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The starting gun has been fired - so who has reasons to be cheerful?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, March 30 2015

It's official: the starting gun has been fired and the formal general election campaign is underway, even if it might feel like campaigning has been going on for weeks. So, with just weeks to go, how are the parties faring in Kent and Medway?

Who has reasons to be cheerful and who may be feeling apprehensive?

The Conservatives:

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • The party has the benefit of incumbent MPs in most Kent constituencies, who will to a lesser or greater extent carry some personal vote
  • David Cameron consistently out polls Ed 'Hell Yeah' Miliband as the person most trusted by voters to be PM
  • The economy appears to have turned a corner and the party's appeal to voters not to risk damaging the recovery could be central to undecided voters 

Reasons to be worried:

  • The insurgent Ukip party is nipping at its heels in many parts of the county. The shadow of Nigel Farage, standing in South Thanet, looms large and there are fears Ukip could split the vote and let Labour in
  • Despite the up-turn in the economy, many people still say they are not benefitting
  • Immigration is still a touchstone issue in Kent and the Conservative failure to curb numbers remains a faultline
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Labour

Reasons to be cheerful:
  • Ukip is, on balance, more likely to win over disaffected Conservatives which could, in sufficient numbers, allow it to come through the middle and win seats
  • Polls point to the NHS as being a key concern and with several Kent hospitals under-performing, it is an issue Labour is strong on
  • Ed Miliband may lag behind David Cameron but if he performs well in the remaining TV debates, that gap may narrow
Reasons to be worried:
  • Ed Miliband consistently loses out to David Cameron when voters are asked who they most trust to be Prime Minister
  • The party's failure to tackle immigration cost them seats in 2010 and the issue is still seen as an Achiles' heel in Kent
  • There are signs that it is leaking voters to Ukip at one end of the political specturm - and to the Green party at the other - meaning it could be squeezed in its target seats of Chatham and Aylesford and Dover and Deal
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The Liberal Democrats

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • Things are about as bad as they could be for the  party's poll rating - surely they can't get much worse?
  • The party is heavily targetting the Conservative-held seat of Maidstone and The Weald and has an outside chance of success
  • Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, Ukip is not siphoning away supporters on the same scale
Reasons to be gloomy
  • The party has no solid county-wide base of supporters to act as foot soldiers and has struggled to find candidates 
  • It won't have much by way of campaign resources to throw at Kent as it is fighting to hang on to its existing MPs elsewhere
  • The broken promise on tuition fees continues to cost it support in university towns and cities
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UKIP

Reasons to be cheerful:
  • Kent has become an established power base for the party, meaning it has plenty of willing volunteers to canvas support
  • Nigel Farage may not be everyone's cup of tea but his presence as South Thanet candidate means the party is getting a far high-profile in the county
  • Immigration remains a key concern for voters and Ukip is seen as particularly strong on this issue

Reasons to be gloomy
  • It has had to deal with rather too many embarrassing episodes involving candidates close to home, the latest being the expulsion of Janice Atkinson as ppc for Folkestone and Hythe over an expenses claim
  • There is some evidence of informal anti-Ukip coalitions emerging in key seats which could squeeze its vote
  • Its policies on the EU and immigration are clear but less so on other subjects
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The Green Party

Reasons to be cheerful:

It won't win any parliamentary seats but there are signs it is picking up support from disaffected Labour supporters and Liberal Democrat voters
It has a record number of candidates in Kent council elections and is likely to win in some of those

Reasons to be gloomy:

Some of its policies have been derided as unrealistic and impossible to implement
After a car crash TV interview with  leader Natalie Bennett, its poll ratings took a slide

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Categories: Politics

The starting gun has been fired - so who has reasons to be cheerful?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, March 30 2015

It's official: the starting gun has been fired and the formal general election campaign is underway, even if it might feel like campaigning has been going on for weeks. So, with just weeks to go, how are the parties faring in Kent and Medway?

Who has reasons to be cheerful and who may be feeling apprehensive?

