All posts tagged 'Kent'

UKIP make an historic beakthrough - can the momentum deliver a victory in Rochester and Strood?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, October 10 2014

If the Conservatives needed any reminding that they are in for a tough fight in Rochester and Strood, UKIP's historic breakthrough in Clacton was a painful reminder that what lies ahead is going to be one their most challenging electoral battles.

It was not so much that UKIP won but that it won so decisively, with a huge landslide for Douglas Carswell. Not only that but it came pretty close to dislodging Labour from what was supposed to be a safe seat - a result likely to induce some panic in the party's ranks.

No wonder that UKIP swiftly announced that its leader and first MP are heading down to Rochester tomorrow to give Mark Reckless a campaign boost and exploit its win for all it is worth.

For the Conservatives and Labour, the challenge is how to arrest the momentum UKIP appears to have and stop Mark Reckless crossing the finishing line first.

Up until now, the Conservatives have been relatively optimistic that while the contest would be close, they would be well-positioned to win and see off UKIP once it had its campaign is up and running. That view is no longer tenable or realistic and the least surprising consequence of last night's result is that bookmakers have now installed UKIP odds on to win Rochester and Strood.

The key problem for the Conservatives - and Labour - is that UKIP continues to attract support from those disillusioned with mainstream parties and politicans and there is arguably no better platform to register this disaffection than at a by-election. Of course, with increasing numbers of local councillors and MEPs and now an MP, this may change but it won't before voters go to the polls next month.

It is debatable whether David Cameron insistence that Rochester and Strood is now a vital battle is helpful. The refrain is clearly designed to encourage Conservative activists and supporters to get on the front foot but it raises the stakes for his own leadership.

The fact that the party has yet to select a candidate has not and is not helping. The plan for a postal primary, in which every constituent (even Mark Reckless) would have a say in who it should be as part of an "inclusve" process was initially attractive.

But the downside is that process is taking time and I just can't see it making much of a difference when voters go to the polls.

It will be another week before the party has someone in place, leaving UKIP to continue to make the running. I wonder now whether the party might regret its strategy but it is too late to do anything abouot it now.

Has the pendulum  swung decisively towards UKIP in Rochester and Strood? The Conservatives will be kickstarting their campaign and are bringing in their heavy artillery to do what it can but will it be enough? As to Labour, the Heywood result suggests that it haemorrhaged support to UKIP and it continues to lack credibility over issues such as immigration, which cost it badly in 2010.

UKIP started from a position of thinking it had an outside chance of winning the by-election; now it believes it really can.





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The bitter by-election battle for Rochester+Strood - why UKIP could win...and lose

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, October 3 2014

It's no surprise the by-election battle looming in Rochester and Strood is shaping up to be one of the most acrimonious and fiercely-contested in British politics for decades.

The vitriol pouring from Conservatives towards Mark Reckless is an indication that they will fight tooth and nail to see him off.

The stakes are high: for UKIP, a win would give their prospects at the general election a huge boost. For the Conservatives, victory would send out a strong message it is capable of resisting UKIP's purple wave.

So, who will get over the finish line first?

 

Why UKIP could win:

  • If UKIP wins the Clacton by-election next week, which the Conservatives seem resigned to, the result could give the party a momentum that could persuade undecided voters in Rochester and Strood that a cross against UKIP is not wasted
  • UKIP continues to trade heavily on its appeal to voters disillusioned with what Nigel Farage dubs the Westminster elite. Disaffection and antipathy to mainstream parties remans high and at a by-election, voters often choose to give the parties in power a bloody nose
  • The perceived failure of the government to tackle immigration has a particular resonance in Kent, the gateway to Europe. The focus on the efforts of migrants at Calais to cross the channel is a vivid reminder that the issue has not gone away and the view that the government has yet to get a grip on it
  • He may not carry a large personal vote but Mark Reckless has been generally supportive over key constituency concerns, such as the Thames Estuary airport. He is regarded as among the most effective members of the Home Affairs select committee
  • If the Conservatives persist with their highly personal attacks on Reckless, there is a risk it could become counter-productive. Voters are already fed up with the playground politics of Westminster and could be turned off if all they hear over the coming weeks of  "he said, she said" verbal jousting

 

Why UKIP could lose:

 

 

 

  • The Achiles’ heel for Mark Reckless is the accusation that he has betrayed voters and his constituency by denying repeatedly that he was to defect. That makes him vulnerable to the damaging charge that he cannot be trusted – a politician who says one thing and does another
  • UKIP has no real organisational base in the Medway Towns in the way that it has in other areas, like Thanet. While the party now has a 17-strong county council group, it has no representation in Medway
  • The Conservatives will bring in the heavy artillery and will be blitzing the constituency with a series of high-profile visits by ministers and MPs. A formidable number of activists are being mobilised to stuff envelopes, deliver leaflets and help out
  • Despite a 10,000 majority, Mark Reckless carries no real personal vote in the way that Douglas Carswell has in Clacton, where UKIP is odds-on to win next week's by-election

The unknown factors:

  • Labour held the seat (then known as Medway) in the Blair years. Although it is not an official target, it could benefit from a split in the right-wing vote. It has an outside chance of causing an upset of its own
  • Perceived wisdom is that by-elections tend to favour minority parties. But this is no ordinary by-election, so it is difficult to gauge what impact a low turn-out may have
  • There is nothing to measure UKIP's standing in the constituency. While it took the largest share of the vote in the European election this year, there has been no local election since 2011 - when it took just under 2% of the vote. UKIP did not contest the seat in the 2010 general election, giving Mark Reckless a free run at the seat.

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Medway | Rochester | Strood

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 Nigel Farage is the elephant in the room for Thanet Conservatives

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, July 2 2014

It is perhaps a measure of UKIP's spectacular growth as a political party - or movement  - that when Thanet Conservatives meet this week to decide who they want as their prospective parliamentary candidate for Thanet South,  the name many will be thinking of first is Nigel Farage rather than the three shortlisted for the role.

He is, as one Conservative put it, "the elephant in the room."  Which is what makes the selection of someone to succeed Laura Sandys so intriguing. On paper and under different circumstances, this probably would be a seat where the Conservatives would be in a two-way battle with Labour and the Conservatives might expect to win.

The Thanet South Conservative shortlist>>>>

But there is a fly in the ointment. UKIP leader Nigel Farage has dropped several hints that this is a constituency he may contest at the general election and the Conservatives are acutely aware that would present a major challenge. Thanet is now an  area where UKIP is well entrenched, with seven county councillors, all elected last May and in the process, ousting some long-standing Conservatives.

So, one of the key considerations of association members will be which candidate would be best placed to neutralise UKIP and the Farage factor? The association has already made clear that is after someone prepared to champion an 'in-out' referendum even earlier than David Cameron has committed the party to, although a statement to that effect on the association's website is no longer there.

One of the three shortlisted candidates is Craig Mackinlay, who was a leading figure in UKIP for 12 years and fought a couple of elections for the party before rejoining the Conservatives in 2005. His credentials on this front are therefore sound and if the UKIP threat is uppermost in members' minds, might be considered a favourite.

UKIP would find it awkward to contest a seat where the Conservative candidate is a hardline Eurosceptic whose views are barely any different from Nigel Farage.

On the other hand, UKIP might feel that they can exploit a candidate by suggesting that if voters want the real thing when it comes to the election, you can't get a much more authentic voice of Euroscepticism than Nigel Farage.

Away from Europe, another factor is that Conservative Central Office is known to be anxious for there to be more women candidates at the election as several current MPs are standing down.

There have been some rumours that this view has been communicated rather firmly  to Thanet Conservatives. As the only female candidate, if this factor comes into play, then the odds might swing towards Anna Firth, a barrister and Sevenoaks district councillor.

In terms of their CVs, the shortlisted trio are all very able and whoever gets the nomination will be a good candidate.

But if Nigel Farage does eventually opt for Thanet South, the Conservative candidate will be pitchforked into the cauldron of an election contest where they will be taking on a party determined  to secure an historic parliamentary breakthrough.

 

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Categories: Precept

A PR car crash for Kent's crime boss + UKIP's purple tide: the week in politics

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, May 30 2014

Here's my round-up of another busy week in Kent politics, featuring an odd miscellany of onions, airplanes, Ann Barnes and - perhaps inevitably - a man called Nigel Farage...

