatcher and John Major and his views on how to handle Brexit.

Tickets for An Audience with Lord Lamont are £15.00 per person for the show (or just £12 if booked before 20th December 2016), or £30.00 per person if you would like to stay for the after-show “Wine and Canape” Reception. 

To reserve your tickets using a credit/debit card or PayPal, please use the payment button below. Alternatively, please send a cheque (payable to West Kent Conservatives) to Campaign HQ, Suite 3, Business Centre, Commercial Road, Paddock Wood TN12 6EN.

How Many tickets?

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Six great Party Chairmen and the difference they made

The post of Chairman of the Conservative Party is widely regarded as a poisoned chalice.

The appointment is the personal gift of the Party Leader, but the holder of the office must balance many competing demands, from managing the finances and creative chaos at CCHQ, motivating and enthusing the voluntary party in the country, defending the Party’s public image and reputation in the media whilst always maintaining the Party Leader’s confidence and support. It is a broad skill-set possessed by few, including sadly several of those who have held the office.

The first Conservative Party Chairman (from 1911-1916), was Arthur Steel-Maitland and there have been 43 since, with an average term in office of just 2 years and four months. This average tenure is extended however by six Chairmen who were in- situ for five plus years: remove them from the calculation and the average term is just over 18 months. With such short periods at the helm, it is little wonder that so few have made any lasting impact and one or two are not even remembered.

During my time in the Party (as a volunteer or agent) I have “served” under 23 of them, starting with Lord Thorneycroft in the late 1970s (yes, I started young). It is these Chairmen I am going to examine, and they tend to fall into three categories:

Consolidators: Post-election appointees with a remit to ‘calm things down’ after a period of upheaval and ensure internal housekeeping is done before the campaign to come. I would include in this group John Selwyn-Gummer, Peter Brooke, Caroline Spelman, Sir Norman Fowler and Cecil Parkinson (2nd time around) – he is, to my knowledge, the only person to be appointed Party Chairman by two different leaders.

Campaigners: Attack dogs with a good campaigning reputation to put the party on a war footing and see us through a General Election. Norman Tebbit, Chris Patten, Brian Mawhinney and Cecil Parkinson on his first incarnation).

Reformers: These are fewer in number and often their zeal for reform comes after their appointment and subsequent understanding of what really needs to be done. I would place Francis Maude into this group and, of course, Lord Feldman. But the greatest and most successful reformer of all, must have been Lord Woolton (1946-1955). I think it is no surprise that both Feldman and Woolton had similar backgrounds. Both were very successful businessmen before getting involved politically. Both were brought into CCO/CCHQ with the specific task of reshaping it after a difficult period of decline, and perhaps most importantly, neither felt constrained by their past emotional connections or misplaced loyalties to a party structure clearly not fit for purpose.

So, putting aside the present incumbent and all those whose tenure predate my own involvement, who were the five great Party Chairmen, and why?

The following list is mine alone, though in compiling it I sought the views of my blog readers and I am grateful to several senior members of the National Convention who shared their own thoughts in confidence. So, in no particular order:

Lord Tebbit was a Rottweiler and in the mid-1980s he appealed to the heart and soul of Thatcher’s Britain and to the new generation of Party activists. His political skills were at their strongest and his narrative successfully hit its target audience. He oversaw a sharpening of CCOs printed and broadcast message. “The Next Moves Forward” campaign gave new direction and purpose to a government fighting its third election and in danger of looking tired. It is a shame that the biographies and history books have focused on his 1987 rows with Lord Young and Thatcher’s “wobbles” mid campaign, which damaged their relationship. 

David Cameron’s friend and loyal lieutenant, he took over a party in financial collapse, restored its balance sheets to the black, reformed CCHQ and gradually won the grudging respect of the membership, despite one or two own goals. He clearly had no political ambitions of his own and took on a difficult role as a favour to his friend. Over time he grew in confidence and stature. By the time I contributed to his Party Review, he was on top of his game and knew exactly where we needed to go. It is a shame his early departure led to a watering down of those changes, and I fear the Party will live to regret that. I was pleased when every mention of his name in Birmingham drew warm and much deserved applause.

Ken (Lord) Baker took on the role in the darkest days of the 1987 government during the poll tax riots and whilst the government was tearing itself apart over Europe and the leadership. His confident and optimistic media performances provided hope and stability, and his handling of the 1990 local election meltdown, by focussing the media’s attention on the only two good results in the UK (Wandsworth and Westminster) was nothing short of genius. By co-incidence, I greatly look forward to welcoming Lord Baker to West Kent this coming Thursday.

