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.


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

Kent's political selection box: round-up of latest candidate news

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, July 30 2013

It is proving a busy month for those who have eyes on the county as a place to launch or take the next step in their political careers, so here is a round up of recent selection news:

Labour has chosen its parliamentary candidates for a further three of Kent's constituencies. In Thanet South, the party has nominated Will Scobie to take on Laura Sandys. He was elected to the county council in May - one of Labour's few succeses in Thanet - and is also a Thanet council member. He faces the challenge of overturning a 7,000+ majority. Despite being a youthful 24, he has plenty of political experience under his belt although social media has inevitably seen some adverse comments that he has no other "outside" experience beyond politics. From what I have seen at County Hall, he seems pretty sharp.

Sittingbourne and Sheppey Labour party has opted for Guy Nicholson, a Yorkshireman living in London who serves on Hackney council as cabinet member for regeneration and Olympic legacy. It is his first stab at fighting a general election. He faces the challenge of trying to overcome a 12,000+ majority in 2015. The seat was back in 2005 a "super marginal" with a narrow Labour majority of 79 but Gordon Brown's implosion turned the seat into a relatively secure Conservative one in 2010.

Finally, Gravesham has chosen local councillor Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, 34, a former Gravesham mayor who has strong local roots having attended Gravesend Grammar School and lived most of his life in the area. He has already notched up a political first - he became the youngest Sikh mayor of any counci in the UK in 2011. He is currently cabinet member for business and communities on the council. Adam Holloway held on to this seat with a majority of 9,312 in 2010 and Labour considers this a viable target although the party made relatively modest gains in the KCC election - a signal perhaps that it has plenty of work to do to win back disaffected voters.


Meanwhile, the Conservatives are in the midst of choosing the candidates who will be on the regional list for the south east at next year's European elections. The convoluted selection process has a little while to run and party members are voting for candidates on two lists. In the south east, members have already picked the arch Euro-sceptic Dan Hannan and Nirj Deva - both already MEPs - as the two who will automatically go to the top of the list.

They are also deciding who should be on the general shortlist, the candidates who will make up the rest of the party's platform. The ranking depends on how many votes they each get and in the south east, there is some interest in how Richard Ashworth, the leader of the Conservative group in Brussels, will fare after he failed to make the top two. If he comes anywhere less than third on the ballot, he is unlikely to be returned to Parliament.

Also on the list is the Shepway councillor Rory Love.


UKIP is already taking up its prospects of doing well at the European election but has yet to decide which names will be on its list. Hustings meetings were held at the weekend and 26 hopefuls put themselves forward. These will be whittled down to 12 in the coming weeks. Among those in the frame is the Tunbridge Wells councillor and former Kent crime commissioner candidate Piers Wauchope.


Finally, the search is underway for the person the Conservatives want to replace the veteran Tonbridge and Malling MP Sir John Stanley. Sir John is retiring in 2015 and his departure opens up a rock solid safe Conservative seat that plenty of hopefuls have their eye on. It should be a high calibre shortlist when the constituency gets around to whittling down names in the Autumn.

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Categories: Localism | Politics

The battle for County Hall: Who will get to the magic number of 43?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, May 1 2013

 UP-DATED, Thursday May 2.

If I knew who was going to take control of Kent County Council in tomorrow's election, I would, of course, be hurrying down to the bookmakers to place my house on the outcome.

But I don't and neither does anyone else - despite what the politicians are all telling me. There's nothing new or revelatory about that but the battle for Kent County Council's 84 seats is for once, much more unpredictable in 2013 than it was in 2009 when Labour went into meltdown as Gordon Brown's premiership was in its final death throes.

The unpredictability of the outcome has much to do with the high-profile campaign being waged by UKIP, not just in Kent but right across the country.

It is unusual for one party to have such a disproportionate impact on any election but UKIP has, for better or worse, been the dominant feature of this campaign. The media has been criticised for giving them too much publicity and for failing to subject some of their candidates and policies to greater scrutiny.

That may be  valid but so too is the fact that they are - like it or not - a party seeing a popular surge in support, just as the Social Democrats did in the 1980s and the Greens did when they made a breakthrough in the European Parliamentary elections in 1989.

Quite how it will perform on the day is anyone's guess. In Kent, the party has high hopes of making some kind of breakthrough but that could be anything from one seat to half a dozen or more. It could conceivably gain no seats and simply post a lot of 'good' second places.

In Kent, the party that has most to fear from UKIP is the Conservatives although it is true that it is disquieting both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, too.

It is a sign of the Conservatives' concern that recent days have seen one or two Kent MPs and Conservative candidates go on the offensive against the Nigel Farage gang, a tactic that may not be wise given that it has the effect of drawing more attention to a rival you would prefer voters to ignore.

The Conservatives' greatest fear is not just that UKIP will win seats but that its 70-plus candidates could cost them seats they would have expected to win.