The Conservatives:

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • The party has the benefit of incumbent MPs in most Kent constituencies, who will to a lesser or greater extent carry some personal vote
  • David Cameron consistently out polls Ed 'Hell Yeah' Miliband as the person most trusted by voters to be PM
  • The economy appears to have turned a corner and the party's appeal to voters not to risk damaging the recovery could be central to undecided voters 

Reasons to be worried:

  • The insurgent Ukip party is nipping at its heels in many parts of the county. The shadow of Nigel Farage, standing in South Thanet, looms large and there are fears Ukip could split the vote and let Labour in
  • Despite the up-turn in the economy, many people still say they are not benefitting
  • Immigration is still a touchstone issue in Kent and the Conservative failure to curb numbers remains a faultline
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Labour

Reasons to be cheerful:
  • Ukip is, on balance, more likely to win over disaffected Conservatives which could, in sufficient numbers, allow it to come through the middle and win seats
  • Polls point to the NHS as being a key concern and with several Kent hospitals under-performing, it is an issue Labour is strong on
  • Ed Miliband may lag behind David Cameron but if he performs well in the remaining TV debates, that gap may narrow
Reasons to be worried:
  • Ed Miliband consistently loses out to David Cameron when voters are asked who they most trust to be Prime Minister
  • The party's failure to tackle immigration cost them seats in 2010 and the issue is still seen as an Achiles' heel in Kent
  • There are signs that it is leaking voters to Ukip at one end of the political specturm - and to the Green party at the other - meaning it could be squeezed in its target seats of Chatham and Aylesford and Dover and Deal
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The Liberal Democrats

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • Things are about as bad as they could be for the  party's poll rating - surely they can't get much worse?
  • The party is heavily targetting the Conservative-held seat of Maidstone and The Weald and has an outside chance of success
  • Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, Ukip is not siphoning away supporters on the same scale
Reasons to be gloomy
  • The party has no solid county-wide base of supporters to act as foot soldiers and has struggled to find candidates 
  • It won't have much by way of campaign resources to throw at Kent as it is fighting to hang on to its existing MPs elsewhere
  • The broken promise on tuition fees continues to cost it support in university towns and cities
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UKIP

Reasons to be cheerful:
  • Kent has become an established power base for the party, meaning it has plenty of willing volunteers to canvas support
  • Nigel Farage may not be everyone's cup of tea but his presence as South Thanet candidate means the party is getting a far high-profile in the county
  • Immigration remains a key concern for voters and Ukip is seen as particularly strong on this issue

Reasons to be gloomy
  • It has had to deal with rather too many embarrassing episodes involving candidates close to home, the latest being the expulsion of Janice Atkinson as ppc for Folkestone and Hythe over an expenses claim
  • There is some evidence of informal anti-Ukip coalitions emerging in key seats which could squeeze its vote
  • Its policies on the EU and immigration are clear but less so on other subjects
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The Green Party

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • It won't win any parliamentary seats but there are signs it is picking up support from disaffected Labour supporters and Liberal Democrat voters
  • It has a record number of candidates in Kent council elections and is likely to win in some of those

Reasons to be gloomy:

  • Some of its policies have been derided as unrealistic and impossible to implement
  • After a car crash TV interview with  leader Natalie Bennett, its poll ratings took a slide

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Categories: Politics

Not quite pork-barrel politics but some goodies from the sweetie jar come Thanet's way

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, March 15 2015

It ought not to be a surprise that the news of a £12m investment in High Speed 1 services to and from Thanet triggered a row over whether the government was playing pork barrel politics.

In about ten days time, the government would have been prevented from issuing  the news under what are known as purdah rules. This prevents government and councils from making announcements that might be construed as favouring particular parties.

 

With news of an imminent announcement buzzing around last week, UKIP leader Nigel Farage cheekily pre-empted the official news by declaring it unofficially, tweeting: "Great news which would never have happened if I weren't the candidate there!" He went on to claim that it was evidence of what UKIP could do to bring attention to an area "even before taking office."

