Thursday, 7 September 2017

Launching "Andrew Kennedy Campaigning"



Earlier this week William Rutherford, Chairman of the West Kent Group, circulated a note to the local membership informing them of changes at West Kent Towers, which had been signed off several weeks earlier.

In a nutshell, my long-suffering and highly competent colleague, Jon Botten, has been promoted to Agent and is taking on many of my day-to-day responsibilities. Jon will now be responsible for the administrative management of our member Associations as well as most of my legal obligations as an agent, including nomination papers, election expense returns and management of campaigns. 

I will remain at West Kent as Campaign Director and Consultant with responsibility for strategy, working with our Members of Parliament, Councillors, Group Leaders and Candidates to develop campaign plans and win elections. I will also retain responsibility for activist training and several of West Kent's higher profile fundraising initiatives. 

As well as (rightfully) recognising Jon's talents and commitment to the West Kent Group, these changes will also release me two days per week to develop something which has been in my mind for many years; my own freelance campaign consultancy.




The West Kent Group is a huge success and will continue to develop and grow. I am proud of what I have helped to achieve and the many accolades we receive from members across the UK. But it is also fair to say that with our five figure majorities, the future of our country will probably not rest on what happens in the leafy suburbs of West Kent. The next election will be won or lost in Hastings, Eastbourne, Canterbury, Eltham, Lincoln, Peterborough and dozens of other marginal seats.





And sadly, it is these Associations that seldom have the money to pay a campaign professional; a vicious circle in which our best campaigners are working in the safest seats building up great majorities whilst we lose by a handful of votes the very seats we must win to form a government.

T
o try and break this vicious circle is exactly why I am today launching Andrew Kennedy Campaigning - offering freelance campaign advice, training and support to Associations, Councillors, Group Leaders, Members of Parliament and Candidates on an hourly or daily basis.

There are many freelance campaigners out and about - most with expensive Westminster offices and seeking high profile and glamorous campaigns to front. That is not the market I want or am aiming for. The most successful campaigns grow from the bottom-up, they are not imposed from the top down. My skill will be to use 30 years' experience to rebuild our grassroots campaign infrastructure so our Associations and candidates have the tools they need to run their own successful campaigns from within. 




The key services I will be offering are as follows


  • A constituency audit and report highlighting your Association's strengths and weaknesses, along with a road-map to take you from where you are to where you need to be to win.
  • Building a grassroots campaign infrastructure including pledge base, delivery networks and poster sites.
  • Training your activists and volunteers so they improve their campaign techniques and harvest better, more accurate data which can be used to win elections.
  • Identifying new local government candidates to both widen and deepen the pool of talent, and training your Local Government / Approvals Committee to ensure they identify and approve the best local candidates.
  • Data gathering through postal and hand-delivered surveys, doorstep and telephone canvassing.
  • Maximising differential turnout and postal vote recruitment.
  • Regular communications with target groups and swing voters
  • Maximising income from existing and new donor streams
As you can see, none of this is glamorous, but our future success relies on our local Associations and campaign teams having the skills and abilities to do these basic things effectively at all elections, not just in the three weeks before polling day.


So whether you are an:

ASSOCIATION OFFICER seeking to strengthen your local organisation,

MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT/ PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATE looking to maximise your incumbency advantage or improve your doorstep campaigning, or a

CONSERVATIVE COUNCILLOR OR GROUP LEADER working hard to retain / gain control of your local council......

then I may be able to help you.

Please visit my website to see what I can offer - and if we have never met, take a look at what those who have worked closely with me over many years have kindly written about me and my campaign skills. 

To contact me and discuss how I might be able to support your local campaign, please CLICK HERE





My speech to ConservativeProgress / London Area Conservatives Conference


Thank you very much for that warm and generous introduction.

And thank you to Nabil Najjar, Luke Springthorpe, Mo Fisher and Ian Twinn and everyone at Conservative Progress and London Conservatives for organising today’s conference. It is refreshing to have this opportunity to look forward positively to what we must do better next time, so that we can avoid that awful, gut-wrenching feeling we all had when the results of the exit poll flashed up on the TV screens at 10pm on the night of the election.

