All posts tagged 'labour'

No clear winner but a TV debate that confounded expectations

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, April 3 2015

It was inevitable that the party spin doctors all declared that their candidate won but the truth is that the seven-way election debate was a score draw - and a highly entertaining one at that. The fact that the snap polls had differing results served to underline that this is a highly unpredictable election where any number of outcomes remain possible.

Here's my verdict:

DAVID CAMERON: A composed but slightly safe performance, lacking a little passion perhaps as he strived to present himself as the safe pair of hands and appealed to voters to let him finish the job. It was never likely that he as going to make any gaffes. But stuck out at the end of the podiums did rather make him appear a little aloof. Safe rather than inspring but his aides won't be unhappy about that.

ED MILIBAND: Another solid performance but I did find his one-armed  fist clenching podium punching a little distracting. Kept to the script well, had a good line attacking the Conservatives for being unwilling to tallk about the future. His obvious attempts to address the audience beyond those in the studio were a little bit clunky.No "hell yeah" moments.

NICK CLEGG: The clear winner in the 2010 debates, this was another smooth performance, and his attacks on Cameron had you wondering how on earth the pair had managed a coalition for five years. However, while his willingness to acknowledge mistakes - including the U-turn on tuition fees - had the virtue of candour it did also remind voters of a politician who said one thing and did another

NIGEL FARAGE: Began a little woodenly but got into his stride as the debate went on and pushed all the usual Ukip buttons - effectively depicting his rivals as "all the same" and how he represents those who feel disconnected from mainstream parties. There is always scope for something left field when he is interviewed and his comments on people from abroad being treated for HIV came close to that. While he mentioned his party's support for grammar schools he could have put Cameron on the spot over his failure to back a plan for a new one in Kent.

NICOLA STURGEON: By common consent was one of the best performers on the night. Assertive and confident, it could have been tricky for her to make a wider appeal to voters beyond Scotland but did the job well. Effectively criticised the main party leaders as the old boys club. But her strong showing may have served to remind voters that the SNP may have a pivotal role in determining who may run the country after May 7 - allowing Cameron to claim that the SNP might let Miliband through the back door.

NATALIE BENNETT: The most nervous of the seven and appeared to be referring to cue cards on the podium. No major mishaps but I think that she did not come across as well as her rivals. Still, she staked out the Green party claim that it is the most progressive of the parties, arguing that we should "celebrate free movement in the EU". Didn't really cut through as strongly as she may have done.

LEANNE WOODS: Had an even trickier proposