All posts tagged 'Kent'

Ann Barnes must take the blame for the youth commissioner saga

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, June 2 2015

When politicians are in a corner, they often try to deflect the blame for events that have gone wrong on third parties.

And a common target is the media.

So perhaps we ought not to be surprised that the Kent crime commissioner Ann Barnes has opted for this strategy to justify her decision not to continue with having a youth crime tsar.

It would, she asserted, be unfair to place a third young person under the intense media scrutiny that her predecessors were subjected to. 

What this overlooks - in a quite breathtakingly naive way - is that it was the commissioner herself who was responsible for exposing her proteges to the media spotlight.

Indeed, her very obvious determination to score a political PR coup ensured that the spotlight shone very directly on both, particularly the first appointee Paris Brown.

At the time, the commissioner and Paris, then just 17, willlingly toured every TV and radio station to spread the "good news," the pair sitting on sofas with breakfast show presenters in a very deliberate charm offensive which also garnered swathes of coverage in national newspapers. 

The commissioner could, of course, have declined the pile of requests for media interviews. She could have done them herself and kept her crime tsar out of the limelight.

But the desire to spin a good news story blinded the commissioner and her team to the dangers ahead.

Barely days later, the story unravelled spectacularly, triggering the first of a number of PR car crashes in the commissioner's tenure.

The Mail On Sunday, offering to do a profile piece, splashed a story concerning offensive comments posted by Paris on Twitter, some of which were construed as racist and homophobic.

How had they got them? Simply by looking at her account and timeline, which fatally, it later turned out, had not been checked as part of the recruitment process.

The story might have been a classic tabloid hatchet job but the cosy sofa interviews quickly became a distant memory.

What had started as a PR dream became a PR nightmare that ended just days later when a tearful Paris announced at a painful press conference that she was to stand down.

If that was not eonugh to alert the commissioner to the risks of over exposure in the media, it is hard to think what else could have been. A sensible strategy might have been to announce a period of reflection and then quietly drop the idea.

But politicians dislike compromise and positively loathe being accused of a U-turn.

The commissioner ploughed on, saying she would appoint another youth commissioner - perhaps considering that more stringent checks during the recruitment process would be enough to ensure nothing could go wrong.

Up to a point, they did and Kerry Boyd seemed to be a safe pair of hands. Until, that is, reports emerged of an inappropriate relationship with a former county councillor who had been a referee for her application.

She was placed on the equivalent of light duties and kept well away from the public eye to a point where very few seemed to have any idea what was actually being done.

So, after two youth commissioners, there will not be a third. Instead, a forum of young people will be set up to "engage" young people, ironically one of the recommendations members of the Kent crime panel made some time ago.

Have lessons been learned? Up to a point. 

But one thing stands out above everything. It was not the media that appointed the two youth tsars. It was the commissioner. It didn't work out quite as expected.

And no amount of shooting the messenger can disguise that.

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Is UKIP imploding? And why Kent will stay blue in 2020

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, May 14 2015

It is proving rather tricky to keep up-to-date with developments surrounding UKIP but there can be little doubt that the recriminations over the party's performance in the elections are getting increasingly bitter.

The blood lettting is nothing new in parties that have not achieved what they wanted or set out to do but even by the standards of our politicians, this is descending fairly quickly into the gutter.

Ukip in turmoil as senior figure says party should not have been defeated in South Thanet>>>

Of course, had Nigel Farage got another 1,500 votes in South Thanet, there wouldn't be any debate at all or threat to his leadership.

His supporters in and outside the party would all be talking about what a political masterstroke Ukip had achieved and what a fine leader the party had.

As it is, there seems to be something approaching civil war and the knives are out. This spectacle may well confound its voters at the grass roots and you can understand why.

It polled nearly 4m votes nationally and in Kent, its vote soared by a staggering 400%. It took outright control of Thanet Council and beat Labour and the Liberal Democrats to second place in seven seats in the county.

A failure to grab South Thanet was clearly a set back but even so, it is strange to see how this supposedly poor showing has triggered such a crisis.

If there has been a mistake, it is Nigel Farage's decision to accept an appeal by the party's NEC to stay on as leader rather than resign. And while technically he can argue that having lost, he fulfilled his pledge to stand aside as party leader, it won't have convinced many.

The internal row only serves to further underline both the virtues and disadvantages of having someone as charismatic as Nigel Farage to lead the party.

Where it will go from here is anyone's guess but the spectacle of a power struggle at the top will not impress those at the grass roots.