AFTER its victory at the European election, an understandably euphoric UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the next objective would be to propel his "people's army" into Westminster. "Who knows, we might hold the balance of power," he said.

He made it clear the party has set its sights on Kent - where UKIP topped the EU poll in every area bar Tunbridge Wells - as a key battleground in 2015.

As to his own intentions, he more or less confirmed he would stand as a candidate in Kent - saying that it would "probably" be in the south east "somewhere by the seaside."

That would be Thanet South, then.

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Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg cut a chastened figure after enduring a torrid week and looked decidedly off-colour when interviewed about the hammering his party took in the EU poll.

Things turned even worse when there was a botched attempt to undermine his leadership and persuade party activists to dump him before the election.

But when things are that bad for a politician, anything that could be seen as a glimmer of hope is seized on.

Although it wasn't much to cheer, at least the party didn't go into a major meltdown at the Maidstone council elections, where it took the largest share of the vote and defended most of their seats. Its perfomance was overshadowed by UKIP's breakthrough, taking four seats on the council for the first time. 

The Lib Dems even won a seat from the Tories - but that gain was wiped out when they lost a seat to Labour. Still, in politics, it is often the small things that count...

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IF  Nick Clegg had a bad week, it has been nothing in comparison with the truly gruesome one Kent's crime commissioner Ann Barnes experienced.

Her appearance in a warts-and-all Channel 4 documentary "Meet The Commisioner" was a PR car crash to top all PR car crashes.

Even before it was aired, the Kent Police Federation said the clips used as a trailer for the programme had damaged the reputation of the force.

The full programme triggered a frenzy of largely critical social media activity and spawned a parody Twitter account called @AnnBarnesOnion after the commissioner was seen struggling to explain a system of policing priorities based on...an onion.

Viewers were aghast, comparing the show to "The Office" and the Olympic spoof "Twenty Twelve" and most did not think that it showed the commissioner in her best light.

But if it had damaged the reputation of the force, that was nothing compared to the damage done to the commissioner herself. Even one of her former aides and campaign managers, Howard Cox, admitted she had been badly advised to take part.

In characteristically forthright fashion, she defended her participation, saying she wanted to use it to make people understand what her role was.

The irony is that the programme did just that, providing a fascinating insight into what a commissioner does, only not in the way Ann Barnes expected.

In particular, it vividly illustrated that among the public, there is still widespread misunderstanding and confusion over the role, with many thinking commissioners are rather like crime-fighting sheriffs who can ride into town and chase away all the hoodlums.

Perhaps inevitably, she said there had been some "mischevious editing" and in a lengthy statement posted on her website said she was frustrated and disappointed by what had been broadcast.

But for once, her usually hyperactive Twitter account, which she says is the most followed of all crime commissioners, seemed to go rather quiet.

Meanwhile, someone took up a light aircraft trailing a banner reading #ANNBARNES out and flew over police HQ in Maidstone, making her the David Moyles of crime commissioners.

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Categories: Precept

Kent's political map turns a tinge of purple

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, May 28 2014

Whether it was an earthquake or tremor, the success of UKIP at the European election has sent a shockwave through the political establishment.

UKIP celebrates after stunning election success>>>

An understandably euphoric Nigel Farage has now set his sights on propelling "the people's army" into Westminster and breaking the mould. In one of his less guarded moments, he said that the scale of his party's victory meant  "anything was possible" and while UKIP would never form a government, it just might hold the balance of power after the election.

So, how realistic is it that UKIP will have MPs in Westminster? Mr Farage says the party will focus its efforts on a string of constituencies where it has already secured a power base. Ironically, this mimics the successful campaign strategy adopted by the Liberal Democrats in places like the west country.

Several Kent seats will be among the targets. Among them will be the two Thanet seats, Folkestone and Hythe and Sittingbourne and Sheppey. Or as Nigel Farage put it: "Yes, we do like to be beside the seaside."

Of course, the main problem is that, unlike the European election, MPs are voted in on the first-past-the-post system.

Still, in some of these seats UKIP has the benefit of a well-organised and enthusiastic base of activists and councillors, notably Thanet where UKIP now boasts seven county councillors out of the eight that represent the area. These things matter in campaigns where the margin between winning and losing will be tight.

