All posts by paul francis

Can the Lib Dems really win in Maidstone?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, April 15 2015

Could the Lib Dems really pull off an electoral coup in Maidstone, the County Town?

Improbable though it may seem, the party is cautiously optimistic and, unusually, decided to release private polling data to indicate it was closing the gap on the Conservatives.

Candidate Jasper Gerard is proving a tenacious campaigner and there seems to be a buzz and zip about its campaign that the Conservatives are lacking.

The party is clearly trading on what it claims to be the unpopularity of candidate Helen Grant.

But the reality is that it is unlikely to win under its own steam, which explains the overtures it is making to the other parties to consider voting tactically.

Labour candidate Allen Simpson has already derided the idea, saying the party wants to promote its policies to voters rather than asking them to vote for someone else. According to Lib Dem strategists, one in five Labour voters has already indicated they will switch to Nick Clegg's party.

Add in the votes that could be leaking from the Conservatives to UKIP and you can see why the Lib Dems have a plausible, if not compelling case. It is also making much of the of polling indicating that Helen Grant is viewed unfavourably by more of her constiuents than she is viewed favourably - with a net score of -5.3%

It does look like being an uncomfortably close contest for the Conservatives who would be understandably shocked if it was to relinquish control of a seat that has never been anything but true blue. I still see them edging out the Lib Dems but they have a real fight on their hands.

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Visits by party leaders are notoriously stage-managed affairs and Nick Clegg's to Maidstone was no different.

To be fair, he was willing to do endless media interviews and selfies and  is a good performer in public.

The only momentary slip-up - and it was hardly that - was when he stopped in mid flow during a Q and A with students at Mid Kent College because he had just spotted Jasper Gerard's cufflinks, saying how much he admired them.

 

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Manston becomes a zero-sum game

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, April 12 2015

The fate of Manston was always going to be a major issue in the election battle for South Thanet and it is hardly a surprise that the rival parties - notably Ukip and the Conservatives - have been falling over themselves to dip into the political sweetie jar to offer assorted pledges and commitments.

First out of the block were the Conservatives.

They clearly wanted to pre-empt Ukip's rally on Saturday at Margate's Winter Gardens and brought down the transport minister John Hayes two days earlier to pronounce that, according to what he had seen from the government consultants appointed to review the CPO papers, there was nothing to stop Thanet council from pursuing that option.

But what had he seen? It wasn't quite clear and when the Department for Transport was asked for a copy of the interim report PwC had produced, we were told to put the question to GCHQ because it was a political event and nothing to do with them.

Mr Hayes said in a rather breathless press release that it represented a 'huge step' towards re-opening Manston as a working airport and that the only way to ensure that it did was to vote Conservative.

This was then overshadowed by a row over whether the news breached the strict rules of "purdah" which are supposed to apply during election campaigns and are designed to ensure that no announcements are made which might be construed as giving some electoral advantage to a party or candidate.

The owners of Manston lost no time in denouncing the way the announcement had been made to say that it felt there may be a case to answer and were taking legal advice on the issue.

This was swiftly followed by Ukip unveiling its position - or rather, repeating its position - that the first thing that it would do, were it to take control of Thanet District Council, would be to also instruct council officials to start a CPO process to restore Manston as a working airport.

So, in a sense Manston is a zero sum game for both Ukip and the Conservatives: there really is not much difference between them.

The only problem they may have is that while Manston is unquestionably an important issue in South Thanet, voters may get rather tired of it if the issue is all the parties talk about between now and May 7.

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Everything you need to know about the election battle in Kent  -constituencies guide, candidates, commment and analysis: #KENTDECIDES

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Will Nigel Farage win in South Thanet? It looked like the party was having a bit of a wobble and it did not come out well from the revelation that it had tried to suppress a poll which appeared to indicate it was falling back in he constituency.

It is becoming next to impossible to read the runes with any changes in the standing of the parties fluctuating on a daily basis. Having said that, I detected a spring in the step of Labour this week, who are feeling that they are steadily improving and represent the main challenger.

The problem for both the Conservatives and Labour is that neither has a decisive lead in the polls. For floating voters who want to keep Ukip out, there is no clear choice to go for. That will potentially help Ukip and split the anti-Farage vote.

