All posts tagged 'cameron'

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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The Conservatives could win Rochester and Strood. But not on November 20

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

There is every chance that the Conservatives can win Rochester and Strood. But it won't happen next Thursday, barring some kind of sensational upset.

The momentum is with Ukip, as it has been for most of the campaign, and it is hard to see the Conservatives producing a major game-changer between now and next week.

Despite this, Conservatives remain - at least publicly - pretty upbeat and you can still find a few who think they could yet upset the odds and emerge victorious.

That was clearly behind the appeal by David Cameron for people to vote for the Conservative candidate Kelly Tolhurst - regardless of what party they supported. Was this the last throw of the dice in their campaign? It seemed that way.

The plea for a rainbow coalition to stop the purple wave was surprising - especially coming from the PM - but my sense is that it has not struck a chord with the other parties. It is true, as Mr Cameron suggested, that by-elections are different to normal elections and voters are more likely to switch allegiance.

By-elections are occasions when normal political logic goes out of the window. However, the notion that Labour supporters will hold their noses in the ballot booth and put a cross against the Conservative candidate just doesn't ring true.

The reaction to his plea suggested that there is not much enthusiasm for the idea from those it was aimed at. Somewhat inevitably Ukip was thrilled, depicting the call as desperate and an admission that the Conservatives cannot win on their own.

Nigel Farage delighted in telling a rally on Thursday that he knew things were going well for the campaign not because of the opinion polls or bookmakers but because Mr Cameron was pleading for support from people who would normally vote for other parties

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So, if the outcome of Thursday's by-election, why might the Conservatives find some consolation?

It came in the latest opinion poll whose top line was that Ukip were 12 points ahead for the by-election but which also found there could be enough support among voters next May to see the Conservatives regain it from Ukip.

In the light of what looks like a disappointing night to come, it is a small crumb of comfort for the party which has lived up to its promise to chuck everything at trying to win the by-election but seems destined to come off second best.

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The Labour campaign can not have been helped by the on-going whispers against Ed Miliband. Having a mini leadership crisis in the middle of a by-election is - to state the obvious - not exactly helpful to any party.

Still, it has continued to send down some of the party's big hitters and locally, its activists have been busy pounding the streets and knocking on doors. And its candidate Naushabah Khan has arguably been one of the more confident performers in hustings and in media intervieiws.

But despite this, the party's standing in opinion polls have gone down since the start of the campaign - a reflection that sometimes events can conspire against political parties in ways that are totally beyond their control.

It is puzzling, however, that the party strategy has not been more heavily focused on the NHS and the on-going problems at Medway Maritime.

One reason may be that in doing so, the party could be perceived as criticising frontline staff who are its own supporters.


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Labour's immigration conundrum, the Conservatives get a candidate...and a pink bear

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, October 24 2014

It was interesting to hear Ashford MP Damian Green speaking up the pro-European wing of the Conservative party today on the Andrew Marr show and yesterday in The Times. There probably aren't too many votes to be had in the by-election from talking about the positive side of belonging to the EU - which explains why Ed Miliband and David Camerom are both tacking to the right and talking loudly about immigration.

So, why is the Ashford MP speaking out now? My guess is that it is a pre-emptive move not designed for voters in Rochester and Strood. In the event of losing the by-election, there will be a furious debate about which direction the party needs to go in, and the clamour will be loudest from those who think that the only way forward is to out-Ukip Ukip .

Mr Green wants us to know that there are still a considerable number of Conservatives who actually support the EU and think the country benefits by doing so.

Their voices are a little muted just now and will be so until November 20. But they are anxious not to be completely steamrollered when the debate about what direction the party will go in gets underway after voters in Rochester and Strood have had their say.

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Labour has a tricky job on its hands to convince voters it has a credible policy on immigration and the issue is inevitably centre stage in the Rochester and Strood by-election.

It has clearly decided that on balance, it is better to try and confront the issue head on rather than ignore it.

This week's visit by Ed Miliband and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper was aimed at trying to underline a policy which balances the party's bellief that immigration has been good for the UK and at the same time, has been bad for the UK. This "two for one" policy is hard to sell to an electorate which in the current climate thinks that the pendulum is stuck on the bad side.

In ramping up the immigration rhetoric, it risks being seen as dancing to UKIP's tune and alienating its own core supporters.

