October is the month when parliament is fully back in action after its summer recess. For a Conservative October also always means the Party conference. That in itself makes this autumn month a special one in the political calendar but October 2003 has been much, much more for me with the leadership contest developing within my Party and my part in a parliamentary delegation to Israel. But I am getting ahead of myself. Set out below is a very brief diary of some of my parliamentary and constituency events during this 31 day period.
Sunday 5 October: travel up to Blackpool by car with my wife and Tory friends for the four day conference. Enjoyed by all with whom I came into contact despite the ferocious wind blowing in from Ireland along Blackpool’s promenade. It was noticeable that the debating conference time at the conference was less than usual and I felt that this had a negative effect on us getting across some of our policies.
Monday 6 October: Host the Cities of London and Westminster reception at a hotel near to the conference which went extremely well and it was very good to be able to catch up with all of those local activists who had braved the weather to travel North. Many of my dedicated activists I only get to see briefly at Ward AGMs and social occasions through the year.
Friday 10 October: Back in the House of Commons and my postbag is full again with messages against the war in Iraq with the increasing number of deaths of US and UK soldiers. Answers go out but it is clear that the efforts of our troops in Iraq will be very long in duration and it is crucial that the government is open with the nation about any expected timescale if the general public is to maintain its support and steadfastness for them in these difficult times.
14 October: House of Commons returns and my first meeting is with my fellow Whips to set out our plan of action and parliamentary activities for the rest of this session before the Queen’s Speech on November 26.
16 October: Attendance at Unilever evening reception at the Tate Modern where it takes me an age in the autumnal darkness to find the entrance. There is nothing more stressful than running (and arriving) late for an engagement.
17 October: Speaker at Ward of Cheap Ladies luncheon. Afterwards I was shown a copy of the LSE student newspaper where the editor had become quite excited about the idea of me addressing "cheap" ladies and was disappointed when he learnt it was only the name of one of the oldest traditional wards in the City of London.
20 October: Barbican Residential Committee Dinner. Another black tie event in the City of London where I give the vote of thanks on behalf of the guests, all of whom seem to know everything there is to know about the history of the Barbican. Put me to shame I’m afraid!
21 October: Covent Garden Business Forum at the London Transport Museum just off the Piazza. Over 100 local business people and residents are there. I am one of ten guest speakers and we have a lively question and answer session at which most people are interested to the point of obsession about the policy initiatives of Westminster City Council. It makes me realise that for our central London villages to thrive a vibrant, active, articulate residential population is required with the interests of their home area at heart.
22 October: Thorneycroft Luncheon where Steve Norris was the guest of honour and my role was to introduce and thank him as host of the event. Back in the House a feverish atmosphere had gripped the entire parliamentary party as suddenly there was talk of amassing sufficient signatures to force a confidence vote against the leader Iain Duncan-Smith.
23 October: AGM of the Churchill Garden Lessees Association where it was good to see so many people turning up on a cold, wet evening. Few local residents were interested in talking about the potential leadership crisis which was just as well as I could add little more than was being reported in the papers. The local residents here in Pimlico were more concerned at genuinely local issues such as petty crime, litter and graffiti.
26 October: Fly out to Tel Aviv for the start of my Parliamentary visit to Israel with four other MP colleagues. We have all left with the uncertainty of a potential leadership battle happening while we are away but it has been made clear that we will all be able to vote if such an election quickly develops.
29 October: And it does
31 October: Back in the House of Commons it is by now clear that Michael Howard is seen as the most likely new leader with potentially no other candidate. Constituency correspondents have e-mailed, phoned and faxed comments, as there is a post strike, and a quick totalling up shows that it is about 60% to 40% for the people who are in favour of the new situation but some party members are angry that a new leader has been chosen without the membership voting.
Next month hopefully I shall be a bit more grounded, if not less hectic.