One of Alfred Hitchcock’s short films features a businessman who is kidnapped from his place of work, manhandled into a car, driven blindfold for many miles and then bundled, terrified, into a hotel room.
The escapade turns out to have been a practical joke perpetrated by his friends, to get him to a surprise birthday party. As the blindfold is taken off and he discovers the room is filled with his family and friends, the shock is too great for him. In fact, he expires on the spot, getting the celebrations off to a poor start.
The North West Hampshire Conservatives did not go to these extremes last weekend. I should have been suspicious of the invitation which invited me to to Thruxton to take part in a membership drive focussed on Thruxton, Fyfield and Kimpton. Not that my party does not hold such events – far from it. No hamlet in the constituency is spared my Party’s warm embrace.
It was just that no one else appeared to have received a similar invitation and my office was, to put it mildly, equivocal about the logistics of the event. They were certainly anxious that I should turn up, and there was some concern when we said we might arrive on our tandem.
So I went along, having mentally prepared a short speech about the importance of combatting apathy; about the role of political parties as an important link in the democratic chain; about voluntary party membership being a better option than state funding of political parties. It would end with a moving peroration about the local programme of social and political events organised by the dynamic North West Hampshire Conservatives, at which point membership cards would have fluttered down from the ceiling.
Arriving at the destination with Lady Young on my arm, I discovered why no one else had received a similar invitation. Ours was in fact the only one. Not that no one had turned up to the event – on the contrary. Many folk were there; but they had been invited to a different event.
The kindly souls who run the local party had surfed the web and discovered that in July 1964 their Member of Parliament and his wife had got married. The importance of a membership drive in the villages west of Andover had taken second place to the social imperative of celebrating the ruby wedding. Inside the house where I expected to meet the floating voters of Fyfield were our friends from all over the county.
We had been ambushed – and very agreeably so. My political antennae had let me down; years spent in the Whips office detecting plots and conspiracies to embarrass the leadership had been of no avail.
Mercifully, we had arrived by car and not by tandem. The commemorative oak planters and bag of compost would not have fitted on the carrier.