Also on the plus side is that in most of these areas, UKIP did extremely well in terms of their share of the vote. In Thanet, the party took 46% of the vote compared to 24% in 2009. Many now expect Nigel Farage himself will contest  Thanet South, where the Conservatives have yet to adopt a candidate following Laura Sandys' decision to stand down. That may cut both ways, of course  - the leader is loved and loathed in equal measure -  but on balance will be seen as an advantage.

UKIP's contention that it takes away as many votes from Labour as it does from the Conservatives has something in it but can it siphon away enough of their supporters to come through the middle?

Mid-term elections always see the government taking a kicking in the form of protest votes and, important though they are, UKIP will have campaign on more than just immigration and withdrawing from Europe at the general election. They will also be under even greater scrutiny by their opponents..

Still, if ever there was a time for UKIP to make a parliamentary breakthrough, this is surely is it. The party's European success - albeit on a low turnout - is important because voters will now be less likely to think that putting a cross against "the people's army" is a waste.

Traditionally, the political map of Kent has been red and blue - and more often just blue. UKIP's success this week and at the county council election means the map is developing a distinctly purple tinge.

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The European election results have left the main parties wondering what they can do to counter the threat of UKIP next May.

So far, they seem to think that if they can get their message across - or "deliver" their message - on key issues like immigration and the promise of a referendum, UKIP will be neutered. I am not so sure. Both Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have been hammering their key messages on these issues in the weeks running up to polling day.

It is not that they failed to spell out in detail what their position was - it was that voters did not believe them. Retreating to the same strategy but saying it much louder will not be enough.

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Is Labour still suffering from Southern Discomfort? The party's share of the vote went up by more than 6% to 14.6% but fell way short of the Conservative share, which fell to 31%.

With a general election a year away, they will need to improve on that significantly if they are to have any chance of winning back any of the seats they lost in Kent in 2010. The message from party chiefs is that they know there is "more to do" but they can get there. There is nothing wrong with an optimistic outlook but these results make it less, rather than more likely that they are in a good position to win. (Some Conservatives were quietly pleased with the way their vote held up reasonably well).

In the key target seats of Dover and Chatham and Aylesford, they need a swing of 5.2% and 6.9% respectively. With national polls giving them only a narrow lead, that is a big hill to climb.

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Categories: Precept

The crime commissioner, the TV documentary and another PR car crash

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, May 20 2014

We will have to wait until next week to see the television documentary about Ann Barnes, Kent's crime commissioner but the preview clips released by the programme makers suggest she may not come out too well. As Channel 4 puts it, the programme sets out to answer the question of whether the commissioner is "an independent breath of fresh air" or a "gaffe prone amateur."

On the basis of the clips released, it seems the programme may well lead many to conclude that it is the latter. 

"What is my job..." the crime commissioner struggles for an answer>>>

Some have already clearly made their mind up and although Mrs Barnes has appealed, through a statement issued by her office, for people to wait to see the whole programme before rushing to judgement, damage has already been done. 

She may blame "mischevious editing" for creating an impression that she doesn't really know what she is doing. She claims to have thought "long and hard" before deciding to participate in the warts and all film and concluded it fitted with her intention to be open and transparent about everything she does.

The only problem is that documentary makers want to make entertaining programmes and their subjects have zero editorial control - something that the commissioner must have known or at least been advised about.

For someone who shrewdly masterminded a successful election campaign and comprehensively saw off her rivals to secure the post, she has, in office, shown some poor judgement.

it also adds weight to those who argue that one of the faultlines of the commissioner model is that once in post, commissioners always have an eye on how decisions they take will play with the voter. Mrs Barnes probably calculated  that being filmed for a documentary would be a  useful way of raising her profile and could be used to show how her objective of being "the most accessible and visible crime commissioner" was being realised.

It was also an opportunity to show her independent nature - one of the reasons she proved popular with electors was that she was not a candidate from any of the mainstream parties.

Whatever the final programme shows, she has already  handed her opponents more ammunition - you can already see what will feature in the election literature of other candidates come the next election.

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By coincidence, a report from the commissioner's office due to be presented to the Kent and Medway Crime Panel, presents a largely positive tone about the commissioner's strategy of being "accessible and visible."

