All posts by paul francis

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

Manston, Murray + the lights go out at County Hall

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, February 6 2015

The fate of Manston Airport is still - excuse the pun - up in the air.

But the MPs on the transport select committee lifted one or two interesting stones on what seems a very complex issue of who owns the airport site when they quizzed a variety of witnesses at a hearing this week.

The hearing made for an uncomfortable experience for Pauline Bradley, the director of Manston Skyport Ltd and the two interim directors of Kent Airport Ltd who were repeatedly pressed on the issue of the extent to which the former owner Ann Gloag was involved and how she potentially stood to benefit on the back of the business park scheme envisaged by the new owners.

MP Tom Harris articulated what many people think about the sale when he asked Ms Bradley if she could understand "why people might look at this and think it looks slightly fishy" given that "a lot of people are about to get very wealthy on the back of a £1 purchase?"

In a reply that lacked a great deal of conviction, she said that there had never been any attempt to disguise Ms Gloag's financial stake and there was no question that she would exercise any financial control. Which is of course an important distinction but it took a while to prise out the fact that Mrs Gloag has a 20% stake.

In one of the more dramatic moments, Sir Roger Gale read from a report which he said revealed that Mrs Gloag had no intention of running the airport for two years. While it was unclear who wrote it, the MP quoted a section which stated that "in the process of creating the JV [Joint Venture] steps should be taken to restructure the HGT  shareholding such that it cannot be easily identified" and that "the perception that the site is under the conrol of a non-controversial JV partner would be commercially advantageous from a planning perspective."

I got the distinct impression that the committee members were not awfully impressed or totally convinced by the evidence put forward by the owners but we will have to wait and see. And it is likely that we may have to wait until after the election to find out what the select committee recommends.

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If you can hear the sound of car gears crashing around County Hall, it is probably connected to the latest policy U-turn.

After a reversal on plans to axe the number of communty wardens comes the news that the great streetlight switch-off is to be effectively scrapped.

We were told when it was first introduced that a pilot scheme would run for a year and then be reviewed. But the Conservative administration has clearly got the jitters and are to phase it out. There will still be a review which as I understand it will focus on issues.such as whether the switch-off has led to more crime and if so, where.

 

The new policy is to invest £40m in replacing every single streetlight with new LED bulbs, which have the advantage of being more energy efficient and can de dimmed and are cheaper to run - once you have made the initial outlay.

KCC invested an awful lot in its pilot swith-off scheme and there will be some questions about why it went to such great lengths to do so.

The odd thing is that when KCC first announced about deciding to replace the bulbs in its 120,00 streetlights in October, there was no mention of the possibility that it could be an alternative to the night-time switch off.

But the switch-off has gone down badly in many communities and there have been claims it has led to increased crime rates.  When opposition parties at KCC  called for an end to the scheme last September, they were told by the Conservative Mr Brazier that "most rational people know there is nothing to fear."

The fear that seems to matter among Conservatives is the fear that it will cost them votes at the forthcoming election.

 

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Al Murray hit the campaign trail in Thanet South this week and rival candidates were probably gritting their teeth as he effortlessly  secured a huge amount of media coverage.

 

 

There were plenty of jokes, repartee with reporters and mugging for the cameras. It is all slightly surreal and you have to wonder whether, by May 7, the joke may have worn a bit thin.

 

But he is doing a good job of pricking the pomposity of politicians who,  during interviews, like to preface their answers to questions with the refrain "I am glad you have asked me that" - normally followed by an answer that has absolutely nothing to do wth the question.

 

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Categories: Politics

Operation Stack - time for the government to act?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, January 23 2015

As Operation Stack gets close to being in place for a record number of days, gridlocking much of the county, the debate about how to deal with it continues.

Kent County Council has advocated buidling a series of lorry parks which would be open round-the-clock as somewhere for HGVs to park overnight but would also provide some capacity to hold lorries during Operation Stack.

There are three main problems. One is that building these won't come cheap. The authority is borrowing £10m to hold in reserve to help buy land where necesary, which it wold then hope to recoup from a private operator who would run it as a commercial concern

The second is that these parks would be relatively modest, with spaces for about 800-900 HGVs in total. That is nowhere near enough to avoid the need to turn the M20 into a lorry park when there are problems getting across the channel.

