All posts tagged 'Thanet'

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Categories: Nostalgia

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.

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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.

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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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- Taking flight - the fight for Manston. Plus: Home Rule for Kent?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, September 19 2014

The government has been studiously neutral on the fight to save Manston airport despite the best efforts of MPs and campaigners.

But that changed and changed potentially significantly this week with a visit by the government minister Grant Shapps, the minister without portfolio.

Mr Shapps, greeted like a folk hero, made some of the strongest comments in support of the airport by a senior politician we have heard.

 

 

 Not surprisingly, campaigners who turned out in numbers to hear him, were pretty pleased.

He chose his words carefully, of course, and avoided making concrete pledges but he struck a much more positive and upbeat tone than anyone could have expected.

Why? He certainly seemed genuine enough and it helped that he was able to display his familiarity with the area - he told the crowd that he had used Manston himself and not just as a passenger.

 As a keen pilot, he had flown into Manston in the past and "hoped to do so in the future." (Interestingly, he has ben involved in trying to secure the future of an airport in his own constituency)

An underlying reason is that the fight for Manston will be a key issue in the general election campaign if there is no resolution by next May. The Conservatives locally have no doubt alerted the Tory high command that they cannot afford to let UKIP make the running on the issue.

It was revealing to see the prospective Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay and the Thanet Conservative group leader Bob Bayford both in attendance.

In the weeks and months to come, we can expect to see a Manston arms race develop among the political parties, manouevering to ensure they are seen as the most interested in securing the airport's future.

And just possibly their own.

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Which brings us to the vexed issue of whether the Labour-run council will seize the moment and back a move to pursue a CPO to acquire the airport from owner Ann Gloag.

There appears to be some disquiet within her own party's ranks over this.

Leaked emails suggest some rather stark divisions not just in the cabinet, which will initially have to put forward a recommendation based on what council officials say.

Some are clearly anxious that they will trigger a lengthy legal wrangle that will drag on for months and with no cast-iron guarantee of success and doubts over the cost to the taxpayer.

My guess is that the meeting scheduled for mid-October will outline the options over teaming up with RiverOak,the American consortium, and recommend the decision should be a matter for the full council.

This would just about be consistent with the rules around the executive decision making process, although ultimately, the cabinet leader would have to sign off any formal decision.

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In the face of the devolution result, attention has turned to whether there should be greater devolution of powers from Whitehall to local tiers of government.

This is tied up with the awkward question over whether there should be a separate parliament for England and whether MPs should only vote on English issues.

The independence vote in Scotland has shown that the public can be engaged in debate around constitutional reform and the outcome does present an opportunity to address some of these other issues.

In Kent, that would almost certainly see a debate break out over the case for some kind of unitary government - an issue that would be as tricky for the Conservatives as Labour.

And I think voters will quickly be turned off if politicians spend more time advancing complex re-organisations and tinkering with the architecture of local government rather than more pressing issues like economy.

 

 

 

 

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After the coronation - now UKIP leader Nigel Farage faces the heavy artillery

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, August 27 2014

There was never really any doubt about the outcome of UKIP's hustings meeting to select the party's election candidate for Thanet South and if it wasn't quite a coronation, it came pretty close. It might have been billed as a genuine contest between the four candidates but Nigel Farage had activists eating out of his hands from the moment he took the stage.

Nigel Farage canters to victory in UKIP hustings>>>

Although in later interviews he reined back a little over his declaration that UKIP might hold the balance of power  next May, you could, in the febrile and euphoric atmosphere at the Odd Fellows Hall in Ramsgate, see why he said it.

So, can he win in Thanet South? Here are the reasons he might - and the reasons why he might not:

For:

