Tuesday, August 17, 2010
4,134 people paid their deposit and stood as Parliamentary Candidates on May 6 - which means that 3,485 suffered the same fate as I did.
People have asked me how I feel about losing the election. Lots of people write about winning, so I thought it might be interesting to write about losing.
Firstly, lets put this in context. Not getting elected is a bitter disappointment - but it's not a tragedy.
Millions of folk suffer and survive far harder knocks every day, indeed as I mentioned at the time some acquaintances of ours suffered a very tragic loss the day after the election and their awful pain and anguish put my selfish disappointment firmly in it's place.
Every day people fail exams, lose the sale, miss the school place, get fired, are gazumped - and not only do they recover, in the end nearly all these situations as one door closes a better one opens. Mind you standing for election has other challenges. Firstly, your disappointment becomes a very public affair. Secondly, you can't manage expectations like you can with, say, exams. You can't speculate about losing, you have spent weeks or even months publicly bigging up your chances to supporters and opponents alike - even candidates for the Raving Loony Party end up convincing themselves they are set to romp home.
It is even more difficult keeping a rational outlook while being the front-runner in a target seat. For months Torbay had been considered an nailed-on Conservative gain, the odds-on favourite. And as such I became the focus of the massed ranks of the lobbying industry keen to impress me ahead of my expected elevation to Parliament. Wads of expensive brochures arrived daily from campaign groups and companies and my email quota steadily grew to 1,000 a week. I had been invited to lavish receptions, regaled by national media, bombarded by calls from PR types keen to know my views. Even the Whips Office had given me a run-down of the likely timetable for the opening Parliamentary session. So I was not alone in mapping out my immediate future with the expectation of being an MP - unwisely I planned my business affairs on the same basis. That involved letting my London flat to tenants (as new MP's expenses rules meant I couldn't have used it for myself), gave notice to my work colleagues, closed off all client assignments and went on an extended sabbatical.
Election days are manic, frenzied affairs that start before dawn. There is a brief rest period for candidates between when the polls close at 10pm and when the counting starts. After knocking on doors right up to 9.45 that evening I went home and changed, taking in the early exit poll numbers from the BBC over a hurried drink. The house was full of friends and helpers and a small gaggle of us walked through the balmy night air along Princess Gardens and across Abbey Park and into the ERC for the count. At this point I was nervous, but still very confident - I knew from canvassing returns that our vote would be up a good deal on 2005, possibly to around 20,000 which in most seats is a winning total. I remained completely oblivious to the awful reality that was quite literally unfolding before shocked Conservative observers inside the hall.
The count runs in several stages. First the ballot boxes are opened and all the papers are counted to confirm the total number of votes cast - this figure used as a control total after the votes for each candidate have been counted. Then the ballot papers are sorted into piles by candidate and thirdly the piles for each candidate are counted. In all our election scenarios we had anticipated that the expenses scandal would impact incumbent MP's - and especially Lib Dem MP's who depend on Labour support. We thought Labour therefore would hold their 2005 figure, and Lib Dems lose votes to the Labour and the Greens - we thought our vote and UKIP would both rise, implying an increase in turnout.
I walked into the room just as the Returning Officer announced the total votes cast - it was up, but by a minuscule amount - just 64.6%. A brief look at the ashen faces of my closest supporters was the next massive clue that all was far from according to plan. It was apparent to those already there that our high profile and optimistic campaign had backfired badly. Being the favourite had meant that the more we looked like winning, the harder winning became as Labour voters responded by shifting to the Lib Dem camp.
The Party HQ decision not to allow attacks against the Liberal Democrats had made matters worse. While we were under strict Queensberry rules our local opponent was wielding a baseball bat. They promptly got stuck in to the negative stuff -that I was campaign manager for the Mayor, that I intended to be part time if elected and that I supported controversial planning proposals- all untrue but they served their purpose - galvanising support for their man in order to keep me out. What was becoming clear inside the hall was that Labours vote had just vanished and that the unthinkable had occurred, while our vote had risen as expected his vote had risen too, and by much more than mine.