To plan for the future we must be honest with ourselves about what went wrong.  Our failures must not be brushed under the carpet, nor should the process result in a culture of blame and recrimination. But the Conservative Party owes it to its members, donors and activists to involve them in that debate.

And that includes to listening to opinions which may be unpalatable to those within the Matthew Parker Street bubble, opinions formed through tens of thousands of conversations on the doorsteps, and in the pubs, workplaces and dinner tables up and down the country.

To seek to exclude our members and activists from that debate and to allow those who were responsible for the campaign to be both judge and jury, would be a dreadful disservice to all those who gave freely of their time, energy and money to help secure a Conservative Government.

In 2015 I was invited by Andrew Feldman to contribute to the Voluntary Party Review. I gave detailed evidence and submitted papers on what we had achieved in West Kent, changes which resulted in one of the most successful “groupings” in the UK; a way of working which reduced costs and trebled the amount of money we had available to spend on campaigning.

A model which maximised efficiencies whilst ensuring the autonomy of Associations and protected their long held and strongly defended right to select their own candidates.   

To help prepare the ground for what we hoped would be a far reaching and fundamental reform, I also wrote several articles for Conservative Home, the first of which contained the following preface

“We must ensure that any changes are bedded-in before our next major electoral challenge. Whatever we do, we should not allow a small number of recalcitrant Associations to use self-interest to block essential reforms which in our hearts we all know must come.

The Party is in a unique position of strength. We have won an election that most people didn’t expect us to win. Our opponents are in disarray. We are ahead in the polls and our finances are strong.

The temptation is to do nothing – or simply to “tinker”. To do so would be a dreadful missed opportunity. It could be decades before the moons are in such favourable alignment again. Having helped to win the war, I really hope Lord Feldman and his group have the courage win the peace and bequeath a voluntary party fit for the future.”

That was written in the summer of 2015.
In the light of how little progress has been made and with the benefit of the 2017 campaign fresh in our minds, how prescient those words turned out to be.

The first lesson we must address is the institutional dysfunctionality of much of the voluntary party. Please note the word “much” – because throughout the UK we are hugely fortunate to have the loyalty and support of thousands of people who constantly give more than their fair share, which is just as well as we have even greater numbers who have no intention of pulling their weight.

In Kent as elsewhere we have members, many in their 80s and some in their 90s, many in poor health, who struggled from door to door delivering leaflets and canvassing for support. We had volunteers in the office six days per week, some for 8 hours a day, packing envelopes and manning the phones. And we even had members who took their entire annual leave to enable them to work full time, such was their determination to defeat the threat Jeremy Corbyn posed to our country.

But sadly we also have more than our fair share of laptop warriors, who think elections are won on the comments pages of Con Home or Political Betting. Those with sharp elbows who always seen to be front and centre of the photograph for any visiting Minister, but cannot be seen for dust when there is work to be done, and too many who see the Party as a vehicle for self-advancement and self-aggrandisement, with no intention of contributing to a common goal or shared endeavour.

Locally we must accept that the Conservative Party is a national brand with branches throughout the country, just like Sainsbury’s, NatWest Bank or Hilton Hotels.

Can anyone here imagine Sainsbury’s allowing a feud between a store manager and his assistant managers to continue to a point when the store does not open its doors or stack the shelves;

…but we allow feuds – often decades old – to result in dysfunctional Associations failing to meet even the most basic requirements set out in the constitution.

Can anyone here imagine NatWest allowing a branch manager to refuse to sell mortgages as she does not believe in them;

…yet we allow Chairmen and Management Committees to refuse to campaign or canvass or run GOTV as “they don’t believe in it”.


And can anyone here imagine Hilton Hotels employing people who continually lose customers due to an inability to use basic IT;

yet we elect as our local leaders people who lose votes and membership due to their inability to use email and social media.

I know of no other organisation which has such a laissez-faire approach to how its local branches work or are perceived; we have no Key Performance Indicators, impose no quality control, provide no training, turn a blind eye to continual non-performance and incompetence and fail to assess what, if anything, is being achieved.

Is it any surprise our field operations are falling continually further behind?

I acknowledge that the majority of activists are volunteers. But when a member seeks elected office, either as a councillor or a branch, association, county or regional officer, with that office comes duty and responsibility.

