All posts tagged 'Medway'

The big artillery rolls into Rochester...but will voters care?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, October 17 2014

We were promised that the Conservatives would blitz Rochester and Strood with the party's big hitters and hundreds of activists and for once, no-one can accuse a political party of breaking its pledge.

The frenzy of activity will reach a new level this weekend when the Conservative machine deploys a reported 1,000 activists to Kent to drum up support for a still unknown candidate.

Buses will be bringing down this army from London to distribute leaflets, knock on doors and generally remind us - as if we needed to - that there is a byelection going on.

There is every chance that they will bump into Ukip activists, who are doing much the same with supporters coming from outside the county to rally behind its candidate.

For the Conservatives, this strategy is all about signalling that - unike Clacton - they will not roll over and are going to be putting up a fight to stem Ukip's purple wave. It is as much about the deep loathing for Nigel Farage as it is for defector Mark Reckless.

And there is clearly no love lost between the Ukip leader and Mr Cameron, who said that if voters plumped for Ukip "all they are doing is giving Nigel Farage the chance to have a long gloat in the pub."

Much of this activity is designed for media consumption, of course, but you do wonder if the high-intensity strategy might prove counter-productive if it carries on at such a velocity until November 20.

For the Conservatives, the risk is that while it will be effective in shoring up support from core supporters, it gives the impression that it is concerned about the outcome. Cameron's own personal involvement means that if Ukip does produce a coup, his leadership will come under the spotlight. I suspect that the game plan is as much about trying not to lose badly as it is about trying to win.

The other risk is that the scale of activity only serves to remind supporters of other parties lacking similar battalions of activists (and deep pockets) that there is an election going on.

Still, anyone who does not like politics or politicians may be advised not to answer the door for the next four weeks.


The Conservatives deserve some credit for opening up its selection process to all voters in Rochester and Strood, although the compressed timetable has rather limited the amount of time for residents to get to know the two who were shortlisted well.

Its big event was the hustings meeting this week in the Rochester Corn Exchange, which was open to everyone. That is everyone but not journalists from the national media.

They were kept out as party managers had decreed that only local media could attend, which meant myself and Radio Kent.

This provoked some tension behind the scenes, with Professor Tim Luckhurst from the Centre For Journalism,- who chaired the event, along with invited guest Dr Sarah Woolaston MP, suggesting unsuccessfully that the ban be reconsidered.

It wasn't and the net result, unsurprisingly, was that the national media turned away at the door rmade the ban the focus of their reports rather than what was said at the meeting.

And to rub it in, managed to get a transcript of the event anyway.

In fact, both candidates acquitted themselves well and had interesting things to say, not least on immigration.

Whoever gets the nod will be in a high-pressure political cauldron for four weeks and under forensic scrutiny from the media.

This week's hustings could have been useful acclimatisation.


Professor Luckhurst says the Conservatives made a mistake in having only selected media present.

"I believe the Conservative Party’s decision to exclude from the hustings journalists from national newspapers and broadcasters  was foolish and entirely unnecessary. Freedom of speech is a core democratic principle and no political party should restrict it.”


When Labour leader Ed Miliband turned up in the County Town of Maidstone last year for the county council election campaign, he did so to demonostrate that there were no "no-go" areas for the party.

It's early days but in comparison to Ukip and the Conservatives, Labour appears to be taking a low key approach to the fight for Rochester and Strood. No single comment has come from a senior member of the party's leadership about the election to date.

Perhaps it is waiting for the Conservative bandwagon to run out of puff.


You can't draw too much by way of portents for November 20 from a council ward by-election where only one in five voters bothered to exercise their vote but Ukip notched up a small victory in Kent this week when it romped to victory in the Sheppey Central ward in Swale.

And it was pretty comprehensive, too with the victoriuos candidate getting nearly 60% of the vote.