What does it feel like to lose an election all your friends, your work and political colleagues and even many of your enemies thought you were nailed on to win? An election that many workers have been building up to alongside you for eight years, that they have toiled to raise the money for, bet the political farm on and expected to succeed?
There is a great scene in the film 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' when Eddy realises he has not only lost the poker game and all his friends stake money but run up a debt of £500,000 to arch villain Hatchet Harry. That is exactly what it felt like as I looked at the growing piles of counted polling slips in the 'Sanders' tray - the stack growing unmistakably faster than the pile marked 'Wood' . The world around goes grey and your vision blurs, you feel sick, people talk to you but you don't hear them - the cold, clammy reality that you have called it completely wrong, the horrible anticipation of explaining to friends and supporters that we didn't win after all, and it's all unravelling in front of the world on live TV.
Comments like "It's still looking quite close..." soon gave way to comments like "How have they done it -again?"
In slow motion the returning officer called us to her corner to notify us of the official result - this is done before the whole thing is re-enacted on stage so that candidates can compose themselves and also to afford a last opportunity for any appeal. She avoids looking at me, a small but important final clue before the worst is confirmed by her figures.
The only nice surprise of that evening was the discovery immediately after the announcement that while I was desperately concerned about how my supporters would feel and react, their main concern was about how I was. Even my opponent, in complete contrast to the bad-tempered comments he made in 2005, was offered some kind words, he said he has lost elections and suffered disappointment too in his time so he knew how I was feeling.
Our election party was a flat affair with a string of friends and colleagues urging me not to make any public announcements about not standing again - it looked at that stage likely that we would all be doing it again in the Autumn.
I sat through the night watching scores of my friends and colleagues being anointed as Conservative MP's and feeling very sorry for myself.
The emails, post and phone calls stopped as if someone has turned off a tap. On May 5th I received 127 emails, on May 7th - eight; by May 12th it was none. In my work I spend a lot of time counselling redundant senior executives: they live on adrenaline with endless calls, meetings, emails and pressure one minute and then within hours of being ousted it's tumbleweed time.
But oddly enough that experience has been very helpful. I took my own advice and by Monday my mind had turned completely to the problem of what to do about money; and within the week I had become totally absorbed into a series of new business projects; as a result the Wood finances are now headed back into health.
I also have my private life back, and what a luxury it is to be able to complain in a restaurant, wear old jeans or not shave for a day and know that nobody cares. It is also welcome break not having to worry about what our MP gets up to as either. He can be as lazy as he likes and I won't notice.
A couple of weeks ago David Cameron and George Osbourne held a reception at Downing Street for unsuccessful Tory candidates and I met up with scores of colleagues who, like me, didn't make it. It was great to go and see the hallowed place on the inside and surreal meeting David Cameron again but this time as our Prime Minister. That is the point really, our small battle here in Torbay may have been lost but the war was won.
Monday, May 03, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Interestingly though, DC really does stop the traffic. Within seconds the Strand was at a standstill and people were calling and waving from cars, upper storey windows and rushing out of shops and cafe's to see him; not out of idle curiosity, either; people wanted to shake our hands, wish us luck and cheer us on.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
I have been doing politics here in Torbay for long enough to have developed a pretty clear idea of which way the wind is blowing.
At this point in the last election in 2005 we stopped talking about winning, and instead the language became 'we will give them (the Liberal Democrats) a run for their money'. This was because it was pretty clear we were not in a winning position at this point. How did we know? Well by the middle of a campaign you have spoken to many hundreds of residents and citizens, from your side of the political fence, from the other side and from the undecided middle ground.
At the last election by now you could see that many on our own side were looking for reasons not to vote Conservative, so when you met them they were critical and fault finding - often blowing up relatively small issues into a big reason why we didn't 'deserve' support. "It's that Michael Howard..." or "I normally vote Conservative but..." There was anger there, and disappointment, and sometimes just a smidgen of guilt.
Those 'on the other side' felt confident in their decision by half way through that campaign; they would be happy to tell me they were supporting the other guy, or voting Labour. Often they would wave kindly when we asked for their support and say "no, but thanks for calling" or say as we left "good luck (you will need it)" They were certain of their intent and comfortable with it.
