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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


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Categories: Police | Politics

Going overboard on Champagne...

by Waking up Kent, with kmfm Breakfast presenter Garry Wilson Friday, July 25 2014

We’ve been off on some international adventures recently! Well, sort of... Our show sponsors, P&O Ferries, thought it would be nice to send us across the Channel on one of its gorgeous ships, the Spirit of France.

We thought it was kind of nice, too!

It was all high glamour as Garry and I filmed a tour of the ship: the video will be available soon at kmfm.co.uk Move over, Richard and Judy!

Our crossing took just 90 minutes and we were treated like a little prince and princess.

However, like any genuine superstars our diaries were far too hectic to allow time for an actual visit to France, so we had to stay on the ship and come straight back home again.

But France looked gorgeous out of the window and it gave Emma a chance to continue her enjoyment of the complimentary Champagne in the Club Lounge, sans interruption.

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Categories: kmfm

Decisions, decisions – there’s no way I’d become a politician

by The Codgers' Club Friday, July 25 2014

by Alan Watkins

Politicians are used to being accused of ineptitude and inefficiency. It comes with their popularity on being elected followed by a mood swing among the rest of us.

They are considering two sets of plans that, if approved, will have a massive impact on us and our way of life in Medway.

One is the decision of what shape a major airport expansion should take and where it should go.

The Isle of Grain might disappear if the concept by Lord Foster is pursued.

Another is Boris Island – the gigantic estuarine fantasy dreamed up by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, for the mouth of the River Thames.

That now appears to have been written off by the politicians, planners and environmentalists.

If so – well done.

The only person who seems to want to support the idea of an airport devastating the landscape and residents, is Clive Lawrence from an organisation called DRINK – Demand Regeneration In North Kent.

Mr Lawrence’s concept is that we need jobs and houses, whatever the cost.

He has failed to convince me it is worth aircraft blasting overhead every few seconds, day and night, non-stop. It’s already bad enough when easyJet pop over every couple of hours to land or take off from Southend airport.

We already have bad pollution.

Imagine four runways accepting and whisking off super jumbos and motorways and railways, car parks and coach fleets, housing estates and wagons running around the Hoo Peninsula like oversized ants.

Call me a sceptic, but Mr Lawrence might have more support if a few of the businesses he claims to represent had bothered to speak out in favour of the opportunities.

And have you noticed how studiously the Prime Minister and his cohorts are avoiding taking any position over the plan.

Our real problem is the plan for a Lower Thames Crossing.

Costing somewhere between £1 and £4 billion, it will be built – the question is where.

My money would be on the costlier crossing at Higham rather than alongside the existing QEII crossing.

It would avoid increased pollution at Dartford. That is already at dangerous levels. Instead, it would bring them to Rochester.

For the politicians it is a massive challenge. If they say yes to either proposal they will be pilloried. If they say no, chaos will ensue.

They have to approve one of the plans.

But not until the elections are out of the way, Scotland may have separated from the disuniting kingdom, and at least two of the main party leaders face replacement. All of that comes in the next 12 months.

Become a politician? – you must be joking.

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Categories: Moans and groans

Flying off with a swing in my step

by Nikki's world, with Nikki White Friday, July 25 2014

“He’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease, that daring young man on the flying trapeze.”

British lyricist and singer George Leybourne may have captured the exploits of Jules Léotard in song, but he might have written something completely different if he’d been near me last Sunday.

I sometimes open my mouth without thinking, and that’s usually how my husband ends up creating gift lists.

I’ve had horse-riding lessons, a trip in a balloon and various other surprises, all thanks to a chance remark he’s picked up on.

Just before Christmas, I saw a trapeze lesson on TV.

“I’d love to do that,” I declared, and thought no more about it until Christmas Day, when he presented me with a gift voucher for a two-hour lesson. Which is how I found myself with a group of eight others in Regent’s Park, London, on Sunday, squeezed into lycra and a harness and dangling among the tree tops.

Now when you’re a kid, you think nothing of the hours you spend hanging from monkey bars in the park, swinging your legs up and hanging upside down.

It all looked so simple when the instructors showed us what we’d be doing but it soon became apparent that I was well out of practice.

Climbing the ladder was the first hurdle. Don’t ask me how high it was – once I was up there it felt like I was 100ft up and the lesson didn’t seem such a good idea.

But once I took off, I was flying. The first time, I didn’t manage to get my legs hooked around the bar, but the second and third time I did it, albeit a little slower than the instructors would have liked. And best of all, we got to somersault off the bar and into the big net below.