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Categories: Conservatives

Ann Barnes under the spotlight - again

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, June 4 2014

Whatever else you might say about her, Ann Barnes has had unparalled success in raising the public profile of police commissioners. She gets the kind of attention and publicity that few other commissioner have received - the only problem being that much of it has been negative and of the kind not even Alastair Campbell could put any top spin on. 

Tomorrow, she faces an inquisition from the cross-party Kent and Medway Crime Panel over her decision to appear in the Channel 4 documentary  "Meet The Commissioner" - a toe-curlingly embarrassing hour-long programme that left viewers aghast as she struggled to define what her job was. 

She now also faces being quizzed about the latest crisis involving her second youth crime tsar Kerry Boyd, who is at the centre of allegations that she had an inappropriate relationship with a married father of two who gave her a reference for the job.

It is fair to say that committee members are deeply concerned about the adverse impact these recent events are having on the reputation of the force. Those concerns reflect deep-seated anxieties within the force itself, with officers said to be in despair about being tainted by assocation.

Whether any of this will translate into a call for a vote of no confidence - which might a tipping point -  is unclear although it is certain that some members of the panel will call for her to quit.

Such demands are likely to be resisted. She will not want the ignominy of being the first commissioner to be forced from office despite a decidely mixed track record since her election in November 2012.

The fact that she is having her authority publicly questioned is bad enough. 

But nothing is more damaging to public officials than being seen out of  their depth and lurching from one disaster to another. Ann Barnes may well survive tomorrow but it is hard to see how her credibility with the public can recover.


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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

Are Kent Conservative backbenchers feeling UKIP nipping at their heels?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, May 16 2013

Unlike many, politicians have to re-apply for their jobs every four or five years and the decision about whether they should be re-appointed is in the hands of voters.

And voters can be rather unpredictable and prone to switch allegiances, as the recent county council election showed rather dramatically.

So, we should not be surprised that a number of Conservative backbenchers in the county voted last night for the 'rebel' amendment on the Queen's Speech.

There is nothing like a bruising mid-term electoral lashing to concentrate the mind and the Kent MPs who backed the amendment no doubt had given careful consideration to the dramatic UKIP surge in the county council election.

So, this was a convenient way of sending a message to the electorate that they are as sceptical about Europe as any UKIP candidate who might be on the ballot paper in 2015.

Their decision to blow a raspberry at Mr Cameron will prove particularly helpful in election literature to post through doors in a couple of years.

Conservative backbenchers in Kent know that the issue of Europe is not going to go away. Those who knocked on doorsteps during the recent election campaign found that Britain's membership of the EU and immigration were often not far from voters' thoughts.

While UKIP is unlikely to win Parliamentary seats at the next election, that is not the point. It is whether UKIP will cost them votes in sufficient numbers to lose them their seats.

Marginal seats like those in the Medway Towns, north Kent and Thanet have switched between Labour and the Conservatives over recent years and if there is one thing that current MPs fear it is that a split in the vote for the right will allow Labour back in.

Whether UKIP's surge will be durable is, of course, open to question.

But if the results of the recent election showed anything, it is that voters are deeply cynical about commitments made for some time in the future - and particularly cynical about promises to do things after the election.

MPs who backed the rebel EU amendment understood this. It might be considered gesture politics but it is inconceivable that they did not make a calculated decision that it was worth putting a marker down now - even if the election is two years away.


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Categories: Precept

I wish the fort well in its bid for lottery funding

by The Codgers' Club Friday, February 1 2013

by Alan Watkins

A £2million bid for lottery funding could take Fort Amherst a stage closer to the dream of being a world visitor attraction.

Whether the dream is either justified or a reality is beside the point.

Fort Amherst as we know it today was originally conceived in the 1980s as an historic treasure that could create tourist jobs. It came in the wake of the closure of the dockyard.

Nearly 30 years on, some parts of it have been opened up but much of the complex is still closed to the public. In part, this is because of ongoing military use.

Part is because the funds are not there and another constraint is because the mining beneath the Great Lines has never been properly mapped or explored.

A bid is being drawn together by the charity trust set up to look after the former Army gunpowder store and by the council. It will go some way towards regaining the initiative lost when the Great Lines bid for World Heritage Status was turned down.

In my opinion the combination of the Historic Dockyard, the fort and Brompton Barracks was doomed to fail. UNESCO, the people who decide what is of world importance and what is not, had insisted too many of the existing heritage sites are in the UK and the US.

They want to look to Mali, Mongolia, Patagonia or Panmunjon but no longer the west.

Another factor against the bid was, I believe, the failure of our community to get behind the project. Medway is full of people who eat breakfast in the dark, arrive home in the dark and spend the rest of their time (and their money) in London. Others are sceptics.

“We aren’t going to win because we never win, therefore there’s no point in taking part,” seems to be the philosophy of many who live here during the day.

It reminds me of a former mayor’s question to me more than 20 years ago: “Why on earth did you want to come here?” The simple answer is that I like the Medway Towns, and the Medway people, and one day I might actually get the feeling that I am accepted as a Medway resident rather than an incomer.

The trust is seeking to motivate people to back their bid. They‘re inviting people to have a look on February 17 at where the £2 million will be spent.

Much of it will be continuing the restoration of the fort. More will be on opening up the Middle Lines, which have been lost over the years beneath clay and earth.

I wish them well. I might even turn up myself.

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Categories: Moans and groans

The foundation for Towns take on humour

by Nikki's world, with Nikki White Thursday, January 17 2013

I'm staring in the mirror and triple checking that my foundation isn’t five shades darker than my skin. My bronzer is definitely OK, I don’t have hair extensions and can’t wear too much mascara because it plays havoc with my contact lenses.

Admittedly, the last time I put on fake tan it was a bit of streaky (nothing a second application couldn’t sort out), but generally I think I just about achieve the “sun-kissed” look. That’s when I can be bothered to put it on.

I may be a Medway gal (and a Chatham Girl, at that) but I don’t think I’ve ever gone out looking like Kate Payne does by the end her tongue-in-cheek make-up tutorial, How To Get Ready For A Night Out: Medway Style.

Her 10-minute video on YouTube is proving a hit (more than 15,000 views and rapidly rising) as she slaps on the fake tan and gives an hilarious lesson in how to get dolled up with two different types of foundation, lashings of eyeshadow, mascara, bronzer and blusher, scruffs up her locks for “big hair” but dispenses with the lip gloss, because she doesn’t want to look too over the top.

Being born and bred in Medway, and particularly Chatham, has never been easy. I was a wet-behind-the-ears reporter when news of Chatham Girls hit the headlines, and what we were supposedly like.

My editor decided he wanted to send me down the High Street dressed up as the stereotypical Chatham Girl, in a shiny white tracksuit (complete with go faster stripes down the side), branded trainers, a giant sweatshirt, my hair tied up in a scrunchie, wearing the largest gold hoop earrings I could find and a gold necklace with a clown pendant (they were all the rage at the time).

Thankfully, our expense account wouldn’t stretch to buying it all, and I couldn’t beg or borrow it all in time for our next deadline (I really did try, I promise).

It was all a bit of a laugh, as are Kate’s videos (she also has recorded Advice For Single Ladies and a Facebook Rant).

And underneath all that make-up, it proves Medway Townies really do have a great sense of humour.

Watch the video by clicking here.

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Has Medway missed out? Don’t believe it!

by The Codgers' Club Saturday, October 20 2012

by Alan Watkins

After all the years of hype about Medway being the city at the heart of the Thames Gateway, the thunder has been stolen by the Kent Thameside councils.

Whether Medway likes it or not, the plan for a massive theme park near Ebbsfleet station means Medway is going to be in the shadow of Dartford and Gravesham for years. That doesn’t mean it will lose out.

The Paramount scheme for the Swanscombe peninsula offers the Medway Towns massive benefits.

So we won’t have the noise and the nightly fireworks, the traffic and the candyflossed pavements. Instead, we have the potential of the benefits.

