All posts tagged 'conservatives'

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

More ups and downs in the Manston Airport saga.

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, September 26 2014

The saga over Manston Airport has already thrown up plenty of surprises but perhaps the biggest one came this week.

Just days after minister Grant Shapps declared his unwavering support for the airport and left campaigners in a euphoric mood came the news of its sale.

And the new owners dropped a bombshell: in their grand masterplan, regeneration specialists Chris Musgrave and Trevor Carpenter declared there was no place for an airport or any aviation-related services.

There has inevitably been speculation that the idea of a "mixed-use" commercial development outlined by the new owners means something else, namely a sprawling housing development.

The owners firmly reject the claim of uncontrollable housing sprawl insisting they are genuinely committed to establishing a site which has a variety of commercial uses, as well as some residential development.

Either way, Thanet Council is facing both a quandary and an opportunity. The ruling Labour administration is in the throes of deciding whether to push for a CPO in partnership with the American company RiverOak.

The latter has said that so far as they are concerned, the sale of the site to new owners makes no difference to their plan and a commitment to the council to underwrite the costs.

In a sense, RiverOak is right but the same cannot be said for the council.

From a position where there was only one offer on the table, the council now has another, which looks on the surface to have some credibility and would dovetail with the work underway to redevelop the former Pfizer site, the Discovery Park.

The difficulty for the Labour leadership is that it has, until now and very publicly, stood four square behind those who want to see Manston retained as an airport.

Behind the scenes, we know, however, that there is some disquiet among Labour councillors about supporting a CPO even if it is underwritten by RiverOak. Some of that disquiet is also felt by members of the Conservative group.

The report council officials will present to next month's cabinet meeting cannot overlook the new owners' plans, and neither should it.

The political quandary is which option to back. Support a CPO which is bound to lead to a lengthy legal tussle with no guarantee of success or swing behind the alternative business park scheme with its promise of jobs (albeit rather imprecise) and investment.

The consolation for Labour is that precisely the same conundrum faces the Conservative party, which has also been fairly explicit in supporting those who want Manston to be retained as an airport.

The odds last week were on the council backing a CPO. This week, I would say those odds have lengthened considerably.

But next week? Who knows.

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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

Farage rejects Newark. Kent is in his sights

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, April 30 2014

Nigel Farage has moved quickly to rule out the prospect of him standing in the Newark by-election caused by the resignation of Patrick Mercer. There are few things more damaging to politicians than looking like opportunists and it was bound to be a charge thrown at him by opponents.

The UKIP leader may have his flaws but he has astute political antennae and calculated that winning the seat   - even given the party's steady rise in the polls and the spectacular council gains last year - would have been beyond his reach. He also rightly concluded that in standing, the by-election would have become a distraction from the EU poll, an argument he has deployed every time e has been asked about where he might stand in 2015. 

Which brings the speculation back to Kent and whether he will opt for either Thanet South or Folkestone and Hythe at the general election.

Even in these constituencies, however, there will be claims that his connections are rather loose. He lives in west Kent, for starters. But he stood in Thanet South in the 2005 general election and has made a point of visiting regularly an area that now has a solid UKIP base, after taking all but one of the Thanet county council seats last year. The party's Euro election campaign will wind up with a big rally in Margate just days before polls open.

He is also a regular visitor to Folkestone and Hythe - he enjoys fishing at Dungeness - which is also a UKIP stronghold. So, he can make a case of sorts that he has associations with the two constituencies, albeit tangential ones.

Between the two, there is no frontrunner. The case for going for Thanet South was that the incumbent MP Laura Sandys was a pro-European but she is standing down and the Conservatives have yet to pick a successor. If that is someone local and on the Euro-sceptic wing, UKIP has a tricky calculation to make.

In Folkestone and Hythe, he would be up against the incumbent Conservative Damian Collins who has a healthy 10,000+ majority and where in 2010, the UKIP candidate Frank McKenna - now a county councillor - took  only a 4% share of the vote.

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IT has not been the best of weeks for the Kent crime commissioner Ann Barnes after details of her £150,000 office move to Kent Police HQ in Maidstone came under scrutiny.

The commissioner hastily sought to pre-empt the publicity over the costs by setting out the details of her expenditure before it got chewed over by a national newspaper at the weekend. In fact, as it turned out, several of the claims over the costs were inaccurate.

But why haven’t the costs of the office move been made public before?

