Lord Porter of Spalding is the Leader of South Holland DIstrict Council and a former Chairman of the Local Government Association.
Winning or losing at a local level is not always about the national picture. Sometimes the right candidate and the right team and the right amount of worn-out shoe leather can and will get the right result. As the old saying (not sure how old or who said it first) goes, politics is sometimes about luck and the harder you work the luckier you get.
Last Thursday a by-election in South Holland delivered just that, we took the seat that had been occupied by the Leader of the Opposition since the council was created 50 years ago. She was a great ward councillor and my opposite number for the last 20 years and sadly she passed away at the end of the summer. Her successor called the by-election five weeks ago so we had a few weeks to find a candidate and launch a campaign. We were extremely fortunate to get Stephen Timewell, a local businessman and community activist to stand with us, he has a huge local profile for his work rebuilding the Spalding Flower parade and he was able to bring that experience and drive ( and family network) into the political arena for the very first time.
By his own admission he had to operate on a very steep learning curve but through his personal resilience was more than up to it as well as pounding the streets day in and day out delivering countless pieces of literature, he had to acclimatise to talking to hundreds of complete strangers on their doorsteps and engaging with them on the issues that mattered to them, not an easy task for seasoned campaigners never mind political newbies, especially in freezing temperatures and fading daylight hours. But despite his newness, he took to it like a duck to water with our old hands commenting on his natural engaging style.
Our campaign was led by one of our very best campaigners and a member of my Cabinet, Gary Taylor. Gary thrives in the battle of elections, he plans with military precision and executes with the skill of a surgeon every operation that is needed to maximise success. Canvassing, leafleting, target leafleting, postal vote letters, get out the vote literature and given the time of year Christmas cards were all part of the armoury he deployed through a network of volunteers including members of our Association, our Council Group (including some of our retiring members) Garry’s long-suffering partner and Steve’s family and friends.
As is the custom in South Holland we also had the regular support of our long-established and extremely hard-working MP John Hayes, who took part in the planning meetings and canvassing sessions with his usual gusto and enthusiasm, anyone who knows John knows that he thrives on the thrill of elections and unlike some of his colleagues he actually walks the walk as well as talking the talk.
John and I often joke about who is the best campaigner he or I and when he accepts that it’s me (after a lot of persuasion and a reminder that I am his campaign manager) he then reminds me that everything I learned was from him, apart from not going in for Tea, shutting the gate behind you and not walking on the grass…
That said we both agreed at the start of the campaign if it wasn’t either of us it would be Gary T, if anyone in the association doubted that before this election, no one could be in any doubt now, Gary’s leadership of this battle was textbook perfect and as well as Steve owing him a debt of gratitude all of the Conservative Group who stand in next Mays election owe him, for giving them the best launch pad for that campaign they could have had.
So whilst I don’t wish to gloat I am more than happy to walk around smiling like a Cheshire Cat, because, despite the alleged unpopularity of our national party in some quarters and in the polls at a local level our residents understand the value of supporting good hard-working Conservatives in order to protect a low taxing, weekly bin emptying Council that works hard for them day in day out.