Monday, November 08, 2010

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 10, 2010

So the result....

A very emphatic Lib Dem hold. Hats off to Mr Sanders and his team who seem to have really dug in to Torbay now; probably until he retires.

I am deeply disappointed, but resigned to the fact that I am probably never going to be an MP. Unlike a lot of people in politics the thought of sitting on green benches has not been a burning ambition since I was twelve, in fact I became involved largely by accident. So contrary to what some have been saying; I will not be leaving Torbay in search of a seat somewhere else - we are totally settled here and the last thing I want is to disturb my family who have stuck by me so firmly for the last 8 years.

Having studied the results from Thursday it is pretty clear now in a way that was not clear then, that the bay is a clearly divided place politically speaking with the mass on the left outweighing the mass on the right by roughly 20%.

After the build-up when we were so far ahead in the polls and all the positive feedback from our own supporters during the campaign it is perhaps understandable that we thought we were going to win. Unfortunately we picked up no signs at all of the fact that Labour were defecting to the Lib Dems in droves, we wouldn't though, would we?

Adrian Sanders team know exactly what buttons to press to garner support from Labour, and they pressed them.

I wrongly thought Sanders' support would be affected by the expenses scandal but it seems however much voters complained in public, in private they are happy to let him carry on - it seems there are at least 24,000 people in Torbay who still want 'anyone but the Tories' to represent them.

95% of the result in a general election is down to what goes on during the National campaign and 5% is down to the local campaign; I am satisfied we delivered our 5% but I fear the 36% vote share we got in the Nationwide result was nowhere near enough for us to take Torbay. When we used to hold the (current) seat the national vote share was never less than 40%.

We did everything we could, but Politics is never fair and the result is not often connected to the effort expended. I said at the start that main reason we had to work hard and leave no stone unturned was to be able to sleep with a clear conscience if we lost.

The ultimate irony, which will not be lost on many Torbay voters (especially Labour ones) is that we could end up with Adrian Sanders working on
our side of the House of Commons voting to support our manifesto - voting for huge spending cuts and a drastic re-drawing of the role of Government.

Quite where that will leave both sides at the next local elections is anyone's guess.

And on a last, philosophical point - it is only politics, after all. The day after the election, while we sat around feeling sorry for ourselves I heard that a friend of a friend had suffered an unimaginable personal tragedy on Thursday - and that really did put life into perspective.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Places, everyone!

Three days of campaigning left and it's all down to the process called 'getting out the vote'.

For several years we have been campaigning for one purpose; to make sure we win the most votes on Thursday. A big part of that process is ensuring the people who are intending to support us, actually do so.

Campaigning takes several forms; Firstly holding events to raise money to campaign with. Then we spend years listening to voters by canvassing on the doorstep, holding open meetings and doing postal and on-line surveys. Then as the election comes onto the horizon we define and refine our message, and deliver it to voters by leaflets and mail whilst also seeking to find as many people as possible who want to vote for us, and support and help us.

The most intense part of the process is the election campaign itself, in this case we started in January; we have been knocking door to door, six days a week since the start of the year seeking support and meeting a record number of electors, all the while building up a huge list of voters committed to back David Cameron as PM and myself as their MP.

Now we have to remind those voters to act on the day itself, and political parties switch into frenzied activity in the final remaining hours before the polls close at 10:00pm Thursday, monitoring who has already voted (to cross them off the list) and then basically nagging the rest into going to the polling station; even driving them there when necessary.

As the final preparations for the big day are completed it is feeling a bit like the build-up for a big wedding; everyone knows their places, what to say and how to say it, their moves choreographed and rehearsed to the finest detail; the stationary is ordered, the cars cleaned and prepared, the refreshments ready. And as the candidate I it does feel a bit like being a groom - with all the frantic preparations going on all around all I have to do make sure I turn up on the day, shoes cleaned and hair brushed.

We enter the last few days of this campaign in better shape that at any election in living memory; with more pledges, more helpers and more goodwill than any of us can remember.

To all of those dedicated people who have helped me campaign for what we believe in, whether for some or all of the eight long years we have been at it, I say a hearty thank-you.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

At a time when their leadership are trumpeting a new kind of politics it is a bit disappointing to note that locally the Lib Dems are engaging in some very old-fashioned negative campaigning. The latest broadside from Mr Sanders team contains more totally untrue allegations, to add to old favourites they put about during the last election.

The first myth is that I am the man from Windsor. Can I just point out that I have never lived in Windsor? My only connection with the place is that my Dad lived there for a bit when my parents split up in the '70's and I was once the Chairman of the Constituency Conservative Association. It is a matter of record that I live in Torquay, and have done so for years. My wife and I work here, my children go to school here, and all our friends live here.

