All posts by paul francis

Immigration remains Labour's Achilles' heel

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, June 24 2015

When Labour was turfed out of government in 2010, leadership wannabe Andy Burnham said the party had been "in denial" about immigration and had failed to grasp that many voters felt that under Gordon Brown, it had failed to address the issue.

On a visit to Kent as part of his leadership campaign, I asked him if he felt the party had remained in denial in 2015.

Unsurprisingly, he denied it, saying the party had beefed up its policies and had addressed concerns about welfare tourism by advocating a policy in which arrivals would not be able to claim benefits for two years.

Events in Calais have, however, only served to underline that Kent, as the 'Gateway to Europe' is at the sharp end of the debate.

Rolling footage and photographs of migrants clambering on to lorries destined for Dover or Folkestone reinforces the belief of many that the situation remains volatile and we are only a few steps away from some kind of invasion.

Add in the chaos caused to the county by the implementation of Operation Stack (caused by A wild cat industrial dispute) and it is hardly surprising that Labour struggles to get much traction on the issue.

The party's problem is this. It wants to be tough on immigration at the same time as wanting to continue to support open borders and the principle of the free movement of labour.

All the while that it does, it exposes itself to the charge that it is facing in two different directions and that is precisely why it has haemmorrhaged so much support to UKIP. The public tend to lump together genuine asylum seekers with economic migrants - they are all part of the same stream that have set up camp in Calais.

At least Andy Burnham has acknowledged that Kent is vital to the party's prospects at the election in 2020.

Although it is worth remembering that during the election campaign not a single senior party figure made it down to Kent, where it had two target seats and suffered a crushing defeat in both.

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Meanwhile, Conservative MPs Damian Collins and Charlie Elphicke have laid the blame for the recent choas at the door of the Calais authorities - specifically the town mayor Natasha Bouchart.

Both have lobbed a few well-targeted political hand grenades in that direction, accusing the town's leaders of being complicit in allowing migrants to travel across the channel to the UK.

No doubt they thought it would help the Conservative cause.

But it was slightly undermined when Prime Minister David Cameron said it was not helpful to point fingers as the government tried to build a consensus with its European partners about what is, after all, not exclusively a UK/French issue.








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Up in the air - Manston owners go on the offensive

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, June 17 2015

Here's a thought. As the lucrative James Bond film franchise shows no sign of coming to an end, what are the odds of the next 007 blockbuster being filmed and produced in Kent?

Until today, you might have thought the chances were pretty remote.

But the owners of the former Manston site - now rebranded as Stone Hill Park - say that they are in discussions with a consortium looking at developing a studio which would be on the same scale as Pinewood.

Our blueprint for Manston: owners reveal details>>>

At the press conference today, hosted in a rather stifling marquee adjacent to the runway, I asked one of the two partners Trevor Cartner - rather flippantly - what the odds are on the prospect of the next Bond installment being produced in Thanet. "It is not beyond the realms of possibillity," he replied with a decidedly straight face.

A Hollywood pipe dream? Who knows. Plenty of scorn has already been poured on the idea, rather predictably.

But the possibility of the Manston site partly becoming a film studio and attracting associated creative industries was just one element of a masterplan unveiled by the owners - along with a new name - who have clearly decided that they won't hang around waiting to see whether they get served with a CPO and will get on with advancing their scheme for a mixed-use business park.

As well as the film studio, there was talk of a 50-metre swimming pool as part of a sports village on the site and 2,500 homes - which will be a mix of affordable starter homes and 'executive' houses - which is already proving contentious.

How realistic any of this is is difficult to gauge but the intention of the owners is clear.

The more they can talk about what they plan, and the more evidence there is of action rather than words, the more likely they are to elicit wider support in the community.

And they clearly hope that a plan by the Broadstairs business Instro Precision to take up residency on the site because they want to expand will give the lie to the idea that no-one wants to relocate there.

Of course, the threat of a CPO remains and the lack of political support at council and central government remains an issue. Both partners alluded to their frustration at this and acknowledged their task was more challenging because of it.

They also referred to those striving to prevent them laying a brick as an 'irritant' but insisted they were happy to discuss their scheme with anyone (even Sir Roger Gale) but would not engage in a debate based on 'nonsense' and those peddling black propaganda.

