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.