Responsibility to those who elect them.
Responsibility to their colleagues, and
Responsibility to the Conservative Party in whose interests they have been elected to serve. 

Those who seek office simply to advance their careers or promote their own agenda are seldom nett contributors to our success and would frankly not be missed.

The present proposals to tackle our decline are Multi Constituency Associations (or MCAs). I fear these are not only too little, but also too late and destined to fail.

My own experience of working with two federated groups of Associations bodes badly.

Putting four weak Associations with one or two strong ones usually results in the weak Associations giving up, secure in the knowledge of their stronger neighbours will pay the bills and do the work.

This results in further atrophy of the weak coupled with anger and resentment from those who are left to pick up the pieces.

In politics as in life; you cannot make the weak strong by making the strong weak.

In my area, the hardest and most demanding aspect of my job isn’t winning elections or raising the money; it is managing the often unreasonable and competing demands of six MPs, six Council Leaders, six Management Committees and 88 branch Chairmen, all of whom think their needs should take priority over everyone else’s.

Putting a fresh faced, enthusiastic yet inexperienced CCHQ trained 25 year-old campaign manager in charge of an MCA is almost certainly not going to end well. It is unfair on the members and unfair on the Campaign Manager to expect them to manage such a viper’s nest of competing egos.

So where do we go from here?

What is clear is no change = no hope. We cannot carry on as before.

We got away with it in 2015.
We scraped by with the support of the DUP in 2017.
We will almost certainly not be so lucky in 2022. 


Our failure cost us at least the 19 seats which we lost by a margin of below 1%; a stronger more focussed ground war would have delivered victory and provided Theresa May with a majority of 24.

To illustrate the problem we face at grassroots level I would like us to examine the statistics from Kent.

Kent is a solid Conservative county; we hold 16 out of 17 parliamentary seats with majorities
from 7,000 – 24,000 and we hold of 13 / 15 local councils.

In terms of activism, political strength and organisation I suspect Kent is as good as it gets for the Conservative Party and probably better than most. 

It is also a county where one third of the constituencies fall under the West Kent Group and the other two thirds do their own thing, so we can easily compare and contrast.

Take a look at the slide…


West Kent Group
(6 constituencies)
Rest of
Kent
(11 constituencies)
Premises, including rent, rates, heat, light, utilities


12%


23%
Internal admin, including postage, stationery, leases and rental and admin-specific salaries


19%


58%
Campaigning, including printing of newsletters, surveys, election leaflets and campaign-specific salaries



66%



16%
Miscellaneous

3%

4%



Across the UK our Associations spend around £3.2 million a year on campaigning. 

If that figure was increased to equal we spend in West Kent, we would nationwide be spending an additional £10million pounds each and every year on winning elections.

Imagine the difference that would make.

But, of course, we cannot do that because up and down the country we spend 80% of our income on:

·       Buildings we cannot afford to heat,

·       Offices that are seldom open

·       Well intentioned secretaries who are paid a wage to print tickets inviting people to cheese and wine parties which raise money to pay the secretary to print more tickets for cheese and wine parties

·       Expensive lease arrangements on risographs which produce poor quality leaflets which no-one wants to read

And if we are lucky, there will be a little bit left for a newsletter, though sadly in many areas there will be no-one available to deliver them and they will be hidden in the boot of our councillor’s car until they find their way to the recycling bin.  

There is a better way.  My proposal is to take the best of what we do in West Kent but scale it up. My plan is for the Party to establish a network of 25 Campaign Centres, each covering around 20 constituencies, with separate arrangements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We must not fall into the trap of working out what we can afford then squeezing the model to fit the money we have. We must work out what we need to win, then ensure the finance is in place to deliver victory. 

That means each Campaign Centre should cover sufficient constituencies to ensure it has the money and resource it needs to win rather than spending half its time and energy raising funds. This requires a base of 6,000 – 7,000 members.

Each Campaign Centre would employ

·       An experienced “grey beard” Campaign Director with the experience and confidence to knock heads together and focus minds

·       A Campaign Manager to assist with campaigning plus one additional CM for each target seat within the group.

