Monday, December 20, 2010

And that was 2010

This is my last blog entry of 2010 – and what a year it has been.

My own highlight was running for parliament – from selection in January, through the campaign, to standing on the stage for the result. This was very hard work but also great fun – and I am already looking forward to my next campaign – whenever and wherever that might be.

The general election was of course the main political highlight of 2010 – an airbrushed Cameron poster, Bigot-gate, Cleggmania, the usual twists and turns of any election, but resulting in some firsts. The first hung parliament since 1974, the first coalition government since 1945, the first Liberal Democrats in government, the first leaders’ debates, the first Green MP, the first BBC exit poll to be spot on etc.

Nick Clegg must be the political man of the year. How many people have been ‘more popular than Churchill’ and had an effigy burnt within a few months of each other. From the debates, to becoming Deputy Prime Minister, to the tuition fees row, it has been an eventful year for our Nick – the most eventful for any Liberal leader since Lloyd George.

The pace shows no sign of slowing in 2011. The Oldham by-election, the voting referendum and council elections, the impact of the cuts, the continued speed of the government’s programme – it is all very interesting for the political fan.

Blog-wise, my most read entry was ‘My Welsh Assembly Campaign – Part One’ (29 November) possibly because the title brought me to the attention of some people in Wales. My entry ‘When the going gets tough, the weak go running’ (18 September) also got a good readership – plus the sequel (9 October).

The most commented entry was ‘It must be with the Tories or without’ (11 May) when I said we should not enter a deal with Labour. This got a mention on the BBC news web site but, alas, I missed my chance to go on The World at One. (I was in a meeting when they called).

My own favourite entry was ‘We’ve lost the Generation Game – but can the next contestants win?’ (20 October) – on which I join others in reflecting about how the last generation have let down this one. I have further thoughts on this which I might put in another entry.

In all I have blogged 67 times this year – and not only about politics. Radio shows, England’s world cup flop and the second world war have all got my attention. But of course the political landscape and my own small part in it is the main theme of this blog – and as ever all the views are mine alone.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my thoughts of 2010, that you will continue to spare me your time in 2011, and in the meantime I wish all of you, whatever your politics are, a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Welsh Assembly Campaign - Part Two - Preparation

Before I progress with my tale, I should clarify something which seemed to cause some confusion elsewhere. I was not successful in my application and so will not be representing the Liberal Democrats at the Assembly elections next May. But I still hope to help in some small way.

My application did cause some comment in the Welsh media. One called it ‘entertaining’. I will say this to the nationalists. Ceredigion is a beautiful part of the country with some wonderful people – you do not have to be born in Wales to appreciate that fact.

To return to the story, things were progressing well. I was successfully interviewed to join the list of Welsh approved candidates, my application was approved, and I was invited to the hustings – now to prepare.

To address the obvious question which would come my way (and indeed did). Why would the good people of Ceredigion elect an Englishman to represent them in the Assembly of Wales? I would argue that just because someone comes from Wales does not guarantee good representation (Plaid Cymru’s recent failure to back the Welsh language is just one example) and that you should consider the candidates, the parties and the policies on their own merits. (I had other arguments along these lines).

The theme of my campaign was to emphasise how Ceredigion can play an active role across Wales and the UK to generate recovery. Whereas Plaid Cymru wish to drill through Offa’s Dyke and have Wales sail off into the Irish Sea, in my view I did not think that isolating Wales was the answer to Ceredigion’s problems.

Ceredigion has a high number of public sector workers and small businesses – it had suffered during the recession and with cuts on the way could suffer further. So the regeneration of business and the development of the private sector to create jobs was my top priority. I had some ideas and proposals towards this objective.

The other themes I planned to talk about were suggestions re: maintaining the provision of health and education services, boosting tourism, and the protection of rural communities. I also hoped my campaigning against tuition fees might win over a few student votes (NB: the hustings were before the recent Welsh government’s announcement on fees).

If selected, I was planning to wage an active campaign throughout the area using traditional methods such as canvassing by door and telephone, and regular high street stalls in the towns, as well as new social media methods such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, web sites etc.

This all went in my manifesto. I then wrote to all the local party members and prepared my speech. Looking back I am thinking I should have telephoned the party members too (there were a lot of them!) so that’s a lesson to learn for any future applications.

After arrival, I visited two of my favourite Aberystwyth pubs – Rummers and The Scholars Arms, got an early night and then the next day it was off to Aberaeron, an attractive village about 16 miles down the coast. Admittedly I had not been to Aberaeron for some time but it was refreshing to see that it had hardly changed.

I read somewhere that David Cameron had impressed his hustings audience by speaking entirely without notes. Both Cameron and Nick Clegg have done this several times more recently of course and so, while I am not in their league in public speaking terms, I thought I would give this method a go.

So after a quick sandwich, a final rehearsal of my speech, and last minute items of research, my preparations were complete. I arrived at the hall ready to give it my best shot.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Can we stop digging please?

Let’s face it – the tuition fees issue has been a disaster. We have handled this very badly. The only consolation is that our poll rating can’t get much lower. Amongst students our poll rating has fallen from 45% at the election to 15% now – and even that’s higher than we might expect.

Unfortunately we are still digging .. and it’s time to stop.

I have great respect for Vince Cable. He has been a great Treasury spokesman over the last few years and is proving to be an astute Business Secretary. He did a brilliant speech at regional conference. But as I said earlier, he and I differ on this one point in that I felt we could have done more for students.

So I was astonished to read that the Lib Dem MPs are seeking a 'common position' for all 57 MPs which might involve Vince abstaining on his own policy! There can’t have been a precedent for this. Equally Danny Alexander, who is proving to be a good Chief Secretary, got into a mess in justifying this view on BBC’s Question Time. This doesn’t help things, chaps.

There is no problem with one party voting different ways, as the others have done occasionally, so the solution is clear. The Liberal Democrats which are part of the government should vote in favour of the policy under collective responsibility. The MPs who are not in the government should honour the pledges and vote against. If the opposition get their act together (unlikely) we may send out a clear message even if we don't defeat the plan.

The government of Wales have decided to freeze the tuition fees and make up the difference from their budget. I welcome this but remain suspicious of mischief making. Wales is run by Labour and Plaid Cymru and there is a general election in five months. I think their crafty plan is to use this against the Lib Dems, see them off at the election, and then afterwards, should they still be in power, they will then put the fees up anyway and blame the Westminster government. Hopefully I will be wrong.

Initially I was impressed by Aaron Porter, the NUS President, in his campaign. But after seeing his recent TV appearances I am now concerned he is becoming a Labour stooge. He is right to condemn the government’s proposals but wrong to target the Liberal Democrats so ferociously. He should remember that we are split on this issue and hundreds of parliamentary candidates (including myself) have signed petitions calling on the government to think again. He should also remember Labour's record on fees.

Had Labour won the election this year, and Gordon Brown still in Number 10, would Labour have rejected the Browne report, considering they set it up and their previous enthusiasm about fees?

And surely no-one seriously thinks a Conservative government would have given a better deal? In that case there would have been no cap, and fees of up to £15,000 and beyond.

So although we have let them down, the fact remains that of all the major parties, the Liberal Democrats remain the most student-friendly party. We abolished fees in Scotland, we are still committed to abolishing fees throughout the UK, and the vast majority of the members still back that view. Many of us intend to keep the campaign going and hopefully, in financially better times and a budget towards the end of this parliament, we can make a start on lowering and abolishing fees.

I would like to see our new president and party leadership in close discussions with the NUS to establish where we can go from here. But if the NUS think they will get better deal by wiping us out and putting one of the others in, then they might be in for a shock.

However we have done ourselves no favours by continually working away at the hole we are in. Let’s stop digging and start thinking.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My Welsh Assembly Campaign - Part One - The Background

While browsing the 'Liberal Democrat' newspaper this summer, an advert leaped out at me – candidates wanted for the Welsh Assembly elections in May 2011. One word came into my head – Ceredigion. My campaign had begun.

I spent some happy years as a student at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and have frequently gone back to the area. Ceredigion is a beautiful part of the country and is well recommended for holiday breaks – whether you like walking or cycling, driving around the area or just lazing on the beach. It is also an excellent place to study.

‘I’m applying to be a Lib Dem candidate for the Welsh Assembly’, I told my wife.
‘How much money do they get?’ she replied – which I guess most wives would ask if one is contemplating a career move. Having looked it up and satisfied her that we would not go broke, I put my application together.

There was a long road ahead, of course, but there was nothing to lose by trying. Having now wound down from the general election campaign I had itchy feet to get moving again.

Welsh affairs are shamefully ignored by the London media so a bit of background. The National Assembly for Wales opened for business in 1999 and has 60 Assembly Members (AMs) and, like the Scottish Parliament, is elected every four years by a form of proportional representation (PR).

Why PR? Because otherwise there might be no Conservatives at all – there were no Tory MPs in Scotland or Wales after 1997 and even now they only have one in Scotland. (PR to benefit the Tories? Oh, the irony!)

Since 2007 Wales has been ruled by a Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition. The First Minister is Carwyn Jones (Labour) who answers every question with ‘it’s the UK government’s fault’. The leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats is Kirsty Williams who is a very impressive campaigner and constantly has the First Minister on the run during questions. And the proceedings of the Welsh Assembly are far more polite and professional than the House of Commons (which isn’t difficult).

Ceredigion has a Liberal Democrat MP (Mark Williams) who had a tremendous result at this year’s election increasing his majority from over 200 to just over 8,000. Ceredigion’s current AM is from Plaid Cymru.

