Friends, Yam-Yams and countrymen and women . . . you can take the girl out of Walsall but you can’t take Walsall out of the girl
LIKE most people I don’t always instantly agree with the utterances of a rival but London mayoral hopeful David Lammy hit the nail on the head the other day when he said that never again must politicians “lose touch” with those who support them.
Lamenting Labour’s failings in the 2015 General Election, he warned: “Listen or learn from the public, or be taught a harsh lesson at the ballot box.”
It made me take stock as I pen the last blog of my incredible six-month campaign journey to return Walsall South into safe Conservative hands for the first time in 45 years.
And a week on from the long night at the university’s Walsall Campus Sports Centre, I’ve had time to reflect on my mission.
I watched with more than a little green-eyed jealousy at the pictures of the new Tory intake of MPs posing with David Cameron – next to him my dear friend Craig Tracey who has increased the Conservative majority in what had been the country’s most marginal seat in North Warwickshire.
His opponent, ex Labour minister Mike O’Brien was 9-2 ON to win the seat at the bookies before last Thursday’s vote. Good on you Craig.
But was I wrong (or naive) to believe that I should – like Craig – have defied the pollsters and pundits and joined the Tory tide that swept across many parts of England and Wales, returning David Cameron to No10 Downing Street without the need of a Lib-Dem Coalition partner to prop up, and water down, the administration?
It would have been a delight to be one of the 191 women in this parliament (up to 30 per cent of the 650 intake) and I’m more than a little pleased to see that this time round the PM has given important roles to female Tories.
Ten women now grace the cabinet including Pensions Minister Ros Altmann, Employment Minister Priti Patel, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd and Treasury Economic Secretary Harriet Baldwin.
As a businesswoman of 35 years standing, I’m most envious of ex-journalist and criminal barrister Anna Soubry who has been handed the unprecedented title of small business minister.
Certainly the country will be better served in the next five years with a Tory-only government that just didn’t seem remotely possible until that BBC exit poll – and then at 1.52am the now pivotal result from Nuneaton with Tory colleague Marcus Jones increasing his majority from 2,000 to 5,000 in a crucial Labour target seat.
My own result in Walsall South saw my opponent Valerie Vaz increase her majority to 6,000 with a 5.03 per cent swing away from the Conservatives to Labour.
Why did it happen? In Walsall South the Lib Dem’s lost votes went to Labour, and the doubling of UKIP votes on 2010 went against us.
The demographics of Walsall South also played their part, the highest child poverty record in the Midlands and the soaring percentage of benefit claimants.
This disappointing outcome, for me personally, was at least repeated across the metropolitan areas of Britain. Labour took or regained every seat in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, West Bromwich, Coventry, Manchester, Liverpool and the North East as well as large swathes of inner London.
The dramatic vote collapse of our former Lib-Dem Coalition partners and the Ukip squeeze certainly had an effect in the cities and big towns while smaller urban areas, the country at large and shire counties had different political ideas – thank goodness.
Was it a good, clean fight? Well I had to deal with twitter trolls, nuisance calls, including a strip-tease offer, and one proposition.
My greatest fear had been the Lib Dem vote, more than 5,900 in 2010, and my anxiety proved right on this one.
We worked diligently with the previous Lib Dem candidate to support our campaign but were dealt ‘a blow’ when he erected one of Valerie Vaz’s boards in his garden, despite his verbal proclamation to support us.
There was much talk of alleged electoral fraud hotspots in Walsall (which we believe we witnessed and certainly heard about first hand).
Perhaps those postal votes, delivered to the council offices on election day and brought into the count in the early hours of last Friday, were nearest the knuckle. They certainly shifted the balance on the piles of votes towards Labour as dawn broke.
So am I a sore loser, I hear you ask? Only from a wearing down of my toenails and a weight loss point of view during the most hectic six months of my life.
At 55 I’m not in my first flush of youth – like SNP winner Mhairi Black, who at 20 is the youngest MP for 350 years – but I feel I couldn’t have worked any harder in my bid to serve the people of Walsall South.