People in the middle would mostly offer kindly advice; they would look at the posters and the rosette and say 'I think you have a bit of a job on there, mate' - they were still undecided who they would vote for, if anyone, but usually clear that it wouldn't be me!
How is it different this time? Well clearly our own side are in a very different place, electorally speaking. Conservative-minded folk are desperate for a change of Government and ready to do almost anything to bring that about. So supporters who have been absent or 'resting' for years are back with a bang, posters are in big demand, we have more volunteers than jobs at the moment and I get waved at, constant toots of support and thumbs up whenever I wander round with a blue rosette on. Even when I tell supporters about policies they don't like much they wave it away as an irritating detail instead of the deal breaker it once might have been.
Those on the other side are much harder to find now. Instead of looking me in the eye and saying 'I will be voting for X' they tend to say they are still not sure, haven't decided, or 'well, you are all the same.'
And people in the middle? There are more of them this time, more floating voters than ever before and they want policy detail, they want leaflets, and they want the figures and the facts. Above all they want to know what we would DO. What will you DO about immigration? Tax? My benefits? My Bus Pass? My School?
They are interested, really interested. And crucially they are interested in Conservative policy. That is SO different to what the polls and the newspapers are saying - the undecideds are involved, they are engaged and in most cases they will vote.
The polls now clearly say 'hung parliament'. I can't speak for other places and I don't know what the rest of Britain is doing. But I am certain that in this corner of England people more desperately want a change of Government than ever, and they know the only way to get one is to vote Conservative.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Hague meets the people of St Marychurch.
Tuesday saw us in and around Goodrington shops, meeting local traders and residents and then today we were en-masse in Babbacombe and St Marychurch all day. We met shoppers in St Marychurch Precinct, and then we spent a lot of time with business owners and shopkeepers there; talking about the state of the economy and issues that affect them like business rates and the employment tax (otherwise known as employers N.I. contributions).
Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague and Totnes Candidate Sarah Woolaston come along and in all we probably had nearly 50 supporters and activists in and around the whole area for the day.
We made a brief visit to the Conservative Club and then went on to Babbacombe shops to see people there.
There was time for a quick snack lunch at the local cafe (which was completely overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of such a large crowd - though everyone got tea and sandwiches in record time!) .
William and I met a very interesting resident who runs a language school, and she was very keen to make us aware of the potentially disastrous impact on her business of the clamp-down on student visas proposed in our manifesto. She made her case intelligently and reasonably to us both and we were left clear that any new law will need carefully drafting to protect the legitimate and very valuable foreign language teaching business.
Then there was some autograph signing, some press interviews and lots and lots of people to talk to and shake hands with (William Hague was drawing people to him like moths to a candle) with everyone saying 'Oooh my friends won't believe I have just met William Hague if I don't get a picture' we had several posed shots with passers by using their mobile phones to do as well.
I was delighted to hear from Sarah that she was inspired by my public pronouncement on foxhunting to join me, and she now becomes I think the second Conservative Candidate in the South West to rule out voting to support a repeal of the hunting ban.
And then it was time for him to go on to Newton Abbott.
All in all, a lot of fun and though I always knew he was popular, I was still amazed at just how big a popular draw William Hague is.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
On current form I'd say energy levels are down to about 85% but enthusiasm levels are over 120% - and that is not just because the sun is shining on us.
The Conservatives opinion poll rating has steadily risen all week as Brown and his team have lurched from one self-inflicted injury to the next. Now even the talk of a hung parliament is fading; seven of the eight main polling firms top men have said in a survey today for the Independent on Sunday that they think the Conservatives will win an outright majority of between 10 and 50 seats. The odd one out, Ben Page of MORI later said his personal view was that the Tories would indeed win an outright majority; making at unanimous from the experts.
The sense of a "popular uprising", which was behind the Blair win in 1997, and in my long-held opinion needs to be there before the British will turf out a sitting Government, is most certainly present at this election in a way that was notably absent in 2005. Whenever we stand still for more than a few moments someone will come over and start telling us why it is vital for the country that we win this time; or that Brown is the worst prime minister in history, or similar.