His point was to suggest that the Conservatives are searching around for good news to spread because they are on the back foot in Thanet, where he is standing. Of course, the Conservatives denied any such thing, with the departing South Thanet MP Laura Sandys describing his intervention as unbelievably arrogrant.

But UKIP has a point, however irritating others may find it.

This is not the first announcement in recent weeks that could be construed as designed to benefit the Conservatives.

Notably, there was the news that the government was to appoint an independent consultant to review the decision by the Labour-controlled council not to pursue a CPO for Manston. This review will conveniently not report back before the election.

Some of the gloss came off this a touch this week with a highly critical report by the transport select committee, which took the Conservative-controlled Kent County Council and in particular its leader Paul Carter to task over its failings in helping Thanet council.

A gift to opposition parties who are probably rushing to the printers to get new election leaflets published.

Then there is the question of exactly what kind of boost the £12m investment will provide and whether it is actually new. The press release rather hid the major downside of the announcement, namley that the scheduled upgrade of the line won't be completed until 2019 - a four years away.

As to the journey times, the average reduction will be ten minutes off. Not bad but again, the press release refers to the "potential" for a reduction rather than a guaranteed one.

On the question of how genuinely new this all is, the waters are rather muddy.

Network Rail confirmed a year ago that it was working towards an upgrade on the HS1 line to bring journey times down to about an hour from Thanet to London at a cost of £10m. If this was separate from this week's announcement, then the PR people missed a trick by overlooking the fact that it could be a £22m investment.

The conclusion seems to be that they are one and the same.

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Nigel Farage has admitted that he may not win his bid to become the MP for Thanet South. 

In a book serialised by The Daily Telegraph, he concedes he is facing a real battle and that if he fails it "would be curtains for me."

In one sense, this could be seen as a little defeatist and may have the effect of giving his opponents more impetus. On the other hand, this kind of candour does stand out from the earnestly positive remarks many candidates are choosing to post about their campaigns.

Twitter is full of would-be MPs posting update of their activity on the ground, usually accompanied by comments such as "brilliant day campaiging in x [insert name of constituency] and a great reaction on the doorstep."

Oh, and a deadly dull picture of activists holding leaflets, flags and banners.

Nevertheless, it is a risk for any politician to acknowledge they may lose. 


 

 

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Categories: Nostalgia | Tourism | Trains | Transport

Grammars and why Nigel probably won't be sitting down with Al for a pint

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, March 11 2015

UKIP is not terribly keen on unelected quangos and there is one in particular that it would really like to scrap: the Electoral Commission, an organisation charged with overseeing all elections and ensuring they are properly run.

Why? Well, it is clearly a quango and Ukip's policy appears to be that all such appointed bodies should be wound up to save taxpayers' money. There is, in the case of the scrap to become the next MP for Thanet South, an additional reason.

The commission has just ruled that the FUKP party created by comedian Al Murray can be registered and the name can be used on ballot papers but its logo cannot. This decision turns on the issue of whether voters could confuse FUKP with UKIP. The commission says not - but has said that the acronym won't be allowed on the ballot paper and neither will the party's logo, an inverted version of UKIP's own emblem.

UKIP is irritated because it feels there will be some confusion among voters and Thanet South is likely to be a tight contest which could turn on just a few votes.

This is not to say that Al Murray has any chance of winning. It is about whether the votes he gets, coupled with the votes other minority parties secure, could deprive Nigel Farage of victory.

There are already eight listed candidates for the seat and the possibility that there will be more to come before the deadline of April 8. Add in the fact that Al Murray's FUKP party will appear before UKIP on the ballot paper and you can understand why the party is annoyed.

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Still, UKIP has had a small boost with a Survation poll giving Nigel Farage an 11 point lead in Thanet South - and that lead is over Labour rather than the Conservatives. The poll is interesting because respondents were asked not just the party they would support but named the individual candidates.

