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Dropping Boris Island won't make the next airport decision any easier

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, September 2 2014

For Boris Johnson, it was a dream solution but for many in Kent and Medway, it was a nightmare.

Now the Mayor of London has seen his vision of a four-runway hub airport grounded and unlikely to take off again at any time in the near future.

Grounded: The estuary airport plan is cut adrift>>>

For all the Mayor's protestations, the one thing he cannot complain about is that the Davies Commission didn't give him a fair hearing.

The review of the option allowed the Mayor and Lord Foster to argue their case again with the commission but it was to no avail - and some suspect it was always going to get knocked back.

The costs, the environmental damage and the disruption caused by closing and relocating an airport were all cited as difficulties that the commission concluded would be insurmountable.

It was not as if the arguments were finely balanced. The case against going ahead was fairly clear despite Lord Foster's assertion that the conclusion reached by the commission meant a fairly predictable compromise.

Attention now focuses on whether Heathrow or Gatwick should expand and both options are politically awkward.

Expansion of Heathrow would expose the Conservatives to the legitimate charge of performing a huge U-turn. Expanding Gatwick risks opposition from traditionally Conservative supporting heartlands - including west Kent.

The review will not report back until next September, conveniently after the general election.

What happens then is anyone's guess - particularly if there is a change in government and the possibility that Boris is back at Westminster.

The major problem with addressing aviation capacity in the south east is perhaps the fact that politicians are involved.

No decision will be taken until all the political ramifications are carefully calibrated and measured against the economic arguments.

Don't expect a quick decision - even if that is what UK plc desperately needs.

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Plotting a move, lock stock, shed and tyres

by The Codgers' Club Friday, August 29 2014

by Peter Cook

If you think moving house is tough, try moving your allotment.

I have finally conceded defeat to the rabbits and voles and slugs and snails and pigeons who for the past 10 years have made my life a living hell. I have tried trench warfare, chemical warfare, verbal warnings about ferrets, barriers that would rival the Berlin wall. Nothing keeps them out.

Sapper rabbits have created a network of tunnels to undermine my defences. Squadrons of pigeons have developed a technique whereby they land on protective netting forcing it down on to the crop so they can wreak havoc with their beaks. Slithery silent slugs actually tuck into those little blue pellets and demand more, before helping themselves liberally to the beer in my slug traps.

I know when I am beaten, and am now moving to a spacious new plot at the other end of the allotment site.

But you accumulate so much stuff in the course of 10 years, especially when, like me, you are an inveterate rubbish skip pillager.

There is my shed for a start. I can’t leave that behind. It’s made from inch and a quarter pitch-pine tongue and groove planking that once formed the Georgian ceiling of long demolished Chatham Dockyard buildings. That wood must be hundreds of years old, I can’t leave that behind.

So the whole building will have to be dismantled piece by piece and reassembled on the new site.

Then there’s my collection of old tyres set up to form convenient pest-free containers for strawberry plants. (It doesn’t work by the way. Voles come up from underneath and nibble the roots and slugs will always find a way.) Anyway they all have to be shifted, along with the three cast iron baths I use for bringing on young plants.

On top of all that there are fruit bushes and trees to be dug up and transplanted. The more mature ones will have to stay.

I will miss the old plot in many ways. Despite marauding wild beasts I have obtained some tasty produce from time to time. And the wildlife, despite its destructive behaviour, has been fascinating.

However, taking on a new plot gives me an opportunity to get my defences properly built before I start. I challenge any rabbit to chew its way through the corrugated iron that now surrounds it.

So I anticipate that next season I will have prize- winning parsnips, succulent strawberries, perfect potatoes and club root free cabbages.

Come to think of it though, I said the same things this time last year.

Categories: Moans and groans

After the coronation - now UKIP leader Nigel Farage faces the heavy artillery

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, August 27 2014

There was never really any doubt about the outcome of UKIP's hustings meeting to select the party's election candidate for Thanet South and if it wasn't quite a coronation, it came pretty close. It might have been billed as a genuine contest between the four candidates but Nigel Farage had activists eating out of his hands from the moment he took the stage.

Nigel Farage canters to victory in UKIP hustings>>>

Although in later interviews he reined back a little over his declaration that UKIP might hold the balance of power  next May, you could, in the febrile and euphoric atmosphere at the Odd Fellows Hall in Ramsgate, see why he said it.