And to my great relief there is a very clear understanding of the choice facing the electors here in Torbay - a lot of people say things along the line that 'we don't normally vote Conservative .... but the country needs a change.'
Of course all the main parties here in the Bay agree it is a simple choice here between providing David Cameron with a vital extra seat in a fresh, clean and untainted Parliament and thereby providing a new Government ready to start on the massive job of turning Britain round; or keeping the status quo with the existing MP.
We did street stalls on Saturday in Torquay and Paignton and I was reminded of old black and white film of election campaigns of years gone by. At times the stall was almost hidden behind what I can only describe as a small crowd of onlookers keen to introduce themselves and show their support; I have only been campaigning for a few years or so but I have never experienced anything like it.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
One of the omni-present features of politics is the letters and leaflets we print and deliver to voters pressing our message. Literally tons of paper is delivered in the months and weeks leading up to an election and the above photographs show one leaflet drop being sorted into walks for the volunteers to deliver.
About the only serious snag with our campaign HQ location above Paignton Conservative Club is that it is upstairs; in fact the committee room we are using in this picture is up two flights of stairs. We have sweated some serious pounds off in the last few months, I can tell you.
By now I will be astonished in everyone in Torbay has not had several leaflets from our team.
Although in common with every other political party our delivery network is not quite covering 100% of Torbay we have not had such a well organised and well manned delivery network in 'political living memory ' and certainly not since the dim and distant days of Sir Freddie.
There are several reasons why the network has built up so quickly and become so strong, partly it is because we have heavily concentrated on getting our message to voters directly since before the 2007 local elections; but mainly I think it has just been the willingness of more and more people to help us.
Every time we have planned a leaflet we have pushed the numbers ordered up; the delivery pictured above was an order of 70,000 - one for every individual voter in Torbay - and this entire drop of individually addressed letters was hand delivered by volunteers in a little over a fortnight. And unlike MP's who have a tax-funded communications allowance that allows for the posting of a lot of their propaganda, all the cost of printing and design our leaflets is covered by traditional fundraising and hundreds of small private donations.
Most people appreciate that we are keeping them informed; and the message in all of ours has been solidly positive; we are telling people what we will do, what I am all about, and why they should make us their positive choice. The feedback we have had from people about some of the other parties leaflet efforts has served to remind us what we learned in 2005; that negative campaigning, and simply attacking your opponent does not work and tends to put voters off.
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Incredibly this means that Brown, the one Prime Minister who has never won an election, may remain in power even after he has lost.
Labour Cabinet Ministers may be allowed to stay in charge even if voted out of their own seats because the Civil Service fear for economic stability if the Government is in flux for just a few days.
Parliament could be suspended for weeks while behind closed doors the Prime Minister does a grubby deal to cling to power. And there is only one party he will turn to - the Liberal Democrats.
The Lib Dems will try to sit on the fence until after the election, of course - to conceal which way they will jump until it is too late for us to do anything about it. But voters are not stupid. They know the Lib Dems track record; in debates and on TV interviews the Lib Dems side with Labour every time. In Wales, in Scotland and in our British Parliament during the 1970’s Labour coalitions have always been with the Liberals.
Other parties are campaigning for your vote at this election, but none will win seats.
So it is the Liberal Democrats who are blocking the path to stability; Conservatives must win back the seats they lost to them in 1997 if David Cameron is to win a working majority - to get rid of Gordon Brown and start Britain on the road to recovery.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
I did the first public meeting of this campaign yesterday, a question-and-answer session with the local hoteliers.
The issue that came up time and again was the economy. People have largely been isolated from the ‘depression’ so far - and there was the slightest feeling in January and February that we might escape the worst; in my view this goodwill was directly linked to house prices which had been rising since last summer, but the last weeks news has been about falls. This was reflected yesterday, where we all noticed a sharply downbeat attitude from the people attending the meeting concerning the economy with several questioners openly suggesting that ‘the worst is yet to come’.
What makes this interesting is the nature of the attendees. Hotel owners in March have a pretty good idea of what is coming down the line for the summer. A weak pound and increased security fears are supposed to mean lots of people holidaying at home - so if the recession was ending you might expect a bumper season this year in Torbay. If you were expecting a bumper season you would imagine the first people to know about it would be the hotel companies taking the bookings.
