As well as the funny bits, I went to great lengths to tell the agents how much I value their work on behalf of the party. It was just as well I was there to do that as there were hardly any elected representatives there - a single MP (Charles Hendry) and four MEPs. What a disgrace. No wonder the agents feel unloved and unwanted. These are the people who are fighting the ground war. Even if this internet age, their work is absolutely vital. It is often a truism that a candidate is only as good as their agent. A good agent can be worth hundreds if not thousands of votes. Here's a short extract from the serious bit of the speech
I have always been a staunch supporters of party agents. I learnt my politics at the feet of the great Phyllis Reeve and Audrey Barker in Norwich, when Dawn Bayman and Geoffrey Harper were leading lights in Eastern Area. I remember Geoffrey once saying “The best election is one when the candidate goes on holiday from the Nomination Day till 5 minutes after the declaration”.
At the last count I have played my own part I recruiting more than a dozen agents to the party over the years. I think it is true to say that in many cases, a candidate is only as good as their agent. But too few candidates in this party enjoy the services of a professionally trained agent. That is slowly changing, but it is far too slow. I was horrified to find out that CCHQ blew half a million pounds on an advertising campaign to recruit Friends of the Conservative Party – the campaign recruited only a few hundred people. Just think how many agents that money would have trained.
I remain an absolute supporter of the profession – and it is a profession. It’s not a 9 to 5 job, it’s very badly paid and you all have to deal with people who you wouldn’t normally allow over your doorstep – and that’s just the MPs.
How many MPs are there here tonight? Thought so. Let me tell you, in the unlikely event of me ever becoming an MP I would regard it as my duty to attend this dinner, to say thank you for all the hard work you put in on our collective behalves throughout the year.
We all, and I include candidates, MPs and agents in this, we all have a job of work to do over the next seven months – and I don’t just mean winning the election. We all have to show that politics can be an honourable profession and that it’s mostly inhabited by good people. We can’t achieve that in just seven months but I do think that as well as fixing the economy, restoring people’s trust in politics and politicians is going to be the key challenge of a Cameron government.
MPs have got to stop feeling sorry for themselves – let’s face it no one else does . Candidates need to show they’re going to honour the people who elect them by being transparent and honest, and agents need to do what they do best. And that’s win elections.
So enjoy the week, don’t talk to journalists, certainly don’t talk to bloggers, be nice to the 'legal necessities' [candidates] and then spend the next seven months slogging your guts out. And in me you’ve got someone who will always appreciate it.
And I meant it.