I received tremendous support from all quarters but in the end the valiant effort was not enough. We fought a clean and positive battle and undoubtedly our efforts to win the war were rewarded in the national picture.
On the plus side I took as compliments our opponent’s comments about running a “slick, advertising campaign”, increasing our profile and even the suggestion I had turned up to be photographed picking litter dressed like I was going out for a “night at the Savoy”. The coat was actually from M & S!
There’s nothing pure about politics but I can have few complaints.
While I enjoyed following the Saddlers to Wembley for the first time in Walsall FC’s 127-year history and being with Walsall-born Slade frontman Noddy Holder at the Christmas lights switch-on, it’s right to say that politics is not about personalities, photo opportunities or social media, it’s about people.
As I knocked on a door in Palfrey for the third time (along with thousands of others), I was constantly buoyed up by our constituency chairman Peter Washbrook’s words at the start of the campaign when he talked about me being a candidate with “impeccable local credentials and a campaigning zeal to work for the good of the electorate of Walsall South.”
Although not a winner on this occasion perhaps, as he suggested, we have begun the “job of returning a much-needed Conservative MP for the people of this constituency.”
Right at the end of the campaign I was thrilled that individuals took the time to tell me my contribution in promoting Tory values in Walsall South should “never be forgotten” and as a result at least one person had been persuaded to join the Conservative party and work for it in future.
But, regardless of the above the electorate have spoken and I respect its decision.
Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is by far the greater sin.
Returning to Mr Lammy’s wise words I hope that in Walsall’s case that the public are not “taught a harsh lesson” by their democratic intent.
Born, bred and schooled in Walsall – as well as launching the Walsall Advertiser at the age of 21 – I will be watching the progress of the incumbent MP in “putting the people of Walsall first” at Westminster.
One good thing did come out of Walsall on election night 2015.
For as the Tories secured their first majority in 23 years by repeating the performance of John Major in 1992 who defied the polls, as well as the critics, we must remember that his father – a humble circus performer called Tom Major-Ball – was Walsall born and bred.
As I complete my last Walsall South blog, I feel strangely re-energised.
They’ll be no need for the words of advice on becoming the ‘freshers’ in Westminster . . . no need to take up bike riding (I do it already) . . . I’ll still be able to chat to people on the bus (and not freak them out) . . . and won’t have to talk endlessly about ‘almond flat white’ being my new coffee mate.
The post traumatic campaign stress is behind me. I’m already reacquainted with housework and my darling husband John, who’s followed me every step of the campaign, has had his first cooked meal from ME in six months as well as discreetly removing the posters from the campaign wagon and the banners around the town.
My business associates have heard my ‘Yam-Yam’ voice again and I’ve resumed my duties as deputy police and crime commissioner for Staffordshire.
Even the Jack Russells can’t believe I’m home to stay.
Sue Arnold, local girl, local champion and still working for the local community.
WSD – Walsall South Day – I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Now I can’t stop singing this little ditty I’ve made up, borrowed extensively from Harry Williams’ famous Tipperary tune.
It’s a long way to Walsall South then,
It’s a long way to go,
It’s a long way to the arboretum,
And the sweetest town I know.
Goodbye, Pheasey Park Farm,
Farewell, Market Square,
It’s a long way to Walsall South now,
But my heart’s still there.
Friends, Yam-Yams and countrymen and women . . . you can take the girl out of Walsall but you can’t take Walsall out of the girl.
10 reasons why you should vote Conservative today to keep David Cameron in No 10 Downing Street as the UK’s ‘first choice’ prime minister.
The polling stations in Walsall South extending right across this great land of ours are waiting to be unlocked – as the nation prepares to vote.
As I prepare myself for ELECTION DAY, I’d like you to look at my 10 reasons why you should vote today and put your cross next to the name of a Conservative candidate to ensure the return of David Cameron in No 10 Downing Street in the morning.
Whatever your intentions – please exercise your democratic right and vote at your allotted polling station.
HAPPY Walsall South Day . . . and here’s your Top Ten reminders which is the SERIOUS side of what you want to happen in the next FIVE YEARS as you place that cross on the ballot paper.