The theme park is going to need thousands of people to service it. Who is going to make the bread that will be needed for the sandwiches, supply the milk for the cups of tea and coffee, and the maintenance for the equipment?

Where are the brains capable of delivering the attractions – the concepts, the realities and the science behind it all?

Who will clean and tidy and dispose of the waste, run the buses and coaches, and, above all else, be awake to the opportunities for business in the Medway Towns? The answer is that Medway Council should be looking at how it can provide the knowledge, expertise and skills that exist in the Towns in such a way that the developer will need to look at Medway for many of the theme park’s needs.

There will be places for graduates from the Universities in Medway, but it is not all graduate jobs.

There will be opportunities for people to train, or be trained in, the entertainment, hotel and leisure areas, whether it is as a character from British history, as a juggler, or a machine operator.

This might have been seen by some as a lost opportunity for Medway. Don’t you believe it. This is an opportunity for each of us. The day the theme park opens, the Thames Gateway investments will have been justified.

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Categories: Moans and groans

Great CV but did we try hard enough?

by The Codgers' Club Friday, March 23 2012

by Alan Watkins

What is stopping Medway  becoming a city? It’s the 20th biggest conurbation in the country and outside of the capital the biggest in the South East.

It is striving to improve – and hasn’t done badly with four universities, a fine campus and a new bus station. It has support in the community.

At 6/1, it was also second favourite (behind Reading) so someone fancied us. So why were we overlooked?

It could be the cavalier way that Rochester lost its city status, not once but twice (Whitehall has a long memory).

Maybe it had something to do with all the other events in 2012 and we’ve got enough to be getting on with.

There’s 200 years of the Sappers, 200 years of Charlie D, two annual festivals in honour of him and the Diamond Jubilee.

Charlie is that hirsute Victorian author and ex-news hack who wasn’t born here, spent much of his life in Pompey and Broadstairs (when he wasn’t hopping into his mistress’s bed) and died in Gravesham. Medway adopted him, but the government robbed him of his last wish, and buried him in a congested corner of Westminster instead of Rochester Cathedral where he really wanted to lie in eternal rest.

Someone worked out most of his famous scenes were set in Rochester (must have been a council researcher). We’ve bid for the City of Medway three times.

The point now is to start asking why a town like St Asaph (population 3,400) should get the title while 250,000 of us have no idea where it is.

And before any clever Welsh geographer mutters Denbighshire, that’s a county with the same size population as the district of Gillingham, Medway (93,000).

I hope the councillors are now re-examining their laid-back approach to the city bid, and comparing their lack of effort with the energy of the other contestants. Maybe Chelmsford will throw the bouquet our way next time.

It won’t make much difference: the next English city will probably be in the west, and most likely in the north-west.

I suspect the Rochester supporters will have had a collective smirk.

Right, back to the drawing board ...

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Categories: Moans and groans

The sounds of silence: the Treasury keeps mum over airport meetings

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, February 10 2012


There has long been a suspicion the government's U-turn that led to its decision to consult on the idea of a Thames Estuary airport was, in part, driven by the Treasury and the Chancellor. It was said they had been won round by the argument that such a project would deliver investment and jobs - along with regeneration - at a critical time.

But how was the Treasury won round? A clue perhaps lies in the meetings George Osborne and his officials had with the backers of the idea that were disclosed to us under the Freedom of Information Act.

Although we aren't being told what was on the table at these meetings as it is not deemed to be in the public interest.

Treasury meetings with Thames Estuary airport backers>>>

What we do glean from the details provided is that there seemed to be a sympathetic ear at the Treasury, where officials met representatives of Foster and Partners and the consultants Halcrow no less than four times to chew over the idea.

The rather gushing email sent by an unnamed representative of Foster following one meeting talks revealingly of how stimulating and reassuring the meeting was given that both sides believed passionately in the same points.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with any proponent of any scheme seeking contacts with politicians and their officials. You wouldn't expect anything less where a project as huge as this was concerned. Access is critical to getting the message across.