However, they weren't shy of a bit of spin, warning that any attempt at a CPO was destined for failure and would leave the taxpayer out of pocket to the tune of £76m.

The owners' chief spinner and attack dog Ray Mallon was forthright in saying the company would not walk away at any point and it emerged later that they have already got a legal team working on how to sink any legal threat.

None of this is likely to see the tenacious campaigners for Manston to be re-opened as an airport sidle off and admit defeat.

And given the new UKIP administration at the council is committed to a CPO, we are probably in for a lengthy tussle.

Today's briefing was ultimately less about the precise plans but an attempt to win over those who are ambivalent about Manston being restored as an airport and could find the alternative prospectus rather more attractive.

Whether it will succeed is hard to tell.

But like the best Hollywood blockbusters, this saga will have plenty of twists and turns before the final reel.






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Ann Barnes must take the blame for the youth commissioner saga

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, June 2 2015

When politicians are in a corner, they often try to deflect the blame for events that have gone wrong on third parties.

And a common target is the media.

So perhaps we ought not to be surprised that the Kent crime commissioner Ann Barnes has opted for this strategy to justify her decision not to continue with having a youth crime tsar.

It would, she asserted, be unfair to place a third young person under the intense media scrutiny that her predecessors were subjected to. 

What this overlooks - in a quite breathtakingly naive way - is that it was the commissioner herself who was responsible for exposing her proteges to the media spotlight.

Indeed, her very obvious determination to score a political PR coup ensured that the spotlight shone very directly on both, particularly the first appointee Paris Brown.

At the time, the commissioner and Paris, then just 17, willlingly toured every TV and radio station to spread the "good news," the pair sitting on sofas with breakfast show presenters in a very deliberate charm offensive which also garnered swathes of coverage in national newspapers. 

The commissioner could, of course, have declined the pile of requests for media interviews. She could have done them herself and kept her crime tsar out of the limelight.

But the desire to spin a good news story blinded the commissioner and her team to the dangers ahead.

Barely days later, the story unravelled spectacularly, triggering the first of a number of PR car crashes in the commissioner's tenure.

The Mail On Sunday, offering to do a profile piece, splashed a story concerning offensive comments posted by Paris on Twitter, some of which were construed as racist and homophobic.

How had they got them? Simply by looking at her account and timeline, which fatally, it later turned out, had not been checked as part of the recruitment process.

The story might have been a classic tabloid hatchet job but the cosy sofa interviews quickly became a distant memory.

What had started as a PR dream became a PR nightmare that ended just days later when a tearful Paris announced at a painful press conference that she was to stand down.

If that was not eonugh to alert the commissioner to the risks of over exposure in the media, it is hard to think what else could have been. A sensible strategy might have been to announce a period of reflection and then quietly drop the idea.

But politicians dislike compromise and positively loathe being accused of a U-turn.

The commissioner ploughed on, saying she would appoint another youth commissioner - perhaps considering that more stringent checks during the recruitment process would be enough to ensure nothing could go wrong.

Up to a point, they did and Kerry Boyd seemed to be a safe pair of hands. Until, that is, reports emerged of an inappropriate relationship with a former county councillor who had been a referee for her application.

She was placed on the equivalent of light duties and kept well away from the public eye to a point where very few seemed to have any idea what was actually being done.

So, after two youth commissioners, there will not be a third. Instead, a forum of young people will be set up to "engage" young people, ironically one of the recommendations members of the Kent crime panel made some time ago.

Have lessons been learned? Up to a point. 

But one thing stands out above everything. It was not the media that appointed the two youth tsars. It was the commissioner. It didn't work out quite as expected.

And no amount of shooting the messenger can disguise that.

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Being boring - UKIP sets its course for Thanet

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Saturday, May 23 2015

There can't be many politicians who declare that the summit of their aspirations is to run a council in a way that makes it the most boring in the country.

But that is what Chris Wells, the leader of the first council in the country to be run by UKIP, has declared as his ambition for Thanet.

It is certainly a novel political platform but underlying it is a strategy that makes some sense: Thanet Council hs been in the headlines over the years for all the wrong reasons and from the outside has often appeared to be chronically dysfuntional.

It has seen a former council leader jailed and just a year ago,a peer group review described the behaviour of councillors as "toxic".