All we ask for is fairer society in which to live and raise our families.
A record three out of four Brits are in work, the highest since records began . . . that’s 31.05 million people.
Britain enjoyed the fastest growth in the G7 countries last year with 1.75 million more jobs and youth unemployment down by 175,000.
The Conservatives have promised 3 MILLLION new apprentices by 2020
BUSINESS AND PROSPERITY
760,000 more business since 2010
Last year the economy of West Midlands added more jobs than the whole of France put together.
In a survey this week of fastest growing companies in the UK, SEVEN out of 10 said the Conservatives had the best policies to support business expansion.
Britain’s hard-working nation is already £28.3billion better off, thanks to Tory tax cuts.
The typical taxpayer has an extra £800-a-year in their pocket since Chancellor George Osborne raised personal allowances from £6,475 to £10,000 between May 2010 and last month.
The best-paid one per cent in the UK is now paying MORE in taxation to the Treasury than ever . . . 27 per cent of the nation’s income tax.
New laws will free up to ONE MILLION people from income tax if the Conservatives win this election today with tax allowance of £12,500 planned
There will be NO TAX to pay if you are working 30 hours on minimum wage
7,049 extra nurses since 2010
9,500 more NHS doctors since 2010
7-DAY NHS by 2020
£8bn extra NHS funding planned by 202
Conservative administration secured additional increases in state pensions with more to come up to 2020
Unlocked private pension regulations for over 55s
The 2010-15 Conservative administration has built record numbers of low-cost homes and by 2020 we intend to build 400,000 just on brownfield sites alone including 200,000 starter homes
Introduced Help To Buy legislation to assist with FIVE per cent mortgage deposits
Plans for Right To Buy for housing association tenants
Benefits per household to be cut from £26,000 and capped at £23,000
Deliver 30 hours FREE childcare for working parents of 3 and 4-year-olds in DOUBLING of childcare benefits
Controlled not mass immigration. We believe that immigration brings benefits to Britain – to our economy, our culture and our national life.
Tackling illegal immigration and ensuring that people come here for the right reasons and in the right way.
Cracking down on abuse by clamping down on bogus colleges, tackling sham marriages, and making it harder for people to remain in the country illegally.
Working to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers, we have quadrupled the fine for paying below minimum wage.
It’s down 20 per cent since we came to power in 2010, we’re winning the battle
Let’s not forget.
While we naturally think about our own village, town, city, county or region . . . it’s important to remember the UK capital is being watched the world over as a litmus test of the nation’s health and wealth.
And since 2010 when the Conservatives formed a Coalition government with the Lib Dems then London has seen:
- 215,000 more businesses
- 527,000 more jobs
- Youth unemployment down 59 per cent
AS I approach the final 24 hours of campaigning to win the Walsall South seat for the Conservatives, it’s worth remembering that the bigger picture for the nation’s vote tomorrow is about the future of the UK and the wellbeing of its people.
What benefits the UK will benefit Walsall South – conversely what happens in our constituency will have an impact on the rest of the country.
The Conservative-led Coalition government under Prime Minister David Cameron has acted in the best interests of the nation.
It has been good for Walsall as well as the nation with policies that have helped create jobs, reduce crime, improve schools and assist more people to buy their own home.
The government that had to stabilise the economy back in 2010 has helped generate prosperity which in turn protects the vulnerable and brings succour to the needy.
We can NEVER take prosperity as a given.
As I start my last full day of canvassing across the constituency, bear in mind that in the last 48 hours David Cameron has been dashing the length and breadth of country in a 1,300-mile final bid to tell the nation that voting Conservative on Thursday May 7 means MORE jobs, MORE tax cuts and MORE homes for young families.
I’m sure that’s the good news everyone wants to hear as the finishing line of this 2015 general election is in sight.
Walsall South Day (WSD) is dawning and how you cast your precious vote tomorrow is all about YOU.
Thank you all for listening . . . and for all the good wishes and support I’ve received over the past months of the campaign.
My debut was a Big Centre TV broadcast on March 6 at 9 o’clock in the evening on Freeview channel 8. It was nerve-wracking to say the least.