·       An Administration Manager to manage contracts and supplies, data management, procurement and the day to day running of the office

·       A part time graphic designer to ensure our literature was produced to the highest standard and also specialist help to ensure we have a strong and vibrant presence of social media.

·       A part time secretary to support the Associations and branches

·       A part time book keeper to ensure the money is banked and recorded efficiently and to work with Treasurers to ensure we are legally compliant

·       All housed in a modern, accessible building with sufficient space to accommodate the staff comfortably and professionally.

Obviously the costs would vary from region to region, but around £220,000pa should on average be sufficient to finance salaries and infrastructure. This, of course, would be shared between twenty Associations.  

The cost could be covered by transferring membership income and the proceeds of the two annual draws from Associations to the Campaign Centre. 

Such a plan would negate the need for national membership and all the attendant risks involved whilst relieving Associations of the burden of collecting this money – something most don’t enjoy and few do well.

My plan would also guarantee the independence of Associations to do the things which are most important to them.

Each would retain their own Management Committee and Executive and the right to select their candidates run their internal affairs. 

The Associations only financial responsibility would be to raise money to fight elections, and they could do this from their patrons’ clubs, fighting fund appeals, social events and contributions from councillors and candidates. Their continued independence from CCHQ control would be guaranteed.

But most importantly we would finally professionalise the party throughout the UK; ensuring campaigning was based on local issues and local need, enable the best quality literature to be produced with strong local content, that we were legally compliant and that resources were directed to where they are needed most, which is not where most of them actually live.

These changes could be proposed by the Party Board, approved by the convention and ratified by a postal ballot of all members then implemented nationwide.  If some of the crusty backwoodsmen get angry and resign in disgust, then we should say thank you and goodbye. The price of failure is too high to allow progress to be derailed by those who look back to halcyon days that never were.

The opening paragraph of the Conservative Party Constitution is clear.

“the primary objective of the Conservative Association is ….to promote the objects and values of the Conservative Party; to provide an effective campaigning organisation; and to secure the return of Conservative candidates at all elections.”

There is no mention of our primary objectives to be to run garden parties, fall out with each other at Executive Council meetings and squabble over the ownership of the photocopier.

Until we face up to this reality, the influence of the voluntary party will continue to decline along with our worth.  Those of us who engaged with politics to win elections and bring about change must take control of the narrative and force change on voluntary party before it really is too late.    

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Letter introducing members to Blue Card Discount Scheme

Last week I posted a copy of our booklet highlighting the local shops and businesses participating in our Blue Card Discount Scheme. Today the scheme "went live" with around 300 local members receiving a copy of the booklet and their personalised discount card in the post. 

We have already taken a telephone call from one longstanding local member who said, "I have been a member of the Conservative Party for over 30 years and this must be the first time I have received a letter which was not requesting money or asking me to tramp the streets."




Sunday, 3 September 2017

When Jacob met Boris

Amused to discover that the winner of a bottle of Mumms Champagne signed by Boris Johnson in the West Kent Summer Draw was....Jacob Rees-Mogg's Mother-in-Law !

Friday, 1 September 2017

Drawing conclusions


And the winner is.....    Greg Clark MP draws the West Kent 2017 Summer Raffle


There was a great deal of discussion this year whether West Kent should run our Annual Summer Draw. Many felt that the draw, following so soon after the General Election (when members were incredibly generous with donations to the Fighting Fund), might be too much, especially as many members were angry or irritated by the outcome of the GE. 

After a great deal of debate we decided to go ahead, not least because we had already paid for the tickets to be printed before the GE was announced. I understand that the Conservative Supporters Club National Draw was cancelled. It was a close decision, and I understand why some people took a different view. We did however make reference in the appeal letter to our members' recent generosity and made it clear that we understood that some might not feel able to contribute again so soon after the FF appeal. 

In the end it was the right call. Although the profit from the 2017 draw was about 20% down on previous years, it still made around £7,000 profit for our local Associations (and that is after paying for the tickets to be printed, the prizes to be purchased and the cost of printing and posting the letters).  