I obtained and completed the application form and off it went. Two questions came to mind for which I would need answers – one, why should Ceredigion’s voters elect an Englishman to represent them and, two, how could I lead a campaign while living elsewhere? (My answers in the next chapter).

Initially I also applied for the regional list of Mid and West Wales (these are the ‘top-up’ AMs to ensure a proportional balance in the Assembly) but decided to withdraw as it became impractical and I wanted to concentrate on Ceredigion.

The regional list selections were all carried out first and meanwhile I kept in touch with events and what was happening in Ceredigion.

Finally I was delighted to get the invitation to the hustings. I was on my way.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Millbank Tower - The Day After

I am sitting here at my desk on the 11th floor of Millbank Tower where I work each day – except yesterday when, in my absence, my workplace became the subject of headline news.

I refer of course to yesterday's riots following the student demonstration against tuition fees in the Millbank concourse where there are two main buildings. One is Millbank Tower, which is 32 floors high. Next door is 30 Millbank which is six or seven floors and is where the students got on the roof. This building suffered the most damage.

Although not at work, I managed to keep in touch with my colleagues. There is an emergency evacuation procedure for fires and bombs but we don’t have one for riots! It was all a scary experience apparently, especially for the reception staff on the ground floor, and took a while for the office to be closed down and everyone to be evacuated down the stairs at the back of the building.

There were continuous alarms and regular security alerts and, when you halfway up the building, you can’t see too clearly what is happening on the ground floor. People were phoning home to ask people to watch on BBC News or getting news by contacting friends on Facebook.

While everyone is cleaning up downstairs, a few thoughts occurred to me.

Firstly I had kept in touch with the organisation of the demo as I was intending to participate. (In the end, illness prevented me from going anywhere).

But, during the preparations, never once did it say the march would go near Millbank Tower, which is ten minutes walk along the Thames from Parliament. The focus was to be Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square. So did someone, as some stage, say, come on chaps let’s go down the road to storm Millbank Tower, and everyone went along on a whim?

We all knew that the demonstration was scheduled, but up the road in Westminster, not outside our front door. The shock of my work colleagues, and those in other offices, testifies that this was a completely unexpected turn of events. It is difficult for us to blame the police who must have been as surprised as anyone.

Secondly, the anger of the students is directed at the Liberal Democrats – in my view, understandably. So why then attack the HQ of the Conservative party? Is it because no-one knew how to get Cowley Street?

Tories are no friends of students, less still of those on lower incomes. They are there to protect the rich and a pure Tory government would have put fees up higher and higher to keep the poor kids out and make it easier for rich kids to get in. As the Tories were behaving entirely in character, why attack them?

Thirdly, the riots took the attention away from the main event – a well organised, largely attended, mostly peaceful demonstration. All the TV pictures were of the Millbank area.

One could argue that had the demo been entirely peaceful, it would have been ignored by the media and politicians – at least this way it gets noticed. But on the other hand it does the cause far more harm than good. But I was pleased to see Aaron Porter of the NUS condemn the trouble so quickly.

I am informed that it was a spontaneous riot when demonstrators, walking on their way home, suddenly realised that they were walking past the Tory headquarters. Another possibility is that the demonstration was hijacked by those with other motives – to discredit the students and the intentions of the protest.

As a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, I signed the pledge to oppose tuition fees – and I intend to continue to campaign against tuition fees. I think we have let the students down and should admit to it (see my earlier entry). This could be a setback but we must continue and lobby all our MPs to vote against any fees increase.

For now, though, it’s back to work. We are open for business as usual. Life goes on.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Swale Council elections 2011 update

It’s now six months to go until the 2011 ‘all-out’ Swale council elections – the most important local elections for many years.

I have suggested to my colleagues that we put together our manifesto. We should ask ourselves – if the Liberal Democrats won 24 council seats (!) and took control of Swale council, what would we do? I would like us to produce a short document setting out our ideas. (Ideally this document would go through every door in Swale but of course that won’t happen).

Naturally we won’t win 24 seats – it’s proving difficult to get 24 candidates – but a document of ideas will show we have the energy and enthusiasm to get our message across.

The idea of a manifesto is shamelessly stolen from Swale UKIP (link below) who have come up with the interesting proposal of a devolution of power to Sittingbourne, Sheppey and Faversham and greater influence for parish councils. This division of power down to another level is, dare I say it, quite liberal, and I think is one we can support. My main reservation is that Swale already has a large number of committees (29! For only 47 councillors!) and I hope this would not mean three planning committees, three standards etc unless we offloaded some of those in existence.

Sittingbourne and Sheppey Labour meanwhile are dozing along, happily celebrating Lib Dem setbacks, yet to wake up to the fact that it is the Tories who are in control. Labour would be very happy if they wiped us out – even if it meant sitting in opposition surrounded by Tories for another four years.

Labour need to win 14 seats to control the council. They will make some gains but I don't think they will make enough. If we were to work together, then we might pick off enough Conservative seats between us to deny the Tories a majority and set up a Lab-Lib Dem administration. Unfortunately that won’t happen.

I expect the Conservatives will repeat their ‘no campaigning’ policy which has been so successful in recent years. And, let’s face it, with Labour unwilling and the rest of us unable to provide strong opposition then Conservative control for many years looks assured – and that is bad news for Swale.

But let us not be downhearted. We few, we happy few, (we very few) will give it our best shot. After all, six months is a long time in politics.

STOP PRESS: As I was typing this, I am happy to report that I have been invited to Ceredigion to a Hustings in a few weeks to find a Liberal Democrat candidate for the Welsh Assembly elections. I am now busy preparing and am very much looking forward to my visit.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Out with the old. In with the new.

(An edited version of the letter below has been sent to the magazine, Total Politics).

One aspect of the Liberal Democrats in recent months which deserves a mention is how the party membership has transformed to be better able to face its future challenges. It is out with the old and in with the new.

Some Lib Dem members became deserters. They lacked the stomach for power, responsibility and unpopularity and, instead of fighting for the party’s values locally and nationally, decided it was easier to head for the hills.

Some Lib Dem members became defectors, mostly to Labour. Obviously these people were never Liberal Democrats in the first place, have been wasting our time and resources, and we are better off saying to them good luck and good riddance.

But these weaklings and cowards have been more than replaced by new and welcome members, attracted by the fact that the Liberal Democrats are now a party which is serious about its politics and is prepared to form working relationships with other parties – as in Scotland, Wales and various councils and now the UK – in order to work together to solve the various problems we face.

The Liberal Democrats are still its own distinct party, of course, and will campaign for its own policies – and the best way to get more of these policies in place is to get more votes, more councillors and more MPs. Running away like a spoilt child will not help towards this.

No longer the party of permanent opposition, the Liberal Democrats have displayed the ability now to get policies in place and make a difference.

The decline in public support is more serious, but with welcome new and strengthened membership and the chance of making changes based on fairness, the future of the party looks good to face the challenges of the years ahead.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Report: South East Liberal Democrats Regional Conference - Eastbourne

On Saturday I found myself in Eastbourne at the South East Lib Dems Regional Conference. In the recent election campaign, this was our main target seat in the south east – I received numerous emails saying ‘never mind your constituency, come and help out in Eastbourne’ or words to that effect – but the campaign was a success and now Eastbourne joins Lewes next door with a Lib Dem MP.

The conference was sold out weeks in advance and took place in a school a few miles from Eastbourne – lots of signs saying ‘always walk on the left’ did give some cause for comment.

After a drive where the sat nav took me round several motorways, I was in the main hall in time for the opening address where the new MP, Stephen Lloyd, welcomed us all and told us how he is settling in.

He made a good point that amongst the Tories there was a group of 30 or so who could fit John Major's description of the ’loony’ element. This is a group on the extreme right, look-after-the-rich, hate-the-poor, hate-foreigners, privatise-the-NHS, abolish-all-benefits etc – you get the picture. If the Tories had won the election with a small majority, this group would have controlled the agenda, like when John Major was given a hard time. Instead, people are saying thank god the Lib Dems are there to keep these guys on the fringes (for now!)

Chris Fox, the Chief Executive, took over, pointing out the difficulties we now face (not least the loss of £2m state grant) and how we could face the future. Having received numerous emails from him, it was good to see him in person and learn more about the party's approach.

At which stage, I sneaked off to the first training session, that of the new website to be launched soon. Our local party doesn’t use the web site very well and I am keen to get it going, as well as Facebook, Twitter etc to build up a dialogue and communications.

One ploughman's lunch later, I was back in the main centre to see Vince Cable – the hall was packed for this session. I had been concerned about Vince recently, as on television, such as Question Time, he had given me the impression of not enjoying government very much. However here he fully returned to form – putting in a bullish performance and rallying the party well. On business policy and the banks I felt he was spot on. But I still disagreed with the tuition fees decision, although he made an admirable defence which won some people over.

Back to training to hear about the new ‘Winning Teams’ initiative – an idea to encourage every local party (not just those in target seats) with training and mentoring to develop further. I got some ideas to take to our next executive meeting.

Then our deputy leader, Simon Hughes, arrived and spoke optimistically for the future. I've a lot of time for Simon and he too spoke well and raised spirits. He also made a very valid point - that we can't keep blaming Labour for the deficit - it was partly Labour's actions over the years but also the world recession and the behaviour of the banks. He praised Gordon Brown for his quick actions at the time of the banking crisis.

This is a fair argument, and I have said how I would like to co-operate further with the local Labour party to try to get the Tories out of power in the council. Unfortunately Labour have decided to concentrate all their fire on us - reading their blog you wouldn't believe the Conservatives exist - so there's not much prospects there.