So why are the hoteliers so gloomy?
People have really started to notice rising retail prices, I haven’t heard this as a political issue for decades, but it is firmly on the agenda now; with people saying ‘not only is my pay being cut but the prices in the shops are rising so we just can’t afford the luxuries anymore, can you believe the price of X is now Y?’.
And they have a point. The headline rate of inflation is in the 3-4% range for the first time in years, but the figures are a mish-mash of statistics mixing bills, infrequent purchases such as furniture and clothing with daily consumer items such as food. In the real world food and petrol have been shooting up since the pound dropped last spring. Food shopping in particular is becoming painful; butter is over £1, bread headed for £1 a loaf and even a Mars Bar is now about 70p. I bought a bike magazine at the station last week and that was £4. And yesterdays falls in the value of the £ mean the price pain is set to worsen. Yet for most people their take-home pay is static or falling and has been for over a year.
Recessions initially are just news stories, shops and factories shut but if you are not immediately jobless it is of passing interest. They become a political issue when they affect how *everyone* feels. Once we feel insecure at work, the equity in our home is halved and we are poorer at the shops the recession is affecting us, and that reflects in the polls. That is now happening, the 1980 recession ended in 1981, but the feeling of prosperity and growing living standards took until 1985 to arrive; in the short-lived 1991 recession the 'green shoots' of recovery appeared in 1992, but the accompanying 'feel-good' factor was still missing until 1995.
The thing that struck me most yesterday was the recognition by people there that the Government have already emptied the armoury in trying to tackle the recession, and that if their action has failed (and people agree that it has) the outlook makes them feel very, very vulnerable because the Government has nothing left, and neither do most households.
Monday, March 01, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
"The general presumption is that Labour hopes that Clegg and his party will now look at Labour more favourably in the unlikely event of a hung parliament. But hasn’t the aim been much more short-term than that?
For the form of what’s described as “electoral reform” that’s represented by AV is an abomination to the Lib Dems. It doesn’t deal with their main concern that the numbers of MPs each party gets should be in line with how the nation voted. In many way AV makes that worse"
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Spot the difference competition.
Yes - the picture on the right shows the shopping centre after the economy has grown by 0.1%, and what a big difference it has made.
Today, new figures show the first signs of economic growth after 18 months of recession – the longest and deepest since the war. Of course, the end of the Great Recession is good news – even though we were one of the first big economies into recession, and the last out. Now we are coming out of recession, Labour’s Debt Crisis is the biggest threat to our recovery.
As the Director-General of the CBI says in The Times today, ‘one of the troubles with the Government’s programme [of debt reduction] is that it’s long on aspirations and short on details, and it’s stretched out over the lifetime of two whole Parliaments.’ We can’t go on like this. We need change and a Conservative government to get a grip on our debt crisis. As any family with a credit card knows, the more we spend and the longer we wait to pay off our bills, the worse it gets.
Five facts about Labour’s Debt Crisis
- We’re borrowing money at a rate of around £6,000 every second - every five seconds, the Government borrows more than the average British person earns in a year.
- This year, we’re expected to borrow almost 14 per cent of our GDP – almost twice as much as when we nearly went bust in the 1970s
- We’re spending more money on the interest on our debt than on almost anything else.
- We have the biggest budget deficit of any large economy.
- Last week, we had the worst public borrowing figures for any December on record.
There is a third, less comfortable possibility, which I still personally believe may turn out to be the case. The Government and Bank of England actions, (0.5% interest rates, printing money, pouring cash into banks and cutting taxes) have temporarily stalled the downward slope and as soon as the patient comes of the drugs the downward slope will resume. We will have a W shaped recession, - Mr Boom and Mr Bust brought out of retirement by none other than Mssrs Brwon and Darling.
It is caused by an unbalanced economy; growth is caused not by genuine companies being successful and expanding, but by Government spending, bailing out loss making and old industry businesses to keep people in jobs, speculative booms in property and asset values, and a consumer frenzy. When the debts catch up with everyone the music stops and the country lapses into a recession. The Governent reacts by spending more and the whole cycle repeats.