The biggest credibilty gap, however, is not what its policy is today but what it was when it was last in government.

When asked about its failings over benefit tourism and failure to stop unrestricted numbers coming into the UK, Mr Miliband said "You don't get everything right in government."

Unfortunately for Labour, not enough time has passed for voters to forget its rather poor track record  and with just three weeks before polling day, is highly unlikely to convert undecided voters.

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It has been a mixed campaign for the Conservatives to date but at least it now has a candidate in place for the by-election.

Kelly Tolhurst, a life-long local resident and Medway councillor, won a two-horse race, edging out Anna Firth in a postal primary that didn't quite ignite the public in the way the party perhaps wanted.

This was probably down to the rather compressed timescale for the election of its candidate as much as public indfifference. The party clearly hoped that the primary would enable it to differentiate itself from UKIP, where Mark Reckless was installed with no vote by members, 

But I am sceptical about whether voters will go into the polling booths with the process of selection uppermost in their minds.

And the time it has taken to complete the selection has arguably given Ukip a free run in the campaign for several weeks. That precious commodity of momentum is still with it, as the recent ComRes poll illustrated.

The result was closer than expected. Kelly Tolhurst was the favourite - particularly given her local roots - and impressed a lot of people with her passion and enthusiasm. But she is being thrust into a political cauldron and the media will be scrutinising her every move and utterance.

The pressure on her will be immense and it is likely the party machine will be making sure she is not too exposed. Let's hope she will not be too carefully managed.

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Slightly surreal moment of the campaign so far: Ed Miliband talking to a pink bear in Rochester yesterday - no, not a real one - that would be really strange - but a charity fundraiser. It led to a comment straight out of The Thick Of It by one of his aides, heard to say: "Bring the pink bear over now."

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

So, who will get over the finish line first?

 

Why UKIP could win:

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

 

Why UKIP could lose:

 

 

 

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

The unknown factors:

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

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Medway | Rochester | Strood

Out with stale males - but will anyone really care at election time?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, July 16 2014

With the kind of chutzpah you tend to expect from politicians, David Cameron declared that his reshuffle presented the best of modern Britain, which begged the obvious but unanswered question as to what sort of Britain we have been living in until this week.

Still, the reshuffle threw up enough changes to satisfy the hungriest of political commentators and observers, not least in the departure of the much-maligned education secretary Michael Gove, who will now get first hand experience of the challenge faced by many teachers every day - handling an undisciplined group of disinterested people.

For Kent's MPs, it proved to be a mixed bag. The much heralded cull of stale middle-aged males led to the unexpected sacking of policing minister Damian Green, the Ashford MP. What had he done wrong? Nothing at all.

Even the hard-nosed Police Federation lamented his departure, surely a first. But he fell into the political demographic being targeted by the PM and paid the price - the irony being that as a moderate, progressive Tory he no doubt believes that Mr Cameron may be doing the right thing in freshening up his top team. Having said that, in replacing Mr Green with Mike Penning - who is the kind of stale male Cameron wanted to cull, he is entitled to  be a little perplexed.

He is not a natural rebel, with consensual tendencies but his note of defiance in a tweet was intriguing, announcing that he would continue to fight for what he believed in. What could it mean? 

Also heading for the exit door is the Faversham and Mid Kent MP Hugh Robertson, widely praised for his stint as Olympics minister.

He decided to stand down as foreign office minister to take stock with his family about his future, which leaves open a variety of options. Having had arguably two of the most interesting ministerial briefs and overseeing the London Olympics, he may consider that he won't top that unless he gets a senior cabinet role. Might he decide to leave politics? A possibility as he has never made secret that he would like the chance to try his hand at another career.

Anti-fracking groups will no doubt be celebrating the departure of Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon, who has landed the role of defence minister after a lengthy parliamentary career and who may owe his elevation partly to his Euro-sceptic tendencies.

The question is whether anyone will, come May 2015, care two hoots about this reshuffle? Cameron is obviously concerned that many regard his government as being made up of a privileged, public-school educated male-dominated elite who, despite their protestations, have no real grasp of the daily challenges of "ordinary hard-working" families. 

I seriously doubt anyone will go into a polling both next year, reminding themselves that the PM changed his top team to include more women. Voters are not stupid and tend to see through this kind of opportunism but you can understand Cameron's dilemma. If he had stuck with his hand rather than twisted, he would have handed his opponents an easy target.

