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.
Conor Burns, who was selected a year ago as PPC for Bournemouth West, where Sir John Butterfill is retiring as Conservative MP at the next election. Sir John bequeaths Conor a notional majority of 2,766 after some boundary changes. Conor writes about his week as the Lib Dems converged on Bournemouth for their annual conference.
Saturday 19th September
Most Saturdays we have some form of street presence but for a change we don’t this week. I have breakfast with an old friend, and a new one, at a popular cafe in Westbourne. Then walk around Westbourne. Spend some time talking to an elderly veteran of WWII who is collecting for the wings appeal. It’s always humbling listening to their stories and remembering how much we owe that generation.
Before heading to the local office to check on post I pick up a copy of the Daily Echo. Nick Clegg has launched an extraordinary intemperate attack on David Cameron calling him a ‘Conman’. I’m sure this is a mistake from their point of view. People tell me on the door step that they want to know more about David – but they don’t dislike him. This is the sort of language that really turns people off and I’m not sure Clegg has earned the right with the public to say it. Dash off a quick letter the Echo saying that while people are worried about so many things people want politicians to raise the tone of debate. Use one of my favourite quotes from Lord Denning, “Two reasonable persons could perfectly reasonably come to opposite conclusions on the same set of facts without forfeiting their right to be regarded as reasonable.”
Head over to one of the Poole Wards which will be in Bournemouth West under boundary changes to do a bit of delivery. I’d printed a leaflet for one of our Councillors who had got some work done on a roundabout near the University. Vital that when we do good work we tell the public. Later get a couple of emails from people who had got the leaflet. This is when I feel I’m making proper contact.
Sunday 20th September
I try to keep Sundays as far as possible for myself. I find I need at least half a day a week relatively clear just to do the ordinary house stuff like ironing and cleaning and do some quiet planning and thinking. I’ve made an exception today (I tend to make far too many exceptions!).
Tonight I’m signing letters in reply to surveys. Survey replies are like painting the Severn Bridge – it is never ending!
Monday 21st September
Head off to a BBC Radio 5 Live debate on the Lib Dem conference. Nick Clegg was oddly tetchy. Young man called Tom Watson from Portsmouth College utterly kebabbed him. Asked the simple questions of youth and was having none of Clegg’s guff. Congratulated him on the way out.
Head back to the flat and walk to the Highcliff Hotel to meet Iain Dale for coffee. Amazed to find that you can walk in off the street to the main conference hotel. Floella Benjamin is holding court in the foyer. I didn’t think much of her when she was doing her ‘through the round window’ routine on Play School. Now she’s the Lib Dem star turn. You couldn’t make it up.
Tuesday 22nd September
Pleased and surprised that the Echo have run my letter as the lead on the letters page with the headline ‘Petty sniping is not the answer’ over the two pages.
The work Mr Baker and his team are doing on efficiency is fantastic. They are not just talking about it but really doing it. The next government is going to have to do something quick if they want the water Olympic events in Dorset. There is no extra funding. Londoners may have voted for it. We didn’t in Dorset. The police are, rightly in my view, saying ‘no pay, no play’.
From here we are off up the road to Poundbury to visit the HQ of Dorset Fire and Rescue Centre and to meet the Chief Fire Officer Darran Gunter. We have met before at a local charity. Money is the theme again here. I’d never really thought about it, but the vast majority of fire stations in Dorset are run by retained staff rather than full time. As Mr Gunter put it they are ‘pay as you go’ stations. If there are cuts to budget it will be full time fire personnel who will go.
My prospective constituency has two full time fire stations where the staff are out in the community identifying vulnerable people and installing – free of charge – smoke alarms. I know my residents would want that work to continue and so do I. But yet again Dorset is at the wrong end on funding. Dorset gets the third lowest grant per head of population at £15.34 per person. At the other end Cleveland is on £39.85 and Humberside is just under £30. If Dorset even got the average Mr Gunter and his team would have another £3 million to spend. If I do become Bournemouth West’s MP I will be lobbying strongly from a rebalance of resources before any cuts are made.
