Saturday, 15 November 2008

Selection Day

Ponteland Memorial Hall is a big brick built hall on the outskirts of Ponteland. It was to this that 6 nervous applicants came on an overcast Saturday in November for the final selection as the Conservative Candidate for Hexham. All of the candidates are good - with lots of real world and political experience. I drew the final interview of the six – which added the challenge of trying to distinguish myself when the selection panel had already heard from five others and could well be thinking that it was time for a cup of tea (or a large gin). But I gave it my best and I know that the response was good: it is very rare in political speeches that people really laugh; it is also rare for a speaker to get a real feeling of warmth from such an audience, who do not know you that well: on this occasion I got both which was amazing. The voters were from across 1100 square miles of Northumberland and were numbered in their hundreds. After that we were off and running with a speech and a multitude of questions on everything from the economy to wind farms, from schools to social care. Sir David Kelly asked the questions as the moderator. After 30 minutes the grilling was over and I went outside for some fresh air to wait.
Slowly the other candidates appeared and we milled around nervously chatting and waiting for the decision of the voters. Eventually Sir David Kelly appeared with Allan Deane and the Chairman of the Association, the wonderful Bev Nelson. He spoke briefly, thanking us all, before announcing that I was the clear winner. I was stunned and elated, and really quite humbled at the task which awaits me; I shook hands with the unlucky other 5 and wished them well for the future – we are all on the same side. But there was no time for reflection, and it was back into the hall where Peter Atkinson, MP, made a wonderful speech of congratulation and welcome. Then Richard Dodd whisked about 20 of us away for lunch in a nearby pub. I had come out without any money so had to borrow £20 from Richard. Then it was straight off to do press and media with Peter Bould, the North East Conservative’s amazing press officer. And only then was I finally able to ring my family and friends who had been waiting on tenterhooks. My Dad was almost speechless – possibly for the first time in his life!