With three weeks to go, there are bound to be more twists and turns and the launch of the party manifestos next week could represent a potential banana skin for Ukip.

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There are election posters and election posters but 2015 will go down as the year that saw - courtesy of Ukip - the first one to feature the words "compulsory purchase order in relation to Manston. Next up?

Maybe a Conservative one featuring "quantitive easing."

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The usually mild-mannered Sevenoaks candidate Michael Fallon took on the role of Conservative bruiser-in-chief this week with his "stabbed in the back" jibe against Ed Miliband. The Conservatives defended the comments but it is the kind of politicking that really turns off voters.

And the row they generated did have one consequence. It helped distract voters from other issue - partcularly Labour's "non-doms" announcement - which might have just been the purpose.

 

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Categories: Manston | Precept

No clear winner but a TV debate that confounded expectations

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, April 3 2015

It was inevitable that the party spin doctors all declared that their candidate won but the truth is that the seven-way election debate was a score draw - and a highly entertaining one at that. The fact that the snap polls had differing results served to underline that this is a highly unpredictable election where any number of outcomes remain possible.

Here's my verdict:

DAVID CAMERON: A composed but slightly safe performance, lacking a little passion perhaps as he strived to present himself as the safe pair of hands and appealed to voters to let him finish the job. It was never likely that he as going to make any gaffes. But stuck out at the end of the podiums did rather make him appear a little aloof. Safe rather than inspring but his aides won't be unhappy about that.

ED MILIBAND: Another solid performance but I did find his one-armed  fist clenching podium punching a little distracting. Kept to the script well, had a good line attacking the Conservatives for being unwilling to tallk about the future. His obvious attempts to address the audience beyond those in the studio were a little bit clunky.No "hell yeah" moments.

NICK CLEGG: The clear winner in the 2010 debates, this was another smooth performance, and his attacks on Cameron had you wondering how on earth the pair had managed a coalition for five years. However, while his willingness to acknowledge mistakes - including the U-turn on tuition fees - had the virtue of candour it did also remind voters of a politician who said one thing and did another

NIGEL FARAGE: Began a little woodenly but got into his stride as the debate went on and pushed all the usual Ukip buttons - effectively depicting his rivals as "all the same" and how he represents those who feel disconnected from mainstream parties. There is always scope for something left field when he is interviewed and his comments on people from abroad being treated for HIV came close to that. While he mentioned his party's support for grammar schools he could have put Cameron on the spot over his failure to back a plan for a new one in Kent.

NICOLA STURGEON: By common consent was one of the best performers on the night. Assertive and confident, it could have been tricky for her to make a wider appeal to voters beyond Scotland but did the job well. Effectively criticised the main party leaders as the old boys club. But her strong showing may have served to remind voters that the SNP may have a pivotal role in determining who may run the country after May 7 - allowing Cameron to claim that the SNP might let Miliband through the back door.

NATALIE BENNETT: The most nervous of the seven and appeared to be referring to cue cards on the podium. No major mishaps but I think that she did not come across as well as her rivals. Still, she staked out the Green party claim that it is the most progressive of the parties, arguing that we should "celebrate free movement in the EU". Didn't really cut through as strongly as she may have done.

LEANNE WOODS: Had an even trickier proposition than Nicola Sturgeon but did with some success. Her scolding of Nigel Farage over HIV patients and anti-immigration rhetoric was particularly effective and she had a great line about ordinary people needing a bale out - not just the bankers.


 

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The starting gun has been fired - so who has reasons to be cheerful?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, March 30 2015

It's official: the starting gun has been fired and the formal general election campaign is underway, even if it might feel like campaigning has been going on for weeks. So, with just weeks to go, how are the parties faring in Kent and Medway?

Who has reasons to be cheerful and who may be feeling apprehensive?

