This diary is written by a Parliamentary candidate contesting a marginal seat in May.
I have an Association meeting tonight. Some classic material for my candidate’s diary, and I take my notebook.
I arrive at the offices which are rather unfortunately located near the town’s sewage works, which enhances the sense of duty I feel as I approach. Tonight is the AGM, and all of the town’s (population 35,000) Conservative members are expected to attend. All 19 of them.
They are a stoic bunch. They command my respect and get it. They have trounced year after year up and down pavements for candidates they may or may not have liked, with no encouragement from CCHQ, for which they still seem to have a strange sort of fear. At the last election they significantly closed the gap on an MP sitting for 15 or more years.
They are dismayed; their efforts and calls for assistance from CCHQ remain unrecognised. I am due to sum up at the end and give a ‘call to arms’. Something that is never easy. I am not comfortable asking 80-year-olds to pound the pavements with me. But with a lack of new members what choice do I have? They are all thrilled that I have joined and repeatedly ask me to get new members. Trouble is, I have asked all of my friends and neighbours, and not one was prepared to join the Conservative Party. And yet we garner thousands of votes in this town. Odd. Perhaps not.
The AGM goes well. At the end my Chairman informs me that CCHQ want to see me and some other candidates later that week. I have been working hard in my constituency, have built a good team (of non-members) and “perhaps can bring some good news back to the Association”, she says.
I have never been to CCHQ. I do not know what to expect. They certainly seem to speak to me with a degree of disdain, which I find unsettling. I consider that I have left a very good professional job to fight for the party in an important seat in 2015, doing something I believe in, rather than chasing the bank notes like my friends. I am running as a candidate without a wage, to help the party to get into national power.
I may have misjudged the meeting that Friday. I was right about the rows of charmless young people. They all seemed to be working hard; on what, I was not entirely sure. Last year someone from this office ruined a great budget from George Osborne by pushing out a poster about bingo that led directly to some public ridicule for me. Never mind. There’s always this year’s.
The group of us are informed that we are not to represent our constituencies as Conservative candidates for parliament, but instead must run along to the nearest targeted seat and start delivering leaflets, which for me is many miles away. The secret programme is called the 40/40 plan, oddly similar in name to a game I used to play in my childhood during the seventies. I thought I was sacrificing my career for the party; I get the impression that on the contrary, I am lucky to be asked to volunteer my services in another seat.
What about the people of my constituency or my team and association?” I bleat. I am assured that “we’ve been doing this for 22 years and we know what we’re doing”. I manage to stop myself remarking that we haven’t won an election for that precise period of time either, and perhaps the coincidence needed exploring a little more.
I call my Chairman from outside the office. The Thames looks angry, and I feel a little that way myself. My Chairman answers after one ring – she has clearly been expecting my call. She asks if it was encouraging – I lie, and say very. I say that we are doing well and must continue down our current path. Why do I lie?
Because she doesn’t deserve that. There is clearly a disconnect here. The stoic soldiers in the ssociations are battling on for their town, but unless it fits the National Plan – whatever that is this time – they cannot expect any support from the party they go out and argue for, take abuse for and represent proudly every day. This won’t end well, I tell myself – that’s how you hollow out support.
Perhaps the charmless kids know best. They do speak to me as if I have no idea about anything because I haven’t done ‘time’ in the party (is it prison?!). It worries me that I have thrown my lot in with a rather ruthless set who are perhaps not focused on promoting compassionate Conservative values, but almost exclusively on grabbing power. Is this the Nasty Party that I’ve heard of but don’t believe really exists?
I’m confused, because I’ve met some fantastic people in the party on this journey too, who are the complete opposite of this, and they far outweigh the breed I met today. I’ve met those who work tirelessly to support Conservative candidates, endlessly pound the streets every weekend and genuinely care for societal change for the better. It is clearly a broad church, but the fabric that holds it together are the associations, and the foot-soldiers. It’s not hard to work out that it’s them who should be driving this particular train, not the other way round. Perhaps it is going through a phase – membership has never been so low.
I will ignore today and carry on. That’s the problem when you believe in something; not a lot is going to stop you. Even some experienced campaigners with a rather dodgy track record