Politics

Manston, Miller and Mr Farage: The top political stories of the week

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, April 11 2014

Here's my round-up of the top political stories of the week in Kent and beyond:

1. After trying to stave off calls to quit, Maria Miller capitulated to the inevitable and quit her job as culture secretary. Few Kent MPs seemed prepared to comment in public about the saga which left Mr Cameron facing questions about his judgement. One that did was Tracey Crouch, the Chatham and Aylesford MP, who said Mrs Miller was right to resign but expressed frustration that MPs elected in 2010 were being tarred with the same brush despite the expenses rules being tightened.

2. Rarely out of the political spotlight, the definitely not shy or retiring UKIP leader Nigel Farage had another week in the headlines. A poll suggested that if he chose to stand at the general election in Folkestone and Hythe against Conservative incumbent Damian Collins, he would run him close but may not win. Bring it on, said Mr Collins. Mr Farage dropped an even heavier hint that he was eyeing up a Kent seat in 2015 but declined to say which one. Our bet? It will be Thanet South.

3. There may have been a spectacular increase in people cycling but Kent's track record on encouraging more people to use two wheels rather than four was under the spotlight. Census figures suggested fewer people were  cycling to work than ten years ago - compared with more forward-looking places like Brighton and London. The Green county councillor Martin Whybrow denounced the county council for its track record, altlhough given that the Conservative leader of KCC is an enthusiastic rally car driver, maybe he shouldn't have been that surprised.

4. An unfortunate piece of timing left some people wondering whether David Cameron was "running frit' after a scheduled and heavly trailed interview with Radio Kent was abruptly cancelled - supposedly so he could make a telephone call to a fellow unnamed Prime Minister.  Was it coincidence that the interview was due to take place the day after Maria Miller quit? Who knows.

5. Uncertainty continues over the fate of Manston Airport as the final flight by KLM took off on Wednesday and the airline boss of the Dutch operator made clear the carrier would most definitely would not be coming back. There continue to be talks over a possible buyout and owner Ann Gloag has agreed to consider a rescue plan drafted by staff. A case of watch this space.

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Categories: Liberal Democrats | Politics | Precept

Maria Miller's resignation was inevitable but who wins?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, April 9 2014

Maria Miller's resignation was predictable the moment it became clear that many of her Conservative parliamentary colleagues were not happy about her staying in her job and were taking flak on the doorsteps from voters who were questioning why she hadn't already been sacked.

And as the days went on, more Tory MPs were prepared to say publicly it might be better if she went - effectively questioning their leader's judgement and his inistence that she could stay in the cabinet.

The judgement was made by David Cameron that because she had been cleared of the central charge, she ought to be allowed to stay on.

Despite Cameron's emphasis on this point, the finer technical details on which a committee of MPs delivered this verdict went unnoticed by many - or was delibarately ignored.

That is part of the problem with accusations of political sleaze. The public - much to the exasperation of MPs elected in 2010 - were largely oblivious to the fact that her conduct and claims were being judged against the old regulations, not the new ones which have tightened many of the loopholes gratuitously abused by so many former MPs.

Fair or not, there was enough in the standards committee report - not least the charge that she had sought to frustrate the inquiry - to give her opponents ammunition. She did not do herself many favours with her perfunctory apology, a PR car crash by anyone's standards.

It is telling that as a result of this episode, politicians from all parties are now falling over themselves to talk about the need for further reforms to the expenses regulations - having told everyone back in 2010 that they had devised a foolproof set of new rules that would restore the integrity of  politicians and be impossible to circumvent.

The public backlash over the saga is not just about Maria Miller but a wider feeling that our elected representatives still play by different rules. Unless they can address that, distrust will remain.

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The forthcoming European and council elections were undoubtedly a factor in the pressure being heaped on Maria Miller.

An already tricky election for the Conservatives risked becoming even more challenging with sleaze allegations swirling around.

UKIP - already favourites to win the Euro elections - will no doubt pick up even more votes from those disaffected with the mainstream parties. And it still looks like the leader Nigel Farage will be standing as a candidate in Kent.