While Nigel Farage is very much a Marmite politician, he obviously has greater voter recognition than his rivals. As interesting was the fact that Labour leapfrogged the Conservatives in this poll. That is probably a reflection of the efforts its candidate Will Scobie - a genuinely local person - has and continues to put in to the campaign.

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Why is David Cameron apparently digging his heels in over a decision about plans for a grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks? Reports have suggested that he has ruled no announcement will be made this side of the election.

Many Conservatives are baffled by his reluctance, given that giving the scheme the green light would send a strong signal the party had not turned his back on selection completely as UKIP continues to promise "a grammar in every town."

One explanation may be that the case presented by The Weald of Kent Girls Grammar, which is proposing the scheme, is not so clear cut as some have made out, not least because of the 10-mile distance between the site in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge.Would that qualify as an annexe?

Another may be a cold political calculation that however many parents there are who would like more grammars, there is a perception that they are not the agents of social mobility they once were in giving bright children a "good" education they could not otherwise afford.

UKIP says it would give 20% of places to children from poorer backgrounds, although no-one has explained what would happen if fewer than 20% of such children did not pass.

And, at the end of the day, the Conservatives probably believe this is a decision that will have very little impact on the outcome of the election - not least because Sevenoaks and Tonbridge and Malling are about the party's safest seats in the county.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Politics

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.

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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.

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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

Ukip's latest coup and why Labour are alarmed

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, February 19 2015

On the political Richter scale, the news that the leader of the Labour opposition group on Ashford council is to back Ukip represents a minor tremor rather than a major earthquake.

Despite Ukip's best efforts to portray the declaration of Harriet Yeo as a major coup, it falls well short of what they really want, which is the defection of a Labour MP.

Mrs Yeo is not even joining Ukip so she is not actually a defector at all - and says she doesn't agree with many of its policies.

Having said that, any party would be glad to win over the support from a rival party and Ukip, which tends to specialise in this sort of thing, won't be unhappy about the coverage the story has got, even if one broadsheet went slightly over the top by declaring the councillor as a top Labour figure.

Of arguably more significance are the comments by the Labour prospective parliamentary candidate Brendan Chilton. His warning - in remarks recorded without his knowledge - that Labour councillors were in danger of being wiped out by the Ukip advance  - ought to be (another) wake-up call for the party.

Labour cannot hope to form a majority government if it fails to win seats in Kent but the signs are that will prove beyond them. As Cllr Chilton put it: "They [Labour councillors] may not exist after May if Ukip move at the pace they are."

They have two official target seats - Chatham and Aylesford and Dover and Deal - but the polls are not indicating that the party is picking up enough momentum to deliver them victory in May.

Not surprisingly, Cllr Chilton is rowing back furiously and unconvincingly to limit the damage, saying that he may have to "eat his hat" because "it looks like the opposite will happen" - the kind of spin that alienates voters rather than engages them.

Perhaps he should have stuck to his guns. His frank assessment of the situation Labour finds itself in is precisely the sort of thing party chiefs need to hear but instead they are keeping on with the platitudes about "getting a positive response on the doorstep". With an election two months away, it may all be too late.

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There seems to be a degree of confusion about the events surrounding Cllr Yeo's ousting as the leader of Labour's five (now four) strong opposition group.

Cllr Yeo was booted out of the job for failing to attend meetings and deal with constituency business and deselected as a candidate. She claims it was all accomplished without her being given a chance to appeal and done by text.

What is clear is that the party seemed very keen to present the change in leadership of the group as completely innocuous. The news was relayed to the Kentish Express as a minor change in personnel and nothing too contentious. Cllr Yeo's name was not even mentioned.

What seems to have happened is that word got out that Cllr Yeo was contemplating a switch to back Ukip some time ago. She has admitted she spoke with Nigel Farage late last year and that may have leaked.

She believes that was the real reason she was ousted athough acknowledges that she did indeed miss some meetings because of poor health.