The second myth is that I am connected at the hip to the Mayor. Nick Bye was chosen as our candidate in 2005 - and with everyone else I worked hard to help get a Conservative mayor elected. As the Lib Dem campaign team know full well I do not get involved in the local council political scene, I am not on the council, do not campaign, advise, or work for the mayor or any councillors in any capacity, I do not have a say on policy, planning matters or anything else.

The newest myth has just appeared in the Lib Dems latest leaflet. "The conservative intends to be only a part-time MP" - they shout. This is another wholly untrue allegation. They know full well that I have always made it clear that I intend to work flat out, full time, on being your MP if elected. Indeed the expectation is that the new Parliament will be working through many long nights to try and sort out the mess the last Parliament have left the country in.

And for the last MP to be shouting about the possible work-rate of the next one is a bit dangerous, it might just prompt voters to spot the fact that he and his colleagues spent the least amount of time working of any Parliament for 30 years - despite the worst recession in living memory, and after getting a record pay-rise.

As The Sun newspaper reported earlier this year: "Analysis of the working day at Westminster showed the House sat for just 139 days in 2008-09. Members' average working day lasted seven hours and 35 minutes - meaning they sat for 1,053 hours and 51 minutes overall. That was the lowest total in a non-election year since 1979."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

More pics from Camerons visit.

VIP Visitors - why they matter.
From my memory, and only since the last election in 2005, we have had the following front bench spokesmen and women to see us here, several of whom have made repeated visits:

Liam Fox, Defence
Eric Pickles, Chairman
Peter Ainsworth, Agriculture
Bob Neil, Local Government
John Penrose, Trade and Industry
Francis Maude, Cabinet Office
Andrew Mitchell, Foreign Aid
Tim Loughton, Children
Tobias Ellwood, Tourism
Anne Milton, Health
Mark Francois, Europe
Andrew Lansley, Health
Chris Grayling, Home affairs
David Cameron, Leader.

These busy people have sat in on Tourism conferences, visited local schools, toured hospitals, launched campaigns, met scores of local businesses and seen pressure groups and charity organisations at work. They have done this at my request, and I have worked very hard to get them here so that in Government they have first-hand knowledge of the problems local people have.

They come here so that we can teach them about Torbay.It has been a central part of my work as Prospective MP since 2002 to work to get senior front bench people from my party out of their London offices and down here; to understand the issues affecting the South West in general and Torbay in particular.

And every single one of these people has been shown the traffic problems we face daily getting in and out of the Bay, on purpose, and as a result all have offered to help us in our campaign to get the road built. This help culminated in Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers agreeing to see me in Westminster a month ago.

And the more front bench visitors from my party we get the more obvious the question. Where are the senior people from the other parties? With the noble exception of Paddy Ashdown who is camped out in Devon for the election there hasn't been a senior Lib Dem in Torbay for years.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Boss Arrives in Town
No election campaign would be complete without at least one visit from the Big Man himself; and our number came up today.

Due to the fact that Cameron is now a security risk the arrangements for a visit are normally left to the last minute and made in secret. This reached new heights of challenge this time when yesterday lunch-time while out canvassing in Preston I got an out-of-the blue phonecall from a senior bod at CCHQ - which went like this:
"David is in Devon, would you like him to drop by".
"Lovely, er, when?"
"Tomorrow, noon."
"No plans, no idea. We have got a team on their way, can you help? Find a location for a big set-piece policy speech to 100 or so people, plus at least another 100 reporters and cameramen, plus our own film crew (another 50), lighting and sound and of course we need room for a stage, and a PA system, power, and parking for three coaches, and about 20 cars. It must be open, but must be secure, must have disabled facilities, must be accessible, must look good on TV, must not be controversial and we must have owners permission to film; oh yes and we need you to find a location, obtain all the permissions and sort it all out in time to invite everyone, so say in about an hour or two?"
"Anything else?"
"Can you also choose somewhere that is iconic for your constituency?"
After a day of racing round the Bay with their location people we eventually ended up selecting the Palace Hotel up in Babbacombe from a very long list of possible locations. In fact the sheer scale of choices became an issue when trying to make a final decision late last night; and the final location was not agreed until long after dark.

It was a miracle to then behold the entire circus roll into town late last night and by early morning the stage was up, lights and cameras ready, sound tested, banners out, invitations sent and everything ready.

Unlike when Michael Howard came at the last election (when every detail had been thrashed out weeks in advance) Cameron people are far more relaxed and informal, to the point of being almost casual and decisions to ch ange things were made as the situation demanded.

It had been intended that Cameron would do his speech and then we would roll into Babbacombe, or Wellswood for a walkabout.