Whether it is Folkestone and Hythe or Thanet South remains to be seen but Mr Farage came much closer than he has before now to confirming it will be one or the other, telling my colleague Matt Leclere that "it was more than likely" he will be a candidate somewhere in the Garden of England.

 

 

 

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Categories: Politics

County Hall balances the books but worse is to come

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, February 14 2014

In the end, there wasn't quite as much political drama as there might have been at Kent County Council's budget meeting.

After seven hours of debate and the usual slew of opposition amendments, the figures remained exactly as they did before 84 members trooped into County Hall to consider the best way of spending £1.6bn of public money and whether to back the first council tax rise in three years.

The ruling Conservatives had managed to diffuse a potential flashpoint by dropping its original plans for a cap on the popular children's Freedom Pass.

If the new plans did not completely neutralise the opposition parties, they did enough to ensure that potentially disaffected backbenchers in their own ranks did not rebel.

Indeed, it was pretty obvious that the Conservative group were under instructions to rally round the beleaguered cabinet member David Brazier, who has come in for a lot of flak for the way things have been handled.

We were told - not altogether convincingly - that far from being a humiliating U-turn, the heroic Mr Brazier deserved credit for having 'listened to the people' and responding accordingly with different plans. (Or a U-turn...)

There is also some talk of bringing in a pay-by-installments scheme to ease the burden on parents who have to buy more than one pass. It remains a tricky issue for KCC however: the cost of the post-16 pass at £400 is likely to prove too much for many and given the bleak financial outlook for councils, it may be something that KCC will be forced to revisit.

It was interesting to see some strange political alliances among the opposition parties - notably UKIP teaming up with the Lib Dems and the sole Green councillor - and although their efforts to amend parts of the budget were all voted down, I suspect we will see more of this opposition rainbow coalition.

It was also interesting to see that the Conservatives have clearly decided to go on the offensive against UKIP.  The role of chief tormentor has been handed to Cllr Jeremy Kite - also the leader of Dartford council - who relishes verbally duffing up the Ukip group in the way he did with the Lib Dems.

In a sense, this rather flatters the 17-strong UKIP group, who six months on since the county council election are beginning to show signs of being rather more effective in their role than they have been, notwithstanding the occasional naive amendment.

The main message coming out of County Hall is that while the books are balanced this year, there is worse to come.

Leader Paul Carter indicated that the need to save a further £90m in the next two years was likely to result in more pain for taxpayers. Whether the "Facing The Challenge" programme can deliver transformation without cuts to key services remain to be seen.


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Kent County Council carried out an extensive consultation over its budget plans this year and succeeded in getting many more people to respond than it has ever done before.

One interesting finding was that while residents clearly understood the need for restraint and broadly accepted the need for a council tax hike, when it came to whether there should be more privatisation or outsourcing to save money, only 13% supported the idea.

Underpinning this scepticism was the belief that private companies ultimately are more interested in how much money they can make from contracts rather than the quality of the services the provide.

KCC's transformation agenda envisages the council doing much more outsourcing and privatisation and is currently in the first stage of examining the level of interest there is among contractors to run services, including libraries.

The issue is whether, if contractors are not interested in some of these services, KCC feels able to continue with them given the financial cosh it is under.



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Categories: Politics

An electoral gamble: why UKIP leader Farage has his eyes on Kent

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, October 7 2013

It was almost a casual aside and came across as a throwaway line.

But the swirl of rumours that Nigel Farage will stand in Kent at the general election gained credibility when he dropped a strong hint that he was eyeing up Folkestone and Hythe.

UKIP leader to stand in Kent?>>>

It is a tantalising prospect but if - and it remains an if - he does, it would ensure Kent takes centre stage at the general election, with the country's future in Europe guaranteed to be a dominant issue.

It is not just Damian Collins who might suffer one or two anxiety pangs at the prospect of the UKIP leader tramping the streets of  Folkestone for four weeks.

The incumbent MP has responded by challenging Mr Farage to effectively "put up or shut up" - a challenge which is likely to fall on deaf ears.

The UKIP leader, despite asserting that he represents un-spun politics, knows a thing or two about how to play the media and will be quite happy for the "will he, won't he" speculation to carry on a while.

So, why Folkestone and Hythe? Just 24 hours earlier, media reports speculated that it would be the Thanet South seat held by the much more pro-European Conservative MP Laura Sandys. To some, that would make more sense.

Thanet became something of a UKIP stronghold at the county council election in May, taking seven of the eight available seats. That gives it valuable foot soldiers prepared to pound the streets knocking no doors and stuffing envelopes with flyers. (Although UKIP also did well in the Shepway county divisions, where it took three seats).

Laura Sandys is much more pro-European - which would give UKIP a more vulnerable target. Damian Collins is more sceptical, saying that if the UK cannot renegotiate membership terms, then he would prefer to be out.

And UKIP did not do that well in Folkestone in 2010, taking a little over 4% of the vote. Damian Collin's share was nearly 50%.

The presence of Farage, a wily PR operator, would certainly enhance UKIP's prospects - history shows that strong candidates with a high public profile can confound the numerical odds.

And there is another reason: UKIP's message around immigration will have particular resonance in a constituency where the issue of immigration is high on the agenda.

Nevertheless it is a big gamble for the party which has as a key objective a seat in Parliament in 2015.

But the party leader likes nothing more than confound the odds.

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Categories: Politics

County Hall's latest transformation. Plus:Can the Lib Dems connect in Kent in 2015?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, September 17 2013

It probably tells you something about the complexity of Kent County Council's latest re-organisation - or "transformation" - that the report setting out what is in the offing requires a 'Transformation Plan Roadmap' to explain it.

Libraries an care homes set for privatisation?>>>>>>>

It is, rather like the roadmaps that politicians refer to in the context of the Middle East, convoluted, involving three phases and three themes and within these, two stages. Got that?

But amid the rather dense jargon of 'integration service redesign' and 'alignment of services into groups', key phrases leap out.

One of these is "market engagement". This is a subtle term. KCC is saying that it will examine every service to see whether someone else can run it better and cheaper.

It wants to avoid saying that it is out to privatise everything because the politicians know how sensitive people are to the notion that businesses have, as their bottom line the returns they can make and the interests of shareholders.

KCC underlines this cautious approach by saying (in bold type) of its new role as a 'commissioning authority' that there will be "no ideological or professional bias in regards to who may provide services."

In other words, if a non-profit making charity, voluntary group or other social entrepeneur can do the job, KCC will consider it.

The challenge here is that the  big operators in the private sector have a kind of stranglehold on the public sector by virtue of the economies of scale they can offer that a smaller social enterprise or voluntary group may not.

This is important because KCC's reorganisation is driven by the need to make £240m of savings in three years.

For example, someone may come in and offer to run and improve Kent's network of libraries but if they are not going to do so for less money than the council currently spends, frankly KCC will not be interested.

Where does that leave the group of residents who say they have a plan to run their local village library?

KCC can point to the outsourcing of its youth services to back up its claim that a mix of providers can work but the scale of this latest plan is completely different.

It is very hard to see how back office functions won't be outsourced to one of the big players like Capita.

And procurement is not a cheap process. Inevitably, legal fees and consultants' charges add to the bill to the taxpayers - as Cornwall discovered when it went down a similar route.

Initial costs for Cornwall's outsourcing project were put at £375,000 - not an insignificant figure. Two years later, it had risen to £1.8m. The result - the leader of Cornwall council lost his job.

No wonder KCC leader Paul Carter, in a foreword to the report, states: "Failure is not an option."  

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How will the Lib Dems fare in Kent at the next election? It will be a mammoth task to persuade voters they are a better bet than either the Conservatives or Labour (or even UKIP).

But there will be an intriguing battle in Maidstone and The Weald, where the party is expected to focus its energies and believes it has an outside chance of causing an upset by defeating Helen Grant.