In the 1950's, 60's and '70's this was called "stop-go" economics and ending it (by making radical supply-side modifications to our economy) was a driving force behind the Thatcher years.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
has cost Kraft 30%
less, thanks to Gordon
I got very steamed up last night watching Peter Mandelson shedding crocodile tears over the takeover of Cadburys by the American food giant Kraft.
For while he was bleating about the impact this takeover might have on jobs the simple fact is that it was a 30% drop in the value of the pound, for which his Government is solely responsible, that made this take over affordable for Kraft.
A weak economy leads to a weak currency, and a weak currency makes our businesses cheap pickings for firms based in places where the currency is stronger than ours.
I expect to see many other famous and not so famous British names to join British Energy, Scottish & Newcastle breweries, ICI, Scottish Power, British Airports, Thames Water, Pilkington Glass, P&O, and the Abbey National bank in being sold to overseas owners.
All this is a far cry from the 1980's and 1990's when it was British companies causing controversy by buying out iconic foreign firms like Smith & Wesson pistols, Greyhound Bus' and culminating in the huge takeover by Vodafone of German mobile telephone giant Mannesmann. Back then our companies were strong and profitable, our taxes were low and as a result our currency was worth more, making British firms powerful and opening huge opportunities for the companies and, more importantly, the staff who work for them.
Why do we need strong British companies? Because they are the backbone of the economy.
A good example of the beneficial impact of a successful company is the above mentioned company Vodafone. It was created from scratch by the electronics company Racal in 1985 following the Thatcher Governments decision to licence mobile telephony to private enterprises. Now the company employs 79,000 people and produces £9bn in profits for its mostly UK shareholders, rents shops, call centres and infrastructure across the country, spends billions with UK partners and suppliers on supplies and services like advertising, and of course contributes billions in taxes to the Treasury.
Generally companies are prone to focus their spending in the countries of their origin, British companies operating abroad often take their British suppliers, and service providers like bankers, accountants and advertisers with them creating more work for those firms back in Blighty.
But of course American and Continental European forms tend to do the same, so when British companies fall to foreign hands very often business is lost to their UK suppliers. Kraft will almost certainly prefer to work with their existing American packaging partners, their American ingredients providers, American banks and American advertising agencies, in the process depleting the value of Cadburys to the UK economy; and the UK treasury will have to learn to live without much of Cadburys corporation tax revenue into the bargain.
The only way out of this downward spiral is to make our economy strong again. For ten years Conservatives have been warning that the growing tax and bloated regulatory burden was killing UK competitiveness and endangering the economy. This has now come to pass and the only remedy is a substantial dose of de-regulation and eventually, substantial tax cuts.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
I was puzzled last winter by the apparent eagerness for many schools to close down at the slightest sign of bad weather.
This cold snap has once again led to thousands of schools closing across Britain. While in many cases the closure is logical and expected in many places, where the snow is not that bad, I have been surprised to see schools close anyway.
Many of us remember trudging to school as children in all weathers, indeed I can remember being forced to carry on playing outdoor sport in freezing conditions regardless, and one wonders where this relatively recent trend to close schools whenever their is bad weather comes from?
Cynical parents have suggested it is just an excuse to give staff the day off, others suspect it is a cost-saving measure to avoid putting the heating up!
Well part of the reason head teachers really are keener to close their schools than they used to be did eventually emerge today. During an interview on radio 4 this morning between Stephen Alambritis, chief spokesman of the Federation of Small Businesses, and Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, it emerged that some head teachers might have more than one eye on their attendance records when deciding about keeping their school open or not.
Pupil attendance records are a key Government target, and make up part of the performance tables that define a school heads record. A day in which hundreds of kids won't arrive at at school would be disastrous for this 'key performance indicator' - whereas if the school is closed by the head the attendances aren't counted for that day.
So head teachers have a strong incentive to do the absolute opposite of what the targets are supposed to achieve.
This is a classic case of unintended and undesirable consequences from badly drafted laws and poorly considered management targets for which our Government have become legendary.
Schools need targets, and parents are entitled to information about their schools performance, but the challenge is to make sure that the tail does not wag the dog.