In praise of… Tom Brake

Before I was winning chocolate at the weekend, I was campaigning in Croydon and Sutton as part of the excellent Action Day organised by George Kendall and others. It is no secret that the reason Liberal Democrats from across London are now paying rather more attention to Croydon than before is because significant parts of it may be moved into Tom Brake’s constituency.

It is typical of Tom that in amongst all the heat and rhetoric of the Parliamentary boundary review process, he has been quietly getting on with thinking ahead and acting. Rather than just abstractly debating what his constituency boundaries might be, he and the Sutton team (including the excellent Ruth Dombey) have started working with colleagues in Croydon to build up the strength of the party there.

I say typical of Tom because it is people like him that are the bedrock of the Parliamentary Party. There are those in more high-profile posts in government, but they can only do their work well with the support of hard-working and dedicated colleagues who help keep the rest of a political party’s activities ticking over. It’s no coincidence that Tom is Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs and that its beat is one that has seen the fewest tensions between the party in government and the party at large.

The shortage of people such as Tom bedevilled the Liberal Party in the 1970s, causing Paddy Ashdown to recount his horror at the first Parliamentary Party meeting after his election in 1983. As he put it, the people he had joined were talented and lively but also frequently dysfunctional and uninterested in being team players.

It is easy to under-value the contributions of people such as Tom Brake, although Paddy’s accounts are a healthy reminder of what happens if you do.

Hence I was very happy to turn up for Saturday’s action day, which started with a good pep talk from Tom describing the controversial local issues and their salient points so that we would all be prepared if they came up on the doorsteps. Then it was off recruiting and resident surveying (and yes, we all had stickers).

The patch I did in Croydon has a pleasingly high response rate, with a good batch of completed surveys to gather in at the end and with more likely to come back through the post in the next week.

Regular readers won’t be surprised to know that I had a tip or two to pass on about how the campaigning was organised on the day. George cunningly somehow turned the suggestions into a promise from me to come along to the next regional Action Day (in Brent) to help put them into practice. Smart, George!


* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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