A foretaste of the kind of campaign we are in for came last week. Lib Dem activists ambushed Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, who was in town for a Conservative fundraising event, over the controversial Oaken Wood decision.

It is perhaps a sign of the Lib Dems' determination to do well here that David Laws is coming down next month to rally the party at an association dinner. No doubt the first of many visits by big hitters before 2015.

The constituency's prospective candidate Jasper Gerrard seems to be taking to the battle with great enthusiasm and energy. As a former journalist, he clearly has some understanding of what makes an eye-catching campaign stunt.

But a well-run campaign that discomforts your opponent and makes good copy is good as far as it goes.

Just ask Neil Kinnock.

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Categories: Politics

Ferry troubles in Thanet and Kent misses out in Labour's picks for Europe

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, August 8 2013

The increasingly complex saga of Thanet council's secret deal with Transeuropa ferries, which has left the authority dipping into its reserves to cover the £3.3m debt it has been left with, rumbles on.

Not that we are being told very much more or being handed over any of the documents relating to the deal.

The latest development is an admission by the Labour leader of the council Clive Hart that he is not optimistic the council stands to get much - if any - of its money back. He is also unaware of whether the council has actually started any legal action to recover the money.

This is not too surprising, given that the assets of the ferry company are widely thought to be negligible.

However, what remains unclear is the status of the other companies to which money is owed. The news that the £3.3m debt is actually spread across four companies has only recently emerged, the council seemingly regarding the information as not terribly significant.

Efforts by the Green councillor Ian Driver to elicit further details about the status of these companies have been unsucessful. The council's finance director Sarah Martin has told him that  "as the council is actively working with lawyers to pursue the outstanding debt, I can not comment on the current status of these companies."

Really? Quite what would prevent the authority from providing a few facts about the status of these companies is a little tricky to understand.

But as we have already seen, the council has a curious approach to transparency and openness.

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With the departure of the long-standing Labour MEP Peter Skinner after 20 years in Brussels (and Strasbourg), Labour has been deciding who to pick as its candidates in next year's European elections.

The ten-strong list has been decided but none of the top three candidates - who stand the best chance of winning a seat - has any direct connections with Kent.

This is part of the problem of having regional lists - you are highly likely to end up with candidates who aren't from your immediate area. This is not to say that the would-be MEPs wouldn't be interested in Kent and would probably be competent advocates for the county.

But for all its efforts to persuade us otherwise, voters generally do not see themselves as belonging to a region. They would much prefer to have representatives for a distinct locality rather than some vast bureaucratic contrivance consisting of an electorate of more than 6m voters. But that is what we have and it is not going to change any time soon.

Still, for the record, Labour's top three are:

Annelise Dodds, a Scot who is a senior lecturer in public policy at Aston University and lives in Oxford; Emily Westley, another Scot who lves in Hastings and has previously worked for the former MP Mike Foster and finally, John Howarth, a former Reading councillor.

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Categories: Politics

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Emergency stop: county councillors slam on the brakes in mileage row

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, July 19 2013

There are times when County Hall - and county councillors - operate in a parallel universe entirely detached from real life. Occasionally, someone somewhere throws a bucket of cold water over them and they come to their senses.

The decision to perform an abrupt U-turn over a proposal to increase their travel expenses by close to 50% rescued them from a public relations disaster that would have done terrible damage to their reputation. I imagine it took several icy buckets to bring them round.

But let's be clear about it. Had the council's members thought they could get away with it, they would have done. It was only the media coverage that persuaded them them to engage reverse gear rather rapidly.

Indeed, in a Conservative group meeting before yesterday's full council meeting - described as rather ugly by one source - opinion was fairly evenly split with some arguing that they should vote to accept the hike and take the flak.

KCC has fought tooth and nail with HRMC for close to two years over the matter and as I blogged earlier this week, leaders had sought top level meetings with HRMC to press their case.