Particularly given that Ukip has styled itself as the party that is "not like the others."

Its current bout of in-fighting is,unfortunately, just like the others.


Not since Margaret Thatcher’s heyday has the Garden of England looked so Conservative.

It was a genuinely remarkable outcome in an election that was supposed to be too tight to call.

The predictions that UKIP’s "People’s Army" would continue its march across Fortress Kent came to nothing. Instead of a purple rash, we got a sea of blue.

The Conservatives now hold every single Parliamentary seat in the county and every single council bar one - ironically, Thanet.

And it was not a case of scraping through for victorious MPs. Several actually increased their majorities as they romped home. The party’s grip on seats in west Kent were already impregnable and now look even more so.

The warning that voting UKIP could let Ed Miliband sneak through and leave the country at the political whim of the SNP led by Nicola Sturgeon clearly hit home.

The net effect was a truly gruesome election for Labour. Even in its key target seats, it fell back.

The Conservative majority in Dover and Deal - its number one target - increased to 6,294. In Chatham and Aylesford, the Conservatives nearly doubled the majority.

It is hard to see where the Liberal Democrats go from here. Its hopes of pulling off a coup in Maidstone and The Weald came to nothing. The lack of any real national organisational base means it will take years to recover the ground it lost.

Politics can always surprise.

But the scale of the Conservative victory means Kent has had its reputation as a true blue Tory heartland firmly restored - possibly for several elections to come.




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Categories: Local Politics | Localism

Down to the wire: the battle for South Thanet

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, April 27 2015

With less than two weeks to go, the outcome of the battle for South Thanet looks as unpredictable as ever, with opinion polls swinging this way and that way. About all that anyone can say with any authority is that it genuinely looks like a bona fide cliffhanger, with the three main parties all still in contention to claim the spoils on May 7.

Here's my assessment of the main contenders and  how they could win - or lose:


After what appeared to be a wobble in its campaign and a dip in its poll rating, the party believes it has recently recovered the momentum it seemed to have lost.

The turning point came a week ago when Nigel Farage held three public meetings in a day and seemed to sense that the response at those meetings had put it back on track. It was also bouyed by the recent Survation poll - commissioned by one of its donors - which gave it a significant lead over the Tories and contrasted with the earlier one by ComRes which had given the Conservatives a narrow lead.

Such was the relief at the Survation poll the leader celebrated in some style with an impromptu party on St George's Day at a Ramsgate pub during which Mr Farage serenaded activists with a rendition of "New York, New York." It won't have been pleased by this weekend's events in which members of a far-right group ambushed Labour activists as they canvassed in Broadstairs.

The party's prospects continue to be helped by the fact that neither the Conservatives nor Labour have been able to establish a decisive lead over the other. This has the potential to split the vote among the anti-Farage coalition. Even if there was a clear alternative frontrunner, it would be hard to conceive that Labour supporters would bring themselves to put a cross against the Conservatives in the ballot box and vice versa.

The danger is that Farage - on his own admission - is a Marmite politician and his name on the ballot paper is as much a hindrance as it is an asset. On the other hand, party strategists believe that there are a reasonably significant number of voters who are "secret" supporters who disguise their intentions when contacted by olling organisations.


The party is continuing to emphasise that in candidate Will Scobie, voters have the opportunity to choose a genuinely 'local' candidate who has the area's interests at heart rather than someone who has been parachuted in and has other motives (ie Nigel Farage and, to a lesser extent Craig Mackinlay).

It has some traction: generally voters are not that keen on "outsiders" with ambitions in other directions, however much they might protest that if elected they will put the constituency first. You can say a lot of things about Labour's candidate but he has unimpeachable local connections. The question is whether that in itself is enough to carry him over the finish line in first place.

On one of the key local issues, the fate of Manston Airport, he is not taking sides - arguing that to do so without all the facts would not be responsible and saying he does not want to over promise and under deliver, which is his preferred soundbite. His campaign team certainly think they are in with as good a shout as any of its rivals and has - contrary to some reports - has  received some fairly sizeable donations for its fighting fund.

Despite better poll ratings, one factor that remains awkward for the local campaign is the extent to which voters feel Ed Miliband is not Prime Ministerial material. And it remains a mystery why Labour has not been love-bombing the constituency with VIP visits.

South Thanet is not an official target seat  - or at least wasn't when the party drew up its target list - but if the feeling was that Labour can steal the seat from Ukip surely the national party would want to associate itself very publicly with what would be a major electoral coup? 

