Precept

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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Categories: Precept

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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Politicians in high visibility jackets and chatting about boilers? There must be an election looming

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, May 2 2014

Here is my round-up of the top political stories of the week in Kent and Medway. 

1.  If  you haven't seen a politician for a while - get ready. One could be on your doorstep soon. The European election is just around the corner and the May 22 poll - with the results on May 25 - looks like being marginally more exciting than perhaps it has been in the past. Chancellor George Osborne was first out of the gate, with a visit to Ebbsfleet where his much treasured 'garden city' project will be.  At the moment, there's not much to see except a muddy quarry but the Chancellor was whisked away for a tour of the field, resplendent in a high-visibilty jacket, boots and a had hat. Mind you, Dartford MP Gareth Johnson had by far the best jacket, replete with so many fourescent strips, he could be seen from space.

2. Following hard on George's heels was his chief tormentor the shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who popped down to Medway to rally support  among Labour activists and in doing so, enjoyed a lengthy conversation about boilers - possibly too lengthy -  and seemed very impressed by the variety of cakes his guests offered. For once, Ed had UKIP in his sights rather more than the Conservatives, although he contrived to get the key "cost of living" phrase in several times. David Axelrod would have been impressed. 

3. Talking of UKIP....you can't keep Nigel Farage out of Kent that long and although he wasn't physically in the county, his decision not to stand in the Newark by-election, resurrected speculation that he had a county constituency in his sights - either Thanet South or Folkestone and Hythe and the fact that you can't go very far in Folkestone without seeing a UKIP billboard may be a tantalising clue. But UKIP was a bt miffed when some wag put alternative slogans on them  of a satirical nature. And Nigel passed another political right of passage when he was egged by a protestor on a visit.

4. Crime commissioner Ann Barnes had a spot of bother over the costs of an office relocation to Kent Police HQ in Maidstone. At £150,000 it seemed rather a lot, especiallly as, until a national newspaper started asking questions, no-one had appeared to have known about the expenditure. Still,  she fought back and just about managed to rebut the claims - among them a suggestion from an "anonymous" source that she was a bit of a Diva. Still, if it was supposed to be a good news story because of the long-term savings, it seems odd that the commisioner was not shouting about it from the rooftops.

5. And finally, there was news that the government was to crackdown on betting shops in town centres by unveiling new powers to councils that would allow them to block bookies from opening. For once, there seemed to be cross-party support for the policy. Political harmony during the run-up to an election? I'm feeling rather queasy...

 

 

 

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Categories: Politics | Precept

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

The Friday Five: the top political news stories of the week

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, March 28 2014

This week's political round-up features Disneyland, more on the Manston airport saga and yet another setback for the Kent grammar school plan....

1. There have been plenty more twists and turns in the tale of Manston Airport. After last week's announcement that the owner Ann Gloag was consutling on closure, there seemed to be fresh hope when Thanet North MP  Roger Gale announced he had been in touch with a potential buyer.

But the consortium said to be interested in taking over the airport was shrouded in secrecy and it was unclear if the owner was interested in selling. Meanwhile, Saudi Cargo said it would suspend its operations from next week and KLM followed suit, saying it was not taking bookings beyond April 10. Meanwhile, KCC and Thanet council announced the creation of a task force dedicated to keeping Manston going. To coin a phrase, everything is up in the air...

2.  Councillors in Gravesham were in a spot of hot water over their plans to take a trip to Disneyland and other theme parks in Florida at taxpayers' expense. The reason?

The "fact finding" trip was planned so councillors and six officers could  examine how a theme park operated so they could better manage the planning process for the huge Paramount scheme expected to be built in north Kent. Inevitably, the council was forced on the defensive, saying that the council would be dealing with a scheme of "global significance". For some reason, that justification for the £15,500 trip failed to impress many....

3. There was yet another setback for Kent's grammar school annex plan with the news that governors of the Weald of Kent Girls Grammar had decided against going co-ed - a move that would have paved the way for it to become the sponsor school for the Sevenoaks satellite. Campaigners seeemd resigned to the possibility that this development might signal the end of the road for the project.