Like councils, police commissioners are required to publish details of everything they spend above £500 on a monthly basis.

The explanation given by the commissioner’s office was that it was a matter for Kent Police to set out the expenditure, not Ann Barnes.

This seems a grey area.  Two invoices do appear in the commissioner's record of her spending but no others do. You have to wonder why - even if it was formally the job of Kent Police - why the commissioner did not decide to get on the front foot much earlier by detailing the costs herself.

 

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Cry Freedom - the Conservative budget dilemma over the Freedom Pass

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, January 31 2014

Kent County Council must have calculated that its plans for a £350 cap limiting the use of the Freedom Pass would trigger some controversy.

But any hope that it could ride it out and persuade parents and children that the new arrangements still represented a good deal is failing on quite a spectacular level.

Mounting pressure over Freedom Pass changes>>>

If you wanted an illustration of the backlash, you don't have to look very far. Two petitions calling for a re-think have already attracted about 8,000 signatures. One has been started by a Conservative councillor in Shepway, which must be pretty galling for County Hall.

Even schools are encouraging parents to get on the case, sending out messages on social media linking to the petitions.

There are mutterings in the corridors of County Hall that some backbenchers are not terribly impressed and speculation that come the budget meeting, the opposition parties will join forces and try to block the changes.

KCC's dilemma is that the scheme has proved too successful and as a result, is proving a drain on its dwindling resources. Not many councils could sustain a discretionary service costing £13m a year to run given the relentless pressure on their budgets.

It is doubtful, however, that hard-pressed parents who fear they will have to fork out hundreds of pounds once the £350 cap is reached will have much time for the distinction between mandatory and non-mandatory services.

Containing school transport costs is undeniably a big issue for Kent, partly because it is such a large county.

One of the key principles behind the Freedom Pass was that it was designed to enhance the concept of parental choice when schooling was concerned. It is impossible to know, but there will be many parents and children who factored in the availability of the Freedom Pass when making choices about schools.

The scheme was also lauded for its impact on cutting congestion during the school run and environmental pollution around towns but we are not hearing much about that, despite it being an integral part of KCC's "Growth Without Gridlock" agenda.

It is only two years since the county council made an equally unpopular decision to end a scheme that gave help with transport costs to those attending grammar schools and church schools, depending on how far away they lived from the school.

At the time, the Conservatives justified the decision by saying that it would not be an issue because...of the introduction of the universal Freedom Pass.

That decision also rankled with county councillors and Conservative MPs and continues to do so - about a year ago, under pressure from backbenchers, KCC initiated a review to see if they could restore some limited help to pupils but again emphasised that the Freedom Pass neutralised the impact.

A working group was set up but that has not reported on options and no-one seems to know if it will.

Many parents say they would be happy if the pass could be used just for the purposes of getting children to and from school, dropping the "leisure" use element that allows it to be used seven-days a week for any journey.

KCC is unlikely to want to get bogged down in changes which could create a bureaucratic and administrative nightmare. One of the virtues of the scheme has been its relative simplicity.

Either way, the council is in a political bind and the irony is that it is paying the price not for failure but success.

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Kent's political selection box: round-up of latest candidate news

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, July 30 2013

It is proving a busy month for those who have eyes on the county as a place to launch or take the next step in their political careers, so here is a round up of recent selection news:

Labour has chosen its parliamentary candidates for a further three of Kent's constituencies. In Thanet South, the party has nominated Will Scobie to take on Laura Sandys. He was elected to the county council in May - one of Labour's few succeses in Thanet - and is also a Thanet council member. He faces the challenge of overturning a 7,000+ majority. Despite being a youthful 24, he has plenty of political experience under his belt although social media has inevitably seen some adverse comments that he has no other "outside" experience beyond politics. From what I have seen at County Hall, he seems pretty sharp.

Sittingbourne and Sheppey Labour party has opted for Guy Nicholson, a Yorkshireman living in London who serves on Hackney council as cabinet member for regeneration and Olympic legacy. It is his first stab at fighting a general election. He faces the challenge of trying to overcome a 12,000+ majority in 2015. The seat was back in 2005 a "super marginal" with a narrow Labour majority of 79 but Gordon Brown's implosion turned the seat into a relatively secure Conservative one in 2010.

