Saturday, 13 April 2019

Will we ever be forgiven?

Scattered around the North Downs is a collection of semi-rural communities which comprise the Aylesford North & Walderslade ward; the Tory heart of Tracey Crouch’s Chatham & Aylesford constituency. At the last election this ward was 70 per cent Conservative and, like the rest of Chatham & Aylesford, it voted by a margin of 65:35 to leave the EU.

I was delighted to have been selected as the Conservative council candidate for such a beautiful area.

Over the past few months, my friends and fellow campaigners from across the UK have told me horror stories of abuse on the doorsteps, and angry voters threatening to “never vote Conservative again” and expressing visceral hatred against politicians. So it was with a degree of trepidation that I recently started canvassing for votes in the run-up to local elections.

“I’m calling about your bins, not about Brexit” I would say with a confident a tone as I could manage, trying to deflect the anger I was expecting. Much to my relief, there wasn’t much anger at all.

In the smart houses with well-tended gardens of Walderslade, Aylesford Village and Blue Bell Hill people were not angry about Brexit, they were bored of it. Bored of it in the newspapers and on the news, bored with politicians talking about nothing else and bored that there is no end in sight.

They voted for Brexit and just wanted to get it over and done with. The Conservative vote was holding up and we were even finding new pledges of support.

Two nights ago, my campaign rolled into Eccles. Not the Eccles in Greater Manchester but a village of a thousand houses close to the banks of the River Medway.

With its terraced houses and newer builds, Eccles is far removed from the apple orchards and hop farms of rural Kent. When Theresa May spoke about the “Just About Managing” (JAMs), Eccles is the type of community she had in mind, families who have to work twice as hard for the type of lifestyle that other parts of my patch might take for granted.

My soft ride was about to come to an abrupt end. At the first door my leaflet was thrust back in my face. “Go away, just go away! You b*stards have stolen my dream.” This was a man in his fifties, a traditional Conservative voter and he was as angry as any voter I have ever met.
“You’re all liars and cheats”, he continued. I stood, absorbing the anger, partly because I agreed with him and partly because I didn’t know what to say. After a few minutes he allowed me to speak.

I told him that I had been campaigning for Brexit for 35 years, I pulled out my phone to show him photographs of me campaigning with Boris, handing out leaflets at a Vote Leave street stall and attending the Vote Leave Victory Party.

The man’s anger abated and he shook my hand, saying he would think about voting for me on a personal basis before adding, “I suspect you will eventually let me down like the rest of them.” This is what I faced, without exception, at every single door for the next two hours.

The anger of Eccles was not directed at me personally or even at the Conservative Party. It was aimed at the ruling elite. Those from across all parties who gave the people a right to speak and then refused to listen to what they had to say.

The voters of Eccles are typical of the people who Theresa May dedicated her premiership to on the steps of Downing Street. The people who the Labour Party once spoke up for but abandoned in their search for Guardian-reading Marxists. They feel abandoned and forgotten and who can blame them?

The European Union was formed with the ideal of keeping peace in Europe and preventing the rise of extremists. Yet across Europe, extremism is on the march again. A pattern is emerging of what happens when mainstream parties fail to listen; from the rise of the Freedom Party in Austria, the AFD in Germany and Marine Le Pen’s Front Nationale to Golden Dawn in Greece and the re-emergence of the Francoists in Spain.

In Britain our rebellion against the elites was in the form of 17.4 million people voting to leave the EU. If the mainstream parties fail to respect their views, who will those angry people turn to next to have their voices heard?

Andrew Kennedy is a Conservative Council Candidate in Chatham and Aylesford

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Where we dither we decline

Two of the issues I often address on this blog are “The Lifecycle of Conservative Associations” and “How the Party develops and supports its Association Officers”.


By “Lifecycle” what I mean is how an association’s fortunes can ebb and flow over a relatively short period of time. The two West-Kent case studies below illustrate the issue.



CASE STUDY 1

Ten years ago I was drafted-in to help an association which was in decline. Although in one of Britain’s most prosperous areas, and with a 20,000+ majority, this association was haemorrhaging money and had almost drained its reserves. The white elephant was the association’s headquarters; a grand five-storey building which the association could not afford to heat, let alone maintain. The building, including business rates, insurance, tax and basic maintenance, was costing the association almost £30,000 a year. The well-meaning secretary who had very few, if any, campaigning skills cost another £15,000 a year – these two costs were more than the association raised, resulting in £5-10,000 a year being taken out of reserves.

Over the next four years this association absorbed more than its fair share of time and resource but finally, with the support of a progressive team of officers, we turned things around. The property was sold, new branches were launched, new fundraising initiatives were implemented, and for 4 or 5 years the association was in the ascendant; winning elections, paying its bills, and even making a small surplus for a rainy day. This was achieved without drawing any capital from the Trust Fund which had been invested prudently by the Trustees.

Unsurprisingly my attention drifted to associations with more pressing needs. Two years ago the association just managed to break even. Last year it made a small but somewhat insignificant loss. This year they are back in the red. Old branches have folded, with little support and many of the new branches I launched have ceased to function. The fundraising has slipped with the same events we introduced 8 years ago being repeated without any innovation to the point where they became tedious and unappealing. Although the Trust Fund is intact the urgency to raise funds has dissipated as members and activists have become increasingly complacent. Once again time and effort will need to be spent to turn things around.



