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A reboot for the Kent Crime Commisioner - but will it work

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, July 25 2014

A very different Ann Barnes appeared before the inquistory Kent and Medway Crime Panel this week, a month on from being told to "reassess her style" and repair the damage done by her appearance in the disastrous TV documentary "Meet The Commissioner".

It was a less combative, more consensual and contrite commissioner who set out a range of proposals to improve the way she worked, especially in terms of her engagement with the public and the force, where many officers remain deeply unhappy they have been tarnished by association by the public relations car crash the Chanel 4 documentary proved to be.

So, what did we learn? What was clear is that the commissioner has grasped that the  Ann Barnes "brand" that proved successful when it came to winning the election has become a toxic one in office. So, there was a common theme to many of the proposals, which was a clear move to "depersonalise" her role.

This even involves re-branding her social media profile: her Twitter account no longer features her image or even her name, which you could argue is contradictory when considerinig the underlying reason behind commissioners, namely that the public have a readily identfiable accountable person overseeing the force.

There is to be an end to what she described as "confetti big bang publicity" events -  another tacit admission that her personality is a weakness as much as a strength. In its place will be greater focus on the commissioner's "office"  - again, an attempt to take away the spotlight from her and turn it....well, we are not quite sure where.

There were still flashes of the old Ann, when she referred to the panel as "gentlemen" - overlooking the three female members present and stated it was not necessarily a bad thing to have "a distinctive" style, even though that is what has landed her in difficulty.

Then there is the future of the van - dubbed Ann Force 1 during the election - which the commissioner has determined needs to be retired. Why? Because, according to Ann, she no longer wanted it "to be the story."

This may seem inconsequential but it goes to the heart of her difficulties and what underpins this reboot. The van was actually quite a good PR asset - when it came to the election, she bowled around the county in it to drum up support and the media were regularly told where it would be calling.

But in continuing to use it in office during "meet the commissioner" events, stripped off the promotional stickers, still gave the impression in some quarters that its real purpose was to continue to promote Ann - in other words, some considered it was all part of a rolling election campaign with one eye on 2016, when the next elections will be held.

You might have thought that members of the panel would have murmured their general approval with this decision but in a bizarre twist,  a succession of councillors got to their feet to implore Ann to keep the van. Cllr John Burden, the leader of Gravesham council, was among the cheerleaders. He said that if it was cost-effective and did the job, she should keep using it. A double bluff? Who knows but support came from all quarters, regardless of political allegiance.

The commissioner herself seemed rather perplexed, saying she would reflect on what the panel had said - leaving the van's fate in limbo.

Evidence, if she needed it, that rebranding is not an easy thing - and that it is particularly difficult to de-personalise a brand that has become so toxic largely because of the personality of the person involved.

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Our efforts to ask the commissioner a few questions about the changes were rejected when the meeting was completed. The commissioner said she had an engagement in Canterbury and didn't have time.

 

 


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Categories: Police | Politics

Out with stale males - but will anyone really care at election time?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, July 16 2014

With the kind of chutzpah you tend to expect from politicians, David Cameron declared that his reshuffle presented the best of modern Britain, which begged the obvious but unanswered question as to what sort of Britain we have been living in until this week.

Still, the reshuffle threw up enough changes to satisfy the hungriest of political commentators and observers, not least in the departure of the much-maligned education secretary Michael Gove, who will now get first hand experience of the challenge faced by many teachers every day - handling an undisciplined group of disinterested people.

For Kent's MPs, it proved to be a mixed bag. The much heralded cull of stale middle-aged males led to the unexpected sacking of policing minister Damian Green, the Ashford MP. What had he done wrong? Nothing at all.

Even the hard-nosed Police Federation lamented his departure, surely a first. But he fell into the political demographic being targeted by the PM and paid the price - the irony being that as a moderate, progressive Tory he no doubt believes that Mr Cameron may be doing the right thing in freshening up his top team. Having said that, in replacing Mr Green with Mike Penning - who is the kind of stale male Cameron wanted to cull, he is entitled to  be a little perplexed.

He is not a natural rebel, with consensual tendencies but his note of defiance in a tweet was intriguing, announcing that he would continue to fight for what he believed in. What could it mean? 

Also heading for the exit door is the Faversham and Mid Kent MP Hugh Robertson, widely praised for his stint as Olympics minister.

