Two years after I graduated from Cambridge, I woke up one morning with the idea of moving from London to Oxford. I joined a fabulous firm there, and became First Prize Winner in the final Chartered Accountancy exams for the Thames Valley area.
Roll forward to the autumn of 2014. It was conference season for the political parties. Again I woke up with a thought. There was none of the principal parties I wished to vote for. My vote could only be a tactical vote AGAINST what I didn't like. A valuable aspect of our democracy, but was not good enough. So I started a blog that afternoon with an article bemoaning the situation.
That was a Friday. On the Saturday morning Mark Reckless stood up at the UKIP conference to leave the Tories, and triggered a by-election. Not in any old constituency. My home town of Rochester and Strood. What an incredible coincidence. An omen!
My grandfather, Frank Mason, had been a union leader at Chatham Dockyard and a Labour activist in Strood. Yet I knew from my gran that he would have turned in his grave at the unions' antics during the 70s. Today he would be called a Progressive on the centre left.
I'm more aligned to business and the pursuit of wealth. But still intent on social justice and a Caring Society looking after those that need it. For that you need a Strong Economy to provide enough tax receipts.
Circumstances were such that I was just coming free from a client project at exactly the right time to stand as an MP. I um'd and ar'd to the very last hour for nominations. Maybe I would never get another chance. I owed it to Frank to at least attempt to defeat someone from the right of the Tory party. Go.
Of course an independent in a by-election doesn't stand a chance. Especially when UKIP were bussing in dozens of supporters to knock on doors. and both UKIP and the Tories were spending a fortune on leaflets and adverts. Confined to bed with a virus the last two days of campaigning, the fact I got any votes at all was a welcome surprise!
But it was a great experience. I met and had long chats with lots of very interesting people, from the CEO of the local Housing Association about affordable housing, to an incredible army character with experience in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. And I learnt that social media alone isn't enough! This experience is what lies underneath the approach to GE17.
I had registered a political party for the by-election, bvut it was not approved until after the result.. The Just Political Party was put on hold.
The Following Two Years
Talking to people, it was clear I was not alone. Lots of people feeling they had no direct representation for their views, principally:
- A Strong Economy based on businesses
- A Caring Society providing a comprehensive NHS and other public services
- After the 2016 Referendum, concern about Brexit, and how it would undermine the first two aims
Then the penny dropped. The Labour party is a coalition of left and centre left (Momentum and Blairite Progressives). The Conservatives are also a coalition of the centre right and right (Cameroons and Tories)., Notably it was leaders like Blair and Cameron who appealed to the centre who won general elections. The vision was to split the two parties and amalgamate the two moderate groups into one centrist party.
Daniel Boffey and Toby Helm of the Observer announced just after the Referendum that those very moderate MPs were planning some similar realignment. Corbyn was distressing the Labour moderates, and Brexit was distressing the Conservative Remainers. It takes about 6 weeks to get a new party registered, due to the various checks that need to take place.
So I offered The Just Party as the 'vehicle'. But clearly there wasn't enough 'pain' for MPs to jump away from their exisitng parties. The Just Party was put on the back burner till now.
GENERAL ELECTION 2017
There wasn't supposed to be another General Electioin until 2020. Maybe The Just Party would field a couple of candidates then, and make a more serious attenpt at election in 2025.
A snap election in 2017 was always a possibility. But I could make no preparations whilst commuting to work with a major quoted retailer.
Only when the election was announced could I see that the "pain" of Remainers on the left and right might trigger the plan announced last July.
Working just in my free time, setting up the website, blog and donations facility has taken until this last Sunday. After putting out a few invites, serious recruitment from Monday. Julian Reid, a candidate for my adopted town of Maidenhead was found that day. Time is running out for any more for GE17, but whilst there's time there's the possibility.
In any case this is just the start. Of something big. Very big!