All posts tagged 'Thanet'

Up in the air - Manston owners go on the offensive

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, June 17 2015

Here's a thought. As the lucrative James Bond film franchise shows no sign of coming to an end, what are the odds of the next 007 blockbuster being filmed and produced in Kent?

Until today, you might have thought the chances were pretty remote.

But the owners of the former Manston site - now rebranded as Stone Hill Park - say that they are in discussions with a consortium looking at developing a studio which would be on the same scale as Pinewood.

Our blueprint for Manston: owners reveal details>>>

At the press conference today, hosted in a rather stifling marquee adjacent to the runway, I asked one of the two partners Trevor Cartner - rather flippantly - what the odds are on the prospect of the next Bond installment being produced in Thanet. "It is not beyond the realms of possibillity," he replied with a decidedly straight face.

A Hollywood pipe dream? Who knows. Plenty of scorn has already been poured on the idea, rather predictably.

But the possibility of the Manston site partly becoming a film studio and attracting associated creative industries was just one element of a masterplan unveiled by the owners - along with a new name - who have clearly decided that they won't hang around waiting to see whether they get served with a CPO and will get on with advancing their scheme for a mixed-use business park.

As well as the film studio, there was talk of a 50-metre swimming pool as part of a sports village on the site and 2,500 homes - which will be a mix of affordable starter homes and 'executive' houses - which is already proving contentious.

How realistic any of this is is difficult to gauge but the intention of the owners is clear.

The more they can talk about what they plan, and the more evidence there is of action rather than words, the more likely they are to elicit wider support in the community.

And they clearly hope that a plan by the Broadstairs business Instro Precision to take up residency on the site because they want to expand will give the lie to the idea that no-one wants to relocate there.

Of course, the threat of a CPO remains and the lack of political support at council and central government remains an issue. Both partners alluded to their frustration at this and acknowledged their task was more challenging because of it.

They also referred to those striving to prevent them laying a brick as an 'irritant' but insisted they were happy to discuss their scheme with anyone (even Sir Roger Gale) but would not engage in a debate based on 'nonsense' and those peddling black propaganda.

However, they weren't shy of a bit of spin, warning that any attempt at a CPO was destined for failure and would leave the taxpayer out of pocket to the tune of £76m.

The owners' chief spinner and attack dog Ray Mallon was forthright in saying the company would not walk away at any point and it emerged later that they have already got a legal team working on how to sink any legal threat.

None of this is likely to see the tenacious campaigners for Manston to be re-opened as an airport sidle off and admit defeat.

And given the new UKIP administration at the council is committed to a CPO, we are probably in for a lengthy tussle.

Today's briefing was ultimately less about the precise plans but an attempt to win over those who are ambivalent about Manston being restored as an airport and could find the alternative prospectus rather more attractive.

Whether it will succeed is hard to tell.

But like the best Hollywood blockbusters, this saga will have plenty of twists and turns before the final reel.

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Being boring - UKIP sets its course for Thanet

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Saturday, May 23 2015

There can't be many politicians who declare that the summit of their aspirations is to run a council in a way that makes it the most boring in the country.

But that is what Chris Wells, the leader of the first council in the country to be run by UKIP, has declared as his ambition for Thanet.

It is certainly a novel political platform but underlying it is a strategy that makes some sense: Thanet Council hs been in the headlines over the years for all the wrong reasons and from the outside has often appeared to be chronically dysfuntional.

It has seen a former council leader jailed and just a year ago,a peer group review described the behaviour of councillors as "toxic".

A report by the review team published last May stated: "We found examples of antagonism, hostility, homophobia and discourtesy in the way that some councillors behave."

It is this reputation that Cllr Wells wants to replace, saying that he wants to be a "service focused, resident-orientated council." He says that is the measure by which he wishes to be judged in four years time.

It sounds modest but it will be a challenge. UKIP does not as a party like to do things quietly and as the only council under its control after the election, can expect to be fiercely scrutinised.

Cllr Wells says that the first few weeks have underlined just how intense the media spotlight will be. "The days after the election have made me understand what it is like to walk out of the Big Brother house."

Interestingly, it looks like UKIP has examined how the Green-run Brighton Council unravelled over its four years in control and is studying that to see how it can avoid similar mistakes and bad publicity. Cllr Wells' mantra is that Thanet will not be a council run on political dogma but what residents want.

An unrelenting focus on rubbish collections may seem rather modest but the message is clear - move along please, there is nothing to see.

It may be optimistic. Cllr Wells leads a 33-strong group of councillors which is precariously short on experience and while he himself has plenty - he was a Conservative cabinet member at KCC for several years (before falling out with leader Paul Carter) - the same cannot be said for many in his group.