The Conservatives:

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • The party has the benefit of incumbent MPs in most Kent constituencies, who will to a lesser or greater extent carry some personal vote
  • David Cameron consistently out polls Ed 'Hell Yeah' Miliband as the person most trusted by voters to be PM
  • The economy appears to have turned a corner and the party's appeal to voters not to risk damaging the recovery could be central to undecided voters 

Reasons to be worried:

  • The insurgent Ukip party is nipping at its heels in many parts of the county. The shadow of Nigel Farage, standing in South Thanet, looms large and there are fears Ukip could split the vote and let Labour in
  • Despite the up-turn in the economy, many people still say they are not benefitting
  • Immigration is still a touchstone issue in Kent and the Conservative failure to curb numbers remains a faultline
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Labour

Reasons to be cheerful:
  • Ukip is, on balance, more likely to win over disaffected Conservatives which could, in sufficient numbers, allow it to come through the middle and win seats
  • Polls point to the NHS as being a key concern and with several Kent hospitals under-performing, it is an issue Labour is strong on
  • Ed Miliband may lag behind David Cameron but if he performs well in the remaining TV debates, that gap may narrow
Reasons to be worried:
  • Ed Miliband consistently loses out to David Cameron when voters are asked who they most trust to be Prime Minister
  • The party's failure to tackle immigration cost them seats in 2010 and the issue is still seen as an Achiles' heel in Kent
  • There are signs that it is leaking voters to Ukip at one end of the political specturm - and to the Green party at the other - meaning it could be squeezed in its target seats of Chatham and Aylesford and Dover and Deal
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The Liberal Democrats

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • Things are about as bad as they could be for the  party's poll rating - surely they can't get much worse?
  • The party is heavily targetting the Conservative-held seat of Maidstone and The Weald and has an outside chance of success
  • Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, Ukip is not siphoning away supporters on the same scale
Reasons to be gloomy
  • The party has no solid county-wide base of supporters to act as foot soldiers and has struggled to find candidates 
  • It won't have much by way of campaign resources to throw at Kent as it is fighting to hang on to its existing MPs elsewhere
  • The broken promise on tuition fees continues to cost it support in university towns and cities
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UKIP

Reasons to be cheerful:
  • Kent has become an established power base for the party, meaning it has plenty of willing volunteers to canvas support
  • Nigel Farage may not be everyone's cup of tea but his presence as South Thanet candidate means the party is getting a far high-profile in the county
  • Immigration remains a key concern for voters and Ukip is seen as particularly strong on this issue

Reasons to be gloomy
  • It has had to deal with rather too many embarrassing episodes involving candidates close to home, the latest being the expulsion of Janice Atkinson as ppc for Folkestone and Hythe over an expenses claim
  • There is some evidence of informal anti-Ukip coalitions emerging in key seats which could squeeze its vote
  • Its policies on the EU and immigration are clear but less so on other subjects
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The Green Party

Reasons to be cheerful:

It won't win any parliamentary seats but there are signs it is picking up support from disaffected Labour supporters and Liberal Democrat voters
It has a record number of candidates in Kent council elections and is likely to win in some of those

Reasons to be gloomy:

Some of its policies have been derided as unrealistic and impossible to implement
After a car crash TV interview with  leader Natalie Bennett, its poll ratings took a slide

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Categories: Politics

The starting gun has been fired - so who has reasons to be cheerful?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, March 30 2015

It's official: the starting gun has been fired and the formal general election campaign is underway, even if it might feel like campaigning has been going on for weeks. So, with just weeks to go, how are the parties faring in Kent and Medway?

Who has reasons to be cheerful and who may be feeling apprehensive?

The Conservatives:

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • The party has the benefit of incumbent MPs in most Kent constituencies, who will to a lesser or greater extent carry some personal vote
  • David Cameron consistently out polls Ed 'Hell Yeah' Miliband as the person most trusted by voters to be PM
  • The economy appears to have turned a corner and the party's appeal to voters not to risk damaging the recovery could be central to undecided voters 

Reasons to be worried:

  • The insurgent Ukip party is nipping at its heels in many parts of the county. The shadow of Nigel Farage, standing in South Thanet, looms large and there are fears Ukip could split the vote and let Labour in
  • Despite the up-turn in the economy, many people still say they are not benefitting
  • Immigration is still a touchstone issue in Kent and the Conservative failure to curb numbers remains a faultline
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Labour