The option should never have even got to a vote but the fact that it did goes back to a meeting of the authority's selection and member services committee - attended by the leaders of all the parties - where the report was tabled. Instead of seeing a red warning light and the sound of a very large klaxon, the committee supported the idea and that is why it came to the full council meeting.

Perhaps inevitably, rather than any expression of contrition, the leader of Kent County Council Paul Carter sought to deflect some of the criticism coming councillors way by implying that the media coverage failed to set the issue in context. (He issued a similar plea over the furore about the departure of former managing director Katherine Kerswell, urging the media to play with a 'straight bat').

Whenever the issue of councillors' expenses and allowances was raised, he complained, the media "had a field day" and set about writing stories about "snouts in the trough" - even though that particular phrase has not been used in any of our coverage, or indeed, anyone else's.

He suggested the media ought to "help us" by properly explaining the issue to residents. Which of course we did - although not perhaps in the way he and others would have wanted.

Still, at least there was one wise head in the Conservative ranks. Cllr Jeremy Kite, the leader of Dartford council, said it was no-one's fault but KCC's that it had got the issue so spectacularly wrong and the media had done precisely what was to be expected. He at least got that perception matters as much as anything in politics and there was nothing at all that looked good to the public about this idea.

There are some issues where Kent county council seems to have a particular blind spot and this is among them. Despite the retreat yesterday, the issue hasn't gone away. If the authority has any sense, it will see the wisdom of taking a very large barge pole and going nowhere near the subject for the next four years.

But it won't. And we will be there to help explain the "issue" when it next surfaces.

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What will be the point of voting for county councillors at the next election?

Not my question but one posed by the Labour backbencher Tom Maddison during a more thoughtful debate about the Conservative administration's £240m savings strategy which will see the council recast as a "commissioning" authority - meaning more privatisation and outsourcing.

The point here was that if KCC does go down this route, what will be the function of elected members. It is a good point. If KCC simply becomes a local goverment CostCo - trading and contracting services - just what will they do?

You may just as well have a management team and let them get on with the job. Which is why the commissioning approach raises important issues about local democracy and the view of some that it will see the "local government ethic" disappear. As Liberal Democrat leader Trudy Dean put it, many choose to work in local government because they are attracted to the idea of working in a sector wherethe service matters, not the profit.

They don't want to end up in the private sector where the bottom line for companies is ultimately what they can get for their shareholders rather than what they can do for communities.

And what will KCC do when things go awry with contractors, as is bound to happen? It won't have the staff left to step in and will simply have to find another private consortium to do the job.




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Categories: Politics

The EU, gay marriage and swivel-eyed loons put Cameron in a bind

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, May 21 2013

It is often said that one of the hallmarks of the Conservative party is its ruthlessness when it comes to ditching leaders who are regarded as having lost the winning touch.

It is this supposed instinct for survival that did for Lady Thatcher back in 1992. The current bout of turbulence within the party has inevitably led to speculation about whether, if he cannot pacify his critics, Mr Cameron could be heading for the exit door rather sooner than when voters go to the polls in 2015.

I am not sure. He is certainly having a rough time and perhaps the worst aspect of his troubles is that he looks like he is constantly on the back foot and rather reluctant to take on critics of his policies.

What is fascinating is that danger faces him on two flanks. Thatcher had to contend largely with a disgruntled Parliamentary party and notwithstanding the poll tax row, had a generally loyal following out in the constituency associations. Mr Cameron has contrived to upset both MPs and grass roots activists and it is hard to fathom who is more annoyed.

This doubles the jeopardy: MPs harbour grievances over lots of policy issues, many of which are of little interest to their rank and file activists. However, both the EU and gay marriage are agitating both camps which means Cameron is getting flak from all sides. And then there is the lurking threat of UKIP - seen by some as more Conservative than the Conservatives

After coming close to losing control of Kent County Council,  several Conservatives confided that they felt that making Mr Cameron leader had proved a disastrous mistake and they wished  David Davies had got the job.

That, of course, is the beauty of hindsight but their incandescence at being led by someone who they feel has trampled all over traditional Conservative values was palpable. 

