All posts tagged 'Ashford'

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

East Kent's imagined city fails to make the culture cut

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, June 19 2013

Bookmakers had long odds on East Kent being one of those shortlisted to become the UK City of Culture in 2017 and - not for the first or last time - were proved right.

Equally unsurprising is the reaction of those leading the bid,  who stretched credibility (unless they were being ironic, of course) by saying that the spirit of collaboration fostered by the bid would "long outlive our disappointment."

Some have suggested the bid failed because East Kent is not a city. But neither were some of the others in the running, such as the one by Hastings and Bexhill. That failed too but one not dissimilar to East Kent is in the final running - Swansea Bay.

In fact, the team behind the East Kent bid were rather canny in making a virtue of the fact that the area was not a city, building up a campaign based around the concept of an "imagined city" - which was counter-intuitive in a way that undoubtedly had some appeal but just might have been a little too clever.

There is no doubt that the area covered by the bid has become increasingly rich in culture over the years, notably the opening of the Turner gallery in Margate and more recently the redeveloped Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.

But for all its cultural and artistic strengths,  the campaign never seemed to me to get much momentum and capture popular support. The very diverse nature of the towns involved may have been an issue here. People in Ashford don't really have a ready connection with Thanet, and the same could be said of the other areas.

Not many people say they come from "East Kent" - although they often say they come from Kent. Leaders of the bid would argue that was partly the point behind running - to use the bid to forge that sense of identity.

A separate issue is that the bid got off a low key start. The PR strategy was not so much a soft launch as one surrounded by feather-bedded cushions. You might have thought there ought to have been a press conference, for example.

As it was, the local Kent media had no forewarning that a bid was in the offing and on the day the government announced those who were applying, it was difficult to find who was behind it.

This may have have been because at the  time, Kent County Council was in the run-up to elections, constraining what politicians are able to say about any activity that might be construed as effecting support for a particular party.

Which brings me to the minor point that the campaign was being led by a council with its HQ in west Kent - Maidstone. Maybe the bid would have fared better under an east Kent unitary authority whose geographical boundaries covered the relevent area.

The campaign did pick up the pace and secured some celebrity endorsements which seem so vital in these things but with the political agenda being dominated by council elections throughout May, it seemed to me that it was rather overshadowed.

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained and given the random nature of how decisions by panels of judges are sometimes reached, East Kent 2017 might have been hoping that if it had made the final cut, anything could have happened.

But as the bid document said  "like many frontier lands, we are yet to be fully explored."

Perhaps the East Kent frontiers just need to be crossed by rather more people before cultural critical mass is reached.

 

 

 

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