He decided to stand down as foreign office minister to take stock with his family about his future, which leaves open a variety of options. Having had arguably two of the most interesting ministerial briefs and overseeing the London Olympics, he may consider that he won't top that unless he gets a senior cabinet role. Might he decide to leave politics? A possibility as he has never made secret that he would like the chance to try his hand at another career.

Anti-fracking groups will no doubt be celebrating the departure of Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon, who has landed the role of defence minister after a lengthy parliamentary career and who may owe his elevation partly to his Euro-sceptic tendencies.

The question is whether anyone will, come May 2015, care two hoots about this reshuffle? Cameron is obviously concerned that many regard his government as being made up of a privileged, public-school educated male-dominated elite who, despite their protestations, have no real grasp of the daily challenges of "ordinary hard-working" families. 

I seriously doubt anyone will go into a polling both next year, reminding themselves that the PM changed his top team to include more women. Voters are not stupid and tend to see through this kind of opportunism but you can understand Cameron's dilemma. If he had stuck with his hand rather than twisted, he would have handed his opponents an easy target.

On balance, it seems the right thing to do but it also runs a risk. Some of those promoted are unknown quantities and lack experience at the top level. And beyond the confines of Westminster, there is a large constituency of stale males in their fifties who may feel ratheraffronted at being written off.

UKIP no doubt already has them in its sights.

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 Michael Gove's departure as education secretary is said to have prompted high-fives and cheers in staff rooms up and down the length of the country.

You might also have heard a smallish cheer at County Hall, where the relationships betwen KCC and the DfE have been slightly fractious to say the least. KCC started the ball rolling by joining a High Court challenge over the cancellation of various building projects under the BSF scheme scrapped by the coalition.

More recently, there has been the vexed progress - or lack of it - over KCC's attempts to create a new grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks, which Mr Gove seemed rather cool about.

Where the new education secretary Nicky Morgan stands on selection is anyone's guess. But KCC will be extending the hand of friendship to someone who they hope just might be more sympathetic to their plan. 

 

 

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Categories: Politics

Have the Conservatives shot the UKIP fox in Thanet?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, July 8 2014

Whatever other qualities Craig Mackinlay may have, it is pretty clear that when it came to the Conservatives choosing their prospective candidate for Thanet South, his former involvement with UKIP was a trump card.

Ordinarily, would-be MPs who have dallied with other parties are often treated with suspicion by constituency activists but in this case, it worked to his advantage.

Former UKIP man to contest Thanet South for the Conservatives>>>

The threat of a significant challenge by UKIP in a key UKIP target seat in 2015 may not have caused a meltdown in Conservative ranks but there is no doubt there was a certain sense of panic about how to respond.

The prospect of the charismatic leader Nigel Farage being UKIP's candidate only served to add to the Conservative anxiety. The indignity of possible defeat next May and becoming a footnote in parliamentary history was beginning to cast something of a dark shadow.

So, handing the candidancy to the avowedly Eurosceptic Mackinlay, who fought two elections as a UKIP candidate and was briefly leader, was a shrewd tactical move.

He didn't lose much time in getting on the front foot and suggesting there was no reason why Nigel Farage should stand, now there was a Conservative running who was equally scepticalabout the EU. We can expect more of this in the run up to the election.

For his part, Nigel Farage has a dilemma. Had UKIP got through its selection process and adopted the leader as its candidate earlier, it could have argued that it was forcing the Conservatives' hand.

If Nigel Farage now looks elsewhere in Kent, he faces being accused of running scared - ironically, the charge levelled by the party when current MP Laura Sandys, who is on the pro-European wing of the Conservatives, announced she was standing down.

He has responded to questions about his intentions by saying that Thanet South is one of several constituencies in the mix.

But he has also been compelled to say that he will announce where he wants to stand in a few weeks, which does make it look like he is responding to events rather than leading them. The suggestion is that UKIP will seek to depict Mackinlay as "UKIP-lite" and depict their candidate as the real deal.

I have until now thought that he would opt for Thanet South above Folkestone and Hythe or Dover and Deal.

On balance, I still think he will but the odds have lengthened a little and strangely, UKIP are for once on the defensive.

 

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Categories: Precept

Why Nigel Farage is the elephant in the room for Thanet Conservatives

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, July 2 2014

It is perhaps a measure of UKIP's spectacular growth as a political party - or movement  - that when Thanet Conservatives meet this week to decide who they want as their prospective parliamentary candidate for Thanet South,  the name many will be thinking of first is Nigel Farage rather than the three shortlisted for the role.

