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Chris Galley

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Saturday 26 January – Shortlisted for Berwick

After a nerve wracking afternoon at the Blue Bell Hotel in Belford, I made it through to the final of the Berwick Open Primary. We had to do a 5 minute speech in front of the Berwick upon Tweed Conservative Association’s Executive Committee, then go through a question and answer session. At the end of that session I was told that  I had been chosen to go through to the Open Primary in Alnwick. Lucille Nicholson was also selected, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan gets a free pass into the final by dint of being the previous candidate. Two other candidates – both of whom I liked – were thanked for their efforts, but were given regrets.

I must have made a good impression, though I only awarded myself a B- for my efforts. Not sure why it was so nerve wracking either – I recently addressed a big meeting of German trade unionists (in schoolboy German!) and that was a lot easier.

Right – time to hit the campaign trail!

Westerhope By Election – Saturday Action Day

Calling all Conservatives! We have an important by election for Newcastle upon Tyne Council coming up, and an Action Day on Saturday 4 June. Meet at the back of Aston House, Redburn Road, Newcastle NE5 1NB at 10 am. It will be a canvassing and leafleting day. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions via the Contact Me tab. As the LibDems face meltdown we need to give voters a real alternative to Labour, with your help we can make a change for the better.

Thursday 13 May – Shape of the new

What a week, and an outcome no-one predicted. My overseas friends are somewhat surprised that a deal was sorted out so quickly. It took Angela Merkel the best part of 40 days to get her first terms negotiated.

One of the few odd moments in our Hexham campaign was a young lad, with presumably Liberal Democrat inclinations, getting very cross with us in Fore Street. “It’s an oxymoron,” he claimed, in respect of our slogan ‘Vote For Change’. Not sure how he feels today! Here’s my guess.

The new coalition agreement strikes me as a genuine attempt to build a document which represents the electorate’s composite view, as opposed to jettisoning or LCD’ing (lowest common denominator).  The outcome is fairly close to my personal politics, though I have some concerns (e.g. the triple lock on pensions giving a minimum 2.5% increase – marvellous, but what if we have poor growth and low inflation for a while? Generous commitments like that are nearly impossible to reverse and risk being paid for off the back of private sector wage deflation). But this is not the time to carp, oddly enough it truly was a case of “Vote For Change”.

Friday 7 May – a bittersweet victory

Up at 6 am, and to the terrible news that Wendy Morton had not succeeded in winning Tynemouth. She is a good friend and would have been a wonderful MP. She worked remorselessly in trying to win over the voters, but it simply didn’t work out. Other results confirm that we are heading to a hung parliament, confusion and disappointment all round.

Well Hexham has its own count to do, just about the last one in the UK to be declared. We assemble to act as count agents, checking up on the Returning Officer’s staff. There are two stages – verification and the count. Both of these have two sub stages. Firstly the postal ballots get verified (to ensure what went into the ballot box was what came out), then the polling station votes. From this I see we have won comfortably in Hexham. The second stage IMG_4659compconsists of assembling the ballots into piles for each candidates, then clipping each pile into groups of 50 ballots. It is easy to make a mistake, I spotted 16 errors at this stage, so I kept raising my arm to get the supervisor over. The clipped ballots then get put into a set of wooden troughs and it’s immediately obvious how well we are doing.

The result was declared just after 2 pm:

Guy Opperman –  Conservative, 18,795 votes, 43.2% + 0.8 percent points
Andrew Duffield – Liberal Democrat,  13,007, 29.9%  +4.2 
Antoine Tinnion - Labour, 8,253, 19.0% -11.4
Steve Ford – Independent, 1,974, 4.5% +4.5
Quentin Hawkins – British National Party, 1,205, 2.8% +2.8
Colin Moss – Independent, 249, 0.6% +0.6

So we increased our total vote, our majority and our share of the vote, which with a new candidate is as good as it gets. Guy makes a gracious acceptance speech, which is more than be said for some of his opponents. It was also an occasion to meet up with the other candidates, with whom we’ve generally had good relations.

After the declaration we head to Bev’s house for a celebration drink, but we’re so exhausted that it did not turn into a marathon session, thankfully! And further good news from Berwick, where Anne-Marie Trevelyan has given Sir Alan Beith a real fright, along with one of the biggest swings in the country.

Thursday 6 May – Election Day

This is it – Election Day. I go to my polling station to vote at exactly 7 am when it opens. Not surprisingly I am the first voter. It is one of England’s smallest polling station in terms of electors, but there are quite a few in that category in the Hexham constituency.

Afterwards I head straight to Percy Park Rugby Club. I know this place very well, having played on all three pitches there in recent years, but today it is Wendy Morton’s campaign centre. I help Wendy get the tables lined up by electoral division and shortly after 8 am we are ready to roll. What a day! IMG_4641compJon and JonJo had two Merlin screens rigged up and throughout the day we were sent out to knockup voters. In other words, trying to jolly our supporters to get out there and vote for us. I was particularly buoyed up by my second set of print-outs. I must have annoyed JonJo since he gave me a huge list to keep me quiet, but almost all in one street in Monkseaton. Must be a big street I thought. It wasn’t, it was just a case that almost every house was listed as Conservative voter or potential voter. Has someone been over optimistic in compiling the canvass? Nope, every house I went to was solidly Conservative. One lady danced a gig on the doorstep when I asked her if she had voted yet.

It was a long day, I arrived before 8 am and my last task was to take a voter with a foot injury to the polling station just before it closed, in one of the poorest areas in the constituency. Her son said hello afterwards, at 17 years old he was a few months too young to vote but he was a Tory too.

My JonJo paranoia is increased when he sets me up on a knock-up patrol with two Conservative Future chairmen, I am not exactly used to running at that pace!

I got home just before Sunderland three sets of votes came in. Houghton le Spring and Washington results were very promising – big swings to us. Then the first shock. Sunderland Central stayed Labour. I had a bad feeling about how things were going. But I also knew that I had to be bright eyed on Friday since I was one of Hexham count agents. So I went off to bed at 3 am……

Monday 3 May – Tories 7, Labour 4, LibDem 0

This is the weekend round up. On Saturday we spent the morning in Ovingham and Wylam, and the afternoon at the top end of Hexham’s Beaumont Park. Sundays have been frowned about in Tory circles. I can well remember as a kid seeing Tory campaign calenders with Sundays blocked out with the phrase “Dies non” and getting somewhat worried – in my state school we only did Latin from the age of 13. But with the stakes so high I helped to leaflet Castlefields in Prudhoe; and in fact nearly 2000 households were leafleted that Sunday in 4 separate locations.

For Bank Holiday Monday we decided not to knock on doors until after lunch. I leafleted Prudhoe earlier in the morning, then seven of us leafleted Hexham’s Priestland area, tripping over another candidate for the first time, in this case Antoine Tinnion from Labour, who is actually quite nice. Which begs the question, where are the LibDems? After all their posters claim they are “winning here” and their dodgy statistics put them into a self declared second place apparently. Frankly that is simply unsupported by their efforts on the ground.

Our biggest canvass today was Allendale (and a leaflet drop in Allenheads), where we were somewhat mob-handed. IMG_4623compWith me taking the picture, and Anthony Braithwaite joining at lunch, we were a magnificent 10. We rounded off with Corbridge canvass and ended up in The Angel.

Thursday 29 April – Photo ops

IMG_4553compOne of the things that make elections so interesting is when something happens quickly. Believe or not, the picture shown left was almost a spontaneous demonstration! The back story is that we had planned for Theresa Villiers (Shadow Transport Secretary) to visit us possibly next Monday to talk about the A1. The Conservatives have promised to restore the A1 Newcastle to Edinburgh stretch to national Trunk road status, which is important in terms of the campaign for turning it into a dual carriageway throughout. As things stand there is a dual carriageway from Poland to Morpeth, when this main artery suddenly goes to single carriageway for most of the section until Scotland. For nearly 50 miles Juggernauts slow everyone down to 40 mph, or even 20 mph if a tractor has to use the road.