And overshadowing the authority is the Manston issue, evidenced by the decision this week to review the decision of the former Labour-run administration not to pursue a CPO for the airport, which threatens to lead the authority into a long-running legal tussle.

Even if the costs will not necessarily fall to taxpayers, such a legal wrangle could be debilitating - it is interesting to hear that the leader's first week in office was dominated by meetings with the current owners and RiverOak - and could ultimately be a political faultline for the council.

However, set against that is the much-reduced Conservative group also backs a CPO and the only opposition is from the four-strong Labour group.

Will the "being boring" mantra work?

Who knows but while Thanet politics could benefit from a period of calm, recent history shows it might be a tougher challenge than anyone expects.

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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

Not quite pork-barrel politics but some goodies from the sweetie jar come Thanet's way

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, March 15 2015

It ought not to be a surprise that the news of a £12m investment in High Speed 1 services to and from Thanet triggered a row over whether the government was playing pork barrel politics.

In about ten days time, the government would have been prevented from issuing  the news under what are known as purdah rules. This prevents government and councils from making announcements that might be construed as favouring particular parties.


With news of an imminent announcement buzzing around last week, UKIP leader Nigel Farage cheekily pre-empted the official news by declaring it unofficially, tweeting: "Great news which would never have happened if I weren't the candidate there!" He went on to claim that it was evidence of what UKIP could do to bring attention to an area "even before taking office."

His point was to suggest that the Conservatives are searching around for good news to spread because they are on the back foot in Thanet, where he is standing. Of course, the Conservatives denied any such thing, with the departing South Thanet MP Laura Sandys describing his intervention as unbelievably arrogrant.

But UKIP has a point, however irritating others may find it.

This is not the first announcement in recent weeks that could be construed as designed to benefit the Conservatives.

Notably, there was the news that the government was to appoint an independent consultant to review the decision by the Labour-controlled council not to pursue a CPO for Manston. This review will conveniently not report back before the election.

Some of the gloss came off this a touch this week with a highly critical report by the transport select committee, which took the Conservative-controlled Kent County Council and in particular its leader Paul Carter to task over its failings in helping Thanet council.

A gift to opposition parties who are probably rushing to the printers to get new election leaflets published.

Then there is the question of exactly what kind of boost the £12m investment will provide and whether it is actually new. The press release rather hid the major downside of the announcement, namley that the scheduled upgrade of the line won't be completed until 2019 - a four years away.

As to the journey times, the average reduction will be ten minutes off. Not bad but again, the press release refers to the "potential" for a reduction rather than a guaranteed one.

On the question of how genuinely new this all is, the waters are rather muddy.

Network Rail confirmed a year ago that it was working towards an upgrade on the HS1 line to bring journey times down to about an hour from Thanet to London at a cost of £10m. If this was separate from this week's announcement, then the PR people missed a trick by overlooking the fact that it could be a £22m investment.

The conclusion seems to be that they are one and the same.


Nigel Farage has admitted that he may not win his bid to become the MP for Thanet South. 

In a book serialised by The Daily Telegraph, he concedes he is facing a real battle and that if he fails it "would be curtains for me."

In one sense, this could be seen as a little defeatist and may have the effect of giving his opponents more impetus. On the other hand, this kind of candour does stand out from the earnestly positive remarks many candidates are choosing to post about their campaigns.

Twitter is full of would-be MPs posting update of their activity on the ground, usually accompanied by comments such as "brilliant day campaiging in x [insert name of constituency] and a great reaction on the doorstep."

Oh, and a deadly dull picture of activists holding leaflets, flags and banners.

Nevertheless, it is a risk for any politician to acknowledge they may lose. 



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Categories: Nostalgia | Tourism | Trains | Transport

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 latest coup and why Labour are alarmed

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, February 19 2015

On the political Richter scale, the news that the leader of the Labour opposition group on Ashford council is to back Ukip represents a minor tremor rather than a major earthquake.

Despite Ukip's best efforts to portray the declaration of Harriet Yeo as a major coup, it falls well short of what they really want, which is the defection of a Labour MP.

Mrs Yeo is not even joining Ukip so she is not actually a defector at all - and says she doesn't agree with many of its policies.

Having said that, any party would be glad to win over the support from a rival party and Ukip, which tends to specialise in this sort of thing, won't be unhappy about the coverage the story has got, even if one broadsheet went slightly over the top by declaring the councillor as a top Labour figure.