There was some audience participation  – Simon asked us (1) should our MPs back Vince Cable and vote for the Browne Report, (2) should they go by the coalition agreement and abstain or (3) should they honour the pledge to the NUS and vote against the Browne report? The vote was almost exactly split three ways - which is typically Liberal! (I voted for option 3).

As well as the various events and training, there were stalls from local parties fund raising and leafleting, both the candidates for Party President gave hustings which, unfortunately, I couldn’t fit in, and Lib Dem Image was there with their merchandise.

Finally, after the debate on tuition fees, I decided to call it a day and see how the sat nav was going to take me back home. The direct route from Eastbourne up to north Kent, with hardly an A-road in sight, was an interesting experience.

Overall, an interesting day which flew by. There’s only so much you can do in one day but hopefully next year I can make it to either the spring conference in Sheffield or the main conference in Birmingham. A lot will have happened by then!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

We've lost The Generation Game - but can the next contestants win?

On a day where cuts are the topic being talked about, I thought I would reflect on an issue which others have taken up – that of how the ‘baby boomers’ – those that were born in the 40s and 50s – have squandered the resources of the nation through the Thatcher-Major-Blair years – and as a result are probably the first generation to actually make life much more difficult for the next.

This first came to mind when I was reading the memoirs of John Simpson, the BBC reporter. After leaving university in the mid-60s, he married his girlfriend, purchased a house in Regents Park (Regents Park!!) and had the choice of three job offers (three!!), one of which was from the BBC which he accepted. He was only 22 years old!

Had he left university now, he would have had debts of up to £20,000, would have been very unlikely to be able to afford to buy a property – never mind anywhere in London – and as for three job offers, well, after 20 applications, you might get an interview.

In case you think this is a special example, my parents decided to buy a property in the mid-60s and decided on East Anglia as prices were reasonable and it was a nice area. Indeed they got a bungalow just outside Norwich where us kids were all to be born. I asked my Dad how many jobs did he apply for before being successful? One, he told me. So they were able to purchase a good property, near good schools, in a good area, be confident of getting a job – and they were not yet 27!

What is it like now?

- Students leave university with high debts (which are set to increase further) which could take them up to twenty years to pay off.
- Getting a job is a long and difficult process – and, as they say, there’s no such thing as job security. The days of settling down and waiting for your carriage clock are long gone.
- Getting onto the property ladder is even more difficult, forcing many to borrow beyond their means or give up the idea of buying forever.
- Pensions? Forget it – if you’re under 40 you’ll work till you drop. Unless you can afford a big chunk of savings to put aside (after you’ve spent money on all the above, that is) then you can forget about getting a pension sufficient to retire on.
- The environment is ruined – but then those over 60 are not worried as they won’t be around when the worse effects hit.
- Hospitals are falling to pieces while politicians blame each other.
- Education standards have fallen due to lack of investment and competing ideologies. Have you seen the questions on kids shows in the 1950s/60s?
- The economy goes through boom and bust cycles with regular recessions to keep us all on our toes and making long term financial planning almost impossible.

My niece is four years old. By 2030, she will have left university (if she can afford to go) and be making her way in the wide world. By 2050, she may have a family and teenage children. What sort of world will she grow into? When she looks at the state of the country in 2050 and remembers the previous generations, what will she and her contemporaries think of us?

The only plus point our parents are leaving behind is the lack of war. We won’t have the threat of invasion or have to live through a total war environment although terrorism and cyber-crime are of course now major threats.

But it’s all right to grumble – what can we do about it? How can our generation repair the mistakes of the last? This is the topic that has been written about again and again. Will we ever return to the days of a stable economy, free education for the most gifted, full employment, mass property ownership, job security, a protected environment, and secure pensions?

That is the challenge to all politicians present and future. The question is – will we meet it?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tuition fees - a way ahead?

The Liberal Democrat blogosphere has been overheating with the anger felt at the tuition fees announcement – and quite rightly so.

During the campaign, many parliamentary candidates, including myself and all our MPs, signed a pledge to the National Union of Students not to increase tuition fees. Indeed in an earlier entry about the coalition agreement, I expressed concern that there was not enough about tuition fees – being allowed to abstain was insufficient.

Labour introduced fees and bankrupted the country, the Tories are happy to see bigger fees to make it easier for rich kids to get in, and yet Liberal Democrats will get the blame! Such is politics! But it is fair to say that our party has not done enough and we have let many of our supporters down.

Anyone who is prepared to work hard enough should be entitled to a university education. I myself had some happy years studying at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. For most people it is their first experience of living away from home, giving a feeling of independence and teaching you self-discipline and responsibility – as well as the chance to meet fellow students from around the country, develop a great social life, and study a subject you enjoy.

The year before I started university, the then Thatcher government removed the right of students to claim housing benefit and introduced the poll tax. Neither went down well. We had no fees, of course, and a modest grant which could be topped up by reasonable loans.

But if I were a student now I would certainly be having second thoughts. Having a degree, a large debt of up to £40,000 and no job – all at the age of 22 is not attractive. And of course in the subsequent years many graduates then get married, have kids and a mortgage, and face an entire livelihood on debt. And, as is often said, you can’t live on debt.

If university attendances were decided by ability rather than finance, then the best minds would develop in topics such as law, medicine and science which would be of the benefit of society as a whole. However if only those from well-off families could go to university then not only would standards decline but it would be waste of some of our best minds and, as we Lib Dems like to say, it is not fair.

So what should we do?

Firstly, I would hope as many Liberal Democrat MPs as possible vote against the government. There’s enough Lib Dems as part of the government to join the Tories (who will of course happily vote for higher fees) and get it through but at least the point would be made.

Secondly, we should recommit our party to the principle of abolishing tuition fees. We have not been able to do so because we did not win enough votes but we should indicate it remains a principle to phase them out in the medium term.

Thirdly, as many Lib Dem candidates and members as possible should publicly make it clear they stand alongside the students and join the campaign against tuition fees for the sake of our universities and education standards.

Fourthly, the party should set up a policy committee to establish how the funding could take place for this commitment so that in 2015 we can come forward with costed proposals and a timetable.

These are just some ideas, and there will no doubt be many more which will arise. But we have to hold up our hands and admit we have let young people and their families down. We must work out how we can regain that trust.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

When the Going Gets Tough 2 - Feedback

My earlier blog entry on defectors and deserters got my biggest readership so far (thanks to all) and I have received some comments and feedback from various sources.

To re-cap, I was critical of two of our former Councillors who, because of the coalition, have decided not to continue the fight against the Tory giant, but to leave. This weakens our local party and so ironically helps the local Tories. I would have thought this point would have been obvious but alas no.

When Conservatives are unhappy with their party, they secretly plot and conspire.
When Labour people are unhappy with their party, they openly plot and conspire.
When Liberal Democrats are unhappy with their party, they run to the hills.
Internal debate is good and healthy - but people leaving doesn't help anyone.

So what have been the comments?

‘Liberal Democrats are afraid of power – that’s why they join the Liberal Democrats.’

This charge has been levelled at us for many years – mainly because people thought we’d never get any power. We have shared power in Scotland and Wales and control or share control of numerous councils but of course no-one thought we’d get in the UK government. Had we refused to even talk to other parties, the charge of being scared of power would be given more credence.

Power does bring unpopularity – and unpopularity requires strong wills and stomachs. But some do indeed prefer the cleanliness of opposition to the responsibility of power. Maybe this process will weed out the weaklings and toughen up the party for the long run.

‘I did not join the Liberal Democrats to see a Conservative government.’

Nor me. I didn’t want a Labour government either. But both those two parties got more votes than we did. The bottom line is – if we want a Liberal Democrat government, and get more Liberal Democrat policies, then we have got to get more votes. Leaving the party is not going to help.

‘The deserters probably don’t have the stomach to knock on doors to defend government policy.’

There are many parts of Lib Dem policy in the coalition agreement. Of course we didn’t want 20% VAT nor the free schools nonsense – but we’re not defending them. We can knock on a door and proudly defend raising the tax threshold, linking pensions to earnings, getting rid of ID cards and, hopefully, moving towards a fairer voting system.

‘The Liberal Democrats will be wiped out at the next election and we will be back to two party politics.’

It’s amazing how much time has gone into discussing the result of the next election. BBC’s Question Time seems obsessed with this topic. I don’t remember discussing the 2010 election in 2005 – and we would all have got it wrong anyway.

If a week is a long time in politics then five years is an epic. At the next election, the Liberal Democrats will produce a manifesto for the future term – as will the other parties – and then people can make a choice. We cannot possibly forecast what will happen between now and then.

‘I disapprove of this ‘lust’ for power.’

More than one person has said to me about our ‘grab’ or ‘lust’ for power as if it is a bad thing. I’m sure none of us went into politics to stay in opposition forever. Isn’t having the power to change things the point of all political parties?

‘They [referring to the two ex-councillors] will probably return next year when they feel it's time for a bit of work, but first they'll enjoy some time free from the tedium of meetings, doorsteps and the cold weather of autumn.’

I hope they do but there is much to do in the meantime such as campaigning on local issues, fund raising and a membership drive. Help with this would have been appreciated.

‘Once the Tories have got what they want, they will end the coalition and call an election.’

Obviously either party can end the coalition at any time so we can’t predict this. The Tories are famously ruthless dumping their leaders Thatcher and Duncan-Smith (and nearly Major) when the going got tough. If Cameron is also overthrown then all bets are off.