He is, as one Conservative put it, "the elephant in the room."  Which is what makes the selection of someone to succeed Laura Sandys so intriguing. On paper and under different circumstances, this probably would be a seat where the Conservatives would be in a two-way battle with Labour and the Conservatives might expect to win.

The Thanet South Conservative shortlist>>>>

But there is a fly in the ointment. UKIP leader Nigel Farage has dropped several hints that this is a constituency he may contest at the general election and the Conservatives are acutely aware that would present a major challenge. Thanet is now an  area where UKIP is well entrenched, with seven county councillors, all elected last May and in the process, ousting some long-standing Conservatives.

So, one of the key considerations of association members will be which candidate would be best placed to neutralise UKIP and the Farage factor? The association has already made clear that is after someone prepared to champion an 'in-out' referendum even earlier than David Cameron has committed the party to, although a statement to that effect on the association's website is no longer there.

One of the three shortlisted candidates is Craig Mackinlay, who was a leading figure in UKIP for 12 years and fought a couple of elections for the party before rejoining the Conservatives in 2005. His credentials on this front are therefore sound and if the UKIP threat is uppermost in members' minds, might be considered a favourite.

UKIP would find it awkward to contest a seat where the Conservative candidate is a hardline Eurosceptic whose views are barely any different from Nigel Farage.

On the other hand, UKIP might feel that they can exploit a candidate by suggesting that if voters want the real thing when it comes to the election, you can't get a much more authentic voice of Euroscepticism than Nigel Farage.

Away from Europe, another factor is that Conservative Central Office is known to be anxious for there to be more women candidates at the election as several current MPs are standing down.

There have been some rumours that this view has been communicated rather firmly  to Thanet Conservatives. As the only female candidate, if this factor comes into play, then the odds might swing towards Anna Firth, a barrister and Sevenoaks district councillor.

In terms of their CVs, the shortlisted trio are all very able and whoever gets the nomination will be a good candidate.

But if Nigel Farage does eventually opt for Thanet South, the Conservative candidate will be pitchforked into the cauldron of an election contest where they will be taking on a party determined  to secure an historic parliamentary breakthrough.

 

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Passports, planes and political harmony at County Hall: The top political stories of the week in Kent

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, June 20 2014

1. England may be on the way out of the World Cup but who could be hanging out the bunting and on the way in as the prospective Conservative MP for Thanet Suth?

We won't know until early July but whoever it is will be well-advised to polish up their Euro-sceptic credentials and be prepared to demand a referendum on the UK's membership even before David Cameron wants one. According to the local Conservative association website, applicants for the job must be prepared to push for an "in-out" vote as soon as possible. Surely that can't be connected to talk of UKIP leader Nigel Farage standing there?

2. Conservatives at Kent County Council have not given up on creating a grammar school annexe in west Kent despite a rebuff from Secretary of State Michael Gove last year. The council's latest proposal is for a "modular" satellite school in which there would be a separate boys' wing and girls' wing. Is it the last throw of the dice before the general election next year?

3. There are already 84 of them but does Kent need more county councillors? It looks like the council is preparing for a possible stand off with the Boundary Commission, which is reviewing the size of the county council. For once, the possible threat to cut their numbers has produced an unholy political alliance, with all the parties indicating that there could be a case for even more not fewer politicians.

More politicians? We are not sure the public will be convinced - after all, it is taxpayers' money which meets the current £1.7m annual bill for KCC members.

4. As delays in issuing passports continue, the tourism minister and Maidstone and Weald MP Helen Grant made a not entirely helpful intervention when she was reported that she had urged people who hadn't been issued with one to consider a "staycation."  

Another unfortunate incident of what Hilary Clinton described once as "mis-speaking?" Possibly but this is not the first time the tourism minister has got in hot water over unguarded remarks. And worse, she made them while on a formal ministerial visit to Brazil

5. The fate of  Manston Airport remains up in the air as the campaign to save it continues. The head of the American consortium interested in buying it had a meeting with Thanet MPs Laura Sandys and Sir Roger Gale while UKIP MEPs Nigel Farage and Janice Atkinson urged the CAA to intervene.

The CAA said it couldn't while Thanet Council issued a cautiously-worded statement on the prospect of a compulsory purchase order. Finally, a flying school based there was at the High Court seeking an injunction to prevent it closing. Amid all this activity, the voice of one person was not to be heard. Airport owner Ann Gloag remained silent.