The important point from this however is not whether or not we should have run the draw, but the importance of how it is run. Each year we have a debate on the value of sending "reminder" letters so in recent years I have kept a check of responses pre and post reminder. We also keep a note of the second book of tickets sent with the reminder, so we can trace when people have responded to the original letter or the reminder letter. This year...
  • 58% of tickets sales were is response to the original letter
  • 42% of ticket sales were in response to the reminder letter
In our case, that 42% was the equivalent to £3900 of revenue, money we would have lost had we not send a reminder. 

Thank you to everyone in West Kent for supporting the Summer Draw and the the office team who helped pack the envelopes, log the replies and fold the tickets for the "raffle drum".


Five become six....

We are delighted to welcome our friends and colleagues from Gravesham into the West Kent Conservative Group. 

Who will be Number 7?





Tuesday, 29 August 2017

West Kent's "Blue Discount Card" to be launched next week

A few weeks ago I informed readers of our new Members Affinity Scheme, something I had been thinking about for four years and have finally found the time and resource to get off the ground.

The logic behind the plan is simple; local independent retailers offer worthwhile incentives for Conservative Party members to use their shop in preference to the large chain stores nearby. This will hopefully drive footfall and new business, often at quiet times of the trading week, whilst we are finally in a position to offer a real tangible benefit for our local members.

This is not new - many years ago the party nationally offered something similar, but discounts on cases of Claret from Berry Brothers and 5% off 1st class airline travel did little to dispel the unfair image that we were an elitist club, whilst adding no real value for the overwhelming majority of our members.

I am delighted to report that the West Kent scheme is exactly the opposite. We have a car garage & motor spares, pet food supplier, fish & chip shop, card & gift shop, hairdresser, nail bar & beautician, shoe repairs & key cutting, DIY/Hardware store, printing & photocopying shop, carpet fitters, florist, dry cleaners, Indian restaurant and car hire. These are a great selection of local independent retailers that people use on a daily or weekly basis.  A fantastic scheme which will promote local business whilst offering substantial savings to our members of between 5% and 20% on usual prices.

We have produced a full colour booklet listing all the participating retailers and the discounts they have offered, along with a foreword from local MP, Greg Clark, who will be launching the scheme at a reception in Paddock Wood in September.

Around 500 local Conservative Party members and donors will receive the booklet along with a covering letter and their personalised "Blue Discount Card" in the post next week. We will then follow this up with a major recruitment campaign aimed at the 2,500 pledges we have in the towns and villages nearby. If this trial scheme is a success, our aim is to roll it out to other towns and villages next year.

There are many advantages to "grouping" but having both the technical ability and the confidence to launch a scheme such as this is one of the benefits which is seldom discussed or acknowledged. I am confident that the Blue Card will help local independent retailers, reward our members for their support and finally give us a recruitment tool which I hope will make it much easier to recruit new members and donors.  As always, I will keep readers informed about progress.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

Local Government Candidate Recruitment

Identifying, recruiting and training sufficient local government candidates has always been a challenge, especially for "all out" councils who often need to find 50 or more good candidates. Our local Associations have a duty to:

  • Effectively fight every single seat
  • Replace non-performing councillors or those who have outstayed their welcome, and
  • Ensure members have a choice and don't just have to settle on who happens to be available.

Councillors are often arm-twisted into standing "one more time" as there is no-one else available, and too often we have to re-select councillors who clearly don't perform or fulfil their campaign obligations as there is no choice. 

In West Kent we have a mixed bag locally. Two of my Associations are absolutely ruthless at not just refusing to put weak applicants on the "approved list" but also removing non-performers (and this includes those who do not support their branch or campaign towards the association's wider political goals - including campaign support elsewhere). At the last round of selections in one particular Association almost 20% of incumbent councillors either "jumped" before they were pushed or were removed from the "approved list" by the Approvals Committee (with not one successful appeal, as I always ensure the process is followed to the letter). 

Many Associations fear removing poor performing councillors due to the effect this has on morale. Locally, we have few if any concerns about this. The overwhelming majority of councillors pull their weight both in terms of their support for the Association and with campaigning - and they are rightfully as irritated as the rest of us about their non-performing colleagues. Almost certainly, if a councillor fails to pull their weight with campaigning, fund raising and political activity, they almost always similarly fail to pull their weight with casework and council related business too - resulting in an unfair additional burden on their colleagues. 

