Life outside politics
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At Cambridge, I studied history at Peterhouse, a college with a strong political tradition. I was elected for six terms to the Executive Committee of the Cambridge University Conservative Association, including as Deputy Chairman. I served as Secretary of the Cambridge University Students' Union and was elected to the Standing Committee of the Cambridge Union, where I had a unique opportunity to debate with members of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet and leading opposition politicians.
On leaving Cambridge, I focussed on my career and was less active politically, especially during the seven years when I lived and worked in the Far East.
I returned to the UK in 1998 and joined the Vauxhall Conservative Association. Vauxhall is in Lambeth. It includes areas such as Brixton and Stockwell and must be one of the toughest places for the Conservative Party anywhere in the country. I became Vauxhall's Deputy Chairman in 1999, inheriting an association in difficulties - with 80 members, few activities and minimal resources. I served continuously as Deputy Chairman or Chairman for the next seven years. When I stepped down in 2006, the association had 320 members, a quarter under 40, and annual revenue boosted by over £10,000 a year.
In early 2000, I was adopted as the Conservative Party's parliamentary candidate for Leyton & Wanstead in east London. Before the General Election, I worked to develop the Party in Leyton, where membership increased sufficiently to justify creating a new branch. I encouraged new activists - two of whom became Leyton & Wanstead's association chairman and their parliamentary candidate in 2005. I worked for the election of Roger Evans to the London Assembly in 2000 and secured front page coverage in the local press for my own campaigns. Once the 2001 General Election was called, I campaigned in Leyton & Wanstead and was also responsible for co-ordinating the work of activists in Clayhall ward in Ilford North, a target seat next door. The result in Leyton & Wanstead was a swing to the Conservatives - as against a swing to Labour across London as a whole.
By the time of the local elections in 2002, I had become Chairman of the Vauxhall Conservative Association. I managed the campaign in Vauxhall and was also a candidate in Clapham Town, our key target ward. The result in Clapham Town was our best for twenty years.
The border of Ken Livingstone's Congestion Charge Zone runs through Vauxhall. I organised a protest at Kennington Cross on the day that the Congestion Charge was introduced in February 2003. This was one of the most high profile protests against the Charge in London with representatives from a dozen news organisations from around the World covering our activities.
In 2004, I was again closely involved in London's elections. I was the Campaign Co-ordinator in Lambeth for Steve Norris’ mayoral campaign and Treasurer/Chief Fund Raiser in both Lambeth and Southwark for the election to the Greater London Assembly.
In 2004, I was asked by friends and colleagues in Vauxhall to put my name forward to become their parliamentary candidate. In the subsequent General Election, my Labour opponent was one of the toughest any Conservative could fight - Kate Hoey, Chairman of the Countryside Alliance. Nevertheless, the Conservative vote in Vauxhall increased for the first time since 1983. On Election Day, we had enough spare resource to provide a team of 30 Vauxhall activists to work in Battersea, our target seat next door.
I retired as an Officer of the Vauxhall Conservative Association after the 2006 local elections. After seven years, it was time to bring on new blood! I remained active in the local Party as Deputy Chairman of the London South Area Executive. As the second most senior person in the voluntary party in South London, my responsibilities included "troubleshooting" in problem constituencies, running candidate selections and organising aid to target campaigns.
One consequence of being less involved in the day-to-day business of running a constituency association was that I had more time to assist colleagues and friends in their campaigns around the country.
In June 2006, I was closely involved in our efforts to win the Westham West by-election in Weymouth, Dorset. Our candidate was Ian Bruce, the former MP. The Conservatives came from a distant third place to beat both the Lib Dems and Labour in a ward that had not elected a Conservative in living memory.
In 2006 and 2007, I worked with Cllr David Sims and his team campaigning in the newly created Oakley Vale ward in Corby, Northamptonshire.
In the May 2007 local elections, I took a team of 25 activists from London to campaign in Gravesham in Kent, where we played a critical role in winning a target ward.
On 1 May 2008, I was privileged to be a member of the team that worked to elect Boris Johnson as the first Conservative Mayor of London.
In June 2009, I helped Cllr Patrick Mulligan to take the target ward of Airedale from the LibDems in the elections to the North Yorkshire County Council.
In the 2010 Council and General Elections, I campaigned in South London to elect our candidates, particularly former colleagues and friends in Lambeth.
I stepped down from running the Party in South London in 2010 but returned in 2012 in the more senior role of Deputy Chairman (Political) for the whole of London.
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With the Mayor of London
Listening to pensioners' concerns
Meeting younger members of the community
Visiting Guy's & St Thomas' Hospital as a Governor
With Oliver Letwin, Chairman of the Conservative Policy Forum
© Edward Heckels 2007-2018
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