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.