The ability to bring forward a new generation and retire those who don;t pull their weight is of course dependent on having a ready supply of new applicants. This involves constant work on identifying and recruiting potential councillors throughout the year, and not leaving it until four months before polling day before realising you are short of local talent.

So we have already commenced our 2019 candidate recruitment and development programme for those districts with all-out elections in 18 months time. In Gravesham for example, 5,000 Conservative pledges in our target demographic group have just received this letter from the Chairman. Already almost 50 brand new potential candidates have been identified:


And the following poster is going up in shop windows, supermarkets, community notice boards across West Kent, often with surprising local results:


Some of our strongest and most effective councillors in West Kent are people who were not previously active: community leaders, campaigners, local activists and neighbourhood champions. Many did not see themselves as 'political' and few if any would have ever come forward to be a candidate had we not "reached out" beyond our traditional membership base and asked them to do so.

Be bold !  






An audience with Ann Widdecombe



The Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe was one of the most popular and formidable politicians of her generation, representing Maidstone for twenty three years from 1987 until 2010. During her time in Parliament she was Minister of State for Prisons, then between 1997 and 2010, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Shadow Home Secretary. 

Upon retiring from Parliament in 2010 Ann moved to remote Dartmoor and launched a successful new career as a writer, columnist, TV personality, star of pantomime and Strictly Come Dancing!

Throughout this time Ann has continued her steadfast support for the Conservative Party both nationally and here in Kent, returning regularly to campaign at election time and support our local fund raising. This includes being “President” of the West Kent 500+ Club which has raised almost £25,000 for local Association funds over the last two years.

We are delighted that Ann has agreed to be interviewed about her remarkable life at the next in our series of “An Audience with…”  This will be held on Thursday 2 November 2017 at Shorne Village Hall, 16 The Street, Shorne, Gravesend DA12 3EA. Doors open at 7pm with the show commencing promptly at 7.30pm.

After being interviewed about her remarkable life and answering questions from the audience, Ann will conclude the evening by drawing the winning numbers for the November and December 500+ Club, with almost £5,000 of prize money being presented to the lucky winners.


How many tickets...?

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Members' Affinity Scheme


For many years I have been looking at ways to thank and reward our members for their support. 

Tangentially, I have also been working with various local councillors to encourage residents to "shop local" and support their independent retailers.

Then six months ago I realised the two could be directly linked: a Members' Affinity Scheme which would both reward members for their support, encourage new members to join and, at the same time, drive footfall towards Kent's many independent small shops and businesses. 

After a great deal of hard work, we are about to launch our Members' Affinity Scheme. 

The trial is taking place in Paddock Wood (where West Kent Towers is situated) and where, I am delighted to report, sixteen of the towns 20 or so independent retailers have "signed up" to participate. If the trial is a success we hope to roll it out in other areas.

The key is to give the retailers maximum choice in the size and scale of their offer. Some have used it to drive business on quiet days (10% discount on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday). Others to up-sell (complimentary pudding if you buy a starter and main course). Some have simply given a wide discount which can be used any time. 

Importantly, we have also attracted a wide variety of general retailers (not exclusive suppliers which are out of reach for many shoppers). Participants include a pet shop, hairdresser, dry cleaner, card shop, Indian restaurant, nail bar, hardware store and print shop. Businesses that almost every local shopper will use on a weekly basis. 

We will be officially launching the scheme in September at a reception hosted by Greg Clark MP with local participating retailers and community leaders invited as guests. At the moment our sixteen retailers are signing off their artwork, before the brochure goes to print.

Once the scheme is up and running we will send a discount card to all those members in the surrounding catchment areas then follow up with a membership recruitment campaign to all local pledges, citing the discount card as a reason for joining. 

Will it work? It will certainly do no harm, and until we try these things we will never know.  

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Head Tappers of UKIP Unite

I am pleased to see that local Tonbridge UKIP activist, Dave Allen, is one of the 11 applicants to lead UKIP into post-Brexit Britain.

Dave is a published author with works including "The Sophisticated Alcoholic" and "Memories of the Afterlife" to his name. I am sure UKIP will benefit from someone with such intellectual prowess at the helm. 