Whether all this will lead to the party deciding that it is time to dump DC is anyone's guess. Europe remains a Conservative faultline and always will be.

The difficulty of Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum on the EU is that it is contingent on him winning an outright majority and not many Conservatives see that as happening.

But you do sense that there has been a serious fracture in the relationship between the leader and his party which could ultimately see the party deciding they have had enough.

If the sense that he won't produce a clean win in 2015 grows, the party might just throw their weight behind someone who it thinks could.

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UKIP will become the official opposition at Kent County Council on Thursday - historic for the reason that with 17 members, it has broken the three party stranglehold from a standing start.

Here is the shadow cabinet team:

Roger Latchford: Leader

Zeta Wiltshire: Deputy leader

Finance: Jeff Elenor

Mike Baldock: Transport + Environment

Chris Hoare: Corporate and Democratic Services

Hod Birkby: Economic Development

Mo Elenor: Adult Social Care

Adrian Crowther: Education and Health Reform:

Bob Neves: Community Services

:Frank McKenna: Commercial and Traded Services

Adrian Crowther who defected from the Tory group at County Hall and regained his Sheppey seat is an interesting choice for education. He has already spoken out about Conservatives trying to lure him back to the Tory fold.

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What is the future for Kent County Council's locality boards, set up barely two years ago? The answer: they don't have one, at least not in their current format.

An edict has gone out that all future meetings of these boards - one for each district - are suspended until a "review" has been carried out. A review that is certain to conclude they should be scrapped.

This is interesting in as much as they were ostensibly designed to devolve decision-making to local groups of county and district/ borough councillors - in line with the grand "localism" project beloved of Mr Pickles and the DCLG. In reality, they didn't actually take decisions -  leading to complaints they were simply talking shops.

These boards were inevitably packed with Conservatives when set up but clearly that would have had to have changed given the council's new political make-up.

We are sure the two are unrelated.

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Politics

Conservatives ring the cabinet changes. Plus:Labour leadership battle

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, May 9 2013

County Hall is a febrile place just now after the dust settles on the election that saw the ruling Conservatives come within a whisker of losing control. UKIP has confirmed its leader will be Roger Lachford, the former Conservative deputy leader of Thanet council.

But there are developments involving the other parties, too:

A Conservative cabinet reshuffle is underway and is expected to be officially announced later today.  Leader  Paul Carter has been forced to rejig his top team after the defeat of education cabinet member Mike Whiting. If my sources are correct, that job will go to the well-regarded Cllr Roger Gough, who interestingly is a Sevenoaks councillor and will take control of the council's efforts to open a new grammar school annexe in the area.

One of his key tasks will be to win over Michael Gove who for some reason many Conservatives find hard to fathom has stuck his oar in and decided the site Kent wants should be offered to a free school instead.

After the election hammering, Gove may just be open to the idea that it might not be such a bad thing to be seen to be supporting the scheme, given the fact that UKIP now seems more enthusiastic about selection than the national Conservative party.

The other change likely is that Cllr John Simmonds, who has the finance portfolio, will take on the job of being deputy leader, replacing the long-serving Tunbridge Wells councillor Alex King. Another interesting move (he will retain the finance job) and a sign of complete rapprochement between the two. We don't yet know why Alex King has gone but he has been in hospital with a fractured leg.

Over in the Labour camp and an unexpected leadership contest is looming. Cllr Mike Eddy, who regained the seat he lost in 2009 and was the former opposition leader before the party's meltdown is to challenge Gordon Cowan for the job of leadng the 13-strong group.

He says he has "unfinished business" but denies his bid for the role implies he feels that the party under-performed at the election, having forecast that it could capture 20 seats.

It will be interesting to see if any other names enter he fray - there is some suggestion that Cllr Roger Truelove, returned to Swale Central, could throw his hat in the ring. I am not sure a leadership contest is exactly what Labour need just now.

It might give the impression they are a divided group and it could be better to wait and see how UKIP acquits itself as a formal opposition group.

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Categories: Politics

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