But what are Liberal Democrats supposed to do about this? For the moment, we should just do our best to form a stable government to get through the financial crisis. We can’t possibly predict the future plots and machinations of the Conservative party.

‘As there was no definite result, we should have immediately had a second election.’

And what if it was another hung parliament? Do we have a third election and keep going until someone gets a majority? Or should our politicians grow up and work together as they do in European countries with coalition governments?

As for the Liberal Democrats – we have no money. Labour have far greater resources than us and the Tory resources dwarf everyone. Lib Dems raise money, not through businesses and unions, but via quiz nights and boot sales. We always reach the overdraft limit at elections and then gradually pay it back over the next few years.

So with leaderless Labour in disarray, and Liberal Democrats having no money, only the Conservatives would have the resources and ability to campaign – and they would win comfortably.

‘We should have made a coalition with Labour to keep the Tories out.’

If I had a pound for every time I have heard this. Firstly, we had promised to talk to the party with the greater mandate. The voters are the kingmakers not us. Second, did we want to keep Gordon Brown in power? If not, we would be propping up another unelected Labour Prime Minister. Thirdly, are we saying we will only form coalitions with Labour - which will reduce our bargaining power in future?

But most importantly, Labour and ourselves combine 315 seats. Even with Sinn Fein’s non-participation it is still short of a majority and dependent day-to-day on the votes of the Northern Irish MPs and the Nationalists. Such a coalition would have been very fragile and would not survive the unpopularity that the cuts will bring. Far from keeping the Tories out, this scenario would have strengthened them to win with a landslide in 2011.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What was the Greatest Battle of the Second World War?

Tonight I went to the Imperial War Museum (of which I am a Friend) to attend a debate amongst three historians ‘what was the greatest battle of the second world war?’

Stalingrad, I hear you cry. No, Kursk, says someone else. What about Midway, says another?

OK, say the organisers, there’s a word missing. Which was the greatest BRITISH battle of the second world war? And the choice is Battle of Britain, El Alamein or the D-Day landings.

Controversy straight away. Is D-Day a ‘British’ battle? There were a lot of Americans and Canadians there. And if you could ask Winston Churchill, he would have said that the Battle of the Atlantic was the most important – it was the one that gave him the most sleepless nights. To be fair, this point was raised, but no-one thought of Kohima – an overlooked but very important battle, certainly the greatest British battle in the Far East. But I digress, on to the debate.

The Battle of Britain has been in all our minds recently. The argument was that had we lost it, then there would have been no El Alamein or D-Day. We were literally fighting over our own territory where the price was high. At the end, this was my own choice. It must have been frightening to be living at the time – when a ruthless and powerful enemy had conquered all Europe and was only just across the channel, wanting to enslave you, while you had to go to work and get on with normal life. The responsibility on the RAF pilots must have been immense.

The argument against was that Hitler never wanted to invade Britain. Had the Battle of Britain been lost, the war would not yet have been over – Germany would have had to mount a seaborne invasion which took the Allies over two years to organise. Hitler's heart was never in invading Britain. He might have chosen to enforce a peace settlement, disarmed Britain, and then turned everyone round to march East. We know this now, of course, but at the time the British people didn’t.

The argument for El Alamein was that it was the first time the Brits stopped retreating - a major turning point. British forces took on the German army in a major battle and defeated them for the first time. Had the battle been lost, it would have put the North African campaign back a year. It was argued that victory at El Alamein had persuaded the Vichy French forces to go easy on the American landing in north west Africa whereas British defeat and they might have resisted further.

My own view: the German forces were at the end of their supply lines, Rommel was home on sick leave – had Alamein failed then there would have been another go a few months later. And the American landings would still have been successful.

The argument for D-Day took the, in my view, rather ludicrous line that had D-Day failed we would all be speaking Russian! Without the Allied landings, the Red Army would just keep on marching westwards to the channel and then hop across to Dover.

My objections were that with Berlin falling and Hitler dead, wouldn’t the Germans in west Europe dash off home and then the Allies could liberate France? And, by D-Day the Allies were halfway up Italy and preparing to invade southern France – which was not as well fortified as the north. Might we not have invaded Germany from a different direction? I raised this point and it was dismissed rather discourteously I felt. The Germans would hold onto the Alps, I was told. Even with Russians occupying Berlin? And if D-Day failed, what would we be doing with the troops over there – might we not have another go or at least wheel them round to the south?

The vote at the end was Battle of Britain 31, D-Day 28, El Alamein 3 so I was on the winning team – which doesn’t happen very often. But an interesting evening, some nice sandwiches and wine, and a debate which will of course go on.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Interview with 'Your Swale'

Keith Nevols, the Liberal Democrat who ran for office in Sittingbourne and Sheppey in the last general election, talks to Jill Hurst about the campaign, what he has been doing since May and what his plans are for the future.

-Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I have lived in Sittingbourne with my wife, Mary, for six years. I’m 42 and work in Westminster in local government. I enjoy watching football, films, history and travel. I am also involved with church activities as a member of the social committee.

-You ran for MP in the last election in May. There’s been a little bit of time for reflection since then. What are your conclusions?

Despite our very limited resources, we had a good campaign, which increased our vote to get our best local result since 1997. I especially enjoyed meeting people on the doorsteps and the debates with my fellow candidates.

The major issues we came across were the local economy and concerns about immigration. While we came up with a workable policy about illegal immigration I felt we did not put it across very well and should have had a non-policy like our two opponents.

The Conservative win was no surprise. We found that the Tory vote was holding firm while the Labour vote was collapsing.

I hope to stand again at the next election, although I am not sure where.

-How did you get involved in politics and what keeps you interested?

I was first involved in the 1980s with the then SDP. I saw the injustices of Thatcherism all around me while the Labour party were more interested in fighting each other. I also felt (and still do) that the entire political system was in desperate need of modernising.

The SDP offered something new and fresh and policies that I generally agreed with. I am kept interested by the variety of the topic and the motivation that there must be something better for people. I especially want to see a more fair political system and hope the AV referendum will be just the first step.

-What’s your view on the coalition Government – do you think it will last?

I am pleased to see Liberal Democrats in government and that some of our policies are being put in place. We must however ensure our distinctive voice and position get across. Like many Lib Dems I was unhappy with the VAT rise and the free schools policy, but then we are the junior partner. I would be opposed to any form of electoral pact with the Conservatives.

I think the coalition will last at least until 2014, as it is in the interests of both parties to stick together.

-Are you disappointed with party central?

No, the central party were a great help during and since the campaign in keeping candidates informed. Simon Hughes is an excellent deputy as a sort of ‘leader outside the government’.

-The whole of Swale council is up for re-election next year – do you think the Conservative stronghold can be broken?

We will be working as hard as we can and I hope the local Labour party will as well. Unfortunately I think the Conservatives will retain firm control of Swale Council up to 2015 but I hope that the opposition parties will at least make some progress and that we see more Liberal Democrats in the council chamber.

-Will you run for local office yourself?

Yes, I am running for the double-seater ward of Murston with Cllr Dave Banks.

-What are your hopes and fears for the district?

I hope that a rejuvenated council will work at regeneration in the area, encouraging development, and that in a few years we will see a vibrant local economy.

My fears are that the council will continue to stagnate, businesses will continue to close, and the people of Swale face a long and grim future.

-And finally….anything you want to add?

Politicians have a bad reputation but it is a subject where you can do good and make a difference. I would encourage everyone to get involved. A healthy democracy is one in which as many people as possible participate.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Congrats to Ed - here's to fair votes and the triumph of youth

‘A horse is a horse of course of course .. ‘ yes, here comes Mr Ed.

Congratulations to Ed Miliband on being elected as the new leader of the Labour party – and use Google if you don’t get that last reference – I am sure you’ll be hearing it again.

Two things come to mind with Mr M junior’s success.

Firstly, had the Labour party used the first-past-the-post system then it would be David Miliband who would be celebrating tonight. Using the Alternative Vote method has ensured that the winner has a majority of the votes unlike over two thirds of the Members of Parliament. I hope that Ed Miliband now joins the referendum campaign so the rest of us can work towards fairer votes as well.

The second important point is that, for the first time, a leader of a major UK political party is younger than me. Ed Miliband is 40 years old, whereas I am 42. Not only that, but Nick Clegg is only nine months older than me. And David Cameron only three months older than Nick.

At the next election in May 2015, Cameron and Clegg will both be 48 while Ed will be 45. However the ‘youngest’ general election was in 2001 when Tony Blair (48) took on William Hague (40) and Charles Kennedy (41).

If, as they say, policemen look younger every year, what’s the expression when all the political leaders are?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Any Labours of Love?

Tomorrow we will know the new leader of the Labour party. From an onlooker’s point of view this has been the most interesting Labour leadership contest in years – because of the range of candidates and that, unlike the contests with Kinnock, Smith and Blair, we don’t know who will win.

My money is still on David Miliband. However I am swinging to Ed Miliband who has had an excellent campaign – he would be a difficult opponent for us, the main advantage would be any grievances David would feel working under his younger brother. Andy Burnham has had a good campaign and Diane Abbott has been endearing. Ed Balls has been his typical bullying self but would be useful to his boss.

Mrs Thatcher famously said ‘Every Prime Minister needs a Willie’ referring to Whitelaw. Under the same principle – every Labour leader needs Balls.

Locally, I have appeared a couple of times in the press (Your Swale) on the local recovery and on votes for prisoners – and have been in agreement with the Labour view. The local Labour party and ourselves agree on a lot of things – no surprise when we have such a dire Tory council in place. Labour are actually very good when attacking the Tories but unfortunately they spend most of their time attacking us and giving the Tories a free run – as we saw in the general election campaign.