He is also an expert on Emotional Freedom Technique (Tapping). An "easy to use healing tool which provides the foundation for expanding one's emotional freedom."  

If any of my readers are in need of having their emotional freedom expanded, I recommend the 4 minute YouTube video below. 

Good luck Dave, UKIP needs a normal, hardworking grassroots activist at the helm.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

West Kent Tea at Party Conference 2017

All members and friends of West Kent Conservatives are warmly invited to attend our hugely popular Afternoon Tea at Conservative Party Conference, Manchester.




This will be held from 4.30pm - 6pm on Monday 2nd October 2017.

This is the eighth year we have hosted an Afternoon Tea, which is becoming a 'must go' event due to the exclusive and unusual venues we choose and the high quality of the catering provided. 

For Manchester 2017 we are returning (by popular demand) to the award-winning Richmond Tea Rooms. 

Tickets are £25 per person for a full Afternoon Tea including a glass of Champagne on arrival. 

Our preferred booking / payment method is online via our secure server, using a credit or debit card. See below. Alternatively you may send a cheque (payable to West Kent Conservatives) to Campaign HQ, Suite 3, Business Centre, Commercial Road, Paddock Wood, TN12 6EN. If paying by cheque please write 'Conference Tea' on the reverse along with the name(s) of those attending.



How many tickets?


Please note: booking and payment must be received by Friday 22 September 2017. This is necessary as regrettably in previous years a number of people have said they would attend and then failed to come on the day. This has resulted in the event losing money and needing to be subsidised by West Kent Conservatives. This is a social event, not a fund raiser, and we only charge for tickets what we are being charged by the venue. 




Friday, 21 July 2017

Who says campaigning does't make a difference

One in the eye to all those lazy buggers who say "campaigning doesn't make a difference" and "canvassing alienates people". 


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Voluntary Party Reform - It's Now or Never

A million words, probably too many words, have already been written about the Conservative campaign, the manifesto, the Party Leader and what went wrong. There is nothing new I can add, so I will not try. My analysis will therefore be confined to the one subject I can speak about with authority and knowledge: the voluntary party and the increasing need for reform.

Over two years ago, in the warm glow of June 2015, I wrote

We must ensure that any changes are bedded-in before our next major electoral challenge. Perhaps the basis for the future should be county-wide Associations or federations, stripping away layers of bureaucracy and introspection. Whatever we do, we should not allow a small number of recalcitrant Associations to use self-interest to block essential reforms which in our hearts we all know must come.

The Party is in a unique position of strength. We have won an election that most people didn’t expect us to win. Our opponents are in disarray. We are ahead in the polls and our finances are strong. The temptation is to do nothing – or simply to “tinker”. To do so would be a dreadful missed opportunity. It could be decades before the moons are in such favourable alignment again. Having helped to win the war, I really hope Lord Feldman and his group have the courage win the peace and bequeath a voluntary party fit for the future.”

How prescient those words were, and how real my fears that we would prevaricate and dither. The consequences of this were plain to see on Thursday 8th June when it has been widely acknowledged that our ground campaign was woefully inadequate. We were no match for Labour and Momentum. Our troops, what few we had, were in the wrong place at the wrong time. A lack of local political experience resulted in candidates signing up to a national print package with barely any local content and which, too often, arrived too late. The news agenda moved faster than the messaging and we were constantly responding to events rather than leading them. And perhaps, most noticeably of all, without the infrastructure provided by Team 2015, we simply had no way of directing resources to where they were needed most, nor the local knowledge to pick up when target seats had become lost causes – so we carried on campaigning in seats where Labour produced five-figure majorities.

Every single one of the above failures could have been avoided if more groupings had been formed in the two years we have been talking about it. Since the West Kent Group was launched I have spoken to hundreds of Associations about the benefits of joint-working; Suffolk, Cheshire, Cambridgeshire, East and West Sussex, Berkshire, Birmingham, and dozens more individual Associations. Every one, without exception, has agreed it is the way forward – but nothing has happened. The good intentions of the progressives are always overcome by the negativity of the backwoodsmen, who will fight to the bitter end over the ownership of the Risograph to stop the change we need happening, whilst all the while our Associations wither and our campaign ability atrophies.