That leaves open the tantalising prospect - or nightmare scenario for the current administration - of the Conservatives just failing to reach the 43 seats they need to continue running the council.

I see that as a long shot but given that no-one can tell how the votes will stack up on Friday, it is what makes this election rather more intriguing and interesting than it was back in 2009.



Even before the ballot boxes are emptied, the political spin doctors will be working out how to put the best complexion on the results. So, what would be a good result for each of the parties in Kent and how might they explain away a poor result?

Conservatives: Retaining control of County Hall with a comfortable, albeit smaller, working majority will be depicted as a good result, given these are mid-term elections. Losing control, or being forced into some kind of joint administration, would be a pretty gruesome result but could be blamed on the national political picture, the recession and the unpopularity of some Conservative policies, notably gay marriage and the EU referendum being held back until 2017.

Labour: A result that sees it recapturing the seats it lost in 2009 and taking a couple more would be a good result and probably enough for the party to claim that it is winning back support in the critical middle England territory. Falling short of that would be awkward but will probably be blamed on voter antipathy to all the mainstream political parties rather than a vote of no confidence in Ed Miliband.


Liberal Democrats: Has made it clear that is has modest aspirations and retaining its seven seats on KCC would probably be portrayed as a decent outcome. Anything that sees their numbers shrink might start hares racing about Nick Clegg's leadership. Likely spin: "We are now part of the government and that is different to being in opposition. Voters have used the election to give us a message."

UKIP: Given the hype and publicity surrounding the campaign, a failure to win any seats would be a disappointing outcome. Breaking through and taking a handful away from the Conservatives would be a good result. Likely spin if no seats won: "We increased our share of the vote; these elections were really a staging post before next year's European elections; we have a solid base of support to build on."

The Green Party: A very good result would be winning a seat somewhere in the county; a good result would be increasing their share of the vote above 2009.




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Categories: Local Politics | Localism | Politics

KCC leader fires salvo at local press for 'biased' reporting: a response

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, January 3 2012

Relations between politicians and journalists can often be uneasy ones, characterised by mutual suspicion, a lack of trust and, just occasionally, a touch of paranoia.

Politicians often think we are out to get them and are working to some kind of hidden agenda. And the word that sometimes gets bandied about is that we are 'biased'.

It is a word that KCC leader Paul Carter used when he fired off a New Year salvo at the local media in general just before departing for a month long break to participate in a vintage car rally to South Africa.

Paul Carter's New Year article>>>

In a piece, which for the most part was a look back over the year, he ended with a short section 'looking forward'. It began with a pledge that he wished to "improve our relationship with the local press."

This laudable aim was then rather undermined by a series of comments that together amounted to an attack on those that he wished to foster improved relationships with.

The article claimed that 'some stories have been particularly biased against KCC' and although he stopped short of specifying which ones, it is pretty clear that he was referring to the controversy surrounding the departure of managing director Katherine Kerswell.

Acknowledging that there had been 'several high profile issues' in the last few weeks, he claimed that the media's 'constant sniping at KCC 'impacts on morale for our hard-working staff' and 'the consequence will inevitably be a knock-on effect to frontline service delivery.'

If this was intended to be the start of his desire to improve relationships with the media, it was not only misjudged but perverse.

Perhaps the most risible comment was his appeal to the media to play stories with a 'straight bat' and give 'credit where credit's due' - and to let the public 'actually decide for themselves'.

This from an organisation that has over the years accrued a reputation for evasiveness and PR spin that might make even Peter Mandleson blush.

Unfortunately for KCC, its own unwillingness to play with a straight bat has contributed to a sense of distrust - which was only made worse by the debacle over departure of managing director Katherine Kerswell. 

KCC moved heaven and earth to persuade everyone, including its own staff, that nothing was going on when it was common knowledge that discussions were already underway about scrapping her £197,000 post.

Its initial statement responding to media queries was a classic piece of Orwellian double-speak, a contrivance of misinformation that - while strictly accurate -  was as far removed from 'playing with a straight bat' as could be imagined.

Equally ludicrous was the claim that our 'constant sniping' was threatening front line services by damaging morale among staff.

Does KCC, which never lets us forget that it is one of the biggest authorities in the country and the county's largest employer, expect us not to report job losses and the potential consequences for residents because of the squeeze on public spending - not to mention huge pay-offs for directors on six-figure salaries?   

Nothing has damaged morale at County Hall more than the lamentable way it dealt with events leading up to the decision to scrap Katherine Kerswell's role. The evidence came in some of the scathing comments posted by staff on its own Intranet site about her departure and reported pay-off, showing that many felt duped by KCC, their own employer.

Uncomfortable though it can be for politicians, our job is to hold them to account for their actions and decisions and ask the questions that the public - as taxpayers - would want answered.

It is not to suppress information although you get the sense that KCC sometimes thinks it should be.

It is true we are often sceptical - not biased - and if KCC wonders why we are, it really does have its head in the sand far deeper than even we imagine.




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Categories: Kent Village of the Year | Localism

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