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 Margot James, who was selected in December 2006 for Stourbridge, a seat where she requires a swing of 1.5% to overturn a notional Labour majority of 1,280. I'll let her introduce herself...
"I spend most of my time out and about in Stourbridge, I still do some business consultancy but most of my time away from the campaign is spent with family and friends. I am passionate about hanging on to some ‘normal life’ despite the all consuming nature of the election campaign. Stourbridge is Labour’s most marginal seat in the West Midlands. Number 25 on our list of must wins it is actually the seat that, arithmetically speaking, will sink Labour’s overall majority if we win. The BBC have clocked this and are housing a production team here who will broadcast the Sunday version of the Politics Show throughout the election from Stourbridge as soon as the Election is called. Here's my Diary of the week..."
Saturday 17th October
I had quite a late night with friends on Friday at the Red Fort restaurant in Wollaston so got off to a slower start listening to the weekly Farming Today round up on Radio 4. Made me resolve to try and eat organic meat whenever possible. Off to meet the team in Amblecote. We normally canvass on a Saturday morning but today we had to prioritise delivery of our addressed survey, 80% done now so not much longer to go and we will have surveyed every home in the constituency for the second time since I arrived. We delivered over a thousand surveys and leaflets and met up afterwards at the Robin Hood Pub, one of Stourbridge’s best.
I couldn’t stay long as next up was the Stourbridge Bonded Warehouse Open Weekend, to give it its full title. Saturday is a day of stalls, dancing, vintage cars and steam engines alongside the canal. I met lots of people I knew and some I didn’t on my way to join Cllr David Caunt, ex leader of Dudley Council, on his beautiful boat ‘Cornelia’. We chugged up to Wordsley Junction and back and it was a lovely ride. Each year I resolve to spend more time on the canal – but the nearest I have got in the last twelve months is walking Lotus (my old black Labrador) up the towpath a few times. The canal is one of the many things I love about Stourbridge.
Left late afternoon to meet friends in the Cotswolds. My partner, Jay, is working all weekend, so I’ve got a friend, Julie, who has just heard from CCHQ that she has a PAB early in November, coming round for supper to pick my brains about the interview process. Julie brings her divine two year old retriever who is completely manic.
Sunday 18th October
Julie leaves early and I’ve hardly got time to breathe before my friend Sheryl arrives with her two Airedale Terriers. The younger one is almost as manic as the retriever who has just left. Poor Lotus (pictured), she is years older and can’t keep up. I have known Sheryl since I was five years old, we grew up together and it is a rare treat to spend a day with her. An excuse to cook Nigella’s beef and anchovy stew, I am pleased it was good as I cooked extra which I will turn in to a pie for my campaign team who are coming over for supper tomorrow night.
Sunday night is the usual, clearing some admin ahead of the week, a bit of X Factor and catching up with the papers, which I have usually read by now, but given the greater than usual round of social activity are still lying unread in front of the fire.
Monday 19th October
Start the week by responding to the mounting number of people who have contacted me in response to the survey we have been distributing to every household since August. Just over 30,000 homes have now received a copy so we are almost done. But the process of entering data and acknowledging each response is onerous. I write back to everyone and take up a few actions in response to particular problems. The number one concern by some distance is immigration.
My first meeting is with the two managers of our local Jobcentre Plus. This is my third visit this year. Unemployment is very bad here. It is up by 120% on last year and hundreds of professional and skilled people who have never been made redundant before are now down at the Jobcentre. They tell me that the incumbent MP came last week and complained that they had allowed me to use what was going on at the Jobcentre for political capital.
Next up I interview a bright student who has just left one of our best schools, King Edward’s, with a place at Birmingham University deferred for a year. He wants to get work experience and I decide he will definitely add value so we agree he will start at the end of the week. He will join Gary, who has a first in politics from Aberystwyth and started his internship with us earlier in the month.