So, can he win in Thanet South? Here are the reasons he might - and the reasons why he might not:


  • UKIP has established a solid base of support in the constituency, with a growing number of activists and volunteers prepared to pound the streets, stuff envelopes and generally do anything they can to get him elected. After successes that exceeded the party's expectations in the county council election last May, UKIP believe it has momentum that will carry them through to next May.
  • Nigel Farage may not be to everyone's taste but he is a skilled and astute politician, who knows the area well and has a proven track record in winning elections. Yes, his claim to local connections are a little tendentious - he lives in west Kent - but he is hardly the first candidate to stand in a constituency he does not (yet) live in. The Conservative candidate CraIg McKinlay, for example, lives in Medway.
  • Although UKIP has become an established political organisation, it is still regarded as being outside the political mainstream. Voter disenchantment with the main parties remains high and UKIP continues to be a repository of support for the disaffected. It will benefit from the "plague on all your houses" sentiment for all it is worth
  • UKIP views on immigration and the EU continue to chime with a lot of voters across the political spectrum. It will push the message that if you want UKIP, you have to vote UKIP. Europe will be a big issue in the election in a way that it wasn't in 2010 and Thanet has arguably seen the consequences of a failure by successive governments to properl tackle immigration over the years
  • Voters like backing winners - if people feel UKIP is in with a chance of causing a political upset, they may want to join in.


  • By his own admission, the UKIP leader is a marmite politician. He divides opinion in a way few politicians do - you either like him or you don't. There's no middle ground.
  • While voters are concerned about immigration, as well as being sceptical over the EU, they will also want to know where UKIP stands on other issues. At the moment, there is a big policy gap that it needs to fill fairly quickly.
  • The other parties see UKIP as a genuine threat - although they might not admit it publicly. That means they will bring in the heavy artillery during the campaign to try and see it off. Expect Thanet to be inundated by a stream of visits from political heavyweights in the run up to May's poll.
  • UKIP is undergoing much more scrutiny than before and continues to have candidates and supporters capable of dropping the party in it with the odd unguarded remark and throwaway comment. It will have to be hard on disciplining transgressions rather than letting them go unpunished if it wants to be seen as a "serious" party.

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Categories: Precept

Dover's Rubbish

by Down and out in Dover and district, with Len Oldfeep Monday, August 25 2014

I’m sorry I have been away for so long but I have been in hiding, getting over the embarrassment of my ‘Face of Dover’ mix up. You see dear readers I was under the impression the Dover Express was looking for the best lookalike of ‘The Face’ from the A-team. I spent months cultivating the look and tracking down the right 80’s clobber only to find they were just looking for some attractive Dovorians... Never mind who would want to be the face of a town with such a litter problem anyway?

Yes rubbish is a problem in Dover. People are no longer sure of what can and can’t be recycled and contractors are refusing to take it away if you should put something in the wrong box. Our bins are being monitored. And now we’re being told we can’t even litter anymore! Can’t even drop a fag butt in the high-street or watch a crisp packet be cradled gracefully by the breeze to a nearby tree or settle in a children’s playground, without being fined £400 plus. At least Morrisons have had the decency to remove the one pound coin locks on their trolleys so we can shove one in a river on the way home after a nights drinking.

Dropping cigarettes has accounted for 80% of cases where people have been issued with fines by Environment Enforcement Officers. I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the perpetrators as the hefty fee does not seem fitting of the crime. There are worse offenders out there; irresponsible dog owners who do not clean up after their animals and fly tippers who I’m sure everyone would like to see punished more. Just six fines were handed out in the 191 reported cases of owners not clearing up after their best friend.

The aftermath of rubbish day is never a pretty sight; rouge cans bouncing and ricocheting down the streets to freedom, slices of half eaten pizza and rubbish sacks being pulled apart by Seagulls. It seems customary to blame the council and Veolia –Dover’s street cleaning service providers- after the foul scented trucks have disappeared for another week but if we examine what is left behind we can see who is to blame. I have seen nappies, pet food, food waste and all manner of things inviting birds, rats, foxes, vermin to come and see what bounty is inside, spilling out of purple sacks like the intestines of a wounded soldier on the battlefield.