The third is that if anything happens, it won't be for a long time. KCC says it hopes to open one near Westenhangar, Folkestone by 2017 but the politician in charge, Cllr David Brazier, warned this week that even that may be optimistic.

Kent County Council has unfortunately squandered years and a considerable amount of money pursuing an earlier proposal for a huge park off the M20  at Aldington, near Ashford, that would have been capable of holding up to 3,000 HGVs.

It stubbornly stuck with this idea for far too long in the face of people telling it that it would go nowhere and was not viable.

What ought to be quite clear now is that this is an issue the government cannot afford to leave to KCC and others to sort out. This has been its line for many years - overlooking the obvious point that the M20 is not KCC's responsibility but the Highways Agency - which is accountable to the government.

More importantly, Kent is the gateway to Europe and as such, the problems created by Operation Stack have economic repercussions way beyond the undoubted damage done to businesses and residents in Kent.

Every day that lorries are stuck on the hard shoulder of the M20 means that somewhere, a business is losing money, suppliers are missing delivery dates and hauliers are having to reorganise their schedules. 

As the economy improves, the road network around the south east will come under crippling pressure if the government just sits back and says that the job of finding solutions is left to councils. It is stating the blindingly obvious, but the amount of commercial traffic travelling through Kent to and from Europe is not going to reduce.

If the coalition is prepared to spend £42bn on the High Speed Two project, it really ought to be able to allocate money to help tackle the problems caused by Operation Stack.

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Kent County Council has signed off on another contract to management consultants Newton Europe, this time for a fee of £5.5m to oversee the authority's specialist childrens services. It is already paying the same company £5.4m for a contract to advise on how to cut the costs of care for the elderly and vulnerable.

To be fair, it seems that the company has delivered savings in adult care and the hope is that it will do the same for children's services.

The company website in unsurprisingly gushing tones describes itself as one which delivers "transformational, award-winning change" across a variety of sectors - including building submarines - and is a place where "initiative, creativity and versatility" thrive.

There is even a testimonial from KCC itself - with the website featuring an equally glowing reference from social care director Mark Lobban, its commissioning director who praises the "strategic transformation through evidence-based commissioning" that its partnership has achieved.

There is nothing wrong with Newton Europe soliciting testimonials from its clients, of course.

But some might feel it would be better for the council to keep more distance from those it is paying significant sums of taxpayers' money to.




 


 




 

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Categories: Private Sector | Prostitution

Mine's a pint: Can comic Al Murray upset the election odds in Thanet South?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, January 15 2015

If the election battle for the key Kent constituency of Thanet South was not already interesting, the news that comedian Al Murray - or his alter ego the pub landlord - is throwing his hat in the ring has made it even more so.

Announcing his intention to stand via a video address in which, among other commitments, he pledged to make beer a penny a pint came out of left field. Interestingly, an interview he gave to The Independent in 2013 criticised comedians who embraced politics, saying their role was to lampoon them.

 

It appears his main target is Ukip - his party's logo is an inverted pound symbol in gold - and his opening salvo in the video was to declare that the time was right for a tilt at Westminster.

"It seems to me UK is ready for a bloke waving a pint around offering commonsense solutions," he declared, leaving no ambiguity as to who is in his sights.

His confused rivals reacted in the only way they could - by adopting a jocular tone saying it would liven up the campaign and desperately trying to avoid looking either panicked or po-faced.

Ukip to its credit came up with the best one liner, saying it welcomed the news of "a serious rival at last" while its leader Nigel Farage saying "the more the merrier." Laura Sandys, the out-going Conservative MP, said there were already enough comedians standing - note the plural.

How will all this go down with the voters in Thanet South is anyone's guess. His parody of a hyper-nationalistic landlord is sometimes affectionate, sometimes cutting. 

Is he serious about winning? Or simply standing to poke fun at politics and politicians? If it is the latter, there is a good case for arguing that his candidacy is unnecessary.

Many voters already look on politicians as a joke and don't need a comedian to remind them of that or deflate the egos of those standing for office.

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There was an interesting debate about fracking at County Hall this week. Or rather, there should have been but in the grand tradition of council meetings, our elected-representatives decided that it was more important to debate whether there should be a debate.

This stemmed from a petition submitted by the Faversham and Mid Kent Green Party candidate Tim Valentine and signed by nearly 3,000 people. Under KCC rules, this automatically triggered a debate at the meeting of the authority's environment scrutiny committee.