  • UKIP has established a solid base of support in the constituency, with a growing number of activists and volunteers prepared to pound the streets, stuff envelopes and generally do anything they can to get him elected. After successes that exceeded the party's expectations in the county council election last May, UKIP believe it has momentum that will carry them through to next May.
  • Nigel Farage may not be to everyone's taste but he is a skilled and astute politician, who knows the area well and has a proven track record in winning elections. Yes, his claim to local connections are a little tendentious - he lives in west Kent - but he is hardly the first candidate to stand in a constituency he does not (yet) live in. The Conservative candidate CraIg McKinlay, for example, lives in Medway.
  • Although UKIP has become an established political organisation, it is still regarded as being outside the political mainstream. Voter disenchantment with the main parties remains high and UKIP continues to be a repository of support for the disaffected. It will benefit from the "plague on all your houses" sentiment for all it is worth
  • UKIP views on immigration and the EU continue to chime with a lot of voters across the political spectrum. It will push the message that if you want UKIP, you have to vote UKIP. Europe will be a big issue in the election in a way that it wasn't in 2010 and Thanet has arguably seen the consequences of a failure by successive governments to properl tackle immigration over the years
  • Voters like backing winners - if people feel UKIP is in with a chance of causing a political upset, they may want to join in.

Against:

  • By his own admission, the UKIP leader is a marmite politician. He divides opinion in a way few politicians do - you either like him or you don't. There's no middle ground.
  • While voters are concerned about immigration, as well as being sceptical over the EU, they will also want to know where UKIP stands on other issues. At the moment, there is a big policy gap that it needs to fill fairly quickly.
  • The other parties see UKIP as a genuine threat - although they might not admit it publicly. That means they will bring in the heavy artillery during the campaign to try and see it off. Expect Thanet to be inundated by a stream of visits from political heavyweights in the run up to May's poll.
  • UKIP is undergoing much more scrutiny than before and continues to have candidates and supporters capable of dropping the party in it with the odd unguarded remark and throwaway comment. It will have to be hard on disciplining transgressions rather than letting them go unpunished if it wants to be seen as a "serious" party.


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Categories: Precept

Has Nigel let Janice off the hook in the latest UKIP row?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, August 20 2014

You can't deny that UKIP leader Nigel Farage acted swiftly in response to the row over the now infamous 'ting tong' comments made by fellow MEP Janice Atkinson, captured by the BBC South East while filming in Ramsgate.

In a damage limitation exercise, he made a personal visit to Vince and Fa Munday the day after the comments were broadcast, allowing himself to be filmed in their house delivering an apology on behalf of UKIP.

   

 

As these things go, it was about as successful as it could have been   - with some caveats, the couple absolved him of any blame over a fairly disastrous and embarrassing episode and even suggested they would continue to support the party.

His decisiveness in visiting the couple is one thing. But it has not been matched by a willingness to stamp his authority by imposing any serious sanctions on Janice Atkinson.

Instead, he has promised to give her a stern ticking off and warn that he will not countenance any further digressions.

This is a bit like a headmaster calling a wayward pupil into the office to say that he or she is in the last-chance saloon and next time they step out of line, they will be really for it.

This is a missed opportunity. The charge often levelled against UKIP, which it strongly disputes, is that many of its members and supporters are racist.

The offensive comments made by Janice Atkinson add fuel to that fire and will hand UKIP's opponents value ammunition in the general election campaign.

Nigel Farage has said he does not want to trigger official disciplinary procedures which are there to act when any member brings the party into disrepute. He said it would be inappropriate for what he described as "a first offence."

Loyalty to a party colleague in a bit of bother is fine but I doubt very much that others will see it that way.

Forcing his fellow MEP to resign was never likely but one option would have been to remove the whip temporarily from the beleaguered Janice Atkinson, as he did with the Godfrey Bloom in the "sluts" row.

Perhaps he feels the vilification that has been directed at her is enough of a punishment.

Up until she made her "ting tong" comments, she was widely expected to land the nomination in another UKIP target seat - perhaps in Folkestone and Hythe - but I imagine those prospects have been seriously diminished if not holed below the waterline.

Having an outspoken candidate is one thing but constituency associations will tread very warily around a would-be MP whose every utterance will be scrutinised and every action put under the spotlight.

Even UKIP's enthusiasm for plain-speaking and controversy has its limits.

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Meanwhile, the Thanet South UKIP constituency association has released the details of the four candidates in the running for what is a key target seat.

 

It is an interesting list - included is the Lib Dem candidate who stood in the Thanet South election back in 2010 - but it is impossible to see the party members going for anyone other than the party leader.

We will find out next Tuesday. 

 

 

 

 

 

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UKIP leader Farage will be in it to win it

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, August 15 2014

Finally, the speculation over where UKIP leader Nigel Farage is going to stand at the general election is over. And, as expected, he is to go for the nomination in Thanet South, where the party feels it has a better than evens chance of making a long-awaited parliamentary breakthrough.