It’s a shame we can’t do a deal with Labour for the council elections to try to knock a few Tories off. Labour will probably make progress next May but leave the Tories firmly in sole control for another four years - and that's bad news for Swale. But I have to admit to being tempted to enter a team in their upcoming quiz to try to improve anti-Tory cross party relations. But somehow I don’t think we will be allowed.

And we all wait to see the new Labour leader’s view on the Alternative Vote referendum. I have been in contact with the Take Back Parliament group to see how we could help but I want this to be a multi-party campaign not just Lib Dems.

The Tories will obviously be against any change. All the other parties are in favour. So Labour’s view will be crucial.

If the new Labour leader is prepared to break down the Con-Lab coalition which has consistently blocked genuine reform since 1945 – then at last we could be on the road to genuine change for a modern democracy.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

When the going gets tough, the weak go running

Maybe I’ll get in trouble for this entry – but then this is my blog and my views, so here goes.

Today I am angry. It’s our conference and I am angry. What is the reason for my anger?

Here in Sittingbourne and Sheppey we have a small local party. Like many of our local parties we are extremely short of resources, of money, of manpower. We have an entrenched solid Conservative council to fight and the local Tory and Labour parties have wealth we can only dream of. We have very few council seats. We have a referendum to work for in which our MP has said he would vigorously campaign against us. These are indeed difficult times. So I am trying to involve and increase our membership and profile across the constituency.

This week I was informed that two of our long-standing members, both former councillors for many years and well-known locally, both experienced campaigners, exactly the sort of chaps we want out knocking on doors and running for council, have both decided to quit the party. Why? They are unhappy with the coalition – so they have chosen to withdraw any help. I believe this scenario has been repeated around the country.

Sometimes you really want to get hold of people and give them a good slapping – it makes you so angry. OK, many of us are not happy with some of what the coalition is doing – so as a result you want to punish the local party and bring us closer to extinction? You want by your actions to help strengthen a Tory council which you are supposedly against?  We criticise the media and the Labour party because they lack the maturity to accept the concept of coalitions which is the norm in most of Europe (and Wales), and indeed in many councils. Yet we find this same sort of immaturity within our own party.

It seems the fact of power has made many of our members run for the hills – scared stiff at the responsibility and of the possibility we might become unpopular. They much prefer sitting in opposition with clean consciences, or leaving the party so they can smugly cleanse themselves and watch the local party struggle. It seems with many Lib Dems, when the going gets tough, the weak go running.

The election result meant we did not have the numbers to do a deal with Labour (and did we really want to keep Gordon Brown in Number 10?) so the only alternative to the coalition was a minority Tory government which would result in another election.

We have no money left, so with Labour in disarray, the Tories would have an open field and romp home with a big majority – then there would be no Lib Dems in government, no referendum on the voting system, no reform of the House of Lords, no tax cuts for the lower paid, no freedom bill or local enterprise partnerships, no banking levy etc. But there would still be high VAT and spending cuts.

Let’s get some things clear – none of us are happy with the 20% VAT rise, none of us are happy with the spending cuts programme, I wasn’t happy with the daft immigration policy we adopted at the election, or the equally daft ‘free’ schools or ‘big society’ policies that are now in place. But you don’t just walk off in a sulk. What’s that going to achieve? In our case, a very difficult local campaign becomes even more difficult.

Instead you stay, you fight and you campaign within the party. For this I congratulate our MPs Charles Kennedy, Bob Russell and our excellent deputy Simon Hughes. They have made it clear there are aspects of the coalition they are not happy with – but I know that if they lived in Sittingbourne and Sheppey they would be out campaigning with us for Liberal Democrat votes.

The coalition won’t last for ever – and if, one day, we get fair votes than coalitions might become the norm here too. We might find ourselves in a coalition with Labour – I wonder how many people we would lose then?

I congratulate and thank all the members who have stuck with us and are showing great maturity in difficult times. I urge them to keep battling, keep campaigning, both locally and nationally, for Liberal Democratic principles of social justice and fairness in society. If necessary we will campaign against our own government but we should certainly campaign against Tories (and Labour) wherever they may be.

If our weaker members want to run away then so be it – but let the rest of us keep up the good work and, at every level, let’s fight hard for every vote.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Swale estimated to recover by 2025

A recent report from the South East England Development Agency shows that, while the global and national recovery continues, the area of Swale, which includes Sittingbourne, Faversham and the Isle of Sheppey, will see a much slower pace taking up to 15 more years!

Some parts of Kent will reach a full recovery over the next year or two. For Swale, however, output is estimated to return to pre-recession levels (2007) in 2015, while the level of employment to recover is expected to take until 2025!

These are, of course, estimates but what is clear is that the area is recovering much more slowly than the rest of Kent and desperately needs help. The local economy and jobs were issues raised with us time and time again during the election campaign. Sheppey especially has amongst the highest levels of unemployment in Kent.

So what does Swale Council plan to do? Does the Tory-dominated council plan to take advantage of the government’s schemes to set up Local Enterprise Partnerships which would encourage business to invest and create jobs? Er, no. The government received 56 proposals, including one from Kent and Medway. From Swale, not a whisper - despite the obvious need.

OK, so what have the Council done instead or are intending to do? The answer seems to be absolutely nothing. The Council continue to sleepwalk happily oblivious to the problems of Swale. The Sittingbourne ‘Masterplan’ continues to be awaited while shops and businesses continue to close. I mentioned in a previous entry that the local transport plan is scheduled for 20 years. One wonders how badly the situation has to get to inject some urgency into the Council.

We can only hope that our new MP brings this report to the attention of his colleagues and tell them to get a move on and do something. Otherwise, the future does not look bright.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Letter to East Kent Gazette

Next year there will be a national referendum on the way we elect our MPs. The proposal is to replace the current 'first-past-the-post' system with the 'alternative vote' whereby voters can list candidates in order of preference. I hope we can have a debate about this important subject.

In my view, Alternative Vote (AV) is a superior method. Every candidate will have to win the support of the majority of their voters, and not just a fraction as is the case in many constituencies. AV encourages voting positively thus eliminating 'tactical' voting. Above all, AV reduces the number of wasted votes and makes every vote count. Currently, the vast majority of our votes make no contribution at all.

Candidates would have to work much harder for our vote, including those in 'safe seats', and not just those in marginals. The voters, all of us, would have greater choice and power over our elected representatives.

That's my view. What do others think?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tony Blair: brilliant politician who changed politics

In one way, Tony Blair was the most brilliant politician the UK has ever had. That is the way in which, during his time, politicians became more anonymous and less in possession of character. He won three general elections, was Prime Minister for ten years – the fifth longest unbroken stretch of any Prime Minister – yet I always felt we never really knew him. He threw up a mask and has kept it to this day.

In the case of his predecessors, Margaret Thatcher and John Major, whatever you thought of them, you knew the sort of people they were even if you had never met them. You knew the issues they cared about, the issues they didn’t care about, and their position on most topics.

Yet whenever I watched Tony Blair being interviewed, including his interview with Andrew Marr, I always got the impression of a pre-rehearsed script, that he would never be caught out because we could guess his answer to every question. He was very well prepared for every interview he ever had – and as such I felt we never got to know the real Tony Blair - and probably never will.

In British politics, principles and courage tend not to get you very far. Enoch Powell and Tony Benn are just two examples of highly intelligent, highly capable people who stuck with their beliefs regardless of the party line – and neither ever got near Number 10. In the current Labour leadership race, Diane Abbott is another example of a principled politician who can be popular with the voters but has absolutely no chance of the top job.

Tony Blair took this to the next level. In taking his party away from socialism and moving towards the centre ground, he successfully removed character from our politics and our politicians. Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell became household names more than the cabinet, because of expert media manipulation. David Cameron is the natural heir to this in becoming Prime Minister while portraying only the image not that we see but that we ought to see and keeping most of his colleagues anonymous.

Gordon Brown moved away from this. As a strong character, he re-introduced principles and beliefs to the top job. Yet much like John Major, the one we knew was dumped for the one who we only knew as much as we told. (And we only knew of Gordon Brown’s colleagues when they were plotting against him. Had anyone heard of David Miliband until the banana?)

Some may regret the decline of the character politician. The days of Heath, Wilson, Callaghan, Healey, Whitelaw and so on. But let’s face it – we liked the fake image of Blair and so maybe we have got what we deserved. Also, of course, by removing character, politics became even more boring, turnouts decreased, less people were interested, and hence the Blair government was rarely in danger of toppling.

As ever, popular culture has it right. The Thick of It is a brilliantly updated version of Yes Minister with the added factor of public image management.

And Spitting Image was cancelled mainly because of the lack of characters. In the 1980s we had Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine and of course Norman Tebbit with his leather jacket. Now in the cabinet, of the same rank, we have Andrew Lansley, Michael Gove and Caroline Spelman. Never mind the puppets, would you recognise the cabinet ministers if you met them in the high street?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Keeping busy in England and Wales

Things are quiet at work at the moment but the Liberal Democrats and the church are both keeping me busy.

On becoming membership secretary I was sent a list of the local party members, many of whom I did not recognise. So, along with Elvie, our local leader, I am going ‘on tour’ around the constituency to hopefully meet a few members and/or supporters each week. This weekend, bank holiday, was a bad one to start with – as many people were away – but hopefully on the next few Sundays I can meet a few new friends to say hello.