The only problem was that, according to the council's legal eagles, no such debate could be permitted as to do so and to adopt a presumption against any fracking applications, would compromise the council's position because it was the relevant planning authority dealing with them.

So, we were treated to one of those debates about constitutional procedures which councillors seem to relish. A clearly exasperated Cllr David Brazier, cabinet member for the environment, said he could not understand why "intelligent people" had signed the petition"  when a cursory glance at KCC's website would have indicated why such a call was not likely to succeed.

I am not sure how that would have gone down that well with the public but that's County Hall politics for you.

As it was, after some ill-tempered exchanges, the Conservative majority on the committee voted to close down the debate much to the irritation of the opposition representatives.






 




 

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Categories: Politics

In their own words: The Year In Politics

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, December 19 2014

It has been a tumultuous year in Kent politics and 2015 is shaping up to be just as turbulent. Here is how the politicians saw things - in their own words:

“We have picked up the jigsaw pieces from different boxes and put them in new boxes where there is real synergy.” Some mystifying jargon from John Burr, the KCC director in charge of re-organising the way the council is run.

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“We are not the masters now, the people are the masters. We are the servants of the people. We must never forget that.” Newly-elected Rochester and Strood UKIP MP Mark Reckless victory speech has uncanny echoes of Tony Blair in 1997.

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“By-elections are different; there is a chance for people to vote in way they haven’t done before.” Conservative leader David Cameron calls for people to vote tactically to stop Mark Reckless in the by-election.

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You should tell that to Mrs Cameron” The Prime Minister's retort to a reporter on the campaign trail in Rochester who said he was looking fit and whether he had been working out.

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“People who have got through [to Britain] call and say ‘We’ve got through. This is El Dorado and we’re staying here’. Natasha Bouchard, Mayor of Calais addressing MPs on why hundreds of migrants were gathered in the French town.

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“It was poor judgement and naivety on my part rather than words spoken with any malice.” Janice Atkinson Ukip MEP and prospective parliamentary candidate for Folkestone and Hythe after being caught on camera describing a supporter as “a ting tong from somewhere.”

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“I did ask about the mafia issue” - Thanet council officer Mark Seed on reports that potential investors in ferry firm TransEuropa had crime links.

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“The only reason I agreed to do the documentary was to help people better understand the role of police and crime commissioner.” Kent crime commissioner Ann Barnes on that Channel 4 documentary.

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Women of the UK: burn your bras...Or not.” Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch tweet in response to a Ukip claim that for every bra bought in the UK, £1 went to the EU.

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“These statistics, while accurate, could lead to an entirely misleading impression being given about how hard members work for their communities.” Cllr Gary Cooke, KCC cabinet member for democratic services explains why the council stopped publishing meeting attendance figures.

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“Conclusions were drawn where there was no evidence to support those conclusions.” Kent County Council leader Paul Carter on why he withdrew a report suggesting government welfare reforms were behind rising crime, homelessness and food banks.

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“It is now not beyond the bounds of possibility that we hold the balance of power in another hung parliament.” Ukip leader Nigel Farage after his party’s crushing European election victory in May.

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“Nigel Farage is a pound shop Enoch Powell and we need to watch him.” Comedian Russell Brand on BBC ‘Question Time’ takes a dig at the party leader

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“As we entered the studio, and his personal make-up artist straightened his chest hair for him, I kid you not, I realised that perhaps he might be a bit lighter weight than expected.” Nigel Farage retort at Russell Brand on BBC Question Time.

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“Over the past few decades, flood defences in many areas have been neglected, and local people left to fend for themselves.Those days are coming to an end.” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visiting Kent to announce £17m of flood defence work

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"I am out but not down" Ashford MP Damian Green after losing his job as policing minister in what was culled a cull of middle-aged ministers from the cabinet

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"I don't think it would have made much difference" - Liberal Democrat candidate Geoff Juby on whether the presence of his party leader Nick Clegg on the Rochester and Strood campaign trail would have helped. He went on to lose his deposit in the party's worst result in a by-election 

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"The New Ways of Working Programme has progressively implemented the approved phased redevelopment of several key hubs" - what else but a Kent County Council officer's report on "re-organisation"

 

 

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Nigel vs Russell: Who won the Question Time face off?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, December 12 2014

It being the pantomime season, it was a smart move by the makers of BBC's Question Time to rope in Russell Brand and UKIP leader Nigel Farage for its final programme of the series.

