UKIP bouyant after its seaside trip

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, March 1 2015

If the purpose of party conferences is to send your supporters and candidates away with a spring in their step and a glint in their eye about their electoral prospects, Ukip can claim it more than achieved that after its seaside trip  to Margate.

It wasn't quite on a par with David Steel's exhortation to his party to "go and prepare for government" but the mood in the hall at the end of the Ukip Spring conference in Margate was definitely one of optimism that the party is on course to end up with enough MPs to have a stake in who governs the country and how it is governed after May 8.

What was interesting was  the efforts over the two days that the party is making to spell out what is is for as well as what it is against, what it is positive about rather than what it is negative about.

Although the headline findings of the recent Survation poll - commissioned by one of its donors Alan Bown  - was good news for Nigel Farage in his bid to win Thanet South, some of the other findings were less positive for the party.

Which explains why it has now cast itself as the defender of the NHS. Speaker after speaker came to the platform to declaim they would go to the end of the earth to save the NHS. If you closed your eyes, you could have been at a Labour conference - provided you overlooked the bits about immigration placing the NHS under an intolerable strain.

This was a not-so-subtle bid to appeal to disaffected Labour voters, which party strategists say is where they are increasingly picking up support.

In his own keynote speech, Nigel Farage said the party's campaign would be overwhelmingly positive and vowed to steer away from smears and American-style negative campaigning he clearly expects to be targetted at Ukip in the coming weeks. 

There was a whiff of David Cameron's entreaty to his party to "let sunshine win the day" when he became party leader. Whether the party can stick to this remains to be seen.

The other striking feature about the conference was that it was pretty much gaffe free.

A message has clearly gone out to candidates that they cannot afford to be "off message" and to think carefully about what they are saying in the media. (Paradoxically, the embarrassment caused by the fly-on-the-wall documentary "Meet The Ukippers" has probably helped).

Its MEP Patrick O'Flynn told the conference he did not want candidates to wake up on May 8 to think whether an unguarded remark or slip of the tongue captured by the media might have cost them victory. That may be tough to keep to but it is a sign the party is desperate to be seen as more professional - even if it makes it rather less colourful.

As to how it will fare in Kent on May 7, Nigel Farage slightly rowed back from his prediction on Saturday that the party could be on course to win "four or five seats" in the county, telling me that it was becoming increasingly difficult to draw predictions from national polls about what would happen at a local and regional level.

There is however a growing feeling that there may well be surprise results that confound the pollsters. With so much focus on Thanet South, insiders are saying that in constituencies like Thanet North and Dover and Deal, they are in with a shout.


It was probably not the wisest thing to predict victory quite so explicitly but we have come to expect Janice Atkinson, the Ukip candidate, to be forthright.

Not for her the cautious understatement.

But her declaration that she was going to win Folkestone and Hythe on May 7 - "our own private polling shows that," she said - was the kind of uncompromising forecast that gives party spin doctors palpitations every time she makes a speech.



Nigel Farage certainly doesn't look ill but that hasn't stopped him being the target of unfounded rumours that he is. The speculation, he claims, was spread by the Westminster lobby and although untrue had triggered some concerns among party donors.

He decided the only way he could draw a line under it was to tackle it head on in public.

And it seems he is enjoying himself after his dry January. Asked if he was making up for it with a 'wetter' February, he said: "No, let's just say we re back to normal."

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Categories: Politics | Protests

Between a rock and a hard place: KCC's care homes plan

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, January 13 2011

KCC would have known many months ago that its proposals for a shake-up of its remaining care homes would touch a raw nerve, which is one of the reasons it embarked on such a lengthy consultation and took pains to hold countless public meetings.

Care homes inevitably have an emotional resonance for families and the upheaval involved in closing homes can trigger great anxiety. No-one could accuse social services chiefs of being either insensitive or unaware of these feelings but at the end of the day, it has opted to make no changes at all to the original proposals, which will unfortunately and probably unfairly make it look rather cavalier.

Where the authority has perhaps been a little disingenuous is in its argument that this is not about money.

It is, for the very simple reason that the costs of providing in-house care far outstrip the costs of buying care in the independent sector. This was reinforced at a cabinet meeting this week, when in a presentation about the proposals, an officer made the point that KCC's costs were double what it would need to pay in the private sector.

Furthermore, KCC has always made it plain that it doesn't have the cash to do up the homes it runs to the standards it wants - again, a money related motivation.

And in a press statement about the decision issued today, the council makes much of the fact that its decision for Bowles Lodge at Hawkhurst, Cornfields at Dover and Manorbrooke at Dartford will see a £70m investment by using the sites for extra care housing schemes, built in partnership with district councils.

That's £70m that with the best will in the world, even the most prudent county council would never be able to lay its hands on.


I was among the hundreds of people who suffered the consequences of the latest fiasco on Southeastern rail services yesterday as I struggled to get to London.

So, too was Private Eye editor Ian Hislop who joined the train at Staplehurst at the very moment that an announcement was made that it was stuck in a growing queue behind a broken down freight train and was not going anywhere at any time soon. Even though the breakdown happened at 7.30am no-one had the foresight to alert Ashford station.

There was much derision from angry passengers when a guard appeared and said the train was to have been diverted via the Maidstone line but the driver "did not have a licence" for that particular line - a very novel excuse.

The surreal nature of events took another twist when we all trooped over to the other side of the line to return to Ashford to get a fast train to London. Having been told that the London-bound train was not going anywhere, guess what it did a few minutes later? Yes, move off in the direction of London...

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Categories: Conservatives | Politics | Protests | Southeastern

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