My great blue yonder

Church-goer, art-gallery owner, middle-class mum: Nicky Heyworth never imagined she'd become a Tory activist. Here, she outlines her plans to bring down Tony Blair
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Indy Politics

Since we moved to Devon six years ago, we've been going to church on Sundays. Not every week, but quite frequently. Throwleigh Church, which we attend, is old, beautiful and welcoming, and on a normal Sunday about 10 people take part in the service.

Since we moved to Devon six years ago, we've been going to church on Sundays. Not every week, but quite frequently. Throwleigh Church, which we attend, is old, beautiful and welcoming, and on a normal Sunday about 10 people take part in the service.

Throwleigh Church relies on a small group of dedicated people to assist at services, prepare readings, organise keys, cleaning, flowers and heating, and keep the books in order. But the men and women keeping it going are frail, and need help. I don't want the responsibility of looking after the church, but because Devon's historic churches are our repositories of peace, of who we were, I can't stand by. I shall have to find out what needs to be done.

Earlier this year, the chairman of the Throwleigh & Gidleigh branch of the Conservative Party, Douglas Mackenzie, asked if I would be interested in replacing him. It wouldn't take much, he said - just chairing a few meetings, taking minutes and organising a couple of fundraisers. I felt much the same way as I do about Throwleigh Church: I didn't want the responsibility and didn't have the time. I've not even always been a Conservative - sometimes I've voted Green. But Douglas had asked me, and how could I say no?

So, not long afterwards, I found myself sitting at Douglas's dining-room table with a small group of elderly, kindly and immensely courteous people. We discussed plans for the bring-and-buy sale in the village hall. Who could make a cake? There were anxious warnings about trying to do too much. Arrangements were made for booking the hall and manning the coffee stall. I asked about advertising and promoting the event, and was told that we'd put up A4 posters in two or three locations. I thought to myself that it would save a lot of time if we just wrote out a cheque, but it seemed rude to suggest that, so instead I moved tables and chairs about, and took 50p pieces for cups of coffee. I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings, but I couldn't see that our activities were likely to ruin the sleep of anyone in Downing Street.

I really don't know how our friends and neighbours in Devon vote. I joined because I was asked, and my plan is to ask everyone to vote for the Conservatives. To this end, I have invited everyone I can think of to a Political Party next week. The idea is to have a debate, with everybody who feels so inclined able to have his or her say for a couple of minutes. We have a large school bell, which will ring to start and halt each speech. The outside stone staircase will serve as a podium, and we'll have a sound system that works. I haven't spoken to Andy the butcher yet, but it will probably be cold so I'll ask him to spit-roast a couple of sheep - the fire will keep people warm and we all think better when we're well fed. Politicians of any persuasion are welcome to come, but they will get the same time as anybody else in which to make their case. Dress code: wellies and warm coats.

I've asked everybody to bring a short list of the issues that matter to them and I'll forward the compiled list to Geoffrey Cox, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Torridge & West Devon, and to Michael Howard. I hope very much that people with more experience, more tact and much more understanding of government than I have will come forward. I want to sign up as many new Conservative Party members as possible, because I want Howard to believe he can win the next election. Believing you can win is the first step towards winning.

I expected to encounter resistance, embarrassment and hostility when I began asking people how they plan to vote. I've had one or two say that they prefer not to discuss politics, but overwhelmingly the reaction has been one of almost explosive relief. The UPS man, the garage attendant, the man who dug our drainage ditches, the lovely girl in Spar, my neighbours, visitors to my art gallery - they've all poured out their feelings of frustration and dismay. When I explain what I'm up to, they've been delighted to think that something positive may be happening at last.

The other really surprising thing to happen has been an almost universal commendation of my "bravery". I don't feel particularly brave - in many ways, I've been almost scared. I've made myself approach people who look as remote from the Tory stereotype as possible, but I've come to realise that there's no such thing. For me, the word "Conservative" has to be broadened out to mean "conservation" of this beautiful country, and our fragile world.

Devon has been kind to us since we came here, and I feel a debt to everyone for their acceptance of us "blow-ins". I am engaged with this place, and these people, and I am now clear that we all deserve better than this Government. In particular, the hunting ban will hurt a lot of people locally. Our horse is a hairy disgrace with no brakes, but it is through our sporadic attempts at hunting that we've met many of the most generous-spirited and amusing people we know. A hunting "meet" is exactly that: a chance to meet and share news. Country people live isolated lives; the hunt pulls them together, and it is a great leveller.

Tony Blair's methods since he became Prime Minister have called into question everything I thought I knew about our parliamentary democracy. Without a massive increase in support, the Conservative Party will not be able to arrest its decline. We either throw in the towel, or we turn and fight. Not being by nature a towel thrower, I propose to use every ounce of energy I have to get support for the party.

I will ask people who have voted Liberal Democrat in the past to vote for the Conservatives, if only just this once, because I think the Conservatives can win against Labour, whereas the Liberal Democrats cannot. I will ask people who voted UKIP to vote Conservative, because the 2,000 UKIP votes in Devon in the last election cost the Conservatives this seat. I will ask people who voted Labour last time to vote Conservative, because I believe that many of them share my absolute disgust at the way we were misled into the Iraq war, and know that the only way to end that war is to get Blair out of Downing Street.

I visualise a virus of political activism spreading out across the UK. I feel like Martin Luther King: I have a dream, and that dream is to hold Blair to account.

I think the energy I have dedicated to my project has startled a few people. It has certainly startled my husband, but, as my daughter has pointed out, he has no one to blame but himself. After all, it was he who said at the end of one of my rants about George Bush or the dreadful traffic on the M5: "There's no point in telling me about it. Write to Today, or the newspapers." So I did. While writing, I found I was becoming more and more enraged.

But being angry is not enough. I need help to understand where we should really be trying to take this country. All our children will live with the consequences of the political decisions being taken now, in our names. If you want change and if, indeed, Blair is planning a spring election, you don't have long. Or are you still working on the assumption that somebody else will do it? Well, I'm Mrs Bog Standard, and up till this year, I, too, have been making the assumption that "somebody else will do it". However, this year Mr and Mrs Bog Standard, busy though they are running their businesses, paying the mortgage and worrying about this and that, have glanced out of the window, and discovered that they no longer recognise the country they live in. For me, change is only a matter of time.

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