Unfortunately I wont be able to make it to the conference in Liverpool (a shame as it promises to be a lively gathering) but I am hoping to attend the regional conference in Eastbourne.

I am on the shortlist for consideration to be the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Welsh Assembly seat in Ceredigion. Hopefully I’ll be invited to a hustings over there. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, I spent some happy years living in Aberystwyth, and it would be a pleasure to represent and campaign for the people of Ceredigion in the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff.

Like many parts of the country, the area has suffered as a result of the recession with job losses in agriculture and manufacturing. There are many self-employed businesses so a priority would be to reduce red tape to allow them to expand and develop, and also to protect the area from any cuts coming that way – especially as, according to the Centre of Economics and Business Research, unemployment could hit Wales badly – up to 10%.

Other issues include the provision of health care (including the future of Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth), public transport and tuition fees – so there will be plenty to campaign about if I am selected.

Meanwhile I am also co-organising a Forties Night for 11 September for my local church – with authentic wartime food, music and raffle. The Britain at War Experience at London Bridge kindly donated some tickets as prizes. Hopefully it will be a good turnout.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

IFS Report: Must Do Better

Just before the election debate with my fellow candidates in April, the Institute for Fiscal Studies released a report in which, although criticising all three parties, praised the Liberal Democrats for being clearer than the other parties about where cuts could come and plans for government. Naturally I gave this report a mention during one of my replies.

Hence we can’t really now criticise the latest report which says the budget will hit the poorest hardest. Instead we should welcome this word of warning and see what we can do about it.

Of course as the junior partner there is only so much influence we can have – but we must not be afraid to speak out. We should greet this report with alarm bells, and ask ourselves what can we do about it? We have made some small steps but can we do more? Can we move quicker towards that £10,000 threshold (which was popular on the doorsteps)? Can we clamp down further on tax avoidance by increasing capital gains tax on higher incomes? Can we increase the tax rates at the top end and use the money to invest and create jobs?

The Conservative party aren’t bothered about the report. Looking after the status quo, keeping everyone in their place and protecting privilege is what they are there for, after all. And, over the last 30 years, this has essentially been a conservative country. Labour could only get in by ditching socialism and becoming more ‘Tory’ – as soon as they tried to be Labour again, the sky fell in.

The Liberal Democrats are the only hope for those on lower incomes and those who may be suffering hardship. We must use what influence we have and get more progress made because, at the moment, we are letting them down.

FUNNY BIT AT THE END: It has been suggested to me that, to work towards my political ambitions, it might be a better idea to defect to Labour. I only mention it to show we have not lost our sense of humour. Like Mr Kennedy, I will have my Lib Dem membership card buried with me. And, despite what Ed Miliband may say, somehow I don’t think I will be welcome at the next Sittingbourne and Sheppey Labour get-together.

Friday, August 20, 2010

In Law, 'A' level is for All-Important

The recent coverage over A-level results prompts me to tell a tale. A few years ago, I studied law part-time. I got my degree and then the Legal Practice Course. All I needed was to find a two year training contract and I would be a fully qualified solicitor. As anyone working in law knows, finding a contract is not easy – and it was made even more difficult by the first question I always got.

What were your A-level results?

I would point out that my A-levels were taken in 1987, that since then I had a degree upper second class, a Masters degree, a law degree with distinction, and 16 years full-time work experience including ten in a management position.

Yes, they would say, but what were your A-level results?

At the reply of three C’s I would get a shake of the head.

Some firms recruit on-line and this is often the first question. If you haven’t got AAB then it’s ’sorry but we wish you every success’ etc and you don’t get any more questions.

In 1987, getting CCC was not great but OK – it was good enough to get me into university. But it has always struck me as unfair that I should be judged by exams I took 23 years ago and that the wealth of experience and qualifications I had accumulated since then did not count. Of course most applicants for training contracts are aged 19-21, hence the question, but the legal profession were clearly unaware of the presence of mature students or career changers.

I was even asked for my positions of responsibility at school. Isn’t ten years as a manager running a team responsible enough?

To be fair they were not all like this and I did get a few interviews, twice I was the reserve candidate, but a very large number of law firms would look with blinkers at A-level results.

I considered going to evening classes to take more A-levels to try to get some As but was advised against it – and as the recession came along, training contracts dried up and the competition got even tougher. Hence three years after completing my law studies, I have had to abandon my legal ambitions.

So a word of warning to anyone at school out there – work hard and take your A-levels seriously – as like me you may still be judged on them when you pass the age of 40.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The party goes on

Time to get busy on our local campaigns. Since the election we have gained quite a few new members but, with my membership secretary hat on, I am hoping to get some more. We have a busy year ahead of us – there will be the 2011 Swale Council elections and the Alternative Vote referendum to campaign on.

Overall we have increased our membership but sadly we lost a few. I guess this is understandable but we did say we would talk to whoever got the biggest mandate, and the public decided that would be the Conservatives. Some preferred Labour but the maths was not correct. And I think one or two of my former colleagues were very happy in opposition. One said to me he was so disgusted by our grab for power that he has joined the Greens! No worries of power there then.

I have some ideas to increase our membership and we are meeting soon to discuss these. I was grateful for the help and support I got during the election campaign and hope we can turn this into more longer term assistance. The more members we get, the more money we can get from central office for local campaigning.

The 2011 council elections:
At our strategy group meeting I had some suggestions about wards we could target and how we could fight them. Unfortunately my plans appeared to be too ambitious – but we have, subject to agreement from our executive committee, placed seven candidates and, as it stands, will be fielding about 20 in total. (There are 47 council seats – the council has had for a long time a very comfortable Conservative majority – which explains a lot about Swale’s problems). It would be great if everyone in Swale has the chance to vote for a Liberal Democrat. We must work towards that.

I am hoping we will be able to do more work on the Isle of Sheppey which, unfortunately, we had to neglect in the campaign for the reasons given in my ‘memoirs’. I think our brand of liberal democracy based on fairness and social justice could appeal there. We might be in a national coalition but the more Liberal Democrat votes, the more liberal democrat policies, the less Conservative policies – and that sounds good to me.

The referendum campaign:
I did have the idea of maybe getting some sort of local all-party group together. After all, it is not just a Liberal Democrat campaign, there is cross-party support for a change in the electoral system. Labour were the only party to include AV in their manifesto. However I am not sure if this all-party idea is a starter. The Conservatives will obviously be against change and Labour might be waiting for the new leader to tell them what their policy is. We might get agreement with UKIP and the Greens. Anyway, that’s an idea to put to one side for now.

Members again:
It all comes down to members. More members means more party money and hopefully more candidates and hopefully more success. It’s up to us to get the message out there.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Polls: how low can you go?

With our declining poll ratings, we Liberal Democrats are cheering ourselves up by trying to think of when our support was at its lowest. Chris Huhne said he remembers it being less than 1% although, according to UK Polling Report, the recorded lowest is 1.5% in 1955.

The lowest in my own memory was the period after the 1987 general elections (at which the Alliance got 25.4%). The subsequent merger process and ‘discussions’ of 1987-8 saw our poll rating at 4% – a drop of over 21% in a year. In the 1989 European elections, the ‘Social and Liberal Democrats’ polled 6% - in fourth place behind the Greens.

The main trends recently, as well our reduced support, have been further increases in the Conservative rating and a slight recovery for Labour. I have seen some speculation amongst Conservative bloggers that there might be a good time for a snap election which might give the Conservatives a majority government and the chance to ‘free’ themselves from the Liberal Democrats. That time has not yet come though.

So oddly a recovery for the Labour rating is good for Lib Dems – because it would deny the Tories of the lead that they would require. As the new leader emerges and the cuts take hold, Labour’s rating will doubtless continue to improve and by next spring there should be a healthy lead.

Of course, under the current constituencies, Labour don’t need to get more votes. They can get more seats with a few percentage points less. One MORI poll had the Tories on 40% and Labour on 38% - this would give Labour 50 more seats than the Conservatives. The forthcoming bill to equalise constituencies should resolve this.

Hopefully by the next election the public will clearly acknowledge the contributions we have made even if the media do not – especially in political reform, lower taxes and the soon-to-be-introduced pupil premium. And I’m sure we would rather be in government with a low rating than have high ratings and perpetual opposition.

To finish off, the latest polls averaged over the last few days read: Conservatives 42%, Labour 36%, Liberal Democrat 14%, others 8%.

With the help of the BBC Election Calculator this works out as Conservatives 314 seats, Labour 289 seats, Liberal Democrat 20 seats, others 27 seats. So still a hung parliament.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Trident - a sign of weakness

During the campaign, one gentleman on his doorstep told me he was going to vote for us but had now changed his mind and will vote Tory. The reason, he said, is that ‘they will keep our defences strong’ because of Trident. David Cameron, in his ‘offer’ speech, also referred to strong defences and Trident. The very first question at the Churches Together debate in Sheerness in May was directed at me on this topic and keeping our defences strong.

So clearly there is public concern on the issue of Trident and our defences and how the perception is that we must have Trident so we can be strong.

I am reminded of the scene in Yes Prime Minister when Sir Humphrey patiently explains to Bernard that the point of Britain’s defence policy is not to defend Britain – but instead to make the British believe Britain is defended. With Trident in our hands, we can all walk about, reassured that we are safe.

Yet it seems to me that a defence strategy which bases itself almost exclusively on nuclear weapons is not strong – in fact, it is very weak indeed – and this is something we should all be concerned about.