A man whose intellect and moderate demeanour made him an unlikely choice for an election Chairman, but who is widely acknowledged for delivering a victory few of us expected in 1992. “Labour’s Double Whammy”, “Labour’s Tax Bombshell” and “gobsmacked” are the three defining phrases of that campaign, which was ruthlessly “on message” and waited for Labour to implode.

I believe Francis Maude’s tenure is overlooked and underrated. He came in at a bleak period, after three dreadful election defeats, and he had the courage to speak truth to those who probably didn’t wish to hear it. He recognised that the Conservative Party’s image at that time was so bad that “it was damaging good conservative policies” and he implemented a series of reforms which not only paved the way for David Cameron’s leadership but also changed the party’s position and image which was necessary for it to win in 2010.

The above list however excludes the man who, for me, was the greatest Party Chairman of them all, even though he died two years before I was born.

Lord Woolton took over a battered, bewildered and defeated Conservative Party in 1946 and remained its Chairman until 1955. His nine years at the helm was the longest ever for one individual to hold the office. He reformed constituency finances, widened party membership, raised the money to recruit and train a new generation of agents, reformed parliamentary selections, limited the amount parliamentary candidates could donate to just £25, thus reducing the tendency to select only wealthy men, and in doing so forcing Associations to widen their base and seek new support. He strengthened the Research Department, launched the Young Conservatives and brought in major reform at local level by renewing the Party’s local government selection rules.

Lord Woolton realised that political parties could only rebuild and reconnect from the bottom up, not the top down. A lesson we should remember today as the political establishment reels from the victories of those who seek to “drain the swamp” and “take back control”.

Effective Party Chairman Poll

In my ConHome column tomorrow I am writing about past Party Chairmen and how they are perceived.

Based on "wisdom of crowds" I would appreciate your help. From the list below, please select the holder or holders of that office you think were the most successful and impressive Conservative Party Chairmen. You may select more than one. Then, if you feel strongly, please feel free to use the "contact me" widget to the right to tell me briefly why you made that choice.

I am using this information for background research only and nothing you say will be attributed in any form.  Thank you for your help!

Please select the most effective Conservative Party Chairman in recent years

Cecil Parkinson (1981-1983)
John Selwyn Gummer (1983-1985)
Norman Tebbit (1985-1987)
Peter Brooke (1987-1989)
Kenneth Baker (1989 - 1990)
Chris Patten (1990 - 1992)
Norman Fowler (1992-1994)
Jeremy Hanley (1994-1996)
Brian Mawhinney (1995-1997)
Cecil Parkinson (1997-1998)
Michael Ancram (1998-2001)
David Davis (2001-2002)
Theresa May (2002-2003)
Lord Saatchi joint (2003-2005)
Liam Fox (2003-2005)
Francis Maude (2005-2007)
Caroline Spelman (2007-2009)
Eric Pickles (2009-2010)
Baroness Warsi (2010-2012)
Lord Feldman (2010-2016)
Poll Maker

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Still hungry to win!

Even after ten years as Agent in this lovely corner of Kent, I am still at times overwhelmed by the support and dedication of our local members.

One example - we are presently fighting a council by election in Tonbridge Trench ward and on this cold, grey and wet November day I counted over 40 activists involved in various campaign-related activities, including...

  • A team of eight delivering newsletters
  • Sixteen on the doorsteps canvassing VIs
  • Twelve manning the Phone Bank making almost 500 calls in two hours
  • Four working in shifts data-capturing surveys and canvass data
  • Six hand writing and packing envelopes
  • Plus four more who came in to pack the Christmas Draw reminders!
People often comment on our strength in West Kent - the reason for this isn't just because we have a fully functioning office with paid staff, or because we have enough money to spend on colour leaflets and surveys, or because we use the latest campaign technologies. It is because our members and activists take absolutely nothing for granted. They fight for every vote and every seat as if the future of democracy depended on it.  Tramping the streets tonight were members in their 80s and others who left home at 7am to commute to their desks in the City and joined the canvassing team directly from the train back to Kent.

No Agent or candidate could ask for a better team.

