Thursday, 25 October 2018

Best bits....


Regarding this autumn newsletter. I really don't have time to write three stories, so I have sent you a copy of my annual report to my parish councils. Perhaps you could read through and pick out the best bits. I'm very busy you know.

Dear Councillor xxxxxxxxxxx

Thanks for that. I have now read through it twice and I am struggling to find the three 'best bits' to which you refer. Could you narrow it down a bit for me?

Best wishes

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Chairman's Christmas Reception

To book your tickets for the Chatham & Aylesford Conservative Association Chairman's Reception, hosted by Andrew and Steve at their apartment overlooking the River Medway and the North Downs, please use the link below. Space is limited to 25 guests. 

Please be aware we have two very friendly cats (Berty and Mavis) who will jump on you and demand attention, so if you don't like cats or have an allergy to animal fur, best not come!

How many tickets would you like?

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Suicide is no laughing matter

In life and politics I am far from a snowflake. I dish it out and I roll with the punches when they come my way. I don't think I have ever, in over 30 years, made an official complaint or demanded an apology. Politics is a rough business and if you cannot stand the heat get out of the kitchen. In Kent even my most hardened political opponents will begrudgingly admit that I always play the ball, never the man. 

But there are limits - and the poster which appeared at yesterday's People's Vote March simply crossed the line. 

In the late 1980s I lived in Southampton. My best friend at that time lived in a suburb called Woolston. There was nothing remarkable about Woolston, an average suburb on the edge of a city where old Victorian terraces jostled for space with post war estates and new build waterside properties. In the "postcode lottery" my friend had unknowingly drawn a dud. His waterside terrace was directly beneath the River Itchen Toll Bridge, which towered above. Twice in two years he was woken by the police and Health Service workers who had come to scrape the broken and twisted bodies of two poor wretched souls who, for whatever reason, decided death was easier than life, and had unwittingly selected the section of the bridge above my friends patio as their final cry for help. 

All along the handrails of the Itchen Bridge were posters from the Samaritans urging those looking into the face of their darkest demons to call for help. Another good friend Richard was one of those who answered the calls. He never spoke about his voluntary work, but occasionally he would miss our after-work pint as he has been up the night before until 6am listening to someone for whom a bottle of Nembutal and a razor blade seemed better companions than whatever came with the dawn. After three years he walked away, broken with emotion after someone he had spoken to for five hours committed suicide while he listened on the phone. 

I personally "came out" on this blog about five years ago. For me, the 'coming out' was not about coming to terms with my sexuality, I had done that thirty years earlier, but telling my own story about my battles with mental health, and in particular anxiety. But not even in my darkest hours did I consider suicide, though I know many who have, and two who actually did. 

The work the government is now doing to address mental health, loneliness, suicide and all the related issues is truly outstanding. I will always be hugely grateful to Greg Clark and Tracey Crouch for their support when I published my own personal story, as I will cherish the support I received from my husband Steve who stood with me unflinchingly throughout my ordeal, and ever since. 

Suicide, mental health and loneliness are human tragedies often beyond the understanding of those who have not themselves looked into the abyss. But just as you don't need to be Jewish to know anti-Semitism is wrong, so you don't need to have lived with mental health or considered suicide to know making them into jokes for cheap political gain is quite simply vulgar, hurtful and also wrong. 

I do not know who produced these posters, who paid for them or where they were displayed (I believe on a coach carrying People's Vote supporters from Chesterfield). However they came to be produced and displayed is now immaterial.

But whoever was responsible (and someone quite senior in that organisation must have signed them off) would do themselves and their campaign a lot of good if they had the courage and humanity to hold up their hand and say sorry for the hurt they have caused.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

The things they say

Something that really irritates me....

Whenever a parliamentary candidate is selected they invariably post a thank you message on social media and include the line "the hard work starts here."

For most marginal constituencies the hard work probably started decades ago, often before the new PPC was even born (and certainly before he/she had ever stepped foot in the town). And if the new PPC isn't elected, the hard work will continue after he/she has left for a safer seat.

I just think this phrase is very insulting (though almost certainly unintentionally so) to all those hard working volunteers who have spent a lifetime slogging away for no reward and little thanks to hear their new parliamentary candidate so easily and dismissively write off their past efforts.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Jingle Bells

It's the Christmas Raffle at West Kent Towers - and my thanks to Bill Hills who has just spent 4 hours solid franking almost 5,000 raffle ticket packs for the post!  And of course to the team of 7 volunteers (Gill, Owen, Chris, Glynis, Sue, Thelma and Janet) who packed them all. 

For those who follow what we do, here is this years appeal letter.


Good to see the very first post of my relaunched blog made it into the Atticus political gossip column in yesterday's Sunday Times. Just like the old days, though I do feel I told the story better. I suspect Roland White didn't want to name JP Floru in case of libel threats, though he need not have worried. I suspect seeing himself in as gossip column would be the highlight of JPs week. 

Friday, 12 October 2018

The Peoples' Vote. Keep up the good work chaps!

According to The Peoples' Vote, public opinion is changing. Apparently according to their latest poll 54% now favour remaining in the EU.

Shall we take a closer look at this seismic shift in public opinion. Just for clarity and accuracy.

Here is the final opinion poll taken on the eve of the EU Referendum on the 22 June 2016:

Support for staying in the EU was, err, 55%. Higher than The Peoples' Vote claim it is today.

So in truth nothing whatsoever has changed.

Keep up the good work chaps!

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

It's not a case of doing as you're told, it's a case of doing as you promised!