I know the majority of people make the effort to separate their recycling, food waste and put their bins out in the morning and not days before. I see it with my own eyes every Thursday morning. We are not perfect and may toss the odd plastic container in the bin that is just too fiddly to clean out but we do our bit. It is the few who are not willing to perform these simple tasks, and I fear not just out of laziness but indifference to their hometown and neighbours, that are responsible for the carnage you see when collecting your morning paper. It’s the same people dropping litter standing next to a bin, drinking alcohol in the market square, and dumping shopping trolleys’ in the Dour. They will complain when their mess is not cleaned up quick enough too. Blame culture is prevalent nowadays. No one takes responsibility anymore.

Of course I can’t let KCC, DDC and Veolia get away with it that easy. Some of KCC’S policies have led to more rubbish on our streets. Fly-tipping increased in Dover district after KCC began charging people who use commercial vehicles to dump rubbish. DDC are being too soft on dog owners and fining Veolia paltry sums for not doing their job properly. People argue why they pay their council tax when the streets are an embarrassment but my point is who made them like it.

I would hate to see another big brother style measure like introducing transparent bin liners so your neighbours can see what you’re putting in your rubbish but perhaps it’s the only way we will rid the streets of garbage.

Categories: Dover Town centre | Environment | Health and Safety; | Humour | KCC

Hell is being kept on hold to a call centre

by The Codgers' Club Friday, August 22 2014

by David Jones

I’ve said many times before in this column that if anything is going to drive me to an early grave it will be a call centre. I hate them.

As we wait, growing increasingly frustrated, we are told repeatedly that our call is important. We then join a queue waiting anything up to half an hour to speak to a real person. So our call is important, but obviously not that important.

To be fair, some companies, BT in particular, have a fast-track system which enables you, without joining a queue, to speak to someone in Bombay who doesn’t understand a word you are saying. But at least you can have a ridiculous conversation without waiting too long, or paying extra.

On a serious note, most people want to talk to a customer service desk in the UK about whatever issue they have. There has been growing pressure for companies to scrap their foreign-based call centres, which are much cheaper to run.

This week I read that mobile phone giant EE has found a way round the problem by introducing a ‘priority answering service’ at its call centres, which are now UK-based.

For a 50p payment, callers are fast-forwarded to the front end of the queue. If you don’t cough up, goodness knows how long you will be waiting. This is nothing short of outrageous, a form of commercial blackmail to extract cash from customers for a service they should be receiving anyway.

It makes my blood boil when I hear EE’s response to the inevitable complaints about its new charging policy. “We have invested heavily in customer service by bringing overseas call centres back to the UK and hiring more staff,” it says.

What that actually means is that we tried the cheap option abroad, but it didn’t work, so we are now going to make our customers pay to meet the costs of correcting our mistake.

Alarmingly, EE is not the first to foist this blatant money-making scheme on callers. Budget airline Ryanair is also charging its customers to jump the queue. It won’t be long before more get in on the act.

It’s time for a customer revolution, which, in the case of EE, has already started. Don’t let them get away with it, or we’ll be on the slippery slope to being charged for goodness knows what.

Companies should start doing what’s best for their customers, not what’s best for their bottom line.


Has Nigel let Janice off the hook in the latest UKIP row?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, August 20 2014

You can't deny that UKIP leader Nigel Farage acted swiftly in response to the row over the now infamous 'ting tong' comments made by fellow MEP Janice Atkinson, captured by the BBC South East while filming in Ramsgate.

In a damage limitation exercise, he made a personal visit to Vince and Fa Munday the day after the comments were broadcast, allowing himself to be filmed in their house delivering an apology on behalf of UKIP.



As these things go, it was about as successful as it could have been   - with some caveats, the couple absolved him of any blame over a fairly disastrous and embarrassing episode and even suggested they would continue to support the party.

His decisiveness in visiting the couple is one thing. But it has not been matched by a willingness to stamp his authority by imposing any serious sanctions on Janice Atkinson.

Instead, he has promised to give her a stern ticking off and warn that he will not countenance any further digressions.

This is a bit like a headmaster calling a wayward pupil into the office to say that he or she is in the last-chance saloon and next time they step out of line, they will be really for it.

This is a missed opportunity. The charge often levelled against UKIP, which it strongly disputes, is that many of its members and supporters are racist.

The offensive comments made by Janice Atkinson add fuel to that fire and will hand UKIP's opponents value ammunition in the general election campaign.

Nigel Farage has said he does not want to trigger official disciplinary procedures which are there to act when any member brings the party into disrepute. He said it would be inappropriate for what he described as "a first offence."

