At the start of the Wigan by-election a lot of fellow Liberal Democrat campaigners were feeling very sorry for me, as I had been appointed as agent.
Polling day was planned for the same day as Charles Kennedy’s maiden speech as leader of the Liberal Democrats, at the party conference, due to Paddy Ashdown’s retirement.
So, our team was small but enthusiastic.
So concerned were we at the lack of volunteers crossing the threshold of our suite of offices at the HQ that we decided to take a lot of the stuffing and stamping work to Harrogate, where the conference was, to get the work done.
Avid readers will have noticed I mentioned that helicopters have a boot in the back and this was, on one occasion, how the target letters made it back to Wigan.
But, as this job needed running in Harrogate Hilary Stephenson took on the role of drumming up, and organising, volunteers in Harrogate whilst I remained, for the most part, in Wigan.
Knowing that my skills at dealing with unruly staff, anxious candidates and quixotic volunteers can at times become strained Hilary bought me an emergency kit for dealing with crises, in her absence.
On the eve of her departure for Harrogate I was presented with three items:
- A large container of shower gel
- A half bottle of scotch whisky (plastic)
- A book on how to deal with difficult people
The shower gel was primarily for activists who were keen but not necessarily house trained. The book was obvious in its purpose as was the whisky. ‘But,’ I asked Hilary, ‘why the plastic bottle?’
She replied sagely, ‘well if you feel the need to throw something at people you won’t waste the whisky in the process! It will bounce!’
(The book, but not the whisky, got placed into the box of tricks for the next by-election agent, I wonder what happened to it?!)