On balance, it seems the right thing to do but it also runs a risk. Some of those promoted are unknown quantities and lack experience at the top level. And beyond the confines of Westminster, there is a large constituency of stale males in their fifties who may feel ratheraffronted at being written off.

UKIP no doubt already has them in its sights.

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 Michael Gove's departure as education secretary is said to have prompted high-fives and cheers in staff rooms up and down the length of the country.

You might also have heard a smallish cheer at County Hall, where the relationships betwen KCC and the DfE have been slightly fractious to say the least. KCC started the ball rolling by joining a High Court challenge over the cancellation of various building projects under the BSF scheme scrapped by the coalition.

More recently, there has been the vexed progress - or lack of it - over KCC's attempts to create a new grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks, which Mr Gove seemed rather cool about.

Where the new education secretary Nicky Morgan stands on selection is anyone's guess. But KCC will be extending the hand of friendship to someone who they hope just might be more sympathetic to their plan. 

 

 

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Maria Miller's resignation was inevitable but who wins?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, April 9 2014

Maria Miller's resignation was predictable the moment it became clear that many of her Conservative parliamentary colleagues were not happy about her staying in her job and were taking flak on the doorsteps from voters who were questioning why she hadn't already been sacked.

And as the days went on, more Tory MPs were prepared to say publicly it might be better if she went - effectively questioning their leader's judgement and his inistence that she could stay in the cabinet.

The judgement was made by David Cameron that because she had been cleared of the central charge, she ought to be allowed to stay on.

Despite Cameron's emphasis on this point, the finer technical details on which a committee of MPs delivered this verdict went unnoticed by many - or was delibarately ignored.

That is part of the problem with accusations of political sleaze. The public - much to the exasperation of MPs elected in 2010 - were largely oblivious to the fact that her conduct and claims were being judged against the old regulations, not the new ones which have tightened many of the loopholes gratuitously abused by so many former MPs.

Fair or not, there was enough in the standards committee report - not least the charge that she had sought to frustrate the inquiry - to give her opponents ammunition. She did not do herself many favours with her perfunctory apology, a PR car crash by anyone's standards.

It is telling that as a result of this episode, politicians from all parties are now falling over themselves to talk about the need for further reforms to the expenses regulations - having told everyone back in 2010 that they had devised a foolproof set of new rules that would restore the integrity of  politicians and be impossible to circumvent.

The public backlash over the saga is not just about Maria Miller but a wider feeling that our elected representatives still play by different rules. Unless they can address that, distrust will remain.

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The forthcoming European and council elections were undoubtedly a factor in the pressure being heaped on Maria Miller.

An already tricky election for the Conservatives risked becoming even more challenging with sleaze allegations swirling around.

UKIP - already favourites to win the Euro elections - will no doubt pick up even more votes from those disaffected with the mainstream parties. And it still looks like the leader Nigel Farage will be standing as a candidate in Kent.

Whether it is Folkestone and Hythe or Thanet South remains to be seen but Mr Farage came much closer than he has before now to confirming it will be one or the other, telling my colleague Matt Leclere that "it was more than likely" he will be a candidate somewhere in the Garden of England.

 

 

 

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Fracking push leaves councils in a bind.

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, January 14 2014

There are good reasons why the planning system has legal safeguards to stop developers offering sweeteners to councils. 

But there is nothing to stop politicians from doing so - which explains how the government has been able, as it announced yesterday, to dangle the promise of money before hard-pressed local authorities if they give the go-ahead to fracking wells.

Government push for more fracking denounced as bribery>>>

The political line is that communities that are affected by fracking deserve a share in the rewards.

In this case, it is a pledge that councils will be able to keep 100% of the business rates companies pay. There is also the promise that communities where wells are sunk may get an additional dividend from any profits.

Of course, the politicians would prefer us to describe this as an incentive rather than a bribe.

But whatever term you use, it still looks like a fairly naked attempt to buy off councils who are desperately short of money - not least because the government has cut their grants. 

It is hard to tell how planning authorities will respond but they are in an invidious position. Give the go-ahead for drilling wells and they stand to be accused of putting money before the environment.

Refuse and others will complain that they are running scared and want to avoid becoming the next Balcombe, let alone forfeiting money that could be used to support crucial frontline services.