After this I head back to Bournemouth and visit a lady who emailed me when I was on holiday who is having really big problems getting her autistic son the support his ‘statement’ demands. Really hard case and she is really struggling with officialdom. She is very distressed and crying. We have a coffee and I promise to do what I can to intervene for her. This is the bit of this role when I feel that I am making a difference.
Wednesday 23rd September
I head out very early and deliver some surveys. With the flats in Bournemouth one needs to be there when the ‘trades’ button is working. Back home and some more letter signing. Then head off to Bournemouth Airport. The airport is not in the constituency, but is a major part of the local area and many residents are under the flight path. I’m a big supporter of regional airports and the opportunities they give for people to travel that used to be the preserve of the rich.
Tonight I’m double booked. I want to attend the West Cliff open meeting in St Michael’s school (which when I visited had pupils with English as a second language with 39 different first languages!). Deftly chaired by the Deputy Council Leader John Beesley who is also a local ward Councillor. As a West Cliff resident I’m keen to hear the police report. They are out in force. I know one of the PCSO’s well and they do a great job. I then head over to the AGM of the Talbot Village Residents' Association. I’m determined to be there and the Chairman introduces me when I arrive. They are right next to Bournemouth University and I am so familiar with the challenges of this. It was the same when I was a Councillor in Southampton. The key is to keep a dialogue going and they do it brilliantly and are really well supported by their local Councillor Karen Rampton.
I realise I have not eaten since noon. If I could I’d award an OBE to Ching-He Huang I would! Probably better known as Ching from Ching’s Kitchen on the BBC she introduced me to stir fry cooking and I always have stuff in the fridge to fling something together – and ready in about 5 minutes!
Thursday 24th September
Up early and do yet more signing! It’s my birthday today and I’m heading up to London for lunch with some friends. Get the train from Bournemouth. It’s not a bad service although every half term comes as a total surprise to South West Trains, so standing becomes standard for those weeks.
We had a thoroughly enjoyable time and some good laughs. We were sitting beneath a portrait of the Duke of Wellington and I told Lady T that after his first cabinet meeting as Prime Minister he had said to a friend, “You know the strangest thing happened. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay behind and discuss them!” Her reply was, “I remember that feeling well!”
When I tell Lady T the tale of Harriet Harman’s little ‘women in politics’ booklet and that she was not mentioned by name the response was a robust “Good!” delivered with a jab of the finger.
After lunch I headed to Fulham for a campaign literature meeting and then back into town for drinks with several old friends. Delighted my friends Jonathan and Claudia were able join us so a chance to congratulate them on their engagement in person.
Friday 25th September
I had to go into the office I work from in London this morning before heading back to Bournemouth. Today is the first anniversary of my selection and today had been earmarked for ages as a day for future planning. Through the survey programme and by publishing my email address we have been steadily growing the number of residents' email addresses we have and today we sent out the first email bulletin. Also put together a short report on my first year to party members and made great progress on the next leaflet. I worked with my campaign implementer until almost midnight. Much achieved. The thing I am missing this week is the bit I enjoy the most – proper door to door canvassing. But there is plenty of that next week.
Saturday 26th September
This morning I was over at the Oakland Conservative Club in Poole for a general election planning meeting. Support the primary purpose of the event was about Robert Syms’ campaign: Bournemouth West is getting one of his wards so we are working closely together. It was a good meeting focusing on how Councillors can support the general election to their benefit in 2011. Too often 2010 seems secondary. There was a moment of drama during the presentation when the regional director Roger Pratt and his chair fell off the stage!
Then on to a ward fundraising lunch. One of our great Deputy Chairman who moved down here from Oxfordshire had invited his former MP Tony Baldry to come down and speak. This is a newly established branch and from nothing is already starting to make a really good financial contribution – and even more importantly bring people together. I was grateful to Robert Syms for telling me that Tony is immortalised in several fish and chip shops in Poole, hading out awards when he was Fisheries Minister. A good line for the vote of thanks!
Do some more work on the campaign in the afternoon. Oddly I’ve got a free night and I’ve resisted a couple of invites to go out. I need to finish the signing as the surveys are continuing to flood in. So a night of watching backlogs from Sky+ (probably The Tudors which doesn’t tax the brain) and a stack of letters.