It states that the commissioner has "the most influential and most followed Twitter account amongst the 41 crime commissioners" with a Klout score of 60...with the report noting that President Obama has a score of 99 and Dame Kelly Holmes has 82.

How that Klout score is measured is complicated but many followers will be familiar with the one of the tactics of promoting activity on Twitter accounts known as "twanking" - defined as the over-generous sharing of information.

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No-go areas, Manston grounded and EU elections: the week in Kent politics

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, May 16 2014

Here's a round-up of the top political stories of the week in Kent and Medway:

1. Three words uttered by a would-be UKIP MEP standing for election in the south east region succeeded in sparking a furious row.  UKIP's Janice Atkinson claimed there were now "no go areas" in many parts of the county as a result of the presence of East European migrant gangs - identifying parts of Thanet, Medway and Gravesend as such areas. She appealed for calm after a major police operation which led to the arrest by Kent Police of 22 suspects thought to be connected to trafficking. To her political opponents, they were reckless and irresponsible comments. But judging by the reaction, it seemed she had wide support. But what did Kent's police commissioner Ann Barnes think? She wasn't able to say because of the election purdah rules, according to her spokesman.

2. There was to be no eleventh-hour reprieve for Manston Airport despite a huge campaign by supporters to keep it open. Even the pledge by the Prime Minister to do what he could failed to persuade the airport's owner Ann Gloag to think again. Despite a final throw of the dice by the American investment firm RiverOak, which  improved its offer right up to the final day,  there was to be no deal. Why? No-one seemed quite sure as they wouldn't say.

But already there is speculation that the site could be sold for housing development at a more lucrative price. Which can be scant consolation to the 150 staff who lost their jobs as the doors closed amid emotional scenes.

3.  Just when it needed some stability, there was yet more political turmoil at Thanet Council with the abrupt and unexpected resignation of Labour leader Cllr Clive Hart. In a lengthy and emotional resignation statement posted on his Facebook page,  headed "Enough is Enough" Mr Hart gave full vent to his feelings about the "toxic behaviour" of certain other members. In particular, he pointed the finger at the Green councillor Ian Driver  - a persistent thorn in the council's side. Mr Hart - who only a week before had been elected unopposed as Labour leader - said he had felt under siege because of Cllr Driver. For his part, Mr Driver said he was a convenient scapegoat and all he was doing was trying to keep the council open and accountable. 

Clive Hart was replaced by the veteran Thanet politician Iris Johnston but even she faced problems straightaway as the former Labour deputy leader Alan Poole, along with Michelle Fenner announced they were quitting Labour and intended to sit as independents. Decontaminating the toxic political residues of Thanet politics will clearly take some time to complete.

4. It was bad news for Manston Airport but better news for Lydd Airport as it won a High Court battle against opponents who were trying to block its expansion. A new terminal for thousands of passenger and a runway close to 300-metres long will now be built although not everyone who lives in the area was happy.

5.The Conservatives may be braced for a drubbing in next week's European poll but will take heart from encouraging signs that the economy is definitely on the turn - illustrated  by a fall in the unemployment rate in Kent and Medway. If this trend continues, Labour's sloganeering about the "cost of living crisis" might not prove as resonant with voters as it hopes.

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Categories: Politics

The Friday Five: The week in Kent politics

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, March 21 2014

It has been  busy week on the political front in Kent this week. Here's my round-up of the five key stories affecting the county:

1. Chancellor George Osborne took plenty of people by surprise when he dropped into an interview with Andrew Marr on the BBCthat he was planning to build the first 'garden city' in north Kent at Ebbsfleet. But how 'new' was this?

His comments about a city for 15,000 new homes were not dissimilar to an announcement made by the government two years ago - only this time the number of homes was a little lower and there was a promise of an Urban Development Corporation to oversee the development.

That sparked some concerns that a quango would bypass the democratic planning system and the views of local councils. Still, Osborne sees it as an important symbol of the government's determination to build more homes - and took aim at Labour's failures in the past saying its track record was "more ebb than fleet". Alright, not the best joke but not bad for the politician who many see as having had a sense of humour bypass. 

However, some of the shine was taken off when it emerged that parts of the area where new homes were planned could be at risk of serious flooding.