Of arguably more significance are the comments by the Labour prospective parliamentary candidate Brendan Chilton. His warning - in remarks recorded without his knowledge - that Labour councillors were in danger of being wiped out by the Ukip advance  - ought to be (another) wake-up call for the party.

Labour cannot hope to form a majority government if it fails to win seats in Kent but the signs are that will prove beyond them. As Cllr Chilton put it: "They [Labour councillors] may not exist after May if Ukip move at the pace they are."

They have two official target seats - Chatham and Aylesford and Dover and Deal - but the polls are not indicating that the party is picking up enough momentum to deliver them victory in May.

Not surprisingly, Cllr Chilton is rowing back furiously and unconvincingly to limit the damage, saying that he may have to "eat his hat" because "it looks like the opposite will happen" - the kind of spin that alienates voters rather than engages them.

Perhaps he should have stuck to his guns. His frank assessment of the situation Labour finds itself in is precisely the sort of thing party chiefs need to hear but instead they are keeping on with the platitudes about "getting a positive response on the doorstep". With an election two months away, it may all be too late.


There seems to be a degree of confusion about the events surrounding Cllr Yeo's ousting as the leader of Labour's five (now four) strong opposition group.

Cllr Yeo was booted out of the job for failing to attend meetings and deal with constituency business and deselected as a candidate. She claims it was all accomplished without her being given a chance to appeal and done by text.

What is clear is that the party seemed very keen to present the change in leadership of the group as completely innocuous. The news was relayed to the Kentish Express as a minor change in personnel and nothing too contentious. Cllr Yeo's name was not even mentioned.

What seems to have happened is that word got out that Cllr Yeo was contemplating a switch to back Ukip some time ago. She has admitted she spoke with Nigel Farage late last year and that may have leaked.

She believes that was the real reason she was ousted athough acknowledges that she did indeed miss some meetings because of poor health.

We aren't being told Labour's side of the argument because it has pulled the shutters down and is referring all questions to the regional press office.


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Categories: Nostalgia

Manston CPO plan is grounded - now the blame game gets underway

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, December 4 2014

Despite a valiant campaign, it seems the efforts made to re-open Manston as an airport have failed. 

Thanet Council says that it will not be pursuing a Compulsory Purchase Order in association with the American consortium RiverOak and although a cabinet report inserts a small qualification to the effect that "no further action be taken at the present time" it is extremely hard to see how that position will change.

Despite the accusations that the authority has bottled out, the cabinet report makes clear that it is not convinced by RiverOak's case, saying that its "short-term business plan and scope is insufficient" and it does not "provide for the CPO compensation cost and this could be substantial."

In other words, the authority does not want to be lumbered with a deal that, if it went awry, would see it picking up the pieces and spending £2m a year to keep it running - money it does not have. I suspect that in the back of Thanet's mind was the TransEuropa ferry episode, which ended with the council having to write off £3m it was owed.

The council is in an invidious position: damned if it does proceed with a CPO and damned if it doesn't. But if the cabinet report reflects the true situation, the major stumbling block is that the council has not been persuaded - from the information provided - that RiverOak has "the appropriate financial status or committed investors."

That, say officers, would represent a "high risk option" because the company's case is based "on its ability to generate investment in the project."

It is hardly a surprise that the news has triggered an acrimonious political blame game - after all, there is not only a general election round the corner but a local one and the stakes are high.

The fragile political consensus that saw Labour council leader Iris Johnson and Conservative deputy party chairman Grant Shapps greeted like folk heroes when they came to Manston in the summer has, in 24 hours, well and truly been blown apart.

Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale has accused the council of "political cowardice"; UKIP leader Nigel Farage says the council had "not tried hard enough" while the party's prospective candidate in Thanet North Piers Wauchope has accused Labour of a betrayal and arrogance. You can be sure there will be plenty more of this mud-slinging to come as the parties ramp up the political arms race.

Oddly, Labour has one political ally in the form of Kent County  Council leader Paul Carter, who has made no bones about his view that Manston has no future as an airport and has stuck to his guns despite the pressure he may have been under privately to be more encouraging to those who want it back as an airport. 

It is worth noting that even if Thanet Council had been prepared to go down the CPO route, it would still have had to jump through several hoops to get it agreed and the process - given that there is no precedent for a council acquiring an airport in this manner - would take months if not years to complete.

Campaigners will no doubt continue to fight but it does genuinely seem that this may really be the end of the road for Manston as an airport after any number of twists and turns.

The Labour administration will agree the cabinet recommendations next week and those who hope that they may reject the advice of their officers are whistling in the wind.

The report would not have made it to the public domain without it being scrutinised by senior councillors beforehand. That is the way these things work.





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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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