This evening it is our monthly campaign team meeting. Mike Wood, our agent, has the latest data from our canvass returns and it is encouraging. Lou is upbeat about the delivery network he is organising – this has really improved over the summer. I report on positive media coverage from the local paper and the BBC Politics Show who are covering Stourbridge in advance of and during the general election whenever it comes. Together we plan an intensive three month programme of canvassing, newspapers, leaflets and media activity.
Tuesday 20th October
Sort out Christmas parties. Mike has designed some nice invites to my annual Christmas Party in Stourbridge and Jo Baker, secretary of the Association and loyal supporter who does some admin work for us, comes round to help get them out. I am also holding a Christmas Cocktails fundraiser with Matthew Parris in London, so more invites and distribution get planned for that one. Christmas in Stourbridge is a busy affair so my diary is already filling up. We have a fantastic voluntary sector and they all have fairs, receptions and fundraisers and I will attend as many as possible.
I have a longer than usual visit today, to the Old Park School for children with severe learning disabilities. We are fortunate in Dudley to still have six special schools, in spite of this Government’s obsession with closing them a few years ago. Old Park is a wonderful school, you can tell on just entering the building really. I have been investigating the issues facing families with adults and children with learning disabilities this summer. There is nothing more rewarding in politics than drawing attention to and getting some improvements for people who lack a powerful lobby to speak out on their behalf.
Next is an appearance at the first training session for companies and their business mentors, of whom I am one, in the Black Country Young Enterprise Programme. More of which tomorrow. I go to support my team but I can’t stop long as it is delivery night and the rain and traffic are awful.
Thankfully the rain holds back and we get more of our surveys and leaflets out. I am delighted with the turnout at 6.00pm, fourteen in total, much better than last week. It always takes a week or so to crank up the campaign after I’ve been away – I was away for party conference week. We all have a good chat and a laugh over drinks at the Crabmill Pub afterwards, it is good to have the momentum back again.
Wednesday 21st October
A fantastic visit in the morning to the Glasshouse. The Glasshouse College for young adults with learning disabilities, the Ruskin Glass Centre, the Glasshouse Theatre and café are all based at the former Royal Doulton Glassworks in Stourbridge. I am very proud to be associated with a Midlands town with such a skilled heritage. As Coventry, where I come from, is to cars, Stoke to china and Sheffield to cutlery, Stourbridge is to glass. It is a fine tradition which still deploys skill and enterprise at the Glass Centre and College. I am shown round by Richard Rogers, principal and passionate advocate of the College who I like very much.
Dive in to Waitrose to get my Aunt, who I will be seeing later, one of her favourite cakes and then it is off to my weekly class of business students at Stourbridge College. I am a governor of the College and one of the ways I contribute to and learn from the College is by mentoring the Young Enterprise teams (I am pictured here with last year's team). There are about twenty students and I take the group that is putting together a nutritious cookery book for schools and parents. A few of the students are self motivated, most need quite a kickstart. I have to keep reminding myself that I am mentoring, not running the show, so I am always having to tell myself to butt out. I can help them more with a light touch but sometimes it is difficult to keep it at that level.
I have been up since 5.30am getting through my work so I have time to call on my Auntie Anne for tea on the way back to London. Auntie is in her eighties, is very wise and fond and we always have a zillion things to talk about. Since I lost my parents, my two Aunties and my cousins have become even more important to me and making time for them all is a great pleasure. I feel very lucky as I drive away.
Thursday 22nd October
Dog crisis. I notice on our morning walk that Lotus has what looks like an infection from a wart on her eyelid. I book an appointment with the vet. What a bit of luck I am in London: just about the only part of my life support as I call it that hasn’t transferred to Stourbridge is Lotus care.