A report by the review team published last May stated: "We found examples of antagonism, hostility, homophobia and discourtesy in the way that some councillors behave."

It is this reputation that Cllr Wells wants to replace, saying that he wants to be a "service focused, resident-orientated council." He says that is the measure by which he wishes to be judged in four years time.

It sounds modest but it will be a challenge. UKIP does not as a party like to do things quietly and as the only council under its control after the election, can expect to be fiercely scrutinised.

Cllr Wells says that the first few weeks have underlined just how intense the media spotlight will be. "The days after the election have made me understand what it is like to walk out of the Big Brother house."

Interestingly, it looks like UKIP has examined how the Green-run Brighton Council unravelled over its four years in control and is studying that to see how it can avoid similar mistakes and bad publicity. Cllr Wells' mantra is that Thanet will not be a council run on political dogma but what residents want.

An unrelenting focus on rubbish collections may seem rather modest but the message is clear - move along please, there is nothing to see.

It may be optimistic. Cllr Wells leads a 33-strong group of councillors which is precariously short on experience and while he himself has plenty - he was a Conservative cabinet member at KCC for several years (before falling out with leader Paul Carter) - the same cannot be said for many in his group.

And overshadowing the authority is the Manston issue, evidenced by the decision this week to review the decision of the former Labour-run administration not to pursue a CPO for the airport, which threatens to lead the authority into a long-running legal tussle.

Even if the costs will not necessarily fall to taxpayers, such a legal wrangle could be debilitating - it is interesting to hear that the leader's first week in office was dominated by meetings with the current owners and RiverOak - and could ultimately be a political faultline for the council.

However, set against that is the much-reduced Conservative group also backs a CPO and the only opposition is from the four-strong Labour group.

Will the "being boring" mantra work?

Who knows but while Thanet politics could benefit from a period of calm, recent history shows it might be a tougher challenge than anyone expects.



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Is UKIP imploding? And why Kent will stay blue in 2020

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, May 14 2015

It is proving rather tricky to keep up-to-date with developments surrounding UKIP but there can be little doubt that the recriminations over the party's performance in the elections are getting increasingly bitter.

The blood lettting is nothing new in parties that have not achieved what they wanted or set out to do but even by the standards of our politicians, this is descending fairly quickly into the gutter.

Ukip in turmoil as senior figure says party should not have been defeated in South Thanet>>>

Of course, had Nigel Farage got another 1,500 votes in South Thanet, there wouldn't be any debate at all or threat to his leadership.

His supporters in and outside the party would all be talking about what a political masterstroke Ukip had achieved and what a fine leader the party had.

As it is, there seems to be something approaching civil war and the knives are out. This spectacle may well confound its voters at the grass roots and you can understand why.

It polled nearly 4m votes nationally and in Kent, its vote soared by a staggering 400%. It took outright control of Thanet Council and beat Labour and the Liberal Democrats to second place in seven seats in the county.

A failure to grab South Thanet was clearly a set back but even so, it is strange to see how this supposedly poor showing has triggered such a crisis.

If there has been a mistake, it is Nigel Farage's decision to accept an appeal by the party's NEC to stay on as leader rather than resign. And while technically he can argue that having lost, he fulfilled his pledge to stand aside as party leader, it won't have convinced many.

The internal row only serves to further underline both the virtues and disadvantages of having someone as charismatic as Nigel Farage to lead the party.

Where it will go from here is anyone's guess but the spectacle of a power struggle at the top will not impress those at the grass roots.

Particularly given that Ukip has styled itself as the party that is "not like the others."

Its current bout of in-fighting is,unfortunately, just like the others.

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Not since Margaret Thatcher’s heyday has the Garden of England looked so Conservative.

It was a genuinely remarkable outcome in an election that was supposed to be too tight to call.

The predictions that UKIP’s "People’s Army" would continue its march across Fortress Kent came to nothing. Instead of a purple rash, we got a sea of blue.

The Conservatives now hold every single Parliamentary seat in the county and every single council bar one - ironically, Thanet.

And it was not a case of scraping through for victorious MPs. Several actually increased their majorities as they romped home. The party’s grip on seats in west Kent were already impregnable and now look even more so.

The warning that voting UKIP could let Ed Miliband sneak through and leave the country at the political whim of the SNP led by Nicola Sturgeon clearly hit home.