We aren't being told Labour's side of the argument because it has pulled the shutters down and is referring all questions to the regional press office.

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Categories: Nostalgia

Spinning lights, Lodge Hill and Ann Barnes' PR spend

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, February 15 2015

Conservative county councillors did their best to put a gloss on their streetlight switch-off U-turn at the authority's budget meeting but it has been an unnecessarily messy episode which the opposition parties understandably exploited.

The ruling administration did what it could to make the best of a bad job but had to face accusations that it had not actually saved any money, after spending £3m on installing the technology needed to move to part-night lighting  - effectively neutralising the predicted saving of £3m up to 2017, when it says bulbs will be replaced wih LEDs.

At least Conservative council leader Paul Carter was upfront in acknowledging that had the council known that the cost of LEDs was to fall significantly, it might not have embarked on the switch-off. (His claim that it had saved money was less convincing).

Opposition in Kent appears to have been more vociferous than other areas, which may have something to do with its size and rural nature.

To be fair, it did consult pretty widely at the outset.

Having said that, perhaps councillors did not do themselves any favours by appearing rather dismissive about residents' fears over security and crime, insisting the perception of an increase in crime was not matched by the reality.

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Any public figure who spending thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money on outside PR agencies and consumer research companies can expect to be asked to account for it.

Kent crime commissioner Ann Barnes says appointing outside consultants was necessary to secure an "independent" review of the communications strategies adopted by the force.

Communications are important for any public body especially for the police.

But we doubt many people will regard it as that important to pay a PR firm close to £14,000 for an insight into what was being done and what might be done better - especially given the common complaint that they don't get to see many police officers on the street these days.

It is equally hard to justify the £2,400 spent on media training for the crime youth commissioner Kerry Boyd, whose term of office is to end shortly but whose activity has been so low profile as to make her virtually invisible.

Perhaps the advice was to not say anything or do anything in public or before the media.

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It proved one of the few local flashpoints in the Rochester and Strood by-election, so what have the parties made of the government's decision to call in the plans for 5,000 homes at Lodge Hill and hold a public inquiry?

Strangely, it has produced an unlikely consensus between UKIP MP Mark Reckless and Kelly Tolhurst, the Conservative candidate.

Mr Reckless says he is delighted he will not rest until he has 'won the war'. Kelly Tolhurst declares she will "continue to lead the campaign against it."

Perhaps they should stand on a joint ticket. No, we can't see it either.




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Categories: Memory | Precept

Manston, Murray + the lights go out at County Hall

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, February 6 2015

The fate of Manston Airport is still - excuse the pun - up in the air.

But the MPs on the transport select committee lifted one or two interesting stones on what seems a very complex issue of who owns the airport site when they quizzed a variety of witnesses at a hearing this week.

The hearing made for an uncomfortable experience for Pauline Bradley, the director of Manston Skyport Ltd and the two interim directors of Kent Airport Ltd who were repeatedly pressed on the issue of the extent to which the former owner Ann Gloag was involved and how she potentially stood to benefit on the back of the business park scheme envisaged by the new owners.

MP Tom Harris articulated what many people think about the sale when he asked Ms Bradley if she could understand "why people might look at this and think it looks slightly fishy" given that "a lot of people are about to get very wealthy on the back of a £1 purchase?"

In a reply that lacked a great deal of conviction, she said that there had never been any attempt to disguise Ms Gloag's financial stake and there was no question that she would exercise any financial control. Which is of course an important distinction but it took a while to prise out the fact that Mrs Gloag has a 20% stake.

In one of the more dramatic moments, Sir Roger Gale read from a report which he said revealed that Mrs Gloag had no intention of running the airport for two years. While it was unclear who wrote it, the MP quoted a section which stated that "in the process of creating the JV [Joint Venture] steps should be taken to restructure the HGT  shareholding such that it cannot be easily identified" and that "the perception that the site is under the conrol of a non-controversial JV partner would be commercially advantageous from a planning perspective."

