A week or so before the election, I went along to the BBC 3 Counties hustings, held at the rugby club across town.
As a member of the local Conservatives, I’d been helping out a bit with the campaign to get Richard Fuller re-elected as the MP for Bedford and Kempston. I was curious to see what the other candidates were like, and, having been cooped up all day with an ill child, was happy to leave the house for a few hours once my husband was home to take over. I offered my eldest daughter the chance to come with me – and, at the mention of the possibility of Pizza Express on the way home, she said yes.
I quickly spotted some other familiar faces – people I knew personally, and activists I recognised from other local political parties. We just about managed to find a couple of seats, and, as I sat and listened to the nice warm up guy from the BBC explain the set up (and amusingly state the importance of not ever attempting to hold the mic yourself if chosen to ask a question), I wondered how many people attending these sorts of debates really change their minds because of them. Still, it was fun and informative to listen to the questions people had, and how they were answered. Heck, I even plucked up the courage to ask one myself.
A couple of hours passed, and we cycled off to get our pizza.
So, what did you think of it all, I asked. The Eldest Girl went straight in for the revelation that had left the whole audience a bit stunned.
“He hadn’t read the manifesto, Mummy. That’s like doing an exam without revising.”
Hmm. Yes, it is.
I was pretty shocked when one candidate had openly admitted he hadn’t done his homework, in front of an audience full of people he was meant to be persuading to vote for him. As the evening wore on, it became clear he had to have the help of some cue cards handed to him from a colleague in the front row (my own local council representative). Is this the best they’ve got, I wondered. Really? And then to learn that he was not just on the local council, but held a portfolio. Wow.
We talked for a bit about all the candidates – what she liked and didn’t like about them in turn. (If you think the media gives politicians a hard time, try seeing them through the honest, no filter approach of a ten year old girl.) And the conversation quickly moved on to other things.
Having done the obligatory don’t go gloating about pizza to your sisters chat, I went home that night with a renewed feeling of motivation to help out on the campaign. Being present as each candidate spoke honestly left me proud to be backing Richard – it’ll be no surprise that I agreed with his answers, but I also thought he came across as the most articulate and polite of them all.
I’ll be honest, and say that I tend towards a timid approach of never wanting to talk politics among friends (most of them are socialists), let alone knock on the doors of actual voters and ask them what they think. It’s not that I am a Shy Conservative – everyone who knows me probably knows what I think – but rather that I don’t want to offend people or fall out with friends. We have more in common than that which divides us. It’s easy to forget that in the heat of a political campaign and the social media frenzy of endless sharing and aggressive hashtags it prompts. I tend not to get into political discussion on social media, but I couldn’t resist a little blurt out update on Facebook to share the fact that one candidate hadn’t read the manifesto (I thought people should know that – and hoped that fact alone would put them off voting for him).
As the campaign wore on, I felt quietly confident for Richard. I thought he was clearly the best candidate. He had a great track record as an MP, and I knew plenty of non blue team people who freely spoke highly of him. We all carried on campaigning. For my small part, this meant delivering leaflets around my local area, and a bit of activity in helping to run an election day office.
I was gutted when the results came in. The Man Who Hadn’t Read The Manifesto won. Richard increased his vote by a couple of thousand, but the other beat him by around 800 votes. I hadn’t much paid attention to the national scene – I was focused on things locally, and that felt like it was going well. I hoped that the other hustings events would be as packed as the one I had attended, because surely, I thought, people just need to see the local candidates in action to be able to figure out for themselves who the best one is.
How wrong I was.
This writing comes out of a personal sadness and shock that my town has chosen to replace a wonderful MP with someone I think will do an inferior job of representing us all. I love my town, and I hope I am proved wrong, and that The Man Who Who Hadn’t Read The Manifesto surprises me and does a decent job. In the meantime, I need to learn and make sense of why so many people voted differently to me. Whilst I am relieved we still have a Conservative government, it is clear no one is that happy with the results of the gamble taken by Theresa May – there are some lessons that need to be learned by us as Conservatives. I know why I am still more aligned to the values of the Conservative party than any other, and that is something I plan to come back to in future posts.