The net effect was a truly gruesome election for Labour. Even in its key target seats, it fell back.

The Conservative majority in Dover and Deal - its number one target - increased to 6,294. In Chatham and Aylesford, the Conservatives nearly doubled the majority.

It is hard to see where the Liberal Democrats go from here. Its hopes of pulling off a coup in Maidstone and The Weald came to nothing. The lack of any real national organisational base means it will take years to recover the ground it lost.

Politics can always surprise.

But the scale of the Conservative victory means Kent has had its reputation as a true blue Tory heartland firmly restored - possibly for several elections to come.

 

 

 

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Categories: Local Politics | Localism

Down to the wire: the battle for South Thanet

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, April 27 2015

With less than two weeks to go, the outcome of the battle for South Thanet looks as unpredictable as ever, with opinion polls swinging this way and that way. About all that anyone can say with any authority is that it genuinely looks like a bona fide cliffhanger, with the three main parties all still in contention to claim the spoils on May 7.

Here's my assessment of the main contenders and  how they could win - or lose:

UKIP

After what appeared to be a wobble in its campaign and a dip in its poll rating, the party believes it has recently recovered the momentum it seemed to have lost.

The turning point came a week ago when Nigel Farage held three public meetings in a day and seemed to sense that the response at those meetings had put it back on track. It was also bouyed by the recent Survation poll - commissioned by one of its donors - which gave it a significant lead over the Tories and contrasted with the earlier one by ComRes which had given the Conservatives a narrow lead.

Such was the relief at the Survation poll the leader celebrated in some style with an impromptu party on St George's Day at a Ramsgate pub during which Mr Farage serenaded activists with a rendition of "New York, New York." It won't have been pleased by this weekend's events in which members of a far-right group ambushed Labour activists as they canvassed in Broadstairs.

The party's prospects continue to be helped by the fact that neither the Conservatives nor Labour have been able to establish a decisive lead over the other. This has the potential to split the vote among the anti-Farage coalition. Even if there was a clear alternative frontrunner, it would be hard to conceive that Labour supporters would bring themselves to put a cross against the Conservatives in the ballot box and vice versa.

The danger is that Farage - on his own admission - is a Marmite politician and his name on the ballot paper is as much a hindrance as it is an asset. On the other hand, party strategists believe that there are a reasonably significant number of voters who are "secret" supporters who disguise their intentions when contacted by olling organisations.

LABOUR

The party is continuing to emphasise that in candidate Will Scobie, voters have the opportunity to choose a genuinely 'local' candidate who has the area's interests at heart rather than someone who has been parachuted in and has other motives (ie Nigel Farage and, to a lesser extent Craig Mackinlay).

It has some traction: generally voters are not that keen on "outsiders" with ambitions in other directions, however much they might protest that if elected they will put the constituency first. You can say a lot of things about Labour's candidate but he has unimpeachable local connections. The question is whether that in itself is enough to carry him over the finish line in first place.

On one of the key local issues, the fate of Manston Airport, he is not taking sides - arguing that to do so without all the facts would not be responsible and saying he does not want to over promise and under deliver, which is his preferred soundbite. His campaign team certainly think they are in with as good a shout as any of its rivals and has - contrary to some reports - has  received some fairly sizeable donations for its fighting fund.

Despite better poll ratings, one factor that remains awkward for the local campaign is the extent to which voters feel Ed Miliband is not Prime Ministerial material. And it remains a mystery why Labour has not been love-bombing the constituency with VIP visits.

South Thanet is not an official target seat  - or at least wasn't when the party drew up its target list - but if the feeling was that Labour can steal the seat from Ukip surely the national party would want to associate itself very publicly with what would be a major electoral coup? 

The party feels that in selecting a former member of UKIP the party has made a misjudgement. The argument goes that had Laura Sandys remained as the Conservative candidate, it would have been more difficult to win over centre-left Conservatives. As it is, it has appealed for tactical voting from supporters of other parties to block UKIP. This kind of appeal tends to be made when parties recognise that they are less likely to win under their own steam.

CONSERVATIVE

The word from the Conservative camp is that it is they, rather than Labour, that are to be considered as the chief rival to Ukip.Indeed, recent election leaflets have said as much, cheekily suggesting that Labour has given up on the seat and it is a straight two-way fight between the two.

