Each week a different PPC provides us with an insight into life as a candidate and gives us a flavour of their own campaign and interests. If you are a candidate and are keen to be featured, please email Jonathan Isaby.
This week's diary is written by Peter Lyburn, candidate for Perth and North Perthshire, where the sitting MP is Pete Wishart of the Scottish National Party. Peter needs a swing to the Conservatives of 1.7% to overturn the SNP's 1,521 majority. Perthshire born and bred, he is a manager in an environmental consultancy and recycling business, and contested Dunfermline West at the 2007 Scottish Parliament election. You can read more about Peter on his website.
Monday 11th May
One of the benefits of living further north is the amazing number of daylight hours that we get. It is great when you get out of bed at 6am to have full rays of sun blazing in. This week ahead will be the busiest and dare I say it, one of the most important, in the first steps of my political journey. Scottish Conservative Party Conference is happening in my constituency, in the beautiful city of Perth.
This blog is read by peoples the full length and breadth of the UK and there has long been a myth peddled across the UK that we, as a party, struggle or are not relevant in Scotland. If you were working in the admissions team for conference I can assure you, you would not harbour that view for long. The conference hall will be packed to the rafters - something I am told has not happened since the charged days of Thatcher in our now abandoned City Halls.
On Saturday, I spent the day with my team putting up schoolchildren’s artwork behind the glass of empty shop units on Perth’s high street. It was an idea I had after a few people started complaining about the sorry looking units, especially the Woolies store. Anyway, this morning was spent putting the artwork back up after the ‘sticky glue’ turned out to be not so sticky. We abandoned the new advances made in adhesives and reverted to good old-fashioned blu-tac. That seems to have done the trick – hopefully!
The expenses row bubbles on. I heard a Tory MP on Radio 4 last week say, as a rule of thumb, you should only claim for items you would be happy to appear in your local press. I couldn’t agree more. My own opinion is that Westminster could learn a thing or two from the Scottish Parliament: a fully published, receipted system.
One thing is for sure, this scandal is making canvassing a dangerous pastime. Some advice to you all – canvassing at 6.15 pm, just after the evening news headlines, tends to produce a very negative response on the doorstep from a public who think we are all on the take. I can assure you, I am as irate about the whole thing as everyone else. For one thing, it makes getting across my positive vision for Perth and North Perthshire a much harder task
So that’s what I am off to do now. Two hours of canvassing in Alyth, a small village in the eastern corner of the constituency...
Tuesday 12th May
Yesterday's canvassing was an enormously productive evening, despite all the ongoing mess with expenses. One of the benefits of being born and bred in your constituency and having a family that has lived here for hundreds of years is that you are often greeted with a friendly face at the door. Most of the time I have never met them before, but they know what I am doing and why I am standing. There is no greater weapon than being local to quickly raise your profile.
Today was spent in the office then at 5pm I left Perth for a 7pm meeting in Aberfeldy with a tourist group, Explore Aberfeldy. The Highlands are without doubt a wonderful place to visit and it is by working with groups like Expolre Aberfeldy that local business and national organisations like Visit Scotland can encourage more and more people to come to beautiful Perthshire. Incidentally, most tourist businesses were reporting a decent start to the year and are bullish about the prospects of a good summer as more Brits will choose to holiday at home.
Got home some time after 10.30pm. The constituency is huge, and it is a bit of a challenge getting around it all in good time. Run through all that must be arranged for Scottish Conference on Thursday: visits for Osborne, Gove, Pickles and DC seem to all be in hand.
Wednesday 13th May
For any candidate, assistant or activist who has had a Shadow Cabinet visit to their constituency, I am guessing the follow statement will not come as a surprise: they are an absolute logistical nightmare.
One visit would be bad enough but my guys and I are trying to cope with four, possibly five individuals, all wanting the right visit with the right people. All day was spent recce-ing visits, checking attendees and chasing the local press. I had time to release a story about poor affordable housebuilding figures in Perthshire. Oh, and more changes wanted to the newly arranged visits... I left for the pre-conference dinner in a foul mood.
My mood was lifted by a great speech from Michael Forsyth (right). When I hear Michael speak about his experiences within a new Tory Government in 1979, I often think how similar our times are. It truly is 1979 all over again – only the debt DC, Osborne and the incoming Conservatives have to tackle is a great deal larger.
Thursday 14th May
Up early to get into the office by 6.30pm. The unprecedented number of applicants for conference this year has presented me with an opportunity to engage a few more foot soldiers for the campaign. So the early morning is spent pulling together an activists' event. 9am was a photocall at an affordable housing project in Perth with the papers. The rest of the morning was spent at a distillery with George Osborne. We brought 20 or so Perthshire business leaders round the table to feed into George their experiences of this recession. Any future Conservative Government will not have an abundance of Scottish MPs after the next election. That is why it is so important that George hears the view of Scottish business men and women first hand. He is confident and likeable in our meeting and I think all left with the impression that there are very tough times ahead but George Osborne is up to the task. Not one mention of expenses – which was a welcome feature of the meeting!
To condense the rest of my day, I eventually got into see twenty minutes of the conference after a BBC interview and a meeting with a few pressure groups in the reception hall. Left the conference after a cracking speech from Scottish Leader, Annabel Goldie. Naturally, I thought her glowing endorsement of the local Westminster Candidate to be the highlight!
Friday 15th May
DC set to arrive sometime in the late morning. Today’s papers in Scotland all carry news of DC’s town hall meeting in Arbroath – some on the front page. The gist of it is that a number of very hostile SNP supporters turned up to the meeting with a plan to disrupt it but were all so blown away by Cameron’s performance that they bottled it. It’s great news for all of us but especially the superb Alberto Costa, Conservative candidate in Angus. It also demonstrates Cameron’s quality and it dismantles any argument that he is somehow not relevant or well regarded in Scotland.
DC arrives in a whirlwind of activity and straight into a meeting with homebuilders in Perthshire. The discussion focuses around how to get the housing market going again and what support to give to the construction industry in the meantime. Despite many of the issues being devolved, it was a fantastic meeting and I was very impressed with David Cameron’s dual ability to listen and then engage with all round the table.
The walk into the conference hall with David Cameron is a new experience. Knowing the live TV coverage would be running I decided the priority was to concentrate on not slipping or tripping. We have one of those ‘time filling’ conversations about his time in Perth as we approach the hall. David then does his piece to camera as I exit stage left.
His speech is well measured and struck the correct tone. He addresses the expenses issue head on in his first minute on the podium.
Just before his speech, I received a small lesson on the nature of the political limelight. The conference hall was packed and the only space available was way up in row triple z, so I decided to stand at the edge of the walkway. Within nanoseconds a steward appeared to tell me I could not stand there. I explained that it was OK because I was Peter Lyburn. She said, “I don’t give a damn who you are, you’re not staying here”.
Saturday 16th May
Tory coffee morning then off to Yorkshire for a friend's stag do. Unfortunately I won’t make Hugh and Caroline’s wedding because they rather inconsiderately arranged it for 4th June in Cork. Does everyone else not arrange their life around the major political events?
Sunday 17th May
Leave Yorkshire early to get back to Perth for survey replies that need to be done and letters that need signed. Managed to make it over to Mum and Dad's house on the farm for a late supper. We chat about Mum’s lost golf tie, Dad and I watch the football with a beer and discuss my little sister Katie’s employment prospects, as she will be finishing university in a few weeks. I explain, there is always plenty of invaluable work experience available in the Perth Tory office...
Next week's Diary will be written by Richard Graham, PPC for Gloucester. Last week's was written by Karen Lumley, who is challenging Jacqui Smith in Redditch.