Fracking is controversial and the government's latest intervention is only likely to make it more so. In fact, it reinforces the perception that there are risks associated with the way shale gas is extracted.

After all, if the arguments in favour of fracking were so comprehensive and persuasive, would there be any need to make such offers?

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Kent County Council has produced a new version of its report that rather controversially asserted that there was a link between the government's welfare reforms and rising crime, homelessness and food bank use.

It followed a decision from council leader Paul Carter to withdraw the report over concerns that the evidence on which conclusions were drawn was flawed and data was misnterpreted

Guess what?

The second report has concluded that the evidence on which the conclusions were drawn was indeed flawed and it was too early to say "with any certainty" what the impact of the changes might be.

Fancy that.

 

 

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Eastleigh: what lessons for Kent?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, March 1 2013

It is always difficult to extrapolate from the result of a by-election what wider messages the voters have sent to politicians and how they might affect the parties' prospects in other areas.

So, is it possible to draw anything about Kent's political landscape from the outcome of the Eastleigh by-election?

Only in general terms, perhaps - particularly given that this was a seat where there was a two-way fight between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives which really has no parallel in most of the county's parliamentary constituencies.

The Liberal Democrats did not so much gallop to victory as hang on by their fingernails, which against the backdrop of the Chris Huhne affair and the Lord Rennard allegations, was arguably no mean feat.

The Conservatives had a miserable result, losing ground yet again to UKIP in a result that suggested that David Cameron's pledge for an "in-out" referendum on the EU did not help shore up the party's core vote.

That will worry Kent Tories who are very jittery about UKIP and see Nigel Farage's party as more of a threat to their prospects at May's county council election than anyone else. It was interesting to hear Michael Gove cite immigration as one of the "doorstep" issues mentioned by voters during the Eastleigh campaign - that, coupled with voters' concerns over the EU - make UKIP more than just a natural repository for protest votes.

Cameron's dilemma is whether to stick to the centre ground or adopt more right-wing policies to neutralise the UKIP threat.

For evidence closer to home of the potential for UKIP to take votes away from the Conservatives, the result of a by-election in Ashford is telling: UKIP came third in a contest won by Labour (it was a safe seat) but came within two votes of beating the Conservatives to take second place.

On the other hand, Labour should be equally alarmed that Ed Miliband's efforts to depict his party as a "one nation" party appears to have had little resonance with voters.

The phenomenon of Labour's "southern discomfort" is something the party is desperate to resolve: if it cannot attract voters back in the constituencies in Kent that it won during the Blair era, it will not be in a position to form the next government.

Eastleigh was never a seat where Labour had any chance of winning but it will have to ask why, given all the coalition's woes, it did not fare better.

UKIP didn't win but will undoubtedly be happiest at its surge in the polls.

The question now is whether in places like Kent, it can sustain its momentum in a way which means it is regarded by voters as  legitimate part of the political mainstream - and not just somewhere to register a protest against the others.


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Categories: National Politics

Conservatives scratch at their European itch

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, October 25 2011

Try as they might, the Conservatives have an unfortunate habit of scratching at a running sore that might be better left alone. Last night's rebellion, joined by four Kent backbenchers, was undeniably an embarrassment for David Cameron who seemed to have misjudged the mood among the ranks quite badly.

Kent MPs who joined revolt>>>

More than that, however, it exposes him to the damaging accusation that he presides over a disunited party and if there is one thing voters dislike more than anything, it is the sense that there is a split in the government.

His problem is that dissident Euro-sceptic backbenchers are a notoriously tenacious bunch, as unlikely to give up the cause as a dog with a tasty bone. The attritional warfare that blighted John Major in the 1990s sapped his government's energy and credibility over time and Cameron will have to do something to avoid a repetition. At the moment, his argument that powers are being repatriated strikes me as weak, largely because not many people understand the policy.

Adam Holloway, who quit as the PPS to the European minister, to join the revolt, was right to demolish the rather lame government line that 'now was not the right time' for a referendum. 

My suspicion is that rather more Kent backbenchers might have liked to join the rebellion. One interesting footnote to the debate is that back in 1996, when Bill Cash - the arch Eurosceptic - was causing his government so much grief - two of the county's MPs backed his Bill to force a referendum on our membership of the EU: Canterbury's Julian Brazier and North Thanet's Roger Gale.

 

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Categories: Precept

Got a bee in your bonnet?

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