Of course, he has yet to go through his party's selection process but even allowing for the occasionally perverse choices made by local constituency associations,  it is inconceivable that activists would want anyone else.

I will stand for nomination in Thanet South, says UKIP leader Farage>>>

So, can UKIP win? National polls would suggest not but that is to ignore local circumstances and demographics.

The current MP Laura Sandys is standing down, meaning that any personal vote she may have carried is gone.

UKIP can legitimately claim to have established Thanet as a power base after the county council election last year, when it won seven of the divisions up for grabs. it has a well organised local association and won't have difficulty in mobilising foot soldiers to pound the streets come election time.

The fact that the Conservatives have chosen a former UKIP member, Craig Mackinlay, to be its candidate is an indication of how anxious they are about the challenge - underlined vividly by the share of the vote UKIP took at the recent European election - 45.9% - compared to 22% for the Conservatives, albeit in an election with a low turnout.

The charismatic Farage will bring some stardust  to the campaign but that is a double-edged sword: plenty of people like him as a plain-talking, unspun "man of the people" but equally, many see this as precisely the opposite and a carefully contrived - but entertaining - act.

Labour will also have some anxieties over a strong UKIP push in a seat they have eyed up as a target for some time. The worrying scenario for them is that some polls are suggesting that UKIP is drawing as many votes from them as it is from the Conservatives - which will play to UKIP's claim that Thanet South is a tight three-way marginal.

UKIP's prospects for an historic parliamentary breakthrough in Kent are probably about as good as they will ever be. The party has momentum, a high profile and a leader who enjoys popular support and knows that the issue of Britain's membership of the EU will be centre stage in the election campaign.

Perhaps the only prediction about which there can be an certainty is that Thanet South will be a key electoral battleground. And if you are not enthused by politics or politicians, it could be a place to give wide berth to next May.

 

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Categories: Politics

Have the Conservatives shot the UKIP fox in Thanet?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, July 8 2014

Whatever other qualities Craig Mackinlay may have, it is pretty clear that when it came to the Conservatives choosing their prospective candidate for Thanet South, his former involvement with UKIP was a trump card.

Ordinarily, would-be MPs who have dallied with other parties are often treated with suspicion by constituency activists but in this case, it worked to his advantage.

Former UKIP man to contest Thanet South for the Conservatives>>>

The threat of a significant challenge by UKIP in a key UKIP target seat in 2015 may not have caused a meltdown in Conservative ranks but there is no doubt there was a certain sense of panic about how to respond.

The prospect of the charismatic leader Nigel Farage being UKIP's candidate only served to add to the Conservative anxiety. The indignity of possible defeat next May and becoming a footnote in parliamentary history was beginning to cast something of a dark shadow.

So, handing the candidancy to the avowedly Eurosceptic Mackinlay, who fought two elections as a UKIP candidate and was briefly leader, was a shrewd tactical move.

He didn't lose much time in getting on the front foot and suggesting there was no reason why Nigel Farage should stand, now there was a Conservative running who was equally scepticalabout the EU. We can expect more of this in the run up to the election.

For his part, Nigel Farage has a dilemma. Had UKIP got through its selection process and adopted the leader as its candidate earlier, it could have argued that it was forcing the Conservatives' hand.

If Nigel Farage now looks elsewhere in Kent, he faces being accused of running scared - ironically, the charge levelled by the party when current MP Laura Sandys, who is on the pro-European wing of the Conservatives, announced she was standing down.

He has responded to questions about his intentions by saying that Thanet South is one of several constituencies in the mix.

But he has also been compelled to say that he will announce where he wants to stand in a few weeks, which does make it look like he is responding to events rather than leading them. The suggestion is that UKIP will seek to depict Mackinlay as "UKIP-lite" and depict their candidate as the real deal.

I have until now thought that he would opt for Thanet South above Folkestone and Hythe or Dover and Deal.

On balance, I still think he will but the odds have lengthened a little and strangely, UKIP are for once on the defensive.

 

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Categories: Precept

Why Nigel Farage is the elephant in the room for Thanet Conservatives

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

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

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

The Thanet South Conservative shortlist>>>>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Categories: Precept

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