Saying it enough times won't make it a reality of course. The party campaign has recently gone up a notch perhaps in the realisation that it has to do more than simply posit itself as the sensible - and only - alternative to Ukip. Anyone travelling down to Thanet can't help but have noticed billboards featuring large images of Craig Mackinlay - a sign that he possibly lacks the recognition factor of the others.

In choosing a former Ukip member (and for a brief period, its leader) Craig Mackinlay, the party clearly hoped that it would be able to neutralise Nigel Farage but I don't sense that it has. In fact, what is interesting is that the debate over the EU has not proved half as contentious as might have been expected.

In relation to the key issue of Manston Airport, there is barely a cigarette paper (or boarding pass) between it and Ukip. Still, insiders insist that the campaign is going well and the response on the doorsteps is positive.

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If you want to spread a little political stardust around your campaign, Boris Johnson would be pretty much top of the list. So, it was quite a coup by South Thanet Conservatives to get him down for a visit.

Romping round Ramsgate at a pace that suggested he'd swallowed a large number of Smarties, the Mayor of London spent a good hour in a melee of camera crews, selfie sticks and Ukip activists trying - allegedly - to burst Tory balloons.

Did it cut through with voters? Who knows.

But his exuberance and energy - along with him repeating ad infinitum the phrase that candidate Craig Mackinlay had a five-point plan - did rather underline that outspoken politicians unafraid of speaking their mind for fear of making some dreadful gaffe are rather thin on the ground these days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why the election battle getting all tactical in Kent

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, April 20 2015

If you are looking for a measure of how tight the election battle is in Kent, then you don't need to look much further than the attempts being made by all parties to woo supporters of their rivals.

The trouble is that there are some different lines coming out which is serving to make an aready complicated election even more confusing for voters.

In Maidstone, Nick Clegg delivered an appeal to Labour supporters to back the candidate Jasper Gerard - saying that represented the best way to oust the the Conservative incumbent Helen Grant. Party strategists even disclosed their private polling data to show that so far one in five Labour voters had indicated their willingness to switch.

But the message from South Thanet is rather different. There, Labour is calling on both Liberal Democrat supporters and soft Conservative voters to back its man Will Scobie. And that appeal was endorsed by a former Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakshott last week, who said the only way to stop Ukip was to have a "progessive voters" forge an alliance to thwart his Parliamentary ambitions.

As to Ukip, party leader Nigel Farage has encouraged "old" Labour voters as well as Conservatives, to support him, saying the party is the only one who can control immigration.

David Cameron, who tried to push tactical voting at the Rochester by-election, has encouraged Lib Dems and Ukip supporters to vote Conservative to block a Labour government propped up by the SNP.

There is nothing new about tactical voting but the various entreaties being made by all parties do indicate that this will be what everyone knows is an unpredictable outcome.

And it is worth remembering that tactical voting is as much to do with politicians enhancing their prospects of getting the job as it is to do with some higher moral purpose - the "vote for me because you might think I am no good but wait til you see what the other guy is like" argument.

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EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT KENT AND THE GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN - all in one place #kentecides

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The election campaign has been a pretty timid and lifeless one so far, with no real flashpoints or defining moments. It seems as though the parties are campaigning in monotone.

This is because they are all totally terrified of making a gaffe that will come to haunt them come May 7 and are, so far as possible, micro-managing events in a way that ensures that contact with unpredictable voters  is kept to a minimum and if at all possible avoided altogether.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, visiting Maidstone, did at leat meet some students and happily gave countless media interviews.

But there have been visits where the public will have been totally oblivious to them happening. Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May came down to Ramsgate last week but I am not sure she had any interaction with voters. (I should, to be fair, stress that she was quite happy to be interviewed by us).

At least Labour can be spared the charge that it is trying to evade encounters with the public - only because to date, there have been no VIP visits at all which seems strange given there are two official target seats and South Thanet in its sights.

As to Ukip, it is at least opening up the endless "meet Nigel" events to both the Press and public - although at recent ones, he has declined to ask the audience how many are party members or activists, suggesting that many of those attending are probably already backing the party.

John Major was widely ridiculed for his election "soap box" stunt back in 1992 but 23 years on it is interesting to see that the Conservatives are considering bringing it back to reinvigorate what has, so far, been a curiously lifeless affair given what is at stake.

 

 

 

 

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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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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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