Eighteen months ago I went back to Liverpool for the first time in many years with Chris Grayling MP - it wasn’t the best of nights; things had to change for Liverpool Conservatives. The evening was, to say the least, traumatic.
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On Thursday night, I went back to Liverpool to speak to the new Liverpool Seats Initiative Christmas dinner.
They had come a long way, and had travelled a bumpy road, not without event. Thursday was the first formal peace time Christmas gathering, and was in itself symbolic of just how much had been achieved in the past 18 months.
Arriving in Liverpool at Lime St Station was just a tad emotional - it was bitterly cold and I ran out of the station past St Johns and down into Church St.
Sam Coates accompanied me carrying a rucksack, the size of an average house, on his back. It tilted him forward, head bent staring intently at the floor as he glided along, looking for all the world like a turtle out to pick up some last minute Christmas presents, hoping no one would notice.
Liverpool was full of noise, children, shoppers and Christmas, and it was snowing – or at least I thought it was – until I noticed that it was actually from foam machines, strategically positioned on the top of buildings, making it look exactly as though it was snowing. Only in Liverpool, (and America) would you find such devotion to re-creating the schmoltz of Christmas.
Church St was full of people chatting and laughing. As I looked up to the sky the bitter cold stung my eyes, or was it the foam? Liverpool was buzzing.
I hadn’t written a speech, I was too nervous. I speak to lots of Associations and usually talk about whatever is happening in Parliament that week - I had spoken to 200 people the previous week and hadn't batted an eyelid.
However, in Liverpool, I was really scared. I had gone back to my roots amongst the people I knew would expect nothing other than something top drawer from one of their own. I also knew that on a night before Christmas, they didn't really want the heavy politics, but something more in the way of entertainment.
Tricky for me as I don't really have a repertoire of funny jokes and anecdotes.
I often tell audiences in speeches how my mother repeats the story of the Silver Cross pram my granddad bought when I was born. He used to take me out with leaflets tucked under the apron at the bottom of the pram to stop them blowing away. My mother always says, that’s why you’re a Conservative, it’s in your blood.
I answer, patiently, no mum, that’s why I have deformed feet; I’m a Conservative because of Margaret Thatcher.
It usually gets a laugh, I wouldn’t even try it on a scouse audience!
I told Sam I wanted to go to the big Boots on the corner of Bold St and Church St. It used to have a lift lined with polished wood, and my dad was the lift man.
He took people up and down Boots all day, especially the elderly, and everyone knew him by name. He chatted and laughed, and nothing gave me greater pleasure than a trip to Boots. I used to press the button for the lift, and wait to see the expression of joy on my dad’s face, when the doors opened and he saw it was me,' his little terror' . Something he called me until I was 20 when he died.
As I arrived at the junction of Bold St with Church St, I was temporarily confused. Where was Boots? Where had it gone?
My heart sank, it was now a Lloyds Bank. My re-union with a memory was not to be. I would never see the lift doors open again. As I stood and looked at the building I could hear my dad, and maybe it’s because it is Christmas, or just because he was the most special person I have lost, but having struggled more and more over the years, to remember how his voice sounded , it came to me as clear as a bell.
I suddenly knew exactly what I was going to say at the dinner.
I told them a story of one of their own, a lifelong Conservative, Danny Doherty.
One night as a little girl, I stood in the pouring rain waiting for a bus with my dad, holding onto his hand. The street lights were a sulphur yellow, and the rain came down like stair rods, silhouetted against the yellow aura of the lights.
We were soaked. Out of the dark and into the glow came a man and his wife carrying an umbrella. They came over to us and stood with the umbrella held high, protecting dad and I from the wind and rain. Dad seemed to know them and they chatted earnestly.
Once on the bus, I remember wiping the steamed window and watching the man and his wife as they walked away, they turned around and waved. “Dad, who was that?” I enquired.
“His name is Danny Doherty” said dad, “and he is one of the nicest men you will ever meet, he is a Conservative.”
Many many years passed. In 2001 as a general election candidate, one cold windy wet night, I was sat in the Conservative office on my own. It was a tough seat, funds and activists were almost non existent. A pile of letters stood on the table which needed to be dealt with, and there was only myself and a very enthusiastic young man by the name of Chris, to deal with it.
I made a cup of tea and wiped the window with my hand looking out into the unwelcoming rain, feeling very low. The lights cast a yellow aura, the only semblance of warmth.
I sat down and began to open the letters. Out of the first came a cheque for £500 with a note which read ‘Dear Mr Chairman, please find enclosed a cheque for £500 to help with the campaign to send Nadine to Parliament. The money has been raised through a bingo evening. Her father was known to us and was one of the nicest men you could ever wish to meet. Signed Danny Doherty, Chairman, Liverpool Wavertree Conservatives.’
I told the story to the Liverpool Conservatives, it seemed appropriate for the occasion. It symbolised how we had all come full circle, and despite the fact that Liverpool Conservatives had been through a tough time, they could look forward now to a brighter future. As I had.
Thursday night was closure on the past, for all of us.
I sat next to Tony Caldeira at the dinner, the exciting new Chairman. Tony, third child of a single mum who made cushions and sold them on the market on a Saturday morning, is now the biggest UK exporter of cushions with his own factory in China.
An exciting entrepreneur who is going to take Liverpool Conservatives onwards and upwards, with nothing more than his sheer enthusiasm and energy.
Esther McVey and Debi Jones were also on the table, the candidates for Wirral West and Crosby. We laughed all night.
I cannot wait for the day when Esther and Debi join me in the House of Commons. If only because they will make me look like an absolute complete and total angel in the eyes of the Chief Whip!
Parliament just doesn’t know what it’s got coming! I can’t wait!!!