We heard that Labour’s blundering Prime Minister is heading to the North East on Sunday – incredibly he hasn’t visited yet, maybe he’s not wanted. But given his track record of self destruction anything we do on Monday won’t get airtime. So we moved Theresa’s visit to today at very, very short notice. The Alnwick office starting ringing round people at 8 am, checking venues etc, and by 11 am we had the above photo opportunity sorted out, and the BBC’s TV cameras rolling. We ended up leading the regional TV news that night, what a result. I only discovered my role, dealing with Theresa’s logistics, at 9 am. IMG_4598comp Here we are, 3 pm, back at Newcastle station by its iconic column arch. In between we went to Newcastle Airport, where the management gave us their view of the challenges involved in running a regional airport.  After that – something completely different. I headed over to Haltwhistle where the local old folks home invited us in for tea. And cake, lots of it. Luckily I arrived late. One lady did a monster spread of carbs for us, and the residents really did seem pleased to see Guy. He didn’t do too much politics, but made a charming speech about him and his background. I’ve no doubt it hit the spot as much as the malt loaf.

Wed 28 April – Strange times

On a number of fronts it has been a strange few days. Yesterday I was in Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (BRS) constituency, which is just over the border from me in Scotland. Currently held by the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative candidate John Lamont is hoping to win the seat, and there’s certainly a lot going on. Incidentally Lamont in this case is pronounced LAMont, not LeMONT. After delivering 300 leaflets in Jedburgh (in one of the hillier estates), IMG_4508compI spent 3 hours telephone canvassing the postal voters, who received their ballot papers on Monday or Tuesday (or not yet in the case of some voters in Hawick). Several voters noted with bemusement that they could vote Jacobite. The constituency office was particularly grateful for my few hours of effort. Be warned Hexham: their office does better coffee!

Today I’ve been hosting Mark Francois (below, second from right), the shadow Europe minister. He went to the Egger plant in Hexham with Guy Opperman, then to Tynemouth, where Wendy got us out for a brisk round of leafleting in Cullercoats. IMG_4520comp Finally we had a long drive up to Berwick, to talk to a farmer about the impact of European policy on farmers – he had a long list. Mark Francois is a real pleasure to have around, a genuine human with considerable generosity of spirit.

Monday 26 April – Over the hills and far away

IMG_4492compToday I’ve been campaigning for Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who is standing as the Conservative candidate against Sir Alan Beith in Berwick upon Tweed. This is (like Hexham) a massive constituency, it takes multiple hours to get from one corner to the other. My canvasss and leaflet round was based on the left hand side of the constituency about half way down and involves some of England’s most isolated voters. For starters, we still have snow on the hills. IMG_4494compSecondly the distances between each voter can be up to 8 miles apart. This photo being the most extreme case, only accessible by a 4×4 and a powerful one at that. Luckily this particular voter is “one of us”.

One big help today is that it is rubbish collection day, so I was able to locate houses that need leaflets by the wheelie bins. The other clues include following the overhead telephone wires.  A lot of homes around here are second homes or weekend lettings. The worst case I had today being Alwinton, where about half the houses no longer have a voter in them. What’s worse, some people do register at their second home. It’s a bit of red letter day since the postal votes have started to be delivered, so in one real sense polling has started.

One light relief has been a nifty idea by Hexham Cinema. Each of the early declared candidates has been asked to come up with a favourite film to be shown on successive nights at the Forum, which the candidate can then introduce. Guy Opperman’s film was The Shawshank Redemption, playing into his deeply held concerns about prison policy, and a cracking film to boot.

The other candidates’ choices are interesting. In the case of Antoine Tinnion (Labour) it is The Third Man (based on the novel by Graham Greene). Dr Ford (Independent) was suitably zany yesterday with Dr. Strangelove. And you’d never guess this, Andrew Duffield (LD) has gone for The End of Poverty – Think Again.

On one poll we are already ahead! More punters at the cinema than Dr. Ford!

Saturday 24 April – the strange absence of the footsoldiers

On Friday we packed off to Carlisle to help out John Stevenson, who is fighting to win Carlisle off Labour – we call it mutual assistance.IMG_4453comp We canvassed a lot of houses, but it was only a small chunk of what seemed like a huge estate. Being Tories, we benefit from top flight canvass board managers, in this case Lady Caroline Henley, who was as effective as she was efficient. But she mentioned one thing that I had noticed in Hexham. She said that though Labour had put some leaflets out – mainly by post – she hadn’t noticed any other teams or groups from other political parties. My perception is that Labour has seen a gradual hemorrhage of its foot soldiers. My theory, backed by admittedly weak evidence, is that the Iraq War along with the abolition of the 10 pence tax band, were the final straws. The Lib Dems aren’t doing too well there either, though they never had the sheer numbers that the big parties have had.