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Does Kent need more local politicians?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, June 17 2014

While councils up and down the country are moving heaven and earth to deliver more for less when it comes to crucial frontline services, there is one area where they are not so keen on downsizing - namely, on their own numbers.

Kent County Council looks set for a tussle with the Boundary Commission, which is reviewing the size of the authority and considering whether it needs a re-organisation because of wide variations in the size of wards - more than a third have what is termed an "electoral variance" of more than 10% from the average.

And inevitably, that has triggered concerns that the commission has its sights set on a cull of councillors. There are few things that induce a political consensus like a threat to their numbers and so it has proved at County Hall, where there appears to be political harmony among the parties that everything must be done to resist the Boundary Commission.

Does KCC need more councillors?

A flavour of this came at a recent meeting to discuss the review. It is true that the opposition parties initially raised some awkward questions about an internal report which they claimed was skewed towards preserving Conservative-held seats.

But this was followed by a less partisan debate, in which all parties agreed that in general, it would be a bad thing if KCC was forced to do with fewer elected members. UKIP councillor Mike Baldock said that in view of the likely growth in Kent's population, a case could be made for increasing the numbers."I am starting to think 84 is too low."

Former KCC deputy leader Cllr Alex King weighed in to say that KCC needed a council of  "a similar size" in the future. "It is quite a large county and we need a similar size to the one we have now...particularly rural councillors cover a great deal of ground and enlarging [wards] would make it even more difficult to represent their people."

'We need a council of a similar size' - Cllr Alex King

Liberal Democrat Ian Chittenden said that with uncertainty over housing numbers, it would be wrong to downsize. So, it wasn't hard to see where our elected representatives were coming from and it set the tone for a debate at the next full council meeting when the authority will decide how to respond.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, however, it is worth considering some of the figures. In terms of councillor numbers, Kent is the largest county council - alongside Lancashire  - with 84 representatives.

So, you may think that it could do with fewer. However, the average number of electors per county council ward across all counties is 9,877. If that was applied to KCC,  there would be 111 divisions - 27 more than it has now.

Still, I am not altogether convinced that the public will be sold on any attempt by KCC to boost its numbers, not least because of the costs.

Taxpayers already pay £1.7m for the services of the current 84 members by way of allowances and expenses.

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Kent County Council education chiefs are leaving no stone unturned in their quest to create extra grammar school places in west Kent.

A rebuff from secretary of state Michael Gove last year has not dampened their enthusiasm and the latest scheme - or "cunning plan" as KCC leader Paul Carter described an earlier proposal - envisages, so we are told,  a modular approach consisting of separate boys and girls wing.

A last shake of the dice? Maybe but you have to ask whether, if this does really does represent the best chance, why it was not considered before?

 

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Categories: Politics

Ann Barnes survives - for now

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, June 6 2014

A fiasco, a car crash and one misjudgement after another. 

Just some of the criticism levelled at the embattled Kent crime commissioner Ann Barnes as she endured an uncomfortable hour and 45 minutes trying to explain to an independent panel why she had agreed to appear in the TV documentary  "Meet The Commissioner." 

It was always going to be tricky accounting for a programme which led her to be depicted as the policing equivalent of David Brent from "The Office"  and triggered a social media avalanche of criticism and ridicule.

So, her strategy seemed to be to apologise as often as she could yet at the same time not to go overboard with the contrition because it would make her look weak.

So, for every apology there was a sentence of phrase designed to convey that she was not fatally damaged. She was, she told the panel frequently, "doing a good job" adding in for good meaure "and you know I am doing a good job."( The now infamous "onion" got a mention but no-one seemed any the wiser.) So, it was an uneasy mix of assertiveness and contrition that blended about as well as oil and water.

She was least convincing about her reasons for participating, saying she had expected an "educational" programme - and admitting tha she had sought to persuade the makers to cut eight clips.

It was an uneasy performance for someone who has sought to make her plain-speaking style an asset and it did not convince some members, notably the leader of Swale council Andrew Bowles, who said he was not persuaded that the commissioner wold change her ways.

An anticipated vote of no confidence did not surface for unexplained reasons alhough there are some interesting rumours as to why. But the panel, which some regard as toothless, did bare some teeth - ordering the commissioner to "change her style" and be more co-operativel.

But the meeting undeniably marked a new low point for the commissioner who will have to make some dramatic and radical changes to the way she operates if she is to restore her battered credibility.

And there is still the unresolved inquiry about her new youth commissioner Kerry Boyd, facing claims over an inappropriate relationship with a former county councillor who gave her a reference for the job. 