CASE STUDY 2

The story of Association 2 is as positive as Association 1 is disappointing. Association 2 joined the West Kent Group 5 years ago. They too had been losing money and were in decline. A rapid and unhelpful succession of officers led to a lack of stability and no clear sense of direction. 18 months  ago a new team of officers took over and immediately arrested the decline. At their first AGM they almost broke even, and this year have shown a profit of £6,000; their best result in over a decade. But their success is not just with fundraising. They have upped their game with campaigning, launched new branches, and have started gaining seats from the opposition. Their performance is one of the highlights of West Kent. Congratulations to all concerned.

The success of Association 2 is down to leadership; a strong and spiky chairman, who not only leads from the front, but is unafraid to challenge bad behaviour and poor performance.

We need more Andrea Thorpes!

I don’t accept the lame excuse of “a difficult national climate”. This year two of our associations have achieved record results, two others have “held their own”, and two more have gone backwards. The West Kent organisation itself has also had a record year, raising over £30,000 towards our running costs. The national climate has been the same for us all. All that is different is local leadership.

As one of Britain’s chief cheerleaders for grouping it is right that I address the negatives as well as the many positives. Keeping the plates spinning when you have just one association is relatively easy; doing so when you have 6 is more of a challenge. We rely, more than ever, on strong local leadership as priorities elsewhere demand attention.

I have written many times about the need for our Party to identify and develop strong leaders, at all levels of our organisation. Too often a vibrant organisation falls into the hands of the badge-collectors, bureaucrats and bumblers who take over because it is “their turn” without any agenda or any sense of clear purpose. When they do so the damage can take a decade to repair.

I have always maintained that “where we work we win”, it is also a truism that “where we dither we decline”.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

The Face of Fremlin Walk

Office chat this morning turned to previous jobs.... and guess what? Our new West Kent signing Kane Blackwell told us that in a previous life he was a model!  Who knew?

His modeling assignments have included First Choice Holiday Villas in Mexico, where he starred with a pretty girl who was 8 inches taller, so poor Kane had to stand on two copies of the Yellow Pages to kiss her. 

But his great break was staring as Ben 10 in the TV advert for Ben 10 Alien Force: Galvanic Gunship. 

Sadly all good things come to an end, and for Blackadder his next assignment as "The Face of Fremlin Walk" (a sub-prime shopping mall in Maidstone) probably indicated his career had peaked. And now he works at West Kent Towers.  


Monday, 14 January 2019

Beware of the Kitten Eaters

It's that point in the campaign when emotions are running high and we are all getting stressed. This usually results in angry emails from candidates who are understandably upset about the half-truths and misrepresentations in the latest opposition leaflet.

"What are you going to do about it?" Or "We must print and send out a rebuttal."

My advice in such circumstances is DON'T!

Imagine this scenario..... Labour deliver a leaflet claiming, "The Conservative candidate eats kittens."

1. Labour loyalists read the leaflet and believe it as they want to believe the worst about you. But they we're never going to vote for you anyway.

2. Genuine floating voters will probably read it, but being fair and open minded will discard it as "spin".

3. Conservative voters, who will turn out for you, will probably not read a Labour leaflet and therefore will be blissfully ignorant about the cruel and untrue accusation. And if they do happen to read it, will discount the accusation as a "preposterous Labour lie."

We deliver a rebuttal. "I DON'T EAT KITTENS" says angry Conservative candidate.

1. Labour voters (who are the ones who believed the accusation probably won't read your leaflet. And those that do will say "well.... he would deny it, wouldn't he. Bloody Tory."

2. Floating voters, who will probably read the leaflet, will say "why does he need to deny such a ridiculous thing. What has he got to hide?"

3. Conservative voters, who are unlikely to have read the Labour leaflet, will almost certainty read yours and will now wonder why you have gone to the trouble of denying something they didn't know anything about.

What will have also happened...

EVERY voter in your ward will have received TWO leaflets talking about you being a kitten eater. And NO leaflets talking about low Council Tax, good services and your record as a champion for local residents.

My advice has therefore always been the same.

NEVER allow the opposition to dictate the campaign narrative.

NEVER justify a lie by repeating it.

NEVER let your opponents see they have irritated or upset you.

NEVER be distracted into talking about the issues they want rather than the issues we want.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Where's my money? Hair today - gone tomorrow!

As well as being our hardworking West Kent Agent and a Borough Councillor, Jon "Paperclips" Botten is also in charge of fundraising for his local branch in Tonbridge, and on 17 January he is hosting a fish and chip supper with Angus MP, Kirstene Hair. 

But all is not well with the finances!

When the Association's book keeper published the draft accounts, nothing was showing against the Tonbridge branch quota as income for this event, prompting an enquiry from Paperclips "where's our money gone?

After a great deal of head scratching, back came the reply:

"My knowledge of Scottish MPs is limited. Sorry. When I saw entries in the ledger for K Hair Event I assumed it was an evening about hair products and allocated the income to the Woman's Committee."

I should place on the record that our book keeping is outsourced and he is not a Party member!