Reasons to be cheerful:
  • Ukip is, on balance, more likely to win over disaffected Conservatives which could, in sufficient numbers, allow it to come through the middle and win seats
  • Polls point to the NHS as being a key concern and with several Kent hospitals under-performing, it is an issue Labour is strong on
  • Ed Miliband may lag behind David Cameron but if he performs well in the remaining TV debates, that gap may narrow
Reasons to be worried:
  • Ed Miliband consistently loses out to David Cameron when voters are asked who they most trust to be Prime Minister
  • The party's failure to tackle immigration cost them seats in 2010 and the issue is still seen as an Achiles' heel in Kent
  • There are signs that it is leaking voters to Ukip at one end of the political specturm - and to the Green party at the other - meaning it could be squeezed in its target seats of Chatham and Aylesford and Dover and Deal
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The Liberal Democrats

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • Things are about as bad as they could be for the  party's poll rating - surely they can't get much worse?
  • The party is heavily targetting the Conservative-held seat of Maidstone and The Weald and has an outside chance of success
  • Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, Ukip is not siphoning away supporters on the same scale
Reasons to be gloomy
  • The party has no solid county-wide base of supporters to act as foot soldiers and has struggled to find candidates 
  • It won't have much by way of campaign resources to throw at Kent as it is fighting to hang on to its existing MPs elsewhere
  • The broken promise on tuition fees continues to cost it support in university towns and cities
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UKIP

Reasons to be cheerful:
  • Kent has become an established power base for the party, meaning it has plenty of willing volunteers to canvas support
  • Nigel Farage may not be everyone's cup of tea but his presence as South Thanet candidate means the party is getting a far high-profile in the county
  • Immigration remains a key concern for voters and Ukip is seen as particularly strong on this issue

Reasons to be gloomy
  • It has had to deal with rather too many embarrassing episodes involving candidates close to home, the latest being the expulsion of Janice Atkinson as ppc for Folkestone and Hythe over an expenses claim
  • There is some evidence of informal anti-Ukip coalitions emerging in key seats which could squeeze its vote
  • Its policies on the EU and immigration are clear but less so on other subjects
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The Green Party

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • It won't win any parliamentary seats but there are signs it is picking up support from disaffected Labour supporters and Liberal Democrat voters
  • It has a record number of candidates in Kent council elections and is likely to win in some of those

Reasons to be gloomy:

  • Some of its policies have been derided as unrealistic and impossible to implement
  • After a car crash TV interview with  leader Natalie Bennett, its poll ratings took a slide

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Categories: Politics

Not quite pork-barrel politics but some goodies from the sweetie jar come Thanet's way

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, March 15 2015

It ought not to be a surprise that the news of a £12m investment in High Speed 1 services to and from Thanet triggered a row over whether the government was playing pork barrel politics.

In about ten days time, the government would have been prevented from issuing  the news under what are known as purdah rules. This prevents government and councils from making announcements that might be construed as favouring particular parties.

 

With news of an imminent announcement buzzing around last week, UKIP leader Nigel Farage cheekily pre-empted the official news by declaring it unofficially, tweeting: "Great news which would never have happened if I weren't the candidate there!" He went on to claim that it was evidence of what UKIP could do to bring attention to an area "even before taking office."

His point was to suggest that the Conservatives are searching around for good news to spread because they are on the back foot in Thanet, where he is standing. Of course, the Conservatives denied any such thing, with the departing South Thanet MP Laura Sandys describing his intervention as unbelievably arrogrant.

But UKIP has a point, however irritating others may find it.

This is not the first announcement in recent weeks that could be construed as designed to benefit the Conservatives.

Notably, there was the news that the government was to appoint an independent consultant to review the decision by the Labour-controlled council not to pursue a CPO for Manston. This review will conveniently not report back before the election.

Some of the gloss came off this a touch this week with a highly critical report by the transport select committee, which took the Conservative-controlled Kent County Council and in particular its leader Paul Carter to task over its failings in helping Thanet council.

A gift to opposition parties who are probably rushing to the printers to get new election leaflets published.

Then there is the question of exactly what kind of boost the £12m investment will provide and whether it is actually new. The press release rather hid the major downside of the announcement, namley that the scheduled upgrade of the line won't be completed until 2019 - a four years away.

As to the journey times, the average reduction will be ten minutes off. Not bad but again, the press release refers to the "potential" for a reduction rather than a guaranteed one.