Here is a roll call of today's team: Nicolas Heslop, Jon Botton, David Cure, Thelma Huggett, Vivian Branson, Pam Bates, Georgina Thomas (and her mother!), Glynis Coates, Gill Levine, Sophie Shrubsole, Allan Sullivan, Ben Walker, Trevor Walker, Dougie Dick, David Lettington, Jon Botten, Michael Payne, Paul Cooper, Elliott Self, Janet Sergison, Owen Baldock, Chris Baldiock, Phil Thomas, Howard Rogers, Mark Rhodes, Richard Long, Max Martin, Stephen Frome, Frixos Tombolis, Mark Beaumont, Brian Moss, Pat Moss, Catherine Adams, David Adams, Jacques Arnold, Dennis King, Piers Montague, Sylvia Woodward, Matt Boughton, Joe Mamo and Sarah Hohler. 

Conservatives Calling

Great team working at West Kent Towers tonight phoning residents of Trench on behalf of our by-election candidate, Georgina Thomas. Hitting our target of 200 calls per hour! 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Into battle

Last month a wonderful lady, a good friend and a true champion of her community, Cllr Jean Atkinson, died following a protracted illness. Jean reminded me of my mother: a working class Conservative whose politics was defined by growing up surrounded by Socialism and seeing what it did to people, their hopes and their dreams. 

In 2007 on her third in attempt she won her home ward (Trench in Tonbridge) - and in doing so became the first ever Conservative councillor for a seat which had been solidly Labour since it was created 60 years previously. She held on in 2011 and again in 2015, increasing her vote share to 53%. An amazing achievement.

The wheels of democracy must keep turning, and a by-election has been called for Thursday 8 December. We have selected a fabulous local candidate, Georgina Thomas, who was born, raised and educated in the ward and still lives there. Georgina is the first of our "post referendum" members to be selected to fight a seat, I suspect she won't be the last. 

If any of my readers fancy a day out in Tonbridge, we will be doorstepping and delivering every day up to 8 December. If you can help please let me know. 

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Terms of office co-terminus with the election cycle could reap huge rewards

One area of Party Reform which has so far avoided comment or criticism, and which could bring significant benefit, is the decision to change the “term of office limit” from three to five years.

At present, Association (and branch) officers are limited to three-year terms, which may be extended by one further year under exceptional circumstances, provided this is agreed in advance by the Area Management Executive. The “exceptional circumstance” almost always being a General Election year, when it would be foolish to change the Officers a few months before polling day.
Whether we like it or not Parliament has now chosen a fixed five year cycle whereas every other local election (parish, district, county, mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner) run on four year terms. Consequently, General Elections will ‘travel’ through the cycle over time.  It is therefore highly probable that under the present “three year rule” an Association officer team could start and end their period and never fight a parliamentary election. There would be little enthusiasm in reviewing past failures as the incumbent officers were not there when the mistakes happened, and little incentive to introduce bold and difficult reforms, as they would not be present to see them implemented. Too often that vital period in between parliamentary elections when Associations have the time and space to implement structural change, simply go to waste.

The new rules allowing five-year office terms should help change this, though officers will still be required to seek re-election annually. It will also be possible (in fact probable) that the five-year term will begin half way through this parliament and run until half way through the next. This will result in Associations still changing direction mid-term, which is far from ideal.
I would therefore go further. I believe Officers (at all levels, Association and branch) should be elected at a General Meeting following as soon as practical after a General Election, and should hold office for five consecutive years, unless they resign or are removed by a vote of no confidence. This would bring two major benefits:

1.     Stability: everyone involved would know that the team elected would be in situ for five years and that they would be responsible for the Associations development up to and including the next General Election, and all elections in between.

2.     Strategic: knowing that they would be responsible for winning the next General Election in their constituency no decisions, however difficult, could be deferred as “the next Officers might not like it” and a review of the last election’s strengths and weaknesses would not be a “whitewash” as those undertaking the review would not be reviewing their own work and keen to avoid honest appraisal.
Under the present rules, Association Officers must produce a business plan within three months of their AGM, which should be approved by the Executive Council and presented to the AME. Many Associations have no idea they need to do this and too often even those who do see it as an academic exercise.  Powerless AMEs are reticent to force Associations to comply, and consequentially many Associations stumble on with few strategic goals other than surviving another year.  Often when business plans are produced they are vague and unfocussed. One plan I saw recently contained three lines of type:

1.     Recruit more members

2.     Raise more money

3.     Launch new branches

This is not a business plan, it is a wish list. A proper plan should not just list objectives, but how they are going to be delivered, the expenditure required to achieve them, the benefit of doing so, how success will be measured and who is responsible for delivery. 
Each year the West Kent Office produces its own business plan, based on what we can do from the centre to help our participating Associations develop and grow. I produce this plan in conjunction with the West Kent Chairman, William Rutherford, and it is presented and approved to the Group Management Committee at the start of the year. One ongoing objective is to increase our donor base. This is how that objective was presented, it shows the objective, purpose, cost/benefit, who is responsible and how success (or failure) will be measured.