I got the distinct impression that the committee members were not awfully impressed or totally convinced by the evidence put forward by the owners but we will have to wait and see. And it is likely that we may have to wait until after the election to find out what the select committee recommends.

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If you can hear the sound of car gears crashing around County Hall, it is probably connected to the latest policy U-turn.

After a reversal on plans to axe the number of communty wardens comes the news that the great streetlight switch-off is to be effectively scrapped.

We were told when it was first introduced that a pilot scheme would run for a year and then be reviewed. But the Conservative administration has clearly got the jitters and are to phase it out. There will still be a review which as I understand it will focus on issues.such as whether the switch-off has led to more crime and if so, where.

 

The new policy is to invest £40m in replacing every single streetlight with new LED bulbs, which have the advantage of being more energy efficient and can de dimmed and are cheaper to run - once you have made the initial outlay.

KCC invested an awful lot in its pilot swith-off scheme and there will be some questions about why it went to such great lengths to do so.

The odd thing is that when KCC first announced about deciding to replace the bulbs in its 120,00 streetlights in October, there was no mention of the possibility that it could be an alternative to the night-time switch off.

But the switch-off has gone down badly in many communities and there have been claims it has led to increased crime rates.  When opposition parties at KCC  called for an end to the scheme last September, they were told by the Conservative Mr Brazier that "most rational people know there is nothing to fear."

The fear that seems to matter among Conservatives is the fear that it will cost them votes at the forthcoming election.

 

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Al Murray hit the campaign trail in Thanet South this week and rival candidates were probably gritting their teeth as he effortlessly  secured a huge amount of media coverage.

 

 

There were plenty of jokes, repartee with reporters and mugging for the cameras. It is all slightly surreal and you have to wonder whether, by May 7, the joke may have worn a bit thin.

 

But he is doing a good job of pricking the pomposity of politicians who,  during interviews, like to preface their answers to questions with the refrain "I am glad you have asked me that" - normally followed by an answer that has absolutely nothing to do wth the question.

 

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Categories: Politics

Operation Stack - time for the government to act?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, January 23 2015

As Operation Stack gets close to being in place for a record number of days, gridlocking much of the county, the debate about how to deal with it continues.

Kent County Council has advocated buidling a series of lorry parks which would be open round-the-clock as somewhere for HGVs to park overnight but would also provide some capacity to hold lorries during Operation Stack.

There are three main problems. One is that building these won't come cheap. The authority is borrowing £10m to hold in reserve to help buy land where necesary, which it wold then hope to recoup from a private operator who would run it as a commercial concern

The second is that these parks would be relatively modest, with spaces for about 800-900 HGVs in total. That is nowhere near enough to avoid the need to turn the M20 into a lorry park when there are problems getting across the channel.

The third is that if anything happens, it won't be for a long time. KCC says it hopes to open one near Westenhangar, Folkestone by 2017 but the politician in charge, Cllr David Brazier, warned this week that even that may be optimistic.

Kent County Council has unfortunately squandered years and a considerable amount of money pursuing an earlier proposal for a huge park off the M20  at Aldington, near Ashford, that would have been capable of holding up to 3,000 HGVs.

It stubbornly stuck with this idea for far too long in the face of people telling it that it would go nowhere and was not viable.

What ought to be quite clear now is that this is an issue the government cannot afford to leave to KCC and others to sort out. This has been its line for many years - overlooking the obvious point that the M20 is not KCC's responsibility but the Highways Agency - which is accountable to the government.

More importantly, Kent is the gateway to Europe and as such, the problems created by Operation Stack have economic repercussions way beyond the undoubted damage done to businesses and residents in Kent.

Every day that lorries are stuck on the hard shoulder of the M20 means that somewhere, a business is losing money, suppliers are missing delivery dates and hauliers are having to reorganise their schedules. 

As the economy improves, the road network around the south east will come under crippling pressure if the government just sits back and says that the job of finding solutions is left to councils. It is stating the blindingly obvious, but the amount of commercial traffic travelling through Kent to and from Europe is not going to reduce.