The party feels that in selecting a former member of UKIP the party has made a misjudgement. The argument goes that had Laura Sandys remained as the Conservative candidate, it would have been more difficult to win over centre-left Conservatives. As it is, it has appealed for tactical voting from supporters of other parties to block UKIP. This kind of appeal tends to be made when parties recognise that they are less likely to win under their own steam.


The word from the Conservative camp is that it is they, rather than Labour, that are to be considered as the chief rival to Ukip.Indeed, recent election leaflets have said as much, cheekily suggesting that Labour has given up on the seat and it is a straight two-way fight between the two.

Saying it enough times won't make it a reality of course. The party campaign has recently gone up a notch perhaps in the realisation that it has to do more than simply posit itself as the sensible - and only - alternative to Ukip. Anyone travelling down to Thanet can't help but have noticed billboards featuring large images of Craig Mackinlay - a sign that he possibly lacks the recognition factor of the others.

In choosing a former Ukip member (and for a brief period, its leader) Craig Mackinlay, the party clearly hoped that it would be able to neutralise Nigel Farage but I don't sense that it has. In fact, what is interesting is that the debate over the EU has not proved half as contentious as might have been expected.

In relation to the key issue of Manston Airport, there is barely a cigarette paper (or boarding pass) between it and Ukip. Still, insiders insist that the campaign is going well and the response on the doorsteps is positive.


If you want to spread a little political stardust around your campaign, Boris Johnson would be pretty much top of the list. So, it was quite a coup by South Thanet Conservatives to get him down for a visit.

Romping round Ramsgate at a pace that suggested he'd swallowed a large number of Smarties, the Mayor of London spent a good hour in a melee of camera crews, selfie sticks and Ukip activists trying - allegedly - to burst Tory balloons.

Did it cut through with voters? Who knows.

But his exuberance and energy - along with him repeating ad infinitum the phrase that candidate Craig Mackinlay had a five-point plan - did rather underline that outspoken politicians unafraid of speaking their mind for fear of making some dreadful gaffe are rather thin on the ground these days.







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Manston becomes a zero-sum game

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, April 12 2015

The fate of Manston was always going to be a major issue in the election battle for South Thanet and it is hardly a surprise that the rival parties - notably Ukip and the Conservatives - have been falling over themselves to dip into the political sweetie jar to offer assorted pledges and commitments.

First out of the block were the Conservatives.

They clearly wanted to pre-empt Ukip's rally on Saturday at Margate's Winter Gardens and brought down the transport minister John Hayes two days earlier to pronounce that, according to what he had seen from the government consultants appointed to review the CPO papers, there was nothing to stop Thanet council from pursuing that option.

But what had he seen? It wasn't quite clear and when the Department for Transport was asked for a copy of the interim report PwC had produced, we were told to put the question to GCHQ because it was a political event and nothing to do with them.

Mr Hayes said in a rather breathless press release that it represented a 'huge step' towards re-opening Manston as a working airport and that the only way to ensure that it did was to vote Conservative.

This was then overshadowed by a row over whether the news breached the strict rules of "purdah" which are supposed to apply during election campaigns and are designed to ensure that no announcements are made which might be construed as giving some electoral advantage to a party or candidate.

The owners of Manston lost no time in denouncing the way the announcement had been made to say that it felt there may be a case to answer and were taking legal advice on the issue.

This was swiftly followed by Ukip unveiling its position - or rather, repeating its position - that the first thing that it would do, were it to take control of Thanet District Council, would be to also instruct council officials to start a CPO process to restore Manston as a working airport.

So, in a sense Manston is a zero sum game for both Ukip and the Conservatives: there really is not much difference between them.

The only problem they may have is that while Manston is unquestionably an important issue in South Thanet, voters may get rather tired of it if the issue is all the parties talk about between now and May 7.


Everything you need to know about the election battle in Kent  -constituencies guide, candidates, commment and analysis: #KENTDECIDES


Will Nigel Farage win in South Thanet? It looked like the party was having a bit of a wobble and it did not come out well from the revelation that it had tried to suppress a poll which appeared to indicate it was falling back in he constituency.

It is becoming next to impossible to read the runes with any changes in the standing of the parties fluctuating on a daily basis. Having said that, I detected a spring in the step of Labour this week, who are feeling that they are steadily improving and represent the main challenger.

The problem for both the Conservatives and Labour is that neither has a decisive lead in the polls. For floating voters who want to keep Ukip out, there is no clear choice to go for. That will potentially help Ukip and split the anti-Farage vote.