On Conservative Home a few days ago there was a somewhat tedious article from a chap who thinks being a councillor should be a sinecure and local Associations should have their rights to interview (and remove) non performing councillors curtailed. 

I will avoid the temptation to go through his article and tear it apart line by line. My views on the rights of Associations and Members are already well documented. But the general tone of his article needs addressing.

In West Kent I carry a fair number of emotional scars from standing firm in support of the right of my six Approval Committees to use the powers invested in them by the rules. Sometimes I think they make mistakes, sometimes I agree with them. Often I think they are too soft.  Contrary to popular belief (particularly from those not approved or re-approved)  I never express a view or intervene in the process. I am there to ensure the applicants are treated fairly, the rules are followed and the outcomes recorded. 

Where I perhaps do make a difference is in empowerment. Before each set of interviews commence I spend time with each panel to ensure they feel empowered to do what they think is right. And this involves a fair amount of time encouraging them to explore not just a councillor's work in the Town Hall, but all aspects of the Candidates' Agreement, which each of them signed before they were selected four year's ago. In fact, this agreement has been around and in use for 10 years, so a long serving councillor coming up for re-election in 2019 would have signed this form at least three times. 

Most of my readers will have seen it, but for those who have not - here is the section highlighting the "binding agreement" between councillors/candidates and the Association. 

The second, seventh and eighth bullet points are the ones most hotly contested. 

Every incumbent councillor interviewed this year (for elections in 2019) would have signed this identical form four years ago. No-one made them sign it or held a gun to their head. They did so knowingly and without coercion. It is therefore not unreasonable when someone signs an agreement for the committee empowered to uphold the process seeks adequate explanation when the evidence suggests the councillor has not done what they pledged to do four years earlier. 

Each and every one of us has parts of our job we don't like doing.  I absolutely love 50% of my job (the bits connected with campaigning and winning elections). I tolerate with good grace another 30% as it's vital to our success (fund raising, writing and managing financial appeals and overseeing the data capture of tens of thousands of VIs each year). And there is 20% of my job I bloody detest, mainly ongoing and pointless internal meetings where endless evenings of my life are frittered away listening to pompous bores droning on about what they haven't achieved and criticising the hard work of others.  

But just because I don't like meetings, or writing raffle ticket appeal letters, or typing-up endless and usually pointless pages of minutes, it does not mean that I would get away with not doing so. All of the above form part of the terms & conditions of my employment, which I signed before being employed. So I suck my teeth and get on with it. 

Just as "playing a full, active and constructive part in their branch and Association" "contributing to its financial success" and "co-operating fully with the Party's campaign strategy for elections including giving mutual aid to other Conservative candidates when asked" might not be among our councillors' favourite activities, given all the above formed part of the written agreement signed before being selected four years ago, they should just get on with it too with as much good grace as they can muster. 

And if a councillor has broken their written word and not fulfilled the terms of their agreement without good reason, they really shouldn't be too surprised when they are called to account. 

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Dysfunctional drunken neighbours

It's one thing having a laugh at a member of your own family, but when the deeply unpleasant, dysfunctional drunken bore of a neighbour does so.....

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Advice to angry councillors

I'm back!

They say "politics is show business for ugly people" and with the exception of Andrew Bowie, I suspect this is true. So when dozens of people approached me at CPC18 and said "we miss your blog" or "when are you going to start blogging again" the inner egotist couldn't resist.

So I'm back. And to mark my return I want to tell you a story. 

It was Monday 11 July 2016 and a somewhat motley group of radicals, Libertarians and insurgents had gathered in a splendid drawing room of a Georgian terrace in Cowley Street. We were Andrea Leadsom's Campaign Team. None of us had previously worked on a national leadership campaign and I suspect if truth be told we were all slightly more nervous and apprehensive than we admitted (either to each other or to ourselves). 

Almost all of us had worked in some capacity on the Vote Leave campaign and we all knew each other by reputation if not in person.  Man for man. Woman for woman. Skill for skill, we were as good as Team May.  Although slighted daunted by what I was taking on, my job "Campaign Director in the Field" was a comfortable fit for my background and experience. It would have been my responsibility to get Andrea around the UK in front of Conservative members in the constituencies. Each member of the team (covering digital communications, speechwriting, policy and development, finance and compliance, logistics, broadcast and print media etc) had equal experience; all we lacked was experience of working together. 

I will leave that story to another time, but last week in Birmingham I was honoured to welcome Andrea to a private dinner I hosted for friends and clients of my consultancy Andrew Kennedy Campaigning Ltd. As I introduced Andrea, I recounted an amusing story from that fateful morning. 

Our Campaign HQ was based in the home or Sir Neil and Lady Thorne in Cowley Street, the same property which had been used for John Major's "back me or sack me" leadership campaign in 1995. 

At about 10am Lady Thorne called me into her study.  "I'm just wondering what you chaps are doing for lunch?" she enquired. Before continuing, "When Mr Major was here in 1995 I arranged a rota of 'cabinet wives' to cater for lunch, but that soon fell flat, so most days Viscount Cranborne would send around a Fortnum's Hamper, which was delivered in his Rolls Royce by two liveried footmen."

It was at this time I realised just how the Conservative Party had changed when I heard myself say, "Oh please don't worry Lady Thorne, we have a lunch rota too, and today it's JP Floru's turn to pop around to Tesco Express to buy the sandwiches."

And so it was.... at 10am JP did indeed pop out to Tesco to buy the Team Leadsom sandwiches, and when he got back it was all over. Perhaps we should have organised the Fortnum and Mason hamper after all. 

One day I will tell the story of the end and how we managed to totally destroy Angela Eagle's Labour Leadership Press Conference.... watch this space.