My last one – a 14-minute ‘grilling’ by Sikh Channel chairman Davinder Singh Bal – gave me the chance to give my personal reasons for entering the world of national politics in my first bid to become an MP.
The people and constituency of Walsall South mean a great deal to me.
It’s a personal thing as I told Davinder during the one-on-one questioning. Walsall made me what I am today.
Born and brought up in Walsall in a traditionally voting Labour household, I passed my 11+ exam but as one of six children my mum couldn’t afford to send me to the grammar. Instead I went to the Frank F Harrison School.
As a teenager in the early 1970s I worked in my uncle’s fruit and veg shop, serving among others the sikh residents of the area. I was fascinated by the temples going up alongside the spires of christian churches.
I went from steelworks planning clerk to Mars drinks travelling sales consultant (a Mars a day helped me work, work and stay). I began my life in publishing in 1981, rising from the ranks – reception to company director – helping to launch the Walsall Advertiser a year later.
Sikhs were the first advertisers with the paper. You are fantastic business people and I enjoyed the banter of bartering over advertising rates in the publication.
During my time at the Advertiser I had business dealings with Walsall South’s long-serving MP Bruce George.
Bruce used to pop into our offices at Bradford Street and was a popular visitor. In fact our newspaper column ‘View from the House’ had Bruce as the first contributor and became a regular read for not only many of his constituents but many people in the town.
He was a fantastic MP . . . high profile and visible . . . working hard for his constituents . . . all the things I hope to be if elected on Thursday.
Some 30 years on I bumped into him on the campaign trail a few weeks ago and we re-acquainted our long association with each other.
Bruce George and I share at least one vital thread of commonality –regardless of politics he always put the community first.
I have to confess I am not a career politician but a businesswoman of 35 years who wants to serve the community all the time.
I want to demonstrate I am truly committed to the people of Walsall, passionate about Walsall.
I will fight tooth and nail locally and nationally for a policy that benefits the people of Walsall South.
I am a Walsall girl born and bred. Walsall is my passion – the town is very much in my heart.
I WILL get the best for residents and businesses in the town.
Being pro-active is vital and with that in mind, if elected, I would drive around the constituency in a Winnebago – engaging with communities.
I want to make seeing an MP as easy as possible – it should not be difficult to access the person representing you in Westminster.
I will adopt an ‘open door’ policy and I also give 10 per cent of my MP salary BACK to Walsall South, setting up a Community Chest Fund where residents and communities will be able to apply for monies.
I was very touched when Davinder Singh Bal said it was a “very noble thing” to offer to put something back into the community as MPs, he said, had been rightly criticised for what he saw as self-serving interests.
Local girl . . . local champion . . . local community.
One of the proudest achievements of this Tory government over the last five years is in its employment record.
David Cameron’s Coalition achieved an incredible record of creating 1,047 EVERY DAY since 2010 – that’s approaching two million in total.
Labour managed to oversee the LOSS of 25 jobs a day in the their last four years in government.
Business, buoyed by a steadily growing economy which encourages getting the nation back to work, is always keen to help when the call comes.
And here in Walsall we now have a community centre garden – thanks to builders teaming up with a posse of volunteers, made up of local residents.
The result is a fantastic facelift around Pheasey Park Farm Community Centre.
Coleshill-based Bovis Homes have been creating a new part of the community at Nether Hall Park and were happy to assist when an SOS call was sounded by Walsall Conservatives.
The grounds surrounding the community centre were looking rundown, with Japanese knotweed taking over the car park, and the garden areas were looking a barren.
“As a business we are always looking to put something back into the communities in which we build, in addition to the new homes we are delivering,” said Bovis Homes Central region technical director, Daniel Oliver.
The firm kept in close consultation with us and worked to ensure that Nether Hall Park is integrated into the Great Barr community and vice versa.
The Nether Hall Park team funded the refurbishment and arranged for Jack Moody Ltd the landscape contractors to go to work on landscaping the area, planting new shrubs and tackling the dreaded knotweed.
Thank you Bovis Homes . . . this community investment is very welcome and appreciated.