Loyalty to a party colleague in a bit of bother is fine but I doubt very much that others will see it that way.

Forcing his fellow MEP to resign was never likely but one option would have been to remove the whip temporarily from the beleaguered Janice Atkinson, as he did with the Godfrey Bloom in the "sluts" row.

Perhaps he feels the vilification that has been directed at her is enough of a punishment.

Up until she made her "ting tong" comments, she was widely expected to land the nomination in another UKIP target seat - perhaps in Folkestone and Hythe - but I imagine those prospects have been seriously diminished if not holed below the waterline.

Having an outspoken candidate is one thing but constituency associations will tread very warily around a would-be MP whose every utterance will be scrutinised and every action put under the spotlight.

Even UKIP's enthusiasm for plain-speaking and controversy has its limits.


Meanwhile, the Thanet South UKIP constituency association has released the details of the four candidates in the running for what is a key target seat.


It is an interesting list - included is the Lib Dem candidate who stood in the Thanet South election back in 2010 - but it is impossible to see the party members going for anyone other than the party leader.

We will find out next Tuesday. 






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Risking life and Lympne

by Waking up Kent, with kmfm Breakfast presenter Garry Wilson Friday, August 15 2014

On air and online we’re teaming up with Port Lympne Reserve and Howletts for Park Life.

It’s your chance to discover everything you ever wanted to know about the fabulous animals and the people who look after them. Not only that but you can win your own Animal Encounter. I cannot even begin to tell you how awesome (I use that word in its truest sense) such an encounter can be!

Emma and I were invited to get up close and personal with the tigers of Port Lympne. First we met male Siberian tiger Tugar, who Sarah the big cat keeper called a “big softie”. He was certainly big: 200 kilos and about 8 feet tall when he was “greeting” us on his hind legs. He was “softie” enough to let us feed him slabs of meat through the fence. If you’re looking for a rush of adrenaline that’ll make your hairs stand up, your stomach turn to lead and your body buzz like there’s a low electric current going through it, then it’s just what you’re looking for.

We weren’t even allowed to feed his mate Ingrid and his two daughters. They were a bit more “feisty” and we had to leave their feeding to the professionals. It made you realise that being a caveman with only a pointy stick to keep beasts at bay must really have sucked.

Details at

Categories: kmfm

The final throes of the British Empire

by The Codgers' Club Friday, August 15 2014

by Alan Watkins

A notable anniversary which passed last night has strong links with Medway.

Midnight on August 14 1947 was the precise moment the Indian subcontinent was handed over to the locals to run themselves. It was called Freedom at Midnight. It was the end of the British Empire.

The country was split up in six weeks under instructions from Lord Louis Mountbatten.

It was bound to lead to mistakes, and the errors continue today. One million died in religious and territorial slaughter. More than 20 million were displaced as Hindus headed for India and Muslims made for the two parts of Pakistan. More died when Eastern Pakistan split away to become Bangladesh.

In the midst of it all the influence of Medway people was considerable and it has continued to be the centre of Indian interest to the present day.

Royal Engineers had been in India for about 100 years, exploring and mapping the continent. One – 20-year-old Lt (later Sir) Alexander Cunningham – is known as the Father of Indian Archaeology.

Another was Lt Horatio Hubert Kitchener – who became Secretary of War until he was killed in 1916.

There were many Medway people in India who played roles in the final days of the Raj. Frederick Pound, from Strood, was in the Royal Military Police at the time of partition. His daughter Sheila and her husband Malcolm Leith, of Maidstone Road, Rochester, found a photo album of his time in Rawalpindi and Murree after he died four years ago.

“He never talked of his time in service,” said Malcolm, “except once when he said he would have liked to stay in India – but had a wife back home in England.”


Tommy Whatrup, 87, of Lime Court, Wigmore, still has vivid memories of his service with the Queen’s Regiment at the end of the Raj.

“We trained to go to Germany, but weren’t needed so the next thing we were given jungle-wear and told we were going to Burma,” said the former corporal. Then nuclear bombs fell on Japan, ending the war. So they were redirected to India in a peacekeeping role.

They arrived in Bombay – where Tommy posed like so many others in front of the Gateway to India.

“I was very lucky,” said Tommy. “I missed the campaigns in Europe and Burma.”

He shipped back aboard a converted meat ship a few days before partition.

“Trouble had been brewing, but we saw none of it,” he said.