That presents yet another banana skin for the commissioner, who has made the position a key plank of her  four-year term. If she is forced to dispense with a second youth commissioner after the Paris Brown debacle,  she really would be at a point of no return.

As to her avowed intention to stand for a second term, I suspect that will not happen.

Even though she has two years left in office, her credibility has taken such a battering that it is hard to see how she could engineer a recovery that would convince sceptical voters she would be the right person to stand for a second term.

 

 

 

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Ann Barnes under the spotlight - again

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, June 4 2014

Whatever else you might say about her, Ann Barnes has had unparalled success in raising the public profile of police commissioners. She gets the kind of attention and publicity that few other commissioner have received - the only problem being that much of it has been negative and of the kind not even Alastair Campbell could put any top spin on. 

Tomorrow, she faces an inquisition from the cross-party Kent and Medway Crime Panel over her decision to appear in the Channel 4 documentary  "Meet The Commissioner" - a toe-curlingly embarrassing hour-long programme that left viewers aghast as she struggled to define what her job was. 

She now also faces being quizzed about the latest crisis involving her second youth crime tsar Kerry Boyd, who is at the centre of allegations that she had an inappropriate relationship with a married father of two who gave her a reference for the job.

It is fair to say that committee members are deeply concerned about the adverse impact these recent events are having on the reputation of the force. Those concerns reflect deep-seated anxieties within the force itself, with officers said to be in despair about being tainted by assocation.

Whether any of this will translate into a call for a vote of no confidence - which might a tipping point -  is unclear although it is certain that some members of the panel will call for her to quit.

Such demands are likely to be resisted. She will not want the ignominy of being the first commissioner to be forced from office despite a decidely mixed track record since her election in November 2012.

The fact that she is having her authority publicly questioned is bad enough. 

But nothing is more damaging to public officials than being seen out of  their depth and lurching from one disaster to another. Ann Barnes may well survive tomorrow but it is hard to see how her credibility with the public can recover.

 

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A PR car crash for Kent's crime boss + UKIP's purple tide: the week in politics

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, May 30 2014

Here's my round-up of another busy week in Kent politics, featuring an odd miscellany of onions, airplanes, Ann Barnes and - perhaps inevitably - a man called Nigel Farage...

AFTER its victory at the European election, an understandably euphoric UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the next objective would be to propel his "people's army" into Westminster. "Who knows, we might hold the balance of power," he said.

He made it clear the party has set its sights on Kent - where UKIP topped the EU poll in every area bar Tunbridge Wells - as a key battleground in 2015.

As to his own intentions, he more or less confirmed he would stand as a candidate in Kent - saying that it would "probably" be in the south east "somewhere by the seaside."

That would be Thanet South, then.

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Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg cut a chastened figure after enduring a torrid week and looked decidedly off-colour when interviewed about the hammering his party took in the EU poll.

Things turned even worse when there was a botched attempt to undermine his leadership and persuade party activists to dump him before the election.

But when things are that bad for a politician, anything that could be seen as a glimmer of hope is seized on.

Although it wasn't much to cheer, at least the party didn't go into a major meltdown at the Maidstone council elections, where it took the largest share of the vote and defended most of their seats. Its perfomance was overshadowed by UKIP's breakthrough, taking four seats on the council for the first time. 

The Lib Dems even won a seat from the Tories - but that gain was wiped out when they lost a seat to Labour. Still, in politics, it is often the small things that count...

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IF  Nick Clegg had a bad week, it has been nothing in comparison with the truly gruesome one Kent's crime commissioner Ann Barnes experienced.

Her appearance in a warts-and-all Channel 4 documentary "Meet The Commisioner" was a PR car crash to top all PR car crashes.

Even before it was aired, the Kent Police Federation said the clips used as a trailer for the programme had damaged the reputation of the force.

The full programme triggered a frenzy of largely critical social media activity and spawned a parody Twitter account called @AnnBarnesOnion after the commissioner was seen struggling to explain a system of policing priorities based on...an onion.

Viewers were aghast, comparing the show to "The Office" and the Olympic spoof "Twenty Twelve" and most did not think that it showed the commissioner in her best light.

But if it had damaged the reputation of the force, that was nothing compared to the damage done to the commissioner herself. Even one of her former aides and campaign managers, Howard Cox, admitted she had been badly advised to take part.

In characteristically forthright fashion, she defended her participation, saying she wanted to use it to make people understand what her role was.