With three weeks to go, there are bound to be more twists and turns and the launch of the party manifestos next week could represent a potential banana skin for Ukip.


There are election posters and election posters but 2015 will go down as the year that saw - courtesy of Ukip - the first one to feature the words "compulsory purchase order in relation to Manston. Next up?

Maybe a Conservative one featuring "quantitive easing."


The usually mild-mannered Sevenoaks candidate Michael Fallon took on the role of Conservative bruiser-in-chief this week with his "stabbed in the back" jibe against Ed Miliband. The Conservatives defended the comments but it is the kind of politicking that really turns off voters.

And the row they generated did have one consequence. It helped distract voters from other issue - partcularly Labour's "non-doms" announcement - which might have just been the purpose.


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Categories: Manston | Precept

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.



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.


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.


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.



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 purple wave keeps rising but will it ebb before next May?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, November 24 2014

There is not much that will set back the spirits of the irrepressibly cheerful Nigel Farage, so it was no surprise to hear him in a particularly upbeat mood the morning after Ukip won the Rochester and Strood by-election.

The margin of victory was not, however, quite as large as the polls or betting odds had suggested it could be. Not that this stopped the leader declaring the outcome meant that the general election was "beyond comprehension" and "everything was up in the air." (He also said he would have been happy to win by one vote).

However, you can't say everything is unpredictable in one breath and in the next assert that there is a distinct prospect of your party winning more seats in Kent - it is logically inconsistent.

The result in Rochester and Strood does nevertheless underline that Ukip has momentum and it is momentum the other parties are struggling to halt.

Kent is now its most significant power base of anywhere in the country and it is continuing to show that it can mobilise highly effective campaigns where it chooses to.

But fighting a single by-election with your "people's army" is one thing; deploying the same kind of resources at a general election is something else, which Farage has acknowledged.

That, incidentally, is not just a challenge for Ukip. It is one for the Conservatives who next May will face precisely the same issue. Mr Cameron won't have his infamous kitchen sink available and neither will he be able to make five visits in as many weeks.

Ukip's chances of holding on to Rochester and Strood are uncertain: some bookmakers have made the Conservatives odds on to regain it, which goes some way to explaining why the Conservatives were not quite as depressed or inconsolable when the result came in.

In Kent's case, Ukip will target a handful of seats where it has a better-than-evens chance of an upset. Oddly, I suspect that Thanet South, where Farage is the candidate, may not get quite the same level of attention because he is already the red hot favourite to win.

But Folkestone and Hythe, Sittingbourne and Sheppey as well as Thanet North and Dover and Deal are all in their sights.

For the Conservatives, the danger is that tacking to the right in an attempt to out-Ukip Ukip risks alienating its more Euro-phile MPs and activists. It is interesting to see that two Kent MPs used the by-election to argue the party should move in the other direction to the centre ground.

Ashford MP and former immigration minister Damian Green said at the weekend that there is no reason for the Conservative party to decide that slithering towards Ukip is the route to success."

Meanwhile, Thanet South MP Laura Sandys said the by-election result offered the party the chance to move to the centre ground - which is where elections are commonly won.

Ukip will be quite content to see these divisions exposed as it will allow it to depict the Conservatives as split on the key electoral issue of whether the UK should rush for the EU exit door.

Whether it can, as Nigel Farage claims, hold the balance of power after next May is altogether a different matter.



Despite its best efforts and a candidate who impressed, Labour had little to celebrate in the by-election. It wasn't that it fought a bad campaign - although it should have focused more on the NHS.

Its vote was squeezed by Ukip and to a lesser extent, the Green party. The row over the white van man's flags was not a factor because it came too late but does exemplify that it is alienating some of its core traditional voters, a place Ukip has jumped in to with alacrity.

Speaking to Labour figures about what they feel they need to do, you often hear them say that they need to communicate better.

This implies that if only got their message right, everything would be well in the world. The problem is that you can have a solid message but unless you have a receptive audience ready to listen, it's worthless.

The party reminds me a little of the Conservatives under Ian Duncan Smith, the  man who uttered the immortal words that the quiet man was "here to stay and is turning up the volume."

Three weeks later, the party dumped him.



Did Mark Reckless invoke the spirit of Tony Blair in his acceptance speech after being declared the by-election winner. "You are the boss, you must never let me forget that," he said.

Rewind to Tony Blair's victory speech after becoming PM in 1997: "We are not the masters now, the people are the masters. We are the servants of the people.We must never forget that"







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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

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