Unsurprisingly, the children in our group showed up all the adults, making it look as if they’d been doing it all their lives.

A week on, my muscles still ache and I’ve still some pretty impressive bruises on my legs but I don’t care.

I loved every minute of it.

I’m even contemplating booking another lesson in the hope I can get a bit quicker, and get the chance to not only swing on the trapeze, but get caught by an instructor on a separate swinging bar (and yes, the kids did it without a second thought).Will I ever grow up?

Will I ever grow up?

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The old bike's a bit rusty... and so am I

by The Codgers' Club Monday, July 21 2014

As she released the pressure round my upper arm and consulted the dial, the nurse looked concerned.

I was having one of those health checks your GP offers when you get close to your four-score and 10.

“It’s a bit high,” she said, referring to my blood pressure. Previously she had sucked a finger full of blood out of me for a cholesterol check. That was a bit high too. Not enough to worry about but higher than it should be.

My weight was also up on what the chart said was healthy. But my height seemed to have shrunk. I was only 5ft 7in, instead of the 5ft 8in I had always believed myself to be.

“Well I’m not going on those statins,” I told her.

“Exercise is the best way of dealing with it,” she said. “That and maintaining a healthy diet.”

Well I knew that already, but I thought I was exercising quite a bit already. After all I have allotments to dig, a boat that I am restoring, and until she died recently, a dog to walk.

Then I thought about it a bit. I only do the allotment on two days a week, and it might be a bit of gentle weeding rather than aerobic digging. And working on the boat didn’t always get me puffed out.

So I have dug the old bike out of the garage and pumped up the tyres. I’ve also bought a helmet for the ridiculous price of £30 but I am not going for Lycra. And the yellow jersey can wait.

I hadn’t ridden the old bike for years and both it and I are rusty. It’s a bit scary. Cycle tracks in this country are not worthy of the name and you are not even slightly protected from traffic. I might save myself from a heart attack, only to be knocked into the next world by a passing truck.

Bit by bit though, I am finding the routes where the cars are less likely to go. Sometimes there are pavements that are wide enough for bikes and pedestrians. Occasionally there are even exclusive cycle tracks, though these are few and far between.

When I was a boy I went everywhere on my bike. Everyone did. It never seemed like hard work. Your bike was just an extension of yourself. There were not many cars about in those days of course, so the roads were much safer.

But I have found cycling to be by far the best form of exercise. There is no way you would get me going to a gym, spending huge amounts of dosh to pound a treadmill, heave on a rowing machine or ride a bike that goes nowhere. Besides I hate the smell – all that stale sweat.

Exercise has to be meaningful. I can use my bike to go to the shops or visit people. Even if you just go for a bike ride at least you are seeing the countryside. It’s not just exercise for the sake of exercise.

I also have a rowing boat – a real one that actually floats. It needs a bit of doing up but I can’t wait to get that out on to the water. I know of no better exercise than rowing for tightening the tummy muscles.

The point is, we are constantly being told that increasing numbers of us are getting type-two diabetes caused by obesity from eating too much of the wrong things and not exercising enough.

Other deadly illnesses, such as heart disease, some cancers, and even dementia, are less likely to occur if we eat better and exercise more.

It’s not rocket science. If we eat better and exercise more, we are likely to stay healthier for longer.

No one can make you exercise. You have to do it for yourself. And only you can ensure that there is not too much sugar or fat in your diet.

The government or councils could help by providing more and better cycle tracks and other exercise facilities. But they probably won’t even though there is a good economic case for doing so. Think of all the money that will be saved on healthcare.

So it’s down to us as individuals. All I can say is, that if you want to stay healthy – on yer bike!

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Categories: Moans and groans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UKIP no doubt already has them in its sights.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Categories: Politics

Let's hear it for the boys!

by Waking up Kent, with kmfm Breakfast presenter Garry Wilson Monday, July 14 2014

It’s been a hectic week in the kmfm studio as we’ve been awash, awash I tell thee, with some of the biggest boybands in the land!

We had a chat with the (very excitable) Vamps who, in turn, had a chat with our work experience girl. Happiness all round. Their new single, Somebody To You, is out now.

The luscious lads from hot new boyband Rixton also paid us a visit. Not only did they share tales of rock ‘n’ roll fun but they also let us get our paws on their ‘Wonka Purple Card’. Yes!

This little baby has a magic phone number to call, promising a delivery of anything you want, to anywhere on the planet. Including chocolate. Only the most showbizzy showbiz people have one of these cards, so we tried to make direct contact with Wonka himself.