The irony is that the programme did just that, providing a fascinating insight into what a commissioner does, only not in the way Ann Barnes expected.

In particular, it vividly illustrated that among the public, there is still widespread misunderstanding and confusion over the role, with many thinking commissioners are rather like crime-fighting sheriffs who can ride into town and chase away all the hoodlums.

Perhaps inevitably, she said there had been some "mischevious editing" and in a lengthy statement posted on her website said she was frustrated and disappointed by what had been broadcast.

But for once, her usually hyperactive Twitter account, which she says is the most followed of all crime commissioners, seemed to go rather quiet.

Meanwhile, someone took up a light aircraft trailing a banner reading #ANNBARNES out and flew over police HQ in Maidstone, making her the David Moyles of crime commissioners.

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Categories: Precept

Kent's political map turns a tinge of purple

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, May 28 2014

Whether it was an earthquake or tremor, the success of UKIP at the European election has sent a shockwave through the political establishment.

UKIP celebrates after stunning election success>>>

An understandably euphoric Nigel Farage has now set his sights on propelling "the people's army" into Westminster and breaking the mould. In one of his less guarded moments, he said that the scale of his party's victory meant  "anything was possible" and while UKIP would never form a government, it just might hold the balance of power after the election.

So, how realistic is it that UKIP will have MPs in Westminster? Mr Farage says the party will focus its efforts on a string of constituencies where it has already secured a power base. Ironically, this mimics the successful campaign strategy adopted by the Liberal Democrats in places like the west country.

Several Kent seats will be among the targets. Among them will be the two Thanet seats, Folkestone and Hythe and Sittingbourne and Sheppey. Or as Nigel Farage put it: "Yes, we do like to be beside the seaside."

Of course, the main problem is that, unlike the European election, MPs are voted in on the first-past-the-post system.

Still, in some of these seats UKIP has the benefit of a well-organised and enthusiastic base of activists and councillors, notably Thanet where UKIP now boasts seven county councillors out of the eight that represent the area. These things matter in campaigns where the margin between winning and losing will be tight.

Also on the plus side is that in most of these areas, UKIP did extremely well in terms of their share of the vote. In Thanet, the party took 46% of the vote compared to 24% in 2009. Many now expect Nigel Farage himself will contest  Thanet South, where the Conservatives have yet to adopt a candidate following Laura Sandys' decision to stand down. That may cut both ways, of course  - the leader is loved and loathed in equal measure -  but on balance will be seen as an advantage.

UKIP's contention that it takes away as many votes from Labour as it does from the Conservatives has something in it but can it siphon away enough of their supporters to come through the middle?

Mid-term elections always see the government taking a kicking in the form of protest votes and, important though they are, UKIP will have campaign on more than just immigration and withdrawing from Europe at the general election. They will also be under even greater scrutiny by their opponents..

Still, if ever there was a time for UKIP to make a parliamentary breakthrough, this is surely is it. The party's European success - albeit on a low turnout - is important because voters will now be less likely to think that putting a cross against "the people's army" is a waste.

Traditionally, the political map of Kent has been red and blue - and more often just blue. UKIP's success this week and at the county council election means the map is developing a distinctly purple tinge.

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The European election results have left the main parties wondering what they can do to counter the threat of UKIP next May.

So far, they seem to think that if they can get their message across - or "deliver" their message - on key issues like immigration and the promise of a referendum, UKIP will be neutered. I am not so sure. Both Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have been hammering their key messages on these issues in the weeks running up to polling day.

It is not that they failed to spell out in detail what their position was - it was that voters did not believe them. Retreating to the same strategy but saying it much louder will not be enough.

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Is Labour still suffering from Southern Discomfort? The party's share of the vote went up by more than 6% to 14.6% but fell way short of the Conservative share, which fell to 31%.

With a general election a year away, they will need to improve on that significantly if they are to have any chance of winning back any of the seats they lost in Kent in 2010. The message from party chiefs is that they know there is "more to do" but they can get there. There is nothing wrong with an optimistic outlook but these results make it less, rather than more likely that they are in a good position to win. (Some Conservatives were quietly pleased with the way their vote held up reasonably well).

In the key target seats of Dover and Chatham and Aylesford, they need a swing of 5.2% and 6.9% respectively. With national polls giving them only a narrow lead, that is a big hill to climb.

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Categories: 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.

Let me know what you think - you can add your comments or views at the end of each blog entry. You can email me at pfrancis@thekmgroup.co.uk.

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