This was brought home graphically recently when I went with Guy and other team members to a former mining village in our patch. We knocked on one door, where we got a really warm reception from a former miner. Nothing strange in that, Labour voters tend to be incredibly friendly to their opponents. Unlike some middle class Lib Dems, but that’s another story. This miner had lived in that house all his adult life - his mine had gone, but his home had not. He told Guy: “I’ve lived here 48 years, and I can honestly say you are the first politician to knock on my door”. I assumed he meant the first Tory politician, but no – absolutely no party had tried to canvass his support before, at least not at his home. I suspect that miner and his wife have gone from S to P or even C in 10 minutes.

Now I am not going to name the village, since I feel we better nuture it rather than our opponents, but I am still a bit shocked by it. Now it’s not good that we Tories haven’t been there, but given Thatcher and the NUM it is kind of understandable, and yes it’s a massive constituency, size wise, so in any prioritisation this village isn’t going to be well placed for us. But where is Labour? If no one looks after their voters, or starts taking them for granted, then no wonder there is so much disillusionment, expenses or no expenses.

In previous elections I recall we were constantly playing slightly amusing cat and mouse games with our opponents’ teams. Not this time, we’re largely on our own. On Saturday we did come across a small Lib Dem bunch in Hexham and one of the Independents supporters (of Dr. Ford) blowing up balloons in Ponteland, but their numbers aren’t there. We had several teams out, in Hexham, Prudhoe, Corbridge, and here’s one of our two Ponteland teams:


Thursday 22 April – To the Abbey

IMG_4452compToday’s highlight was undoubtedly the Hexham Abbey hustings. Personally I also greatly enjoyed the Sung Evensong beforehand, using the Book of Common Prayer. The language of that service is familiar to many, many generations of my family. There’s a line in it towards the end: “by Thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night”, which reminds me of how not so long ago peoplIMG_4448compe used to literally dread the hours of darkness.

I was really pleased by how well Guy did in the debate, scoring several direct hits. Steven Ford did well too, with many sharp responses, and a lot better than in the last debate I went to, back in December.

Earlier on I was out canvassing Corbridge with Elly Jupp, who came all the way up from Exeter to help out Guy. She’s well experienced in the world of canvassing so she will be a great help to us. Lunch was at our unofficial Corbridge  branch office, Tea and Tipple.

Wed 21 April – Secrets of canvassing

The secrets of canvassing won’t be revealed here. Other than that we use various letters to describe voters. So C is Conservative, P for potential Conservative, L for Liberal and so on. Labour’s code letter is S, as in Socialist, which sounds perversely quaint now. Actually those who get an S in this election’s canvass generally are Socialists, I rather suspect that social democrats are  now voting with their feets.

Earlier on in this campaign I knocked on a door, it swung open and before I could even breath in, the householder imperiously barked “Two Cs and one P, now get cracking on the rest of the estate”. Clearly a current or former activist who fully appreciated our need to get as much ground covered as possible. If it is properly organised it is possible for a canvasser to talk to well over a hundred voters in a couple of hours.

I mention that incident since this evening I inadvertently canvassed one house – “Can we count on your support?” I asked the smiling householder. Her reply was “Oh I would have thought so, since I am chairman of the Corbridge branch of the Conservative Party”. Perhaps I need to do more homework.

No photo today, just didn’t find a good opportunity, so you’ll have to take my word for it that we canvassed Stocksfield, Acomb, Corbridge twice, Catton and several parts of Hexham. At least 14 canvassers were involved, which isn’t bad for a mid week. At one point we had 3 canvass teams working simultaneously in 3 separate parts of the constituency.

Guy Opperman was doing a pub meeting in Catton, afterwards he seemed to be very happy with the outcome, though 2 plus hours is a long time on the stump.