On the question of how genuinely new this all is, the waters are rather muddy.

Network Rail confirmed a year ago that it was working towards an upgrade on the HS1 line to bring journey times down to about an hour from Thanet to London at a cost of £10m. If this was separate from this week's announcement, then the PR people missed a trick by overlooking the fact that it could be a £22m investment.

The conclusion seems to be that they are one and the same.

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Nigel Farage has admitted that he may not win his bid to become the MP for Thanet South. 

In a book serialised by The Daily Telegraph, he concedes he is facing a real battle and that if he fails it "would be curtains for me."

In one sense, this could be seen as a little defeatist and may have the effect of giving his opponents more impetus. On the other hand, this kind of candour does stand out from the earnestly positive remarks many candidates are choosing to post about their campaigns.

Twitter is full of would-be MPs posting update of their activity on the ground, usually accompanied by comments such as "brilliant day campaiging in x [insert name of constituency] and a great reaction on the doorstep."

Oh, and a deadly dull picture of activists holding leaflets, flags and banners.

Nevertheless, it is a risk for any politician to acknowledge they may lose. 


 

 

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Categories: Nostalgia | Tourism | Trains | Transport

Grammars and why Nigel probably won't be sitting down with Al for a pint

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, March 11 2015

UKIP is not terribly keen on unelected quangos and there is one in particular that it would really like to scrap: the Electoral Commission, an organisation charged with overseeing all elections and ensuring they are properly run.

Why? Well, it is clearly a quango and Ukip's policy appears to be that all such appointed bodies should be wound up to save taxpayers' money. There is, in the case of the scrap to become the next MP for Thanet South, an additional reason.

The commission has just ruled that the FUKP party created by comedian Al Murray can be registered and the name can be used on ballot papers but its logo cannot. This decision turns on the issue of whether voters could confuse FUKP with UKIP. The commission says not - but has said that the acronym won't be allowed on the ballot paper and neither will the party's logo, an inverted version of UKIP's own emblem.

UKIP is irritated because it feels there will be some confusion among voters and Thanet South is likely to be a tight contest which could turn on just a few votes.

This is not to say that Al Murray has any chance of winning. It is about whether the votes he gets, coupled with the votes other minority parties secure, could deprive Nigel Farage of victory.

There are already eight listed candidates for the seat and the possibility that there will be more to come before the deadline of April 8. Add in the fact that Al Murray's FUKP party will appear before UKIP on the ballot paper and you can understand why the party is annoyed.

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Still, UKIP has had a small boost with a Survation poll giving Nigel Farage an 11 point lead in Thanet South - and that lead is over Labour rather than the Conservatives. The poll is interesting because respondents were asked not just the party they would support but named the individual candidates.

While Nigel Farage is very much a Marmite politician, he obviously has greater voter recognition than his rivals. As interesting was the fact that Labour leapfrogged the Conservatives in this poll. That is probably a reflection of the efforts its candidate Will Scobie - a genuinely local person - has and continues to put in to the campaign.

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Why is David Cameron apparently digging his heels in over a decision about plans for a grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks? Reports have suggested that he has ruled no announcement will be made this side of the election.

Many Conservatives are baffled by his reluctance, given that giving the scheme the green light would send a strong signal the party had not turned his back on selection completely as UKIP continues to promise "a grammar in every town."

One explanation may be that the case presented by The Weald of Kent Girls Grammar, which is proposing the scheme, is not so clear cut as some have made out, not least because of the 10-mile distance between the site in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge.Would that qualify as an annexe?

Another may be a cold political calculation that however many parents there are who would like more grammars, there is a perception that they are not the agents of social mobility they once were in giving bright children a "good" education they could not otherwise afford.

UKIP says it would give 20% of places to children from poorer backgrounds, although no-one has explained what would happen if fewer than 20% of such children did not pass.

And, at the end of the day, the Conservatives probably believe this is a decision that will have very little impact on the outcome of the election - not least because Sevenoaks and Tonbridge and Malling are about the party's safest seats in the county.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Politics

UKIP bouyant after its seaside trip

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, March 1 2015

If the purpose of party conferences is to send your supporters and candidates away with a spring in their step and a glint in their eye about their electoral prospects, Ukip can claim it more than achieved that after its seaside trip  to Margate.

