I'm the worst person for making use of local facilities. I lived next to Regent's Park for years and barely set foot in it. Now I live in the West End of London, so I'm spoiled for great cultural events to ignore. Plays I really like the look of come and go, wonderful art exhibitions run their course, shops selling stuff I really like open, trade and shut down, all without a visit from me. It always seems like there is something better to do, slightly further away. Can it really be worth doing if it isn't a pain in the arse to get there? So it will be no surprise to learn that when I found out my local Labour party branch was a stone's throw away from my flat, it took me nearly two years to make my first meeting.
I was the first to arrive at 7.15, and sat uncomfortably, waiting. By 7.30 we numbered five. After a short presentation about the National Policy Forum from a guest speaker, the meeting turned to its serious business - the branch chequebooks. Who had them last? No one knew. Wasn't Bob going round to pick them up from John? He never turned up. So can we get them back from John? John didn't have them anyway. So who had them last? On it went, round and round in a grand circle.
I met with a local activist to find out more about the branch and constituency parties. Our chances of getting a local councillor elected seemed pretty slim, let alone an MP. The West End ward used to be marginal, and was targeted in the "homes for votes" scandal in the late Eighties. Shirley Porter did her job well - it's now solid Tory.
So, who else is standing?
It's the AGM. I have learned my lesson, and arrive five minutes before the off. First on the agenda are committee elections, and the first of those is for the chair. There is a call for nominations, and everyone looks at me.
"Why don't you stand?" "OK," I reply. "Who else is standing?" Everyone looks down at the floor again. "No one. Congratulations! You've just been elected. Now could you take the meeting?"
Stunned, I stumble through the rest of the elections. Most of the posts are filled in an "acting" capacity. Now on to the main business of the evening. Yes, it's the branch chequebooks. Didn't Bob go round to John's to pick them up? No, he didn't turn up. Can we get them back from John? No, he didn't have them anyway. Who had them last, then? This is all starting to sound very familiar.
Learning the hard way
I've learned from being in a band that the trick to doing a good interview is to think of something interesting to say beforehand, then say just that, no matter what question you get asked. With experience, you can generally make it sound like the answer anyway. I'm learning the hard way that the trick to making a successful "impromptu" speech is pretty much the same. A snap by-election has just been called in a ward in my branch, and I'm the only party member who has come forward to stand. I'm to be confirmed as Labour candidate at a committee meeting tonight. The committee chair says it will be a formality - I probably won't even need to make a speech. You can guess what happened next: I was asked to talk for "a couple of minutes". There's not much I can say in defence of my ramblings, except that they were from the heart rather than the head. But it's amazing how long two minutes can seem.
Three weeks to go
The first day of campaigning, and we're not off to a good start. The Tories are trying to close down a local block of sheltered housing. We're at the farmers' market off Marylebone High Street with a petition to try to get the council to think again. Or at least we were, until the owners threw us out. We wander the streets, approaching residents.
Most seem unaware that there's an election happening. Some give me, er, "messages" for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Maybe they think I have some kind of hotline? But there are plenty of people who are genuinely interested in what we have to say, and it's great to talk to them, even if they disagree with us. We've got three weeks of the campaign to go. Hopefully I'll still feel that way at the end.
Dave Rowntree was the drummer with Blur, and is standing for Labour for a seat on Westminster City Council