Trident is back in the news because of who should pay for it. George Osborne and the Treasury argue that the Ministry of Defence should foot the £20bn bill because it is a military weapon. Liam Fox and Defence, on the other hand, argue that as nuclear weapons are ‘political’, they should be paid for by the Treasury. (It was President Truman who established the principle that civilian politicians, not the military, should control the use of nuclear weapons).

The bill is twenty billion pounds and this may rise to one hundred billion and beyond in the years ahead. At a time of massive deficit, when our military are crying out for modern equipment and vehicles, when our troops are moonlighting to save up to buy battle armour, when our forces are using equipment designed for Northern Ireland in the mountains and heat of Afghanistan, does it make sense to spend this money on a system we don’t need and can’t use?

We have seen British troops fight in the Falklands, in Kuwait, the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, and presently Afghanistan. Nuclear weapons were useless for these conflicts. In fact, the Falklands War was the first time a non-nuclear power has attacked a nuclear power, knowing full well there was no risk of ‘nuking’ Buenos Aries.

Equally there have been terrorist activities such as the IRA and Al Qaeda for which modern counter-terrorism resources must be provided.

It is concerning to read that our defences will now be cut even more to pay for Trident severely further reducing our capability to fight a modern conventional war. Would we be able to liberate the Falklands if Argentina walked in tomorrow?

We must have an overhaul of our defence strategy and ask ourselves where do the threats to our security come from and how can we meet them?

To keep our defences strong we need highly trained and efficient conventional military forces, with the necessary modern equipment and facilities to do what they do so well. We need our forces to have the flexibility and mobility to fight wherever we send them – whether it is Europe, the desert or against terrorists at home.

That is what we need – strong defences to protect our country and our people. Not a weak defence based on Trident.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sittingbourne and Sheppey - the latest news

So what’s been happening in our local constituency I hear you ask? Well, not a lot. The towns have settled back into their routine of not much happening.

The Sittingbourne and Sheppey Conservatives remain a one man band. Our new MP, Gordon Henderson, has thrown himself into parliamentary life, currently campaigning for the Isle of Sheppey Academy (which I visited during the campaign). He is keeping an excellent diary on his blog giving a view into the life of a new MP. I hope he keeps it going.

The rest of the Tories remain invisible. Their web site has not been updated for over a year and their councillors keep a low profile (having seen a few of them in action this is probably wise). However, to be fair, being invisible has given them considerable local electoral success in the last two years (although of course local election results tend to be guided by national trends).

The much awaited redevelopment plan continues to be much awaited. During the campaign, one of the most commonly raised issues was how there is so little to do in Sittingbourne and Sheppey. People go to Maidstone and Canterbury to spend their money, money which could be spent and invested in the local economy. There have been much worthy efforts by individuals to bring something to the area, such as a new cinema, but unfortunately Tory-dominated Swale council has all the energy of a three-legged tortoise so overall this situation is likely to remain the case for a while yet.

Sittingbourne and Sheppey Labour party had a quiet patch after ‘a hard general election result to take’ but are slowly coming back to life with new members and the leadership debate. According to their blog, they are giving the Council leaders a hard time and campaigning against the VAT increase. Both worthy exercises.

By next May’s elections, Labour should be revitalised under a new leader (please, not Ed Balls!) while the government will be struggling under the cuts agenda. It remains to be seen if Labour will take this opportunity to revive their Swale fortunes.

As for us in the Lib Dems, we are preparing our campaign for next May (we have to start early as there’s not many of us). The first priority will be defending our seats and then hoping to pick up some more. Also we will have the referendum campaign for fairer votes to fight. I am in the process of contacting our membership and supporters and intend to keep them in touch.

UKIP intend to fight 20 seats in the council elections. As I have mentioned before, I have a soft spot for UKIP. For obvious reasons, we can’t have an agreement but I hope they do well.

Then there is the nuclear possibility – that the media get their wish and the coalition breaks down. This would force us into a snap election. Let’s not go there.

And that’s the local news. And now the sport. In the Ryman South, Sittingbourne Town will kick off on 21 August at home to Dulwich Hamlet.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Radio .. killed the radio star

An advantage of having a blog is having the chance to grumble and, to prove I don’t always talk about politics, the subject of my grumble today is radio stations.

Now I like listening to music while I’m driving or typing or whatever, but I always play my own CDs rather than put the radio on. The reason – radio stations NEVER PLAY ANY MUSIC! I can understand that smaller stations need the income from advertising but it is all the other bits that I object to.

For example: let’s take an example of a 30 minute car journey where I got the below.

- The second half of a Kylie song as I switched on

- The DJ giving me a long list of people I am ‘about to hear’

- An advert on car insurance

- The DJ: ‘what are you doing right now?’ (driving a car actually)
- ‘Do you want to tell us what you are doing?’ (no, not really)
- ‘If so, ring us on .. or email us on .. or text us on .. or tweet us on our Twitter page which is .. or leave a message on our wall on Facebook’ (I’ve forgotten the question now) or send a pigeon to .. (OK, I made that bit up)

- An advert on windows

- A trailer for the news (!) ‘ coming up you can hear about .. and .. and ..’ (well, I don’t need to hear about them, you’ve just told me)

- The weather, ‘today it is sunny’ (I know, I have windows)
- ‘It is raining in Scotland’ (I don’t care, I’m in Kent)
- ‘Do you want to know tomorrow’s weather?’ (All right then)
- ‘Well. I’ll tell you in 15 minutes’ (Oh the suspense)

- An advert for the next show after this one

- Travel news: ‘on the M2 it is fine, on the M20 it is fine, on the A249 it is fine ‘ etc etc ‘moving into Essex, on this road it is fine, no problems on that road’ etc etc (wouldn’t it be quicker just to say which roads do have problems?)
- ‘The trains also have no problems and neither do the ferries. No point me being here really’. (You took the words right out of my thoughts).

- An advert on holidays

- ‘Who do we have on line 1?’
- ‘It’s Stella. I’m so excited’
- ‘And where are you calling from, Stella?’
- (pause) ‘from my living room’
- ‘Er, right, and what are you doing right now?’
- (pause) ‘talking on the phone’
(I’ll spare you the rest of this conversation)

Eventually I did get to hear a song before arriving at which point they started to go round again - so a Scissors Sisters tune and half a Kylie in return for 30 minutes seems a poor return. Plan B, flicking through channels, just gives you all the above in a different order. I am sure this just adds to road rage as you are eventually BEGGING them to put a record on.

If someone would like to introduce a radio channel that just plays music (I’ll allow the occasional SHORT commercial) please let me know.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Keep the flag flying high

Those of us who are supportive of the coalition still recognise the need for our own identity and there are some in the Liberal Democrats who are concerned that this is being lost – and for good reason.

In Swale we are planning to take on the almighty iron grip of the Conservative party but of course some voters may think we are now on their side. Labour’s strategy has been to concentrate their fire on the Lib Dems, presumably hoping to bring down the coalition, although another general election may not be favourable to the Labour party.

Liberal Democrat members are as unhappy as anyone with the VAT rise – but we could either (i) ensure that measures are there to protect those on lower incomes or (ii) break up the coalition and force a general election. I think the public would expect the first option and find the second option, of cutting and running at the first disagreement, irresponsible.

We need to make two lists.

1. Which of the coalition’s policies is uniquely Liberal Democrat?
2. Which Liberal Democrat policies are not in the coalition agreement which we want to see?

To list 1 we can point out:

-The raise of the threshold to take nearly a million people out of tax
-The rise of the capital gains tax rate to reduce tax avoidance and ensure the burden shifts more to those who can afford it
-A series of measures to protect our civil liberties and freedoms
-The referendum on a fairer votes system
-Reform of the House of Lords

Can you imagine a Conservative government doing any of this? Of course not. These are all ours. They wouldn’t be there without us.

And, to coin a phrase, what do we want?

-The replacement of council tax with a local income tax
-The abolition of university tuition fees
-No like-for-like replacement of Trident to save £100bn
-Proportional representation in parliamentary and council elections
-Ensure the programme of cuts does not harm the most vulnerable in society

Above all we must continue to campaign for good liberal democratic values of decentralisation and bringing powers back to local levels.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

From one election to the next

Last night I was at the Houses of Parliament for the Liberal Democrats Parliamentary Candidates Association reception – a post-election party. This was a nice event, a chance to put the suit on, visit the House and this time I could take Mary along. It was good weather to stand on the terrace balcony overlooking the Thames (fenced off from the Lords section – and they had chairs!), chat generally and drink a lot of good wine under the eye of a disapproving wife.

Words of thanks for the campaign were made by Nick Clegg and various others and there was an excellent pep talk by our new deputy leader, Simon Hughes. This might be selfish of me but I hope he stays outside the government, is a cheerleader for our independence and pushes for those of our policies which were not in the coalition agreement (e.g. abolition of tuition fees).

Mention of tuition fees and students brings me on to my own university town. I spent four happy years as a student in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion in mid-Wales – so when I saw the party advertise for candidates for next year’s Welsh Assembly elections I jumped at the chance. I have applied for the Assembly seat of Ceredigion (currently held by Plaid Cymru) as it would be a pleasure to represent and campaign for the area.

As an approved candidate for England, I had to be approved for Wales and so was interviewed by our policy officers about Welsh affairs and our policies etc. Happily I passed selection and so can now attempt to be a Lib Dem candidate for any seat in England and Wales.