But if the government wants to be seen to be playing a straight bat over what is undeniably a massively contentious issue, it will have to better than come up  with the fig leaf of an excuse that it has to withhold information about what exactly was discussed at these meetings.

It is, frankly, an insult to say on that policy discussion needs to take place behind closed doors so  opinions can be expressed candidly. In its response, the Treasury says it acknowledges that there is a public interest in what is a 'live' issue - which in its way makes the case for full transparency and openness - not the case for running away and hiding.

It is interesting to speculate on whether,  had the Treasury been approached by, say, the leader of Medway council, for such a meeting, Mr Osborne or his officials would have proved quite as accommodating.

Either way, it is vital that the government's consultation starts from a position of neutrality.

There are arguments on both sides to be had but public confidence in the integrity of that consultation won't be enhanced if there is any suspicion that one side is getting greater opportunities to promote their views above the other.

Read the Treasury's full response to our FOI request here:

Treasury Meetings FOI.pdf (2.34 mb)

The transcript of the email sent by Foster and Partners to Treasury officials:

“It was a pleasure to meet with you this morning. We appreciate you making the trip over to our office and hopefully the experience of actually seeing us all busily working was useful. We found the conversation we had both stimulating and highly reassuring as you both made so many points that we both passionately believe in.”
“The brief presentation we did of some of our thinking and the initiatives we have been taking around infrastructure seemed to resonate with your interests and I am sure we could have spent a lot more time talking. We look forward to developing these conversations.”



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Categories: Medway Magna | Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council

Pie in the sky and plane crazy - but the airport plan won't go away

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, November 2 2011

Council chiefs and other politicians in Kent and Medway have been swift to condemn the latest proposal for an airport in the Thames Estuary.

Hardly a surprise. Lord Foster's grand scheme is nothing if not ambitious - it brings together not just an airport but a new river barrier and crossing, and a shipping and orbital rail complex. It makes Boris Island look rather modest.

Given the scale and huge impact it would have, the reaction on both sides has been passionate.

Lord Foster's Thames Hub vision>>

It is a classic situation in which local and national interests collide - a bit like the arguments that raged in Kent over the Channel Tunnel, when there were similar clashes over the blight afflicting the green fields of the Garden of England against those arguing the case for the economic dividend for UK Plc, particularly on the jobs front.

(Remember the scorn heaped on the country when it dragged its feet over the construction of the second stage of the High Speed Link? We were derided by our European counterparts for taking so long and for building a link which, at the time, only went some of the way to London.)

So why won't this idea - dubbed pie-in-the-sky, plane-crazy - go away?

If those advocating different proposals took on board the views of many in Kent, they would run away and hide in a dark room, not spend £100,000 on a report, that for all the criticism that might be heaped on it, at least strives to come up with a credible case that integrates different energy and transport strands and doesn't completely overlook the environmental issues.

One reason is that there is something of a policy vacuum in government - which, according to new transport secretary Justine Greening hasn't completely closed the door on the notion of a Thames Estuary airport - and has only recently finished a consultation on its scoping document setting out its plans for a sustainable framework for UK aviation.

Meanwhile, it has cancelled a third runway at Heathrow and ruled out expansion at Gatwick and Stansted. Triggering the inevitable questions about how it intends to increase capacity and compete in the global economy with those countries who appear to be stealing a march on the UK.

As ever, the government is struggling with the competing interests of those who wish to safeguard the environment and those that argue aviation is a vital to our national economic interests. 

And as always, thrown into the mix is the pressure ministers will come under from MPs with marginal seats who will want to side with their constituents. (A taste of this has come the way of ministers trying to sell the idea of High Speed Two, which would also carve through some of the country's rural hinterland. There is open revolt in some Cnservative constituencies).

So, will the government opt for what Foster calls "the short term patching up our ageing infrastructure" or be more bold when it does eventually flesh out its policies?

Somehow, I suspect that even when it does, the arguments will continue to rage.

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Categories: Hoo peninsula | National Politics

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