He had heard gunshots in Bombay, but it was his colonel firing two revolvers in the street to let the locals know their battalion was in Bombay.

“They responded by firing their rifles,” he said. The only other indication of trouble was the draining of petrol from army vehicles.

“They were making Molotov cocktails with our fuel,” he said.

Categories: Moans and groans

UKIP leader Farage will be in it to win it

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, August 15 2014

Finally, the speculation over where UKIP leader Nigel Farage is going to stand at the general election is over. And, as expected, he is to go for the nomination in Thanet South, where the party feels it has a better than evens chance of making a long-awaited parliamentary breakthrough.

Of course, he has yet to go through his party's selection process but even allowing for the occasionally perverse choices made by local constituency associations,  it is inconceivable that activists would want anyone else.

I will stand for nomination in Thanet South, says UKIP leader Farage>>>

So, can UKIP win? National polls would suggest not but that is to ignore local circumstances and demographics.

The current MP Laura Sandys is standing down, meaning that any personal vote she may have carried is gone.

UKIP can legitimately claim to have established Thanet as a power base after the county council election last year, when it won seven of the divisions up for grabs. it has a well organised local association and won't have difficulty in mobilising foot soldiers to pound the streets come election time.

The fact that the Conservatives have chosen a former UKIP member, Craig Mackinlay, to be its candidate is an indication of how anxious they are about the challenge - underlined vividly by the share of the vote UKIP took at the recent European election - 45.9% - compared to 22% for the Conservatives, albeit in an election with a low turnout.

The charismatic Farage will bring some stardust  to the campaign but that is a double-edged sword: plenty of people like him as a plain-talking, unspun "man of the people" but equally, many see this as precisely the opposite and a carefully contrived - but entertaining - act.

Labour will also have some anxieties over a strong UKIP push in a seat they have eyed up as a target for some time. The worrying scenario for them is that some polls are suggesting that UKIP is drawing as many votes from them as it is from the Conservatives - which will play to UKIP's claim that Thanet South is a tight three-way marginal.

UKIP's prospects for an historic parliamentary breakthrough in Kent are probably about as good as they will ever be. The party has momentum, a high profile and a leader who enjoys popular support and knows that the issue of Britain's membership of the EU will be centre stage in the election campaign.

Perhaps the only prediction about which there can be an certainty is that Thanet South will be a key electoral battleground. And if you are not enthused by politics or politicians, it could be a place to give wide berth to next May.


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Categories: Politics

UKIP and a little local difficulty over Nigel Farage

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, August 11 2014

An unguarded remark from an UKIP constituency official in Thanet South set off another round of speculation about  Nigel Farage and his interest in standing in the target seat of Thanet South in 2015.

But no-one seems any the wiser about whether he will apply for the seat - or has already - despite the assertion, reported in the Financial Times, that it was "the worst kept secret" in Thanet.

Separating fact from fiction is rather tricky and UKIP has not helped itself by the ambiguity of statements hurriedly put out at the end of last week.

The local UKIP association had been expected to announce a shortlist of would-be candidates on Friday.

It didn't and offered as explanation that it had received a number of late applications for the candidacy that meant it would now have to carry out a fuller shortlisting exercise, whittling them down for a final hustings meeting on August 26.

In answer to the question about whether Nigel Farage had thrown his hat in the ring, UKIP evaded a direct response by saying that nominations had continued to come in and the selection process was continuing. In the absence of a straight "yes he has" or "no he hasn't" you can understand the subsequent confusion.

What does seem rather odd is that the local party had a plan to reveal its shortlist on Friday but seemed  to have been steered away from doing so by the national party, which was possibly concerned that if, as predicted, Nigel Farage is to apply the selection would become a coronation rather than a contest.

That, of course, is still the likely outcome: it is stretching the imagination to conceive a situation where party members faced with a shortlist that includes the party leader would opt for someone else. It makes the claim that there had been a late flurry of applications less credible - given the steady drip drip of hints and speculation about the leader's intentions.

Even if you subscribe to the theory that there is no such thing as bad publicity, this rather messy turn of events has not been UKIP's finest hour.

Although I doubt local actvivists and party members will mind terribly if, come August 26, Nigel Farage is confirmed as the prospective candidate for Thanet South.

But we will have to wait until then to find out.





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Categories: blogs and bloggers | Politics | Urban Gravesham

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