New Year Honours: Election agent and charity’s secretary from Northamptonshire awarded MBE

Sally Smith
Sally Smith

An agent from Northamptonshire who has been involved in every General Election campaign since 1964 has been awarded an MBE.

Sally Smith, aged 68, began helping the Conservative Party as a volunteer in the election that swept Harold Wilson and the Labour Party to power.

The Nether Heyford resident later became agent for successful county council, South Northamptonshire, Daventry District and Northampton Borough Council campaigns, as well coming out of retirement to help Michael Ellis MP to victory in Northampton North in 2010 by 1,936 votes (a figure “that is ingrained on my soul”).

Describing the keeping of the secret honour since December 10 as “pretty simple given the number of ministerial visits I’ve had to keep quiet”, she said she was “very, very pleased and excited”.

About her decades as an agent, she said: “It really is a tough job in the run-up to an election.

“As well as having total confidence in the candidate, you have to ensure everyone knows what can and can’t be done under election law and you’re responsible for inspiring the team.

“Eighteen hour days just happen sometimes.

“But the buzz when you win is huge because of course there’s no second places.”

Dedicating her MBE to the various election teams (who she feels the award is partly for) Mrs Smith said it was a privilege to work as hard as she did.

“Working for a good candidate, someone who you believe in, is great.

“I think it can be almost a service for your country if you believe it will help to put them in power and put their policies across.”

Mrs Smith was a volunteer in student politics at Manchester University before becoming seriously involved in campaigns, later taking exams which she likened to a two-year degree in election law.

Despite retiring from elections in 2006, she was coaxed back from retirement for 2010, which showed her exactly how far being an agent had changed in almost 50 years.

“Now its is taking on the American model,” she said, “where many agents are part time because, with new technology, it’s possible to represent several people from one base.

“There are several parts of the job that will always be there, like keeping everybody engaged and inspired, and keeping the candidate on the straight and narrow. You always need a good war chest too.

“But these days there are added factors such as Twitter and Facebook. They can be great or they can be lethal.

“I always urge ‘think before you send’ because people act in isolation but everyone can see what you say, and it’s permanent.”

She has herself been elected as councillor and became deputy leader of South Northamptonshire Council,

But her New Year’s Honours citation mentions most prominently the work she has done as secretary for the Conservative Agents Benevolent Fund, which looks after disabled or unwell Tory election agents, many of whom are now elderly, wherever they happen to live in the world.

She said: “It can be difficult, because you are usually one of the first to know about a death and you have to impart that news to people they knew.

“But it’s also very rewarding. We help those who are not well and see they get aid they need.

“You get really nice letters, saying thank you for arranging to put in my stairlift or ‘because of you I can go on holidays again’.

“It’s a lovely position to be in.”