The media are housed on one coach and David's team occupy another. The plan was David would switch coach as the cort├Ęge arrived in Torquay at about 2pm, requiring a pull-over in Avenue Road. But the driver got confused and led the group out onto the seafront by Abbey Meadows, where there was no room for the coach to pull over.

Given the event was already running late, and fearing that we may not get our prized walkabout, I suggested that we take David off the coach by the Harbour in Torquay, meet some people there and then put him in the right vehicle to make his entrance at the hotel. It immediately transpired that David Cameron was very keen to have an ice cream while at the seaside (he knows Devon well!) so we d ecided to stop his bus, get off, buy an ice cream, talk to a few folk and then go. How difficult can it be? we thought.

Well immediately the press decided this would make a great 'photo-op' so instead of a simple few moments wander across to the sweet shop it became a media frenzy. The photographers ended up rowing with the TV crews for hogging all the good shots and the journalists scurried round asking perplexed passers by what they thought about David Cameron.

Interestingly thoug
h, 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.

So after he bought me an ice cream (complete with choccy flake) we eventually went on our way up to the hotel where we met up with my neighbouring PPC Sara Woollaston, who led us onto the outdoor stage where David delivered an impressive 20 minute speech, mostly from memory (I could see his basic notes and he had a few bullet points, that was all).

He unveiled our seven point plan to clean up politics, which included adopting the kind of open primary selection of candidates we used in Totnes, then giving electors the power of recall for corrupt MP's, abolishing quango's and making ministers responsible for decisions again, opening up Ministerial decisions to public scrutiny.

Great stirring stuff and all great fun into the bargain. Although serious, elections are also theatre and no show is bigger - or more dramatic- than one which changes history.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Half way (nearly)

For all those people who keep asking 'how is it going?' I offer a 'half way' campaign bulletin.

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

Another day, another Top Tory...

Hague meets the people of St Marychurch.

The second week of the campaign has brought with it two front bench visits and several walk-about campaign calls. On Monday we had Mark Francois, the Shadow Europe Minister with us, and I took him with us to meet residents living near Watcombe School and also to meet local businesses in the area.

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

Campaign Progress report
Week 1

This is some of the team on Monday, before the kickoff, when the enthusiasm and the energy levels were at 100%; and as you can see, when the weather was wet and windy.
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.

Look out for our trusty battle bus, if you see it parked in your neighbourhood we are pounding pavements nearby; why not come and say hello?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Heavy Paper.

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.

If you would like copies of any of our leaflets you can email me on and I will send you a full set.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Local Campaign Launch

The Shadow Secretary of State for Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Nick Herbert helped me kick off our local election campaign with a visit to Occombe Farm followed by a visit to our local headquarters in Preston yesterday.

He was impressed by the numbers and the enthusiasm of our team, and gave us a rousing speech - reminding us that this day is the beginning of a process that we all hope will lead to a change of Government. I reminded everyone that there have only been two occasions when the Conservatives have taken power from Labour in my lifetime and that May 6th is going to be the third.

And with that we were off to start another Bay-wide round of leaflet deliveries and doorstep canvassing.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

(or not - I'm staying either way)

We have learned from Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell this week that in the event of a hung Parliament Gordon Brown will remain as Prime Minister, even if Labour is not the largest party.

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

What do you want to be when you grow up Lucy?

Lucy looked at her Dad and said "I want to be the Prime Minister."

"And why do you want to do that?" said her Dad.

"Because I want to make sure that homeless man and his dog in the doorway across the street has something to eat" says Lucy.

"That's my Girl" says her proud father, "Welcome to the Labour Party."

Lucy's mum had overheard the conversation from the other room, and not being quite such a fan of the Labour Party, she came to join the discussion.

"I have an idea" said Mum. "The garden needs weeding and the driveway needs sweeping. If you do that for me Lucy I will give you £10. Then you can go and give it to the man across the street and he can use it to buy some food for himself and his dog."

Lucy considered this offer for a few moments and then a look of puzzlement crossed her young face, and then her eyes widened with inspiration.

"Why doesn't that man come over and weed the lawn and sweep the drive himself? that way you can just give him the £10 - and he will feel better because he will have earned it?" she said, with that faultless logic children often display.

"That's my Girl," said her mother... "Welcome to the Conservative Party" .

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Will the growing signs of a 'double dip' bring an early election?

The economic news is deteriorating rapidly. Aside from the short-lived 0.1% 'growth' story earlier in the month the economic news has been relentlessly gloomy so far this year with the outlook for jobs, house prices, inflation, economic growth, the exchange rate, Government borrowing and interests rates all turning sharply negative in recent days.