Tuesday 20 April – Difficult parrot

IMG_4443compI know this will get more feedback than any other picture I put up this week. I’m a dog lover in a big way, and this puppy is the latest addition to the farm. She has the working title of Precious, and is now 6 weeks old. She spends her whole time sleeping or eating, whereas I seem to struggle to do either. So much so that today was actually the first time since the general election was declared that I managed to get into the office. Here being the proof of that.

IMG_4444compThis afternoon I checked out our hoardings and fixed a few blown down by the wind. Then I went leafleting / canvassing and came across one house with this note on the front door: “Please use the back door due to difficult parrot”. I slipped my leaflet into the letter box and swiftly left… Finally I finished off the day with some canvassing over in the bit of the Berwick constituency that is near to where I live. I ended up beyond Alwinton, a wonderful upland area.

Monday 19 April – Don’t forget the camera

Today’s crowd of supporters come from Ogle, which is not one of the larger villages, so it didn’t take long to get the place canvassed. It was deceptively cold this morning and so we were glad that mugs of coffee in the heated conservatory were laid on, though I managed to leave my camera there by accident – can’t manage without that!  We also did most of Stamfordham, bits of Kirkharle and all of Kirkwhelpington.IMG_4441comp The frost-bitten canvassers then went down to Ponteland, but I also discovered a minor glitch in our hand delivered leaflet distribution coverage so I went over to Gilsland to do the missed properties.  It’s quite hilly over there and the electoral roll is all over the place. Today’s nutritional intake consists of a plate of sarnies at Kirkharle, a chocolate bar in Gilsland and ginger pork from Harry’s Chinese Takeaway in Bellingham. Probably not ideal!

Saturday 17 April – Velkomin til Íslands

Given my taxi services to the Tory frontbench, I’ve been – let’s say – a bit more careful about keeping my car spick and span of late. One friend of mine saw it in the back of a regional TV news bulletin and rang me up: “Have you bought another new car?! It’s very shiny.” So last night I know the car was in fairly good nick. This morning it was covered in reddish soot, particularly the section pointing into the wind – as you can see: IMG_4436comp

If my guest today noticed the soot, he was far too polite to say. So this morning I was driving Grant Shapps to Tynemouth, indeed this picture shows us in Wendy Morton’s nerve centre, just prior to him visiting the Conservative Party’s stall in Bedford Street. He is the shadow Housing mininster. Trivia alert: Grant is the cousin of Mick Jones of The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite. In the photo background there is, well, a photo gallery. Just by Grant’s left shoulder is a pic of me in a blue T shirt, with Wendy. Good to see this election campaign has made me lose a bit of weight since then.


The afternoon I was supposed to be playing rugby against a touring side from the United States – that volcano snuffed that one out too, they are still in Maine. So instead I delivered some leaflets off in some hard to reach areas such as Deadwater, Yarrow and Catcleugh.

Friday 16 April – Along the Tyne Valley

IMAG0132compCanvassing everywhere it feels. First off was Wylam, then Ovington. After that I went with Guy, Fiona and Bev to Ovingham, before ending up in Horsley.

Then we did one good canvassing chunk of Corbridge with the assistance of this motley crew! Plus a camera shy Penelope. Lovely warm day, tanned if not burnt.IMG_4420comp

Thursday 15 April – Exclusive: No excitement in Corbridge

Not many orgies in Corbridge, or so Guy Opperman was told today by an 85 year old resident, and who are we to challenge that? Location will remain anonymous to protect the guilty, and I am sure Guy’s blog will tell us more in due course. And not many Liberal Democrats either, it would appear, if you look over the tumbleweed bouncing past their deserted office. Hopefully they’ll field a candidate in this General Election.

IMG_4409compIn my quest to meet more Shadow ministers than David Cameron, today’s haul comes in the form of Lord Bates, or Michael Bates as he is more generally known, who very kindly helped us with some advance canvassing of Corbridge. It was very good to see that he is prepared to get stuck in to the nuts and bolts of politics.

Later on we went over to County Hall Morpeth to meet the Conservative councillors, to tell them how things were going.

IMG_4418compFinally more canvassing, this time in Stannington, where the six of us got most of the village done in a few hours. Cllr Mel and Guy were heading for the pub afterwards, where I hope Guy didn’t try to keep up with Mel….