Building a better future together . . . that’s the Conservative way
And it got me thinking about something as equally important.
This is the most potentially game-changing general election, possibly since 1945, and certainly since the late, great Mrs Margaret Thatcher showed the world how a grocer’s daughter could successfully run ‘General Store UK’ in the first of her three election triumphs in 1979.
But my message today – with around 100 hours to go to the opening of the polls on Thursday – is more about local, local, local.
Your born and bred WALSALL girl . . . who launched a business in WALSALL . . . and wants to do her best and see WALSALL finish up best.
The emphasis on local – whether it’s backing a Walsall-based business or coming from the world of newspapers who are heading towards hyperlocal websites for generating news – an article from the Express & Star political editor Daniel Wainwright caught my eye.
He tells the best-selling regional daily newspaper’s readers he’s not sure about the final outcome (are any of us?) of next week’s general election; who’s had the most impact; who the real winner might be; although he tends to believe the next government “will be formed as a result of discussions and deals done behind closed doors.”
I might not agree with all his theories but one sentence did resonate with me. He said: “While the parties argue it out among themselves, while they bicker over whether or not the real winner will be Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, the most important thing is going to be having a decent MP fighting your corner.”
He goes on: “What every one of us will need in Westminster will be an MP who is going to be the flea in the ear of the government, whichever party or parties form it.
“We need a professional pest, a squeaky wheel demanding grease.”And he sees the political throne that has been Westminster for centuries may be loosening its hold. “Ordinarily the best sort of person to have is someone who puts the national interest first,” he argues before adding that “there’s no longer any such thing.” He confirms: “Devolution is coming whoever wins the election.”
And he rightly detects that “we’re not all in this together anymore, not as a nation at least.”
He adds: “It’s going to have to be the West Midlands, with a population larger than Scotland, versus the rest in this new political order.”
He’s sure “another absolute certainty is more cuts.”
And then he notes: “Public resources will continue to be squeezed and if there is to be any money for it then it will need someone utterly and completely devoted to improving their constituency to get it.
That person might come from any one of five different parties, says the regional journalist.
Finally he concludes: “The choice of local MP is the only thing over which the ballot paper exercises any control whatsoever.”
Is national politics ready to cede to the will of local, local, local?
The voters will decide on Thursday whether they want to put local with a capital ‘L’ into the constituency of Walsall South . . .
IT’S not something where the train can take the strain.
But to keep me going on the campaign trail, I’m taking a leaf out of an email from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.
Their literature doesn’t need to tell me that election campaigns are “physically strenuous” and “the last thing you want is to be laid up on polling day”.
But bless the good physiotherapists, they sent me – and presumably all UK parliamentary candidates – some useful health tips to make it to May 7.
- Perfect positioning – reduce the strain on your joints through good posture. This will also help you breathe, keeping you calm and relaxed. Stand tall with your shoulders back, pull in your stomach, keep your feet hip distance apart and make sure your spine, shoulder and hip joints are aligned.
- Sharing the load – carrying all those leaflets can put a strain on your back. Use a rucksack to evenly distribute weight on both shoulders. Never bend down from the waist to pick up a heavy load up but rather squat down, keeping your back straight.
- Stretch targets – try a few wall presses. Stand with your feet hip width apart, stretch out your arms and rest your palms on the wall at shoulder height and slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Take two small steps back, engage stomach muscles and slowly bend your arms at the elbows. Keep your back and neck straight, looking at the wall. Lower yourself till you’re two inches from the wall and push back to starting position. Make sure you lead with your chest so your arms do the work and don’t arch your back.
- Manifesto commitments – invest in your health. All that door knocking has done you a favour. A brisk 30-minute walk every day is one of the best things you can do to keep your health. So try to build it into your day!
The society is right – all that door knocking and hand-shaking has improved my physical fitness as well as leaving me little time to eat.
I thought the above tips might be useful for the voters too, as you digest mountains of literature and prepare to make your way (hail, rain or shine) to the designated polling booth (those of you that haven’t already postal voted).
The X factor – it’s a winning combination for candidate and voter alike.
May the 7th be with you . . .