Especially worrying are the Government borrowing numbers for January which reveal that we needed to borrow £4bn in a month that normally has the Governments coffers overflowing. The BBC reports "January typically brings the government a large income from tax receipts, giving it a budget surplus and allowing it to repay some of its debts. But this year tax receipts were significantly lower than expected, the ONS said, with both income tax and capital gains tax income falling sharply. Tax receipts dropped 11.8% compared with January last year, when the government was able to repay £5.3bn."

This is the equivalent of a seaside holiday hotel finding it is making a loss during August.

For most of 2009 the Government were printing their own money to spend, but that process has ended and from now on the Government has to persuade real investors to lend it the mountain of cash it needs to pay the salaries and benefits on which millions of Britons depend.

Borrowing costs will almost certainly rise, very sharply. Unless the markets are convinced that the Government has a plan to deal with its budget crisis even this might not be enough.

That is why speculation is rising again that the Government may not wait for the news to get worse but instead cut and run for the election in March. An early election means that the Budget could be deferred and the election would happen before the 2010 1st Quarter economic figures are published in April (Many analysts believe that the Q1 figures will be more disappointing than the 0.1% 2009 Q4 figure published last month, suggesting either no growth or a tip back into recession).

We cannot go on like this, playing politics while the real economy teeters is the last straw. It is more important than ever that the Government delivers a credible plan for jobs and growth. Labour should take the advice of leading economists and Sir Richard Branson and adopt our plan to tackle the deficit and ensure stable recovery. Instead, Labour are pursuing a path that will undermine confidence, threaten higher interest rates and mortgage rates and put the recovery at risk.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fair Votes-
Has Nick "Mini Me" Clegg made a big tactical blunder?

After weeks of careful positioning by Nick Clegg that his party were not in Labours pocket, last night the entire Liberal Democrat contingent filed through the voting lobby with Labour in a shabby attempt to alter the voting system.

The Liberal Democrats have sought a change to the voting system ever since they were formed but they want Proportional representation. The system proposed by Labour is in many ways the opposite, alternative vote has a tendency to exaggerate the advantage held by the winner, it would have given Labour even more seats in 1997 and 2001 than they already had, for instance.

As Mike Smithson, the Lib Dem blogger from puts it:

"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"

Yet Cleggs party went along with the stunt - and apparently this is in the name of trying to repair public trust in politics!

Public anger at the expenses scandal is part of a deeper frustration with our whole political system.

Labour have had 13 years to mend our broken politics. But Gordon Brown is just not capable of doing it.

He has tried to block the publication of MPs’ expenses, he has dithered over reform and it took days of Conservative pressure to force him to take away the whip from three Labour MPs facing prosecution over expenses.

After avoiding a leadership election and bottling a general election, Gordon Brown is trying to fiddle the electoral system to save his own skin, it is as simple as that.

It’s clear he will say anything to cling on to power.

We can’t go on with five more years of Gordon Brown’s old politics. We need change and real reform of the political system.

An incoming Conservative Government will fix our broken politics with a sweeping redistribution of power: from the state to citizens; from the government to Parliament; from Whitehall to communities; from Brussels to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy. We will ensure that MPs can never use parliamentary privilege to evade justice, and reform lobbying laws so ex-ministers can’t use public resources for private gain.

To get real political change we need a change of government.

Thursday, January 28, 2010




Inequality under Labour has risen to its highest level since World War II.

A report from the National Equality Panel, published today, reveals that after 13 years of Labour Government:

· We have the highest levels of income inequality since soon after the Second World War;

· We have some of the highest overall poverty rates in Europe;

· Social mobility has stalled;

· By the age children start school, there’s a gap of up to year’s development between children with two parents with paid work, and those without;

· Up to age 44, women are better qualified than men but actually earn up to a fifth less.

Families are worse off under Labour.

As George Osborne has written in The Sun today, the latest figures show that the average family is almost £900 worse off than in 2005. Under Gordon Brown, Britain has gone backwards, not forwards.

Ex-Daily Mirror Editor agrees we can’t go on like this.

The former Editor of the Daily Mirror, and lifelong Labour supporter, Mike Molloy, has said that he will vote Conservative for the first time at the forthcoming general election. He says:

‘When New Labour came to power, I was confident they would change Britain for the better. Well, we all know how wrong I was... the experiment with New Labour has ended in catastrophe and this Government has wasted money like no other in history. So I shall vote Conservative for the first time in my life.’

Read Mike Molloy’s full article here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Spot the difference

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.
However you spin the economy, the V shaped (short, shallow dip and strong recovery) recession promised by the Government is a bad memory. What it looks like we are in is a very deep U shaped recession (steep decline, levelling off for a period of flat or zero growth followed eventually by a climb) in which case as we have had 18 months down, and we may have to have a very long period of flatness before ecomimic activity starts to climb again.

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

Choosing Cadbury
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

... And now we know why.

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.