It wasn't quite on a par with David Steel's exhortation to his party to "go and prepare for government" but the mood in the hall at the end of the Ukip Spring conference in Margate was definitely one of optimism that the party is on course to end up with enough MPs to have a stake in who governs the country and how it is governed after May 8.

What was interesting was  the efforts over the two days that the party is making to spell out what is is for as well as what it is against, what it is positive about rather than what it is negative about.

Although the headline findings of the recent Survation poll - commissioned by one of its donors Alan Bown  - was good news for Nigel Farage in his bid to win Thanet South, some of the other findings were less positive for the party.

Which explains why it has now cast itself as the defender of the NHS. Speaker after speaker came to the platform to declaim they would go to the end of the earth to save the NHS. If you closed your eyes, you could have been at a Labour conference - provided you overlooked the bits about immigration placing the NHS under an intolerable strain.

This was a not-so-subtle bid to appeal to disaffected Labour voters, which party strategists say is where they are increasingly picking up support.

In his own keynote speech, Nigel Farage said the party's campaign would be overwhelmingly positive and vowed to steer away from smears and American-style negative campaigning he clearly expects to be targetted at Ukip in the coming weeks. 

There was a whiff of David Cameron's entreaty to his party to "let sunshine win the day" when he became party leader. Whether the party can stick to this remains to be seen.

The other striking feature about the conference was that it was pretty much gaffe free.

A message has clearly gone out to candidates that they cannot afford to be "off message" and to think carefully about what they are saying in the media. (Paradoxically, the embarrassment caused by the fly-on-the-wall documentary "Meet The Ukippers" has probably helped).

Its MEP Patrick O'Flynn told the conference he did not want candidates to wake up on May 8 to think whether an unguarded remark or slip of the tongue captured by the media might have cost them victory. That may be tough to keep to but it is a sign the party is desperate to be seen as more professional - even if it makes it rather less colourful.

As to how it will fare in Kent on May 7, Nigel Farage slightly rowed back from his prediction on Saturday that the party could be on course to win "four or five seats" in the county, telling me that it was becoming increasingly difficult to draw predictions from national polls about what would happen at a local and regional level.

There is however a growing feeling that there may well be surprise results that confound the pollsters. With so much focus on Thanet South, insiders are saying that in constituencies like Thanet North and Dover and Deal, they are in with a shout.

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It was probably not the wisest thing to predict victory quite so explicitly but we have come to expect Janice Atkinson, the Ukip candidate, to be forthright.

Not for her the cautious understatement.

But her declaration that she was going to win Folkestone and Hythe on May 7 - "our own private polling shows that," she said - was the kind of uncompromising forecast that gives party spin doctors palpitations every time she makes a speech.

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Nigel Farage certainly doesn't look ill but that hasn't stopped him being the target of unfounded rumours that he is. The speculation, he claims, was spread by the Westminster lobby and although untrue had triggered some concerns among party donors.

He decided the only way he could draw a line under it was to tackle it head on in public.

And it seems he is enjoying himself after his dry January. Asked if he was making up for it with a 'wetter' February, he said: "No, let's just say we re back to normal."

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Categories: Politics | Protests

Ukip's latest coup and why Labour are alarmed

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, February 19 2015

On the political Richter scale, the news that the leader of the Labour opposition group on Ashford council is to back Ukip represents a minor tremor rather than a major earthquake.

Despite Ukip's best efforts to portray the declaration of Harriet Yeo as a major coup, it falls well short of what they really want, which is the defection of a Labour MP.

Mrs Yeo is not even joining Ukip so she is not actually a defector at all - and says she doesn't agree with many of its policies.

Having said that, any party would be glad to win over the support from a rival party and Ukip, which tends to specialise in this sort of thing, won't be unhappy about the coverage the story has got, even if one broadsheet went slightly over the top by declaring the councillor as a top Labour figure.

Of arguably more significance are the comments by the Labour prospective parliamentary candidate Brendan Chilton. His warning - in remarks recorded without his knowledge - that Labour councillors were in danger of being wiped out by the Ukip advance  - ought to be (another) wake-up call for the party.