Under the new arrangements for electing officers for five years, I believe their first task after election would be to undertake a thorough and honest review of their Association’s successes and failures. CCHQ should invest considerable resource in providing the management tools to enable them to do this. Branches and internal organisations (CF, CWO, CPF etc) should be involved and have their own targets as part of the Association’s wider strategy. These should be reviewed on a regular basis by the Executive Council, thus giving this committee a real purpose in managing the Association’s progress rather than simply nodding through retrospective reports and managing decline. And we must be bolder and more progressive in our objectives and goals. For example:

·       Do we have the network in place to deliver a leaflet to every home within three days? If not how can this be rectified.

·       Do we have plan in place to ensure every house/voter is visited at least once during the five-year term?

·       Are we effective at communicating the Conservative message to every section of society, include young voters and the BME community? If not, what do we need to put in place to improve

·       Do we offer enough campaign support to our weaker neighbours and to help the party’s wider objectives, such as parliamentary by-elections? If not, how do we educate / inform our members of our obligations

·       Do we have sufficient poster sites on main roads and junctions? If not, what is the plan to achieve this?

·       What percentage of our pledges have a postal vote? What are we doing to increase this?

These are the type of strategic issues which Associations should be addressing, but sadly under the present system of “year to year survival” most do not. An honest and deep rooted review by a new officer team, elected immediately after a GE when memories are fresh, and involving all branches, councillors, the MP and key activists, might be better placed to manage change. Particularly if those involved know that they will be in place for five years and will be responsible for implementing change and delivering victory.

Too often we get so bogged down in the minutia of Association business that we forget that we are a political party whose sole raison d’etre is to fight and win elections, with the ultimate goal of securing a working majority in parliament. This does not mean that intermediate elections are not important, but nothing we do should be in isolation. Every leaflet delivered, voter canvassed, mailshot posted and council seat won should be a stepping-stone to future success.  Having our local leaders elected and responsible for delivering that success over an entire election cycle is an empowering change which should be grasped with enthusiasm.

Friday, 4 November 2016

We need more Ann Widdecombes and fewer Stephen Phillips'

It is now six years since the formidable Ann Widdecombe left Parliament and it is testament to her affection and support of the voluntary party that she still makes the 500 mile return journey from her home in Dartmoor to Kent two or three times a year to help us campaign and raise funds. 

Ann's straight talking and no-nonsense approach (along with her media profile since retiring) ensures there is never an empty seat nor a dull moment when she visits. Walking down a road is a nightmare: drivers hoot, people ask for selfies and passers-by shout and whistle. As you walk along you can feel heads turn and hear people say "is that who I think it is...." The only other politician with such reach is Boris Johnson. 

When last year we launched the West Kent 500+ Club and needed a big name to front it up, Ann readily agreed. Her face on the front of the flyer and her signature on the letter ensures they are read. And her endorsement has played no small part in the fact that over half of our 800 500+ Club members are from outside the party's membership list. 

Last night Ann returned to Kent to host a Cheese and Wine Reception for our 500+ Club members. Whilst here she picked the October, November and December winning numbers (£5,300 in prizes) and also presented "dividend cheques" to the five West Kent Associations for over £10,000 (that's right - over £10,000 raised from the 500+ Club in year one).

Ann is now almost 70 years of age. She has forged a lucrative career outside parliament: TV, Pantomime, lecturing on cruise ships and even an appearance at the English National Opera. She doesn't traipse back to Kent because she needs the money (we don't even pay her expenses) nor the attention (she gets that everywhere she goes). She does it because she supports the Conservative Party and wishes to help us win. 

We need more Ann Widdecombes and fewer Stephen Phillips!

Officers from Chatham & Aylesford receive their 500+ Club profit share of £1882.

Faversham & Mid Kent receive their 500+ Club profit share of £1252.
Maidstone & the Weald receive their 500+ Club profit share of £1395.

Tonbridge & Malling receive their 500+ Club profit share of £3382.

Tunbridge Wells receive their 500+ Club profit share of £2092.