Andrew Kennedy is the Group Agent & Campaign Director in West Kent. He blogs at www.votingandboating.blogspot.com.
This week, I had planned to write about the rise of Momentum and the predicament of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. But then – I thought to myself – do the readers of Conservative Home really want such a serious topic, on what is the last Bank Holiday before Christmas, when hopefully the sun is shining and you have better things to do?
So instead, I have chosen a lighter topic – a collection of “outtakes and bloomers” from my life as an Agent; the stories which normally come after the second bottle of wine has been opened at dinner parties – and some only once the port has been passed.
It is also written in response to claims that West Kent is “perfect”; that we only talk about our successes. But none of us is perfect, and here is the evidence…..
Lost in the suds of time
Back in the early 1980s, I was Chairman of Wallasey Young Conservatives. At the time, the Association owned a grand building in its own grounds, in which we held the annual summer garden party. Discovering the first-floor kitchen knee-deep in soap-suds, after having put Fairy Liquid in the dishwasher, I found a tea-tray and started shovelling the suds out of the window as fast as I could…not realising that our MP, Lynda Chalker (then Deputy Foreign Secretary) was standing beneath trying to draw the raffle. It took quite some time for her – and her security officers – to forgive me.
Paws for the Poll
My first Parliamentary campaign took place 1987. In a letter sent to 800 Party members seeking help for the forthcoming election there were a number of tick-box options, including the following: “We will need help transporting Conservatives to the poll. Please bring a cat if you have one.” Spell-check (of course) didn’t pick up the error, but fortunately our sensible members brought their cars, not their cats!
I am taking Denis Thatcher back to the railway station in my own car, after he had kindly addressed a fund-raising dinner:
“What the **** is that?!”, he asked animatedly.
“It’s my car, Mr Thatcher.”
“Your car!? Really? Blimey. What is it?”
“It’s a Citroen 2CV, Mr Thatcher.”
“Oh! French! That explains it. Is it far to walk?”
To an unknown lady, who walked into my office three days before a general election polling day -
“I am so sorry, but would you mind seeing my secretary. I am stressed, irritable, I haven’t slept or eaten for two days, every bone in my body aches, I’ve got 20 answerphone messages to deal with, and I’ve run out of fags. And if that’s not bad enough, in 30 minutes bloody Angela Rumbold will turn up, and I haven’t got a clue who she is, or what I’m going to do with her!”
Unknown Lady, “Well, that’s an unusual greeting! I’m ‘Bloody Angela Rumbold’!”
Open letter, insert foot
Following our unexpected victory in 1992 I thought it was an ideal time to contact lapsed members, encouraging them to rejoin. My somewhat over-triumphant letter opened with “1992 has been an outstanding year for us.” This seemed to go down well with the target audience…apart from our newly-former MP, one of the few to lose his seat! The letter clearly hurt, as he wrote about it many years later in a compendium of stories published by Iain Dale.
At a West Kent fundraiser for 40:40 Target Seats:
“Who’s that old duffer talking to Charles Gadd?”
Lady sitting next to me at my table, “That’s my husband!”
The Distinguished Old Man of Threadneedle Street
I was at a branch garden party, and chatting to a distinguished elderly gentleman, giving him the benefit of my wisdom on supply-side economics. Following a 15 minute conversation, during which he politely entertained my views, we parted on a very pleasant note. “You know a thing or two about economics”, I said. “Thank you, as do you”, he replied. In my next conversation with the host, I said: “That chap seems to know a bit about economic policy”, to which he replied, “I should think so! He’s the former Governor of the Bank of England.”
The Tunbridge Wells Annual Dinner is a major social and fundraising event in our local calendar. It is run with super-efficiency by a team of volunteers who insist on having various sub-committees for each aspect of the event, and they kindly invite me to every meeting.
Having sat through the “Menu Sub-committee”, the “Table Decoration Sub-committee”, and the “Auction Sub-committee”, I soon realised that these were more competent than I am in making such arrangements, and that my presence was therefore totally unnecessary. I therefore declined the offer to attend the “Raffle Sub-committee”, since I didn’t think there was anything of value I could add. My only advice was to buy “five different books of tickets”, so that guests might buy a strip from each book.
Come the night of the dinner, all seemed to be going well when our Guest of Honour, Eric Pickles, was invited to draw the raffle. “56 Green”, he announced in his confident Yorkshire tones. “Over here!”, shouted a delighted lady. “I’ve got 56 Green too!”, said the man next to me. “So have I!”, piped up the President’s wife. “And me!”, shrieked one of our councillors. “As have I”, bellowed a retired Colonel at the back. Suddenly, the horror of the situation dawned on me, the Raffle Sub-committee had taken my advice, and bought “five different books of tickets”: sadly, they were all green.
This resulted in the winners being chosen by the serial number – not helped by the fact that half the guests couldn’t find their reading spectacles, and the other half had to turn up their hearing aids. After almost an hour, even the ebullient Pickles was beginning to flag when, finally, someone claimed the traditional last prize…the Lily of the Valley talcum powder.
So there you have it! West Kent has its triumphs, and its disasters too. But, like most people, we are usually happier to talk about what’s going right rather than what is going wrong … unless it’s a Bank Holiday Monday at the end of the “Silly Season”.