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2. Many have tried; many have failed. Yes, the fate of Manston Airport hangs in the balance as its latest owner stunned many with an announcement that it was to close. A 45-day consultation with 150 staff is underway and many see it as the end of the road for the site, at least as an airport. MPs and council leaders rushed to denounce the proposed closure but there are signs that this time, the end is nigh. The airport was bought by Ann Gloag, a Scottish businesswoman, for £1 last November and there seemed to be the prospect of a brighter future.

But the transformation team brought in to assess its prospects apparently concluded there were none. Now, there are whispers and rumours of the site being sold for housing development.

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3. Could the picturesque Weald of Kent prove to be the new Texas? Unlikley though it may seem, the prospect of parts of Kent sitting on a huge oil bonanza have been raised in an as yet unpublished government commissioned report from geologists.

It is said to conclude that huge energy reserves could be under The Weald. Stand by for a rush for black gold and the sight of people dispensing with their tweeds in favour of  ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots. Tonbridge and Malling MP Sir John Stanley gave the news a qualified welcome but some of his colleagues were rather reticent.

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4. If it wasn't exactly a give-away budget, Chancellor George Osborne sprinkled enough goodiesaround to keep his party happy and set the backdrop for the next election - astutely delivering some good news for the sort of disaffected Conservative supporters who just might be flirting with UKIP.  

For Kent, there was news of an extra £140m for flood defences; confirmation of the Ebbsfleet 'Garden City' scheme and news of more duty on fixed odds betting machines. 

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5. County Hall has been a little quiet but we did get news of changes in the Conservative-run cabinet.  Although it  was hardly a reshuffle. In the light of the "Facing The Challenge" re-organisation, the cabinet has been tinkered with so that the ten-strong group is aligned with the smaller number of directorates. Opposition parties were quick to query why, if the council was slimming down so much, was it necessary to keep ten politicians in the executive overseeing just four directorates.

One notable change in the cabinet will come in August, when Cllr Jenny Whittle, the well-regarded cabinet member for children's specialist services, goes on maternity leave.  Her job will be taken by Peter Oakford, who was elected to the council last year.

That in turn will leave the cabinet as an all-male group. There are some who think that once Paul Carter has had his fill of the job, Jenny Whittle would be well-placed to succeed him. 

 

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The Friday Five: the week's top political stories from Kent

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, March 14 2014

Welcome to the Friday Five - my view of the week's most interesting stories from around Kent.

1. Education continued to top the political agenda in the county, with the week starting with news of a possible development in the long-running saga of the efforts to open a new satellite grammar school in Sevenoaks. After a series of knock backs, there was better news when The Weald of Kent Girls Grammar School announced it was considering going co-educational so it could become the sponsor school for the annex. An important step forward but as I blogged, there is a long way to go before it becomes a reality.

2. Another long-running saga threw up an interesting twist down in Thanet, where the council continues to pick through the debris of its disastrous secret deal with ferry company Transeuropa, which left it having to write off £3.4m owed by the company. Documents released to me under the Freedom of Information Act revealed how council officials worried that potential Italian investors in the company could have Mafia links and might use the company to launder money. You don't often get to write a story with the words 'council' 'mafia' and 'money laundering' in the intro...

3. Back to education and cue a furore caused by the leak of a county council document to The Guardian outlining what could happen to headteachers who presided over failing schools in Kent. In short, KCC said they would be put on gardening leave and eased out. Unsurprisingly, this failed to get much support among heads, who decried the 'hire and fire' policy and compared the authority's approach to the dirty war waged by the military junta in Argentina where activists who opposed it were "disappeared."

4. You just can't can't keep the UKIP leader out of the news. No, we are not talking about certain allegations raised in Brussels about Nigel Farage's use of public allowances for the party but this - the court case involving a protestor who hit him over the head with a placard during a visit to Thanet.

5. The week ended on a sad note with the news of the death of lifelong Socialist Tony Benn. As to be predicted, it drew tributes from across the political divide although I suspect he would have regarded some of it as sentimental tosh. Over-used word in the many tributes was the reference to "left-wing firebrand." Sadly, I never interviewed him but I did go along to one of his theatre events. He talked and talked and talked - and then invited questions from the audience and continued to talk and talk some more. He was a bit like Fide Castro...

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