Labour cannot hope to form a majority government if it fails to win seats in Kent but the signs are that will prove beyond them. As Cllr Chilton put it: "They [Labour councillors] may not exist after May if Ukip move at the pace they are."

They have two official target seats - Chatham and Aylesford and Dover and Deal - but the polls are not indicating that the party is picking up enough momentum to deliver them victory in May.

Not surprisingly, Cllr Chilton is rowing back furiously and unconvincingly to limit the damage, saying that he may have to "eat his hat" because "it looks like the opposite will happen" - the kind of spin that alienates voters rather than engages them.

Perhaps he should have stuck to his guns. His frank assessment of the situation Labour finds itself in is precisely the sort of thing party chiefs need to hear but instead they are keeping on with the platitudes about "getting a positive response on the doorstep". With an election two months away, it may all be too late.

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There seems to be a degree of confusion about the events surrounding Cllr Yeo's ousting as the leader of Labour's five (now four) strong opposition group.

Cllr Yeo was booted out of the job for failing to attend meetings and deal with constituency business and deselected as a candidate. She claims it was all accomplished without her being given a chance to appeal and done by text.

What is clear is that the party seemed very keen to present the change in leadership of the group as completely innocuous. The news was relayed to the Kentish Express as a minor change in personnel and nothing too contentious. Cllr Yeo's name was not even mentioned.

What seems to have happened is that word got out that Cllr Yeo was contemplating a switch to back Ukip some time ago. She has admitted she spoke with Nigel Farage late last year and that may have leaked.

She believes that was the real reason she was ousted athough acknowledges that she did indeed miss some meetings because of poor health.

We aren't being told Labour's side of the argument because it has pulled the shutters down and is referring all questions to the regional press office.

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Categories: Nostalgia

Spinning lights, Lodge Hill and Ann Barnes' PR spend

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, February 15 2015

Conservative county councillors did their best to put a gloss on their streetlight switch-off U-turn at the authority's budget meeting but it has been an unnecessarily messy episode which the opposition parties understandably exploited.

The ruling administration did what it could to make the best of a bad job but had to face accusations that it had not actually saved any money, after spending £3m on installing the technology needed to move to part-night lighting  - effectively neutralising the predicted saving of £3m up to 2017, when it says bulbs will be replaced wih LEDs.

At least Conservative council leader Paul Carter was upfront in acknowledging that had the council known that the cost of LEDs was to fall significantly, it might not have embarked on the switch-off. (His claim that it had saved money was less convincing).

Opposition in Kent appears to have been more vociferous than other areas, which may have something to do with its size and rural nature.

To be fair, it did consult pretty widely at the outset.

Having said that, perhaps councillors did not do themselves any favours by appearing rather dismissive about residents' fears over security and crime, insisting the perception of an increase in crime was not matched by the reality.

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Any public figure who spending thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money on outside PR agencies and consumer research companies can expect to be asked to account for it.

Kent crime commissioner Ann Barnes says appointing outside consultants was necessary to secure an "independent" review of the communications strategies adopted by the force.

Communications are important for any public body especially for the police.

But we doubt many people will regard it as that important to pay a PR firm close to £14,000 for an insight into what was being done and what might be done better - especially given the common complaint that they don't get to see many police officers on the street these days.

It is equally hard to justify the £2,400 spent on media training for the crime youth commissioner Kerry Boyd, whose term of office is to end shortly but whose activity has been so low profile as to make her virtually invisible.

Perhaps the advice was to not say anything or do anything in public or before the media.

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It proved one of the few local flashpoints in the Rochester and Strood by-election, so what have the parties made of the government's decision to call in the plans for 5,000 homes at Lodge Hill and hold a public inquiry?

Strangely, it has produced an unlikely consensus between UKIP MP Mark Reckless and Kelly Tolhurst, the Conservative candidate.

Mr Reckless says he is delighted he will not rest until he has 'won the war'. Kelly Tolhurst declares she will "continue to lead the campaign against it."

Perhaps they should stand on a joint ticket. No, we can't see it either.




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Categories: Memory | Precept

Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis

News, views, gossip and analysis on Kent's political scene, from County Hall to Westminster.

Welcome to my blog. As KM Group's political editor, I keep an eye on the county's corridors of power.

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