OK, we got the answerphone, but at least we tried. The Rixton boys also had the momentous honour of reading our 6am quiz questions for the week. Good work, lads.

Check out kmfm.co.uk to listen to any interviews you missed or, indeed, enjoyed so much that you wish to revisit them!


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Mutant world-ending virus is such a strain

by The Codgers' Club Monday, July 14 2014

by David Jones

This may seem an odd question for a summer’s day in July, but have you ever wondered how the world will end?

Will it end not with a bang but with a whimper? Will the ants take over, as H.G. Wells once predicted?.

I’m a bit of a sci-fi fan, so I’ve seen most of the movies about the end of civilisation. After 50 years in a newsroom hearing about people’s troubles every day, I feel the need for a large dose of escapism. I prefer my entertainment light years away!

You can take your pick about the ways in which Armageddon will arrive: there’s an asteroid impact; nuclear war; a giant solar flare; a massive volcano eruption, or a pandemic, a disease of global proportions.

The latter is one of the movie makers’ favourites – we’ve had Outbreak starring Dustin Hoffman, Contagion starring Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow and, of course, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.

The Danny Boyle film is particularly fascinating because it tells the story of a small group of survivors and their struggle to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic world following the accidental release of a deadly virus.

That could never happen, could it? Pure sci-fi hokum. But truth has a nasty habit of being stranger than fiction.

I was horrified to read last week that a virologist in the USA – already controversial through his research in making influenza viruses more infectious – has now gone one step further.

He has genetically manipulated the 2009 strain of pandemic flu so that it can escape the control of the immune system’s neutralising antibodies.

No doubt he would say it’s all in the long-term interests of beneficial medical research and that nothing can possibly go wrong as his “new” virus is kept under lock and key in ultra-secure laboratory conditions.

But what we now have, thanks to Prof Yoshiro Kawaoka, is a strain of a flu virus with the capability to cause a deadly pandemic because we have no defence against it.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that Prof Kawaoka is a mad scientist about to cause the end of the world.

No, what worries me is that once these mutant strains of a virus have been created, it’s going to be impossible to get the genie back in the bottle.

Who’s to say what might happen next time if an even more deadly and incurable virus is artificially created, perhaps by someone whose motives are less altruistic than Prof Kawakoa’s and under less secure laboratory conditions?

Then Danny Boyle’s grim vision of our future might not seem so far-fetched after all.

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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 we can still win the race by running like a girl

by Nikki's world, with Nikki White Monday, July 7 2014

If you were asked to run like a girl, what would you do?

Think about it, just for a moment, and then think what you would do if you were trying to show your daughter, niece or granddaughter.

Would you do the same thing?

A video of young women, girls, men and boys being asked that very question has gone viral, and for good reason.

Each were asked to demonstrate how they would run, fight and throw like a girl.

Most of them pranced around in small dainty steps, flapped their hands in the air and feigned pathetic attempts.

But the youngest girls sprinted with all their might, showed off some impressive martial arts and powerfully launched imaginary javelins into the air. To them, “run like a girl” simply meant “run as fast as you can”.

So why does “like a girl” sound like such an insult to the rest of us? One girl simply points out: “Why can’t ‘run like a girl’ still mean “win the race?”

Men are usually physically stronger than women – that’s just the way it is – but that should not mean that girls feel second best. Not all men are physically stronger than women and coming second doesn’t mean you’re weak.

I’m ashamed to say that when I watched the video, I too conjured up images of prissy, weak actions.

Girls growing up these days are different, thank goodness. We’re no longer the shy, fainting Victorians afraid to show a bit of ankle.

Girls (and women) love football, rugby, cricket, athletics and more. The increasing coverage of netball by Sky Sports shows that somebody, at last, has finally realised how many thousands of women play the game every week, and have done for some time.

I’ll be joining Life Presidents, players and committee members of the Medway Netball League in Rainham this Saturday to celebrate its diamond anniversary.

And if you want to see how a netballer throws, join a team – we’ve a pretty powerful shot!

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I’ve just come back from a week in Dorset.

Not just anywhere in Dorset but – by sheer coincidence – close to where they’re filming the second series of the gripping drama Broadchurch.

Despite my best efforts to track them down, I can confirm that although I have been to the newsagents, the church, the beach and the police station all featured in the storyline, I will not be loitering in the background of any crowd shots as I couldn’t find them.

Not one glimpse of David Tennant, not one.

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