4. Canterbury must rank as one of Kent's most congested places so there was some potentially good news for long-suffering motorists and others with the announcement of a £53m package of road improvement schemes. The city council said the schemes represented the biggest shake-ups in the road network since the 1970s. 

5. Finally, there was a political spat over at County Hall in the wake of a backbench report that suggested that Kent could benefit to the tune of £100m from the EU in the next six years. The opposition UKIP group were distinctly unimpressed but the largely positivie report was welcomed by an unusual alliance of the Tory group, Labour and the Lib Dems. Mind you, they may have some trouble selling that on the doorstep in the run-up to the Euro election in May.

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Categories: Margate | Mayoralty | Precept

Savings here,savings there but still the bills rise

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, January 17 2014

Kent County Council, like every other authority, is facing a huge challenge trying to balance its books in the face of Draconian cuts in government grants.

Having frozen the council tax for three years, the Conservative-run authority now plans a hike of just under 2% - meaning that the savings it has to make are a little over £80m rather than £90m.

It believes council taxpayers will, with some reluctance, accept the hike - although they haven't got much option.

The council is delivering a strong message that despite the budget shortfall, its latest "transformation" project will mean frontline services will be spared and those who rely on them won't notice any difference.

That of course depends partly on what you call a key service.

Although it is discretionary, for example, there are lots of families who are discovering that the school Freedom Pass will cost them substantially more than they have been accustomed to paying for their children to get to and from school.

As with all council budgets, the devil is in the detail - and in KCC's case, you can't say it doesn't deliver on that front.

The difficulty is the rather imprecise and occasionally vague way some savings are described.

This year, the phrase of choice is "review" and there are more "reviews " than you would get at the opening night of the an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

Some examples:

  • A review of the education psychology service, saving £280k;
  • A review of inclusion budgets, saving £193k;
  • A review of economic development activity, saving £640k
  • A review of staff management structures and other efficiencies, saving £1.05m.
  • A review of arrangements across the gateways porfolio, saving £150k

I am told  the word review has been chosen to reflect the fact the savings target is "deliverable" but  the precise way it will be achieved has not been determined. Which begs the obvious question of how does the council know it is 'deliverable?'

Elsewhere, the language is more precise in describing various reductions. For example:

  • A reduction in directors and managers, saving £750k;
  • A reduction in the use of agency staff in social services, saving £492k
  • A reduction in school improvement activity, saving £250k
  • A reduction in the libraries book fund, saving £150k

Some of the headline savings - or cuts - are already known, such as the £12m being saved in budget for looking after vulnerable elderly people and the £2m being cut from the budget for children's centres.

Elsewhere, there are references to "right-sizing," "procurement efficiencies" and "demand management" - all part of the local authority lexicon where budgets are concerned.

Given the scale of the savings being forced on it by the government, residents might need some persuading that Kent County Council is managing this without any cuts anywhere, no matter how they are described.

Still, this year's challenge of squaring the budget circle will not be the end. In 2015-16, the council has said it will have to save £43m and in 2016-17, a further £44m. As yet, the savings have not been identified.

Stand by for further reviews.

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Categories: Precept

Gove proceeds with caution over grammar plans

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, November 25 2013

There is some restlessness at County Hall over the length of time it is taking Michael Gove to decide on plans for a 'new' grammar school in Sevenoaks.

Politically, this delay is confounding those who think that if the Conservative party - and indeed Mr Gove - want to improve their stock, this would be a fairly straightforward way of doing so. (Especially as UKIP is making a clear commitment to restore selection).

Behind the scenes, it would appear the issue troubling the Department for Education is the same one that has troubled Kent County Council.

Namely, the question of whether the proposal is legal, given that there is a prohibition on opening new selective schools.

The argument of campaigners and KCC is the scheme represents an extension of an existing school to meet a demand for selective places, caused largely by demographic factors.

But the argument is clearly finely balanced. KCC wanted to assure itself that its case was solid by engaging the services of a specialist education lawyer.

It will not disclose the lawyer's advice. In response to a Freedom of Information request, it said the advice (which cost £6,150) was confidential and it was not in the public interest to release it.

In doing so, however, it implicitly acknowledges the issue of legality is one over which there may be persuasive grounds on both sides.