Finally, Gravesham has chosen local councillor Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, 34, a former Gravesham mayor who has strong local roots having attended Gravesend Grammar School and lived most of his life in the area. He has already notched up a political first - he became the youngest Sikh mayor of any counci in the UK in 2011. He is currently cabinet member for business and communities on the council. Adam Holloway held on to this seat with a majority of 9,312 in 2010 and Labour considers this a viable target although the party made relatively modest gains in the KCC election - a signal perhaps that it has plenty of work to do to win back disaffected voters.

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Meanwhile, the Conservatives are in the midst of choosing the candidates who will be on the regional list for the south east at next year's European elections. The convoluted selection process has a little while to run and party members are voting for candidates on two lists. In the south east, members have already picked the arch Euro-sceptic Dan Hannan and Nirj Deva - both already MEPs - as the two who will automatically go to the top of the list.

They are also deciding who should be on the general shortlist, the candidates who will make up the rest of the party's platform. The ranking depends on how many votes they each get and in the south east, there is some interest in how Richard Ashworth, the leader of the Conservative group in Brussels, will fare after he failed to make the top two. If he comes anywhere less than third on the ballot, he is unlikely to be returned to Parliament.

Also on the list is the Shepway councillor Rory Love.

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UKIP is already taking up its prospects of doing well at the European election but has yet to decide which names will be on its list. Hustings meetings were held at the weekend and 26 hopefuls put themselves forward. These will be whittled down to 12 in the coming weeks. Among those in the frame is the Tunbridge Wells councillor and former Kent crime commissioner candidate Piers Wauchope.

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Finally, the search is underway for the person the Conservatives want to replace the veteran Tonbridge and Malling MP Sir John Stanley. Sir John is retiring in 2015 and his departure opens up a rock solid safe Conservative seat that plenty of hopefuls have their eye on. It should be a high calibre shortlist when the constituency gets around to whittling down names in the Autumn.

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Categories: Localism | Politics

Are Kent Conservative backbenchers feeling UKIP nipping at their heels?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Categories: Precept

Gloves come off in police commissioner race.

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, August 15 2012

There hasn't been much by way of excitement in the race to become Kent's first elected police commissioner. But after a relatively lacklustre start, it seems the gloves are coming off as rival candidates square up to one another.

The arrival of the forthright and uncompromising former Kent Police Authority chairman Ann Barnes as a candidate has undoubtedly stirred things up.

This week, she garnered some healthy media interest after leading a delegation of independent candidates to Downing Street to take issue with the Home Office rules that mean would-be commissioners won't get a 'free' mail shot to outline their manifesto pledges to voters.

It was a deftly executed PR move - although I doubt the specific issue is one that many people are terribly exercised about.

The truth is most voters pay very little attention to such mailshots and many more get thrown in the bin or used for the cat litter tray than are carefully read by people before they venture out to the polling station.

What was interesting was the reaction her intervention prompted from the Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay, who issued a lengthy statement to the media saying the costs of allowing an election address would be enough to pay for 40 front-line police officers.

His statement was more intriguing for another reason. In it, he speculated about the independent nature of Mrs Barnes' candidacy, stating "it would appear that many declared independent candidates are far from being so."

What could he possibly mean? Well, here is the rest of what he had to say:

"I make no obvious connection at this stage but given that Mrs Barnes’ campaign team is substantially made up of Lib Dems, with a campaign manager who has stood unsuccessfully three times in Parliamentary elections for the Lib Dems, I shall let the public decide whether Kent Lib Dems have found their true candidate hidden behind an independent facade and are now expecting Kent taxpayers to spread their message."

Mrs Barnes’ campaign is being masterminded by Peter Carroll, who stood twice in Folkestone and Hythe and once in Maidstone as a Lib Dem parliamentary candidate.

The Lib Dems are not fielding a candidate and behind the scenes, the Conservatives appear to think that it could be a useful strategy to plant in peoples' minds the idea that Mrs Barnes, if not an out-and-out Lib Dem is effectively their candidate.

Mrs Barnes' campaign team have decided to say nothing in response to these comments by Mr Mackinlay but are not as upset as you may think.

The view is that it shows the Conservative camp is rattled and if their line of attack means they keep Mrs Barnes' profile up and help establish her as a viable independent candidate, it is all grist to the mill.

Still, these are skirmishes in the phoney war.

What really matters is what the candidates intend to do if they become police commissioner. If they persist in tit-for-tat politicking, they may find voter disinterest is even worse than some fear come the actual election in November.

Read our special report on the race to become Kent Police Commissioner here

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