Ceredigion currently has a Lib Dem MP and we have a lot of support there. A lot of ifs though. If I am shortlisted and if I am invited to a hustings and if I am the selected candidate and if we win the seat next May then I would be an Assembly Member – but a long way to go to get there. Being a winnable seat, there will be tough competition for the candidature. But I am hoping that, if I am unsuccessful in becoming the candidate, at least the experience will stand me well when seeking a parliamentary seat to fight for the next election.

Much work to do in Sittingbourne of course. Last week we had a strategy group meeting to discuss our initial plans for the ‘all-out’ council elections next May. We won’t be fighting every seat and ward but we need a good show to put more Liberal Democrats into Swale's council chamber – so we have identified some target areas which we can focus on. And there will be a referendum to win as well.

As membership officer I am aiming to build up our members and supporters. We gained quite a few during the campaign and I am hoping to keep the momentum up.

So things are still busy! The election is over. But there are more to come!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

England - so it all went wrong again

Another campaign has come and gone. We looked forward to it, we sung the usual range of songs, we waved our flags, we booked our seats in the pub, and we watched as another England performance ended in despair.

The usual recriminations are coming out – ‘the players are not good enough, the manager has failed, the tactics are wrong, our season has too many games and the youth coaching is inadequate’. I copied that quote from when we failed to qualify for the 1994 world cup. I expect we’ll be saying the same in 2034.

Blaming the manager is an easy thing to do but let’s look at this. Fabio Capello is the most successful club manager England have ever employed. Steve McLaren has done well in Holland. Sven was also successful as a club manager. Maybe the players are simply unmanageable.

Wayne Rooney, Steve Gerrard and Frank Lampard are outstanding players – wearing their club shirt. They are too good to be left out but for England they are not good enough to be left in.

Gerrard and Lampard can’t play together, we are told. OK, don’t pick them then. Wayne Rooney had a great Euro 2004 and two miserable world cups since.

In Emile Heskey we have a striker who specialises in not scoring goals – an interesting novelty which must have passed the experimental stage by now. Peter Crouch has scored over 20 goals for England but hardly played because his goals were ‘only against smaller teams’ – perhaps like, er, Algeria and Slovenia then.

In my view, the problem with England is the same as it is with France. Young players getting enormous salaries, a luxurious lifestyle, cars, mansions, girls etc and see an international career as a means, not to represent their country, but to boost their marketing rights.

We are told the players are ‘tired’. Yet with Brazil and Argentina, not only do many of their players play in Europe, they also have several flights each year to South America for qualifying games. Sounds quite tiring to me.

Are South American players fitter than their English counterparts? Of course not. The difference is that there is simply no pride, passion or commitment. Look at teams like Ghana and South Korea. They know they are not good enough to win the cup but they will have a go.

The players see themselves as more important than the manager – hence it is insignificant who is the boss, the players will just kick a ball about till they can go home, add to their portfolio, and point the finger at the manager for trying to make them work too hard.

The question is – do you pick the best players? Or do you pick the players that want to play?

I’d like to have a go with the latter. The next game is a friendly against Hungary on 11 August. Let’s give an entire new squad a chance and pick young players to make their debut or who only have a few caps at the most. They know that a good performance could cement their place in the squad and will hopefully have the pride and incentive to put in 100%. We may not win but that is the point of friendlies.

Of course we all have short memories anyway. By the end of September Rooney, John Terry et al will all be heroes again, we will wave the flag when Euro 2012 comes round and then all have the same arguments afterwards. But if we genuinely want to reach the latter stages of any summer tournament we have to accept that, no matter how good a player is, you can't force him to play if he doesn't want to - we have to make brave decisions and stick to them.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Kent Freedom Pass for the Over 60s

Support for the Kent Freedom Pass for the over 60s

Keith Nevols, the recent parliamentary candidate for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, has expressed support for Harry Farrow's campaign for a Kent Freedom Pass for the over 60s.

'Harry approached me with details of his campaign', he said, 'and I was very impressed by the support he has accumulated. Harry wants to see a Freedom Pass on the railways for the over 60s, similar to the London model, which would provide free off-peak train travel for visits to family, hospital or work. He has worked tirelessly for over a year, has got support from most of Kent's councils and will be presenting a petition to Downing Street with thousands of names.'

'We should encourage ways of getting people out of their cars and onto the railways as part of working towards a green economy. So I am happy to add my own support to his campaign and hope the coalition government and the railway companies will enable the scheme to be put in place.'

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My General Election - Epilogue - Where Now?

Throughout the election campaign I always had it in mind that we could be doing it all again very soon. The polls pointed to a hung parliament with the Conservatives taking the most seats and I thought, if that were the result, that David Cameron would form a minority government, write a Queens’ speech and then call another election for October.

It was my intention to run again in this second election – if selected by my local party. In a way I was looking forward to another campaign, mostly because we wouldn’t be burdened by the council elections taking place at the same time – and hence we would be free to campaign around other areas of the constituency that we didn’t get to – especially on the Isle of Sheppey.

I had all sorts of thoughts for things we could do differently – more canvassing, more telephone canvassing, an earlier Freepost leaflet (if possible), more on-line work, different high street stalls. The main drawback would be that, after fighting a general election, we don’t have any cash – a problem that the other two major parties would not have, of course.

To our surprise, though, we have a Con-Lib Dem coalition government which must have a good chance of surviving for a full five year term. So there are two questions. Where now for the Sittingbourne and Sheppey Liberal Democrats? And where now for Keith Nevols?

The answer to the first is that we have two aims – one to build the local party up, the other to work towards the 2011 Council elections.

I am getting back to people who contacted me during the campaign with the intention of enrolling more members and supporters. We lost two members who disagreed with the coalition but on the other hand have recruited many more and, as I type, continuing to do so. I am now the membership secretary so I can concentrate on this and involving our members and supporters – as well as organising drives to add to our numbers.

The 2011 Swale council elections are ‘all-outs.’ Instead of elected in ‘thirds’ as in previous years, every one of the Council’s 47 seats is up for election – and then there will be no more for four years.

Now of course we won’t be able to contest all 47 – we could only do 13 this year – so it will be a case of working out a strategy, selecting target wards, and finding good candidates. That is our immediate aim. Hopefully if the first objective of building up the party continues to be met, then so can the second objective of putting more Liberal Democrats into Swale’s council chamber.

Where now for me? It is clear that Sittingbourne and Sheppey are unlikely to have a Liberal Democrat MP for a while. The seat will be Conservative for some time. And there has been no Liberal MP in Kent since 1929. Even a strong campaign like Peter Carroll’s, of Gurkha fame, in Maidstone and the Weald still fell some way short.

So for parliamentary ambitions I will have to look elsewhere. And it will be a couple of years or so before local parties start looking for candidates so it will be a case of keeping an ear to the ground.

It is an end to the general election story of 2010 and back to the local story for the months ahead. In Sittingbourne and Sheppey, the fight for liberal democratic values goes on.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My General Election - Part Four - Election Day

As the final days of the campaign drifted on, there was further canvassing, leafleting, school visits, racing round to rally troops, up early to catch commuters and so on.

At this stage we noticed a disturbing trend – people who had considered voting for us were now drifting back to the two main parties. David Cameron had impressed in the last leaders’ debate and the continual media attacks on us were hitting home.

The big day arrived – and I got up at 4am for a 25 hour day. The defence of Murston remained our primary target. Roman was our secondary target, where we figured Labour might be weak (we were partly wrong here, Labour’s vote did fall but the Conservatives scooped the seat). We had leafleted and canvassed both areas and by 5am I was in Murston delivering the ‘Good Mornings’.

Anyone who has worked in an election campaign would know how busy the actual day is. Lots of good mornings leaflets, checking tellers are in place, collecting numbers, and knocking up supporters. I also had to remember to vote myself of course and give my neighbour a lift, and I was surprised to see a queue at the station. I had heard that Gordon, the Conservative candidate, was visiting all the polling stations. I would have loved to do the same but alas was too busy.

By 9.30pm I had knocked on my final door. If they were not going to vote now, they never will! It was time to go home for a shower and a change of suit. The election campaign was finally over.

Now sporting my great new large yellow rosette (specially purchased for the count) I drove to the Swallows Leisure Centre.

Parliamentary counts are exactly like you see on the telly. Rows of people, furiously counting papers, while everyone else wears a rosette and aimlessly wanders about. There are the media there however so I spoke to the local press, and BBC Kent asked me to go on a few times. In return, they kept me in touch with our target seats – that we had got Eastbourne but not Maidstone.

I stood next to one table while a box was being emptied and sorted and, as the papers were sifted through, could see that the Conservatives had about half while Labour had slightly more than we did. I estimated 50-25-20 which, on the basis of just a few dozen votes, was not a bad guess.

Mad Mike, the Loony candidate, kindly offered me a banana which, as there was no food about, was appreciated. With David Miliband in mind, I was wary of photographers but looked around to find everyone else was also munching on a banana so it would be all right.

As the night went on (and on) a table was set up in the centre of the hall and bundles of papers put in. When they had to get a second box for the Conservative vote we knew that it was quite clear. However there was further delay because the numbers would not match – they were 30 votes out. As it was obvious that the Conservatives had won by a mile, the popular view was to give the 30 votes to Gordon so we could all go home. But the law is the law.

As 4am came and went, I suggested calling for a recount – although no-one seemed to find that very funny.

Finally we were all called together, agreed the result, and then mounted the stage. Having seen this moment hundreds of times on election nights over the years it did feel strange to stand up there myself.

I later discovered the BBC covered the result by just a blue box appearing on-screen ‘Sittingbourne – Con Hold’ (Sorry, Sheppey). The long haul was over.

Coming soon: the epilogue – where do we go from here?