The reply to our request stated "it would not be in the public interest for privileged legal advice to be revealed to a party who can then use that advice to further his or her own case. Releasing the advice would mean making it available to opponents of the annex scheme - effectively using public money to fund both sides of a potential judicial review, referral to the Secretary of State or to the Schools Adjudicator."

Clearly, the advice provided to KCC was that the case could be argued both ways and it would be a surprise if the advice the DfE is getting did not say the same.

Frustrating as it is for those supporting the plans, you can understand why the DfE is treading carefully.

Given that grammar schools still stir up political controversy, Mr Gove will want to ensure that any decision he takes is watertight and won't trigger any protracted legal wrangling.

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The news that Thanet South MP Laura Sandys is to stand down at the next election has come as something of a surprise.

She is a well-regarded MP and judging by the reaction to her decision, considered to be highly diligent on behalf of her constituency.

It presents a tricky situation for the Conservatives, who will be acutely conscious of the speculation that Thanet South has been a seat that UKIP leader Nigel Farage may have his eye on.

Laura Sandys has never made any secret that she is on the pro-European wing of the party. It will be interesting to see whether local Conservatives opt for someone who veers in the other direction.

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UKIP's low key County Hall debut. And why did a council keep secret a deal with a ferry company?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, May 24 2013

It was rather a low key debut for the new 17-strong opposition UKIP group at County Hall this week, as councillors gathered for the first official meeting since the dramatic election.

You could hardly say there was a lot of raw politics about. Given this was largely a ceremonial meeting to appoint a new chairman and deal with some rather boring constitutional details, perhaps we should not have been surprised.

The ruling Conservatives remain a bit jittery about UKIP, that's clear -  but they had a relatively easy ride on this outing and were rather relieved not to have been put on the spot about anything that contentious.

Let's not forget that this was the first taste of County Hall politics that the 17 UKIP councillors had and there were probably a few "first-day-at-school" type nerves around. KCC can be a pretty intimidating place - as a couple of the newcomers confided. "The scale of this place is huge," said one.

Perhaps the nerves were responsible for a bit of a tangle that UKIP got into over the new allowances scheme - in other words, their pay.

The group's leader Roger Latchford said his group supported a freeze but went on to say that it was unfair that all opposition group leaders were getting the same special responsibility allowance.

The point seemed to be that UKIP was taking on the "formal" opposition role at KCC and therefore its shadow cabinet members ought to be entitled to more money. (Under the scheme, all oppostion groups leaders will get £6,316 plus an additional £500 for each member.) 

Whatever way you look at it, it came across as a request for more money from the taxpayers' pocket and a few Conservatives lost no time in making the point.

For a party that makes much of the need to curb public sector profligacy, it was not an altogether auspicious start. Let's put it down to finding their political feet.

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HOW did Thanet Council come to a position where it has found itself out of pocket to the tune of £3.3m after a secret deal with a ferry company went pear shaped?

And perhaps as importantly, why were details of the deal kept secret from councillors?

And was there a serious misjudgement by officers and members in allowing the debts to stack up and a failure to recognise warning signs?

These are just some of the questions facing the council after it emerged that it was having to raid its reserves to plug the £3.3m hole in its finances caused by the company, Transeuropa Ferries, going into administration.

It is staggering that the council has found itself in such a situation. It believed the deal, which allowed Transeurope to defer payments on harbour fees to the council, was justified to retain the company's presence in the town.

One of many problems it now faces is why the deal was kept secret and never shared with all members of the council, who should have had the opportunity to scrutinise it properly - even if it meant they had to do it behind closed doors as an exempt item.

It is not even clear whether the original deal that was agreed by the council's then Conservative administration was the subject of a cabinet decision or report. Ought not such a deal have been signed off by the executive under the proper executive decision-making process?

If it was a key cabinet decision - and it is hard to think why it would not have been - it should have been properly recorded and reported by the cabinet or cabinet member and then presented to the relevant scrutiny committee who would have had the power to call it in.

As far as we can tell, it wasn't - the council has not yet responded to a series of questions we have asked on this.

And not only that but why wasn't the deal flagged up in the council's last annual statement of accounts, where you might have expected it to feature?

Someone at the council will have to account for all of this but on the surface, it looks like a monumental mess that has left taxpayers likely to foot the bill.

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