We have fiddled while Rome burned around us and the ruins of our procrastination are evidenced by our Parliamentary majority. Let there be no doubt that if we had had an effective and focussed ground operation in 2017 the outcome in those 19 seats which we lost by fewer than 1000 votes would almost certainly have been different, and Theresa May would have had her majority.

How could nationwide groupings have made a difference?

1.    With qualified and professional leadership, each group of candidates could have produced their own local literature, with local content tailored to the priorities and needs of their local communities. We did this successfully in West Kent, producing, I believe, better quality literature, all of which was delivered on-time, and with within budget.

2.    By pooling resources and providing strong and clear leadership we will increase our ability to provide campaign support to target seats exponentially. For example, every day of the campaign West Kent provided between 10 and 20 helpers to target seats. This increased to 30-50 at weekends and, on Tuesday 6th June, over 120 West Kent activists were campaigning in target seats outside Kent. This is the equivalent of two coacheloads. Imagine if that could be replicated 20 times across the country – we would have a peripatetic army of 2,500 campaigners fighting on the doorsteps where they are needed most. All that is needed is vision, organisation and leadership.

3.    Perhaps most importantly of all, by selling off buildings which are never occupied, cancelling leases on equipment which is never used and using our combined buying-power to negotiate best value in what we purchase, we will have the resources needed to employ professional staff with the skills to fight elections and build our voluntary party, rather than paying dozens of part-time secretaries, too many of whom just print event tickets and type-up minutes of internal meetings.

In light of what happened last week I think we must be much bolder in our approach. MCAs are too little, too late. Putting together 6 failing Associations will not make a successful group. And whilst I have a lot of time and respect for our young generation of Campaign Managers (indeed many have become friends) expecting a 25 year-old to bang heads together and to resist the competing demands of MPs, Council Leaders and “Very Important” activists simply isn’t fair or realistic. A grouping of this nature needs a hardened “grey beard”, unafraid to make unpopular decisions as he or she is sufficiently competent and experienced to do so.

So here are my revised proposals to build the voluntary party we need for the next General Election.

1.    Groupings of 15-20 constituencies, which will provide the pool of manpower and money necessary to sustain the operation. If this means crossing County boundaries, so be it.

2.    The Associations within each group to retain their own autonomy, with their own officers, finances, internal structures and the right to select candidates.

3.    A new Group Headquarters in “fit-for-purpose” modern office accommodation, with sufficient technology to run a modern business, and space for the staff. Current freeholds to be sold (with the money to be retained by the original Associatons) and leases terminated on rented properties.

4.    Present staff re-employed and re-assigned by the group only if they have the skills needed. If not, redundancies arranged under the best possible terms.

5.    Each group to be headed-up by an experienced County Director, with as many campaign assistants working for him/her as circumstances demand (approximately 2 or 3 per county). Each group to also have an administration manager, a part-time book-keeper, part-time graphic designer and secretarial support as needed.

6.    Annual KPI assessments to judge each group’s performance, with a national assessment team to supply additional support and training where needed.

7.    Groups to be financed by each member Association pro-rata to their membership and ability.

For example. Let us imagine a fictitious group in Barchester County, of 17 constituencies. My proposed structure would give Barchester a County Director, 3 Campaign Assistants, an Admin-Manager, a part-time book-keeper, graphic designer and secretarial support, plus rent on a modern office for around £225,000 pa, or an average of £13,000 per Association. In reality, this would probably mean the financially weaker Associations paying £8,000 pa, and the stronger ones paying £18,000. This is much less than most pay now, for a part-time secretary and an office that seldom functions.

For four years now, I have banged on about groupings. Along with others, I contributed to the Feldman Review, and have spent countless evenings and weekends up and down the country evangelising their benefits. My fortnightly columns on Con Home have highlighted best practice. I have met no-one able to make the case for the status quo.

Our inaction, both locally and nationally, contributed greatly to the disappointing results we achieved last Thursday. We got away with it (just) in 2017 – unless we take action now, we won’t get away with it again.

This is the last article I will write on grouping. West Kent have shown it can work, and it is now for others (with the authority to bring about change) to have the courage needed to make it happen.