I am not sure whether it left the audience desperate for a re-run and neither was it clear who was the villain and who was the hero.

It began with a question that seemed to offer Brand an open goal - was the adverserial nature of politics leading to its decline  - but he appeared unusually nervous and fluffed it, which must have taken David Dimbelby by surprise.

Still, at least the audience was in a rather frisky mood and a few more than heated exchanges from the audience seats only served to remind those watching how tame the panel seemed.

At some points you sensed that Russell Brand and Nigel Farage had more in common than they were prepared to admit and couldn't decide who was the villain  - both characterising themselves as "outsiders" - but Brand stuck the knife in with a good one-liner about Farage being a "Poundland Enoch Powell."

Although I did wonder whether, like Blue Peter, this was something he had prepared earlier. The cameras at one point showed him leafing throuh what could have been cue cards - who would have thought he needed those?

Farage generally kept his cool but was rather less animated than he usually is. He correctly surmised that it would be counter-productive to try to best Brand.

Instead, he chose to focus his attack on Labour's Mary Creagh and the floundering government representative Penny Morduant, who had she been playing in a football match, would have been substituted very early.

Creagh was reasonably good but too often lapsed into a recital of Labour's commitments that has most people tuning out and wondering about other things.

I expected Penny Morduant, who gamely appeared in the ITV programme Splash, to be rather better. After a belly flop like that, she may be inclined to turn down future invitations.

But she was on the defensive from the start after Dimbleby chose to remind the audience and viewers that she had been found out for making a speech in Parliament in which she used some rather fruity words - apparently as a dare from certain Naval friends.

Not a good position to debate a question about how mainstream politics might be in decline.

Dimbleby crowbarred a question about social mobility and whether we ought to have more grammar schools right at the end, which was a mistake as the panel only had a few minutes to debate what could well be an election flashpoint next May.

Brand lamely admitted that he "didn't know much about grammars" and opted for a rambling riff about other issues, leaving Farage with the easiest of tap ins at goal.

It was all entertaining stuff but the audience seemed more up for a fight than the panel.

The curtain dropped after what seemed no time at all but the audience was probably thankful the cast did not come back for an encore.

And if you wanted me to name the person who came across the best, it was the journalist Camilla Cavendish, who was easily the sanest person there.



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Categories: Politics

Manston CPO plan is grounded - now the blame game gets underway

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, December 4 2014

Despite a valiant campaign, it seems the efforts made to re-open Manston as an airport have failed. 

Thanet Council says that it will not be pursuing a Compulsory Purchase Order in association with the American consortium RiverOak and although a cabinet report inserts a small qualification to the effect that "no further action be taken at the present time" it is extremely hard to see how that position will change.

Despite the accusations that the authority has bottled out, the cabinet report makes clear that it is not convinced by RiverOak's case, saying that its "short-term business plan and scope is insufficient" and it does not "provide for the CPO compensation cost and this could be substantial."

In other words, the authority does not want to be lumbered with a deal that, if it went awry, would see it picking up the pieces and spending £2m a year to keep it running - money it does not have. I suspect that in the back of Thanet's mind was the TransEuropa ferry episode, which ended with the council having to write off £3m it was owed.

The council is in an invidious position: damned if it does proceed with a CPO and damned if it doesn't. But if the cabinet report reflects the true situation, the major stumbling block is that the council has not been persuaded - from the information provided - that RiverOak has "the appropriate financial status or committed investors."

That, say officers, would represent a "high risk option" because the company's case is based "on its ability to generate investment in the project."

It is hardly a surprise that the news has triggered an acrimonious political blame game - after all, there is not only a general election round the corner but a local one and the stakes are high.

The fragile political consensus that saw Labour council leader Iris Johnson and Conservative deputy party chairman Grant Shapps greeted like folk heroes when they came to Manston in the summer has, in 24 hours, well and truly been blown apart.

Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale has accused the council of "political cowardice"; UKIP leader Nigel Farage says the council had "not tried hard enough" while the party's prospective candidate in Thanet North Piers Wauchope has accused Labour of a betrayal and arrogance. You can be sure there will be plenty more of this mud-slinging to come as the parties ramp up the political arms race.

Oddly, Labour has one political ally in the form of Kent County  Council leader Paul Carter, who has made no bones about his view that Manston has no future as an airport and has stuck to his guns despite the pressure he may have been under privately to be more encouraging to those who want it back as an airport. 