I discuss next week's article in the local paper with Mike and we agree on immigration as our topic. He sends me some useful links. We had a good response to the article on the economy in last week’s paper. The article takes some writing. A lot of candidates shy away from this issue, but it is too important to the people of Stourbridge for me to follow that line. They need to know what our policy is. And it is my job locally to hold the Government, and its local representative, to account for the shambolic chaos they have created in this field with the damning consequences that have followed – culminating in tonight's appearance by the BNP leader on Question Time. I am also under pressure to write copy for a newspaper which will be our follow up to the ward leaflets we have almost finished delivering.
Off to Ogilvy, where my old company that I sold a few years ago resides, in fact I am delighted to say that my old colleagues now run the worldwide healthcare business that Ogilvy represents. I have a meeting with Antonia who wants my help to encourage potential recruits to choose healthcare as a career option and Ogilvy as the best place to be.
My nephew, Rupert Doggett, is a senior account director with the advertising business and we have lunch. This is great. I love seeing him and we have lots to catch up on, my politics, his work, his surfing, baby Poppy, wife Laura and where they is going to live which has been a vexed question since they sold their house a few months ago.
Jay and I have dinner with old friends Wanda and Femi at a nice Italian. This is a rare treat. They are unreconstructed socialists - both of them - but I have known Wanda from university days and some things don’t change. Which is good. Get back to watch Question Time and relieved and surprised to find Nick Griffin as bad as he was.
Friday 23rd October
Follow up on my visits – I need to act on some of the issues that came up at the Old Park School earlier in the week. I get emails off to the relevant people and respond to more people who have e mailed me after they received the survey.
Talk to a journalist about the All-Women Shortlist proposal by David Cameron earlier in the week. I feel very disappointed by this – we have done well getting more women selected without resorting to positive discrimination and I really hope this won’t be seen as necessary. What we need now are a few good women to get selected in safe seats, goodness knows there are enough of them – good women and safe seats! Surely that has to work without barring men altogether from some seats.
Take Lotus in to the vet; yesterday we agreed he would freeze the offending wart, a procedure that only requires sedation, not a general anaesthetic. I have to leave her for a few hours. It is horrible, she hates being at the vet at the best of times.
Off to an interesting lunch given by Michael Spencer, Chairman of ICAP. Andrew Neil is there; Emily Maitlis, Newsnight presenter, is the only other woman, she is extremely bright, attractive and beautifully dressed. I sit next to David Rowland who left secondary modern school in the fifties with one O-Level in English and established a multi-million pound property and banking empire. I listen to a fascinating debate between David and Michael. David is adamant that Mervyn King is right and the retail and investment banking functions have to be split. Michael is equally adamant that this is nigh on impossible without unprecedented global action.
What businesses in Stourbridge need is a less restrictive line in credit. There is huge anger about taxpayer funds going to secure bonuses rather than credit for small business. But some of these banks, like Barclays and Goldman Sachs had no taxpayer funds. The City of London is already experiencing a drain of executives to lower tax environments. We have to maintain London as the financial capital of Europe, if not the world; and thanks to this Government’s diabolical handling of the economy and all the tax rises, the attractions of London to the global financial community are not what they were. This is worrying.
Pick up Lotus on my way back. She is absolutely fine and emerges with a few bright blue stitches above her eye which don’t seem to bother her.
Saturday 24th October
I have some writing to do – not least the newspaper which is starting to hang over me... and I need to get back to several members of the public who have emailed me about a wide range of issues, mostly national ones.
As it is the only full weekend without campaigning for at least a month I decide to get ahead with my Christmas cooking preparations. Every year I say to myself "have I really got time for all this?" But I have been doing it for years and this year Jay and I have my nephews and nieces staying for Christmas and all my cousins and their children and my Aunt will no doubt come over for a day so I decide I’ll fit it in somehow. If I do a bit towards it every week or two it won’t be too onerous. Famous last words...
Last year Jay bought me a fab book, Nigella Chistmas, and I intend to make this my cookery book this season. But old habits die hard and I am drawn back to Delia for my Christmas Cake and Pudding which I will get done this weekend.