If the coalition is prepared to spend £42bn on the High Speed Two project, it really ought to be able to allocate money to help tackle the problems caused by Operation Stack.

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Kent County Council has signed off on another contract to management consultants Newton Europe, this time for a fee of £5.5m to oversee the authority's specialist childrens services. It is already paying the same company £5.4m for a contract to advise on how to cut the costs of care for the elderly and vulnerable.

To be fair, it seems that the company has delivered savings in adult care and the hope is that it will do the same for children's services.

The company website in unsurprisingly gushing tones describes itself as one which delivers "transformational, award-winning change" across a variety of sectors - including building submarines - and is a place where "initiative, creativity and versatility" thrive.

There is even a testimonial from KCC itself - with the website featuring an equally glowing reference from social care director Mark Lobban, its commissioning director who praises the "strategic transformation through evidence-based commissioning" that its partnership has achieved.

There is nothing wrong with Newton Europe soliciting testimonials from its clients, of course.

But some might feel it would be better for the council to keep more distance from those it is paying significant sums of taxpayers' money to.




 


 




 

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Categories: Private Sector | Prostitution

Mine's a pint: Can comic Al Murray upset the election odds in Thanet South?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, January 15 2015

If the election battle for the key Kent constituency of Thanet South was not already interesting, the news that comedian Al Murray - or his alter ego the pub landlord - is throwing his hat in the ring has made it even more so.

Announcing his intention to stand via a video address in which, among other commitments, he pledged to make beer a penny a pint came out of left field. Interestingly, an interview he gave to The Independent in 2013 criticised comedians who embraced politics, saying their role was to lampoon them.

 

It appears his main target is Ukip - his party's logo is an inverted pound symbol in gold - and his opening salvo in the video was to declare that the time was right for a tilt at Westminster.

"It seems to me UK is ready for a bloke waving a pint around offering commonsense solutions," he declared, leaving no ambiguity as to who is in his sights.

His confused rivals reacted in the only way they could - by adopting a jocular tone saying it would liven up the campaign and desperately trying to avoid looking either panicked or po-faced.

Ukip to its credit came up with the best one liner, saying it welcomed the news of "a serious rival at last" while its leader Nigel Farage saying "the more the merrier." Laura Sandys, the out-going Conservative MP, said there were already enough comedians standing - note the plural.

How will all this go down with the voters in Thanet South is anyone's guess. His parody of a hyper-nationalistic landlord is sometimes affectionate, sometimes cutting. 

Is he serious about winning? Or simply standing to poke fun at politics and politicians? If it is the latter, there is a good case for arguing that his candidacy is unnecessary.

Many voters already look on politicians as a joke and don't need a comedian to remind them of that or deflate the egos of those standing for office.

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There was an interesting debate about fracking at County Hall this week. Or rather, there should have been but in the grand tradition of council meetings, our elected-representatives decided that it was more important to debate whether there should be a debate.

This stemmed from a petition submitted by the Faversham and Mid Kent Green Party candidate Tim Valentine and signed by nearly 3,000 people. Under KCC rules, this automatically triggered a debate at the meeting of the authority's environment scrutiny committee.

The only problem was that, according to the council's legal eagles, no such debate could be permitted as to do so and to adopt a presumption against any fracking applications, would compromise the council's position because it was the relevant planning authority dealing with them.

So, we were treated to one of those debates about constitutional procedures which councillors seem to relish. A clearly exasperated Cllr David Brazier, cabinet member for the environment, said he could not understand why "intelligent people" had signed the petition"  when a cursory glance at KCC's website would have indicated why such a call was not likely to succeed.

I am not sure how that would have gone down that well with the public but that's County Hall politics for you.

As it was, after some ill-tempered exchanges, the Conservative majority on the committee voted to close down the debate much to the irritation of the opposition representatives.






 




 

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Categories: Politics

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