It is worth noting that even if Thanet Council had been prepared to go down the CPO route, it would still have had to jump through several hoops to get it agreed and the process - given that there is no precedent for a council acquiring an airport in this manner - would take months if not years to complete.

Campaigners will no doubt continue to fight but it does genuinely seem that this may really be the end of the road for Manston as an airport after any number of twists and turns.

The Labour administration will agree the cabinet recommendations next week and those who hope that they may reject the advice of their officers are whistling in the wind.

The report would not have made it to the public domain without it being scrutinised by senior councillors beforehand. That is the way these things work.

 

 

 

 

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UKIP's purple wave keeps rising but will it ebb before next May?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, November 24 2014

There is not much that will set back the spirits of the irrepressibly cheerful Nigel Farage, so it was no surprise to hear him in a particularly upbeat mood the morning after Ukip won the Rochester and Strood by-election.

The margin of victory was not, however, quite as large as the polls or betting odds had suggested it could be. Not that this stopped the leader declaring the outcome meant that the general election was "beyond comprehension" and "everything was up in the air." (He also said he would have been happy to win by one vote).

However, you can't say everything is unpredictable in one breath and in the next assert that there is a distinct prospect of your party winning more seats in Kent - it is logically inconsistent.

The result in Rochester and Strood does nevertheless underline that Ukip has momentum and it is momentum the other parties are struggling to halt.

Kent is now its most significant power base of anywhere in the country and it is continuing to show that it can mobilise highly effective campaigns where it chooses to.

But fighting a single by-election with your "people's army" is one thing; deploying the same kind of resources at a general election is something else, which Farage has acknowledged.

That, incidentally, is not just a challenge for Ukip. It is one for the Conservatives who next May will face precisely the same issue. Mr Cameron won't have his infamous kitchen sink available and neither will he be able to make five visits in as many weeks.

Ukip's chances of holding on to Rochester and Strood are uncertain: some bookmakers have made the Conservatives odds on to regain it, which goes some way to explaining why the Conservatives were not quite as depressed or inconsolable when the result came in.

In Kent's case, Ukip will target a handful of seats where it has a better-than-evens chance of an upset. Oddly, I suspect that Thanet South, where Farage is the candidate, may not get quite the same level of attention because he is already the red hot favourite to win.

But Folkestone and Hythe, Sittingbourne and Sheppey as well as Thanet North and Dover and Deal are all in their sights.

For the Conservatives, the danger is that tacking to the right in an attempt to out-Ukip Ukip risks alienating its more Euro-phile MPs and activists. It is interesting to see that two Kent MPs used the by-election to argue the party should move in the other direction to the centre ground.

Ashford MP and former immigration minister Damian Green said at the weekend that there is no reason for the Conservative party to decide that slithering towards Ukip is the route to success."

Meanwhile, Thanet South MP Laura Sandys said the by-election result offered the party the chance to move to the centre ground - which is where elections are commonly won.

Ukip will be quite content to see these divisions exposed as it will allow it to depict the Conservatives as split on the key electoral issue of whether the UK should rush for the EU exit door.

Whether it can, as Nigel Farage claims, hold the balance of power after next May is altogether a different matter.

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Despite its best efforts and a candidate who impressed, Labour had little to celebrate in the by-election. It wasn't that it fought a bad campaign - although it should have focused more on the NHS.

Its vote was squeezed by Ukip and to a lesser extent, the Green party. The row over the white van man's flags was not a factor because it came too late but does exemplify that it is alienating some of its core traditional voters, a place Ukip has jumped in to with alacrity.

Speaking to Labour figures about what they feel they need to do, you often hear them say that they need to communicate better.

This implies that if only got their message right, everything would be well in the world. The problem is that you can have a solid message but unless you have a receptive audience ready to listen, it's worthless.

The party reminds me a little of the Conservatives under Ian Duncan Smith, the  man who uttered the immortal words that the quiet man was "here to stay and is turning up the volume."

Three weeks later, the party dumped him.

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Did Mark Reckless invoke the spirit of Tony Blair in his acceptance speech after being declared the by-election winner. "You are the boss, you must never let me forget that," he said.

Rewind to Tony Blair's victory speech after becoming PM in 1997: "We are not the masters now, the people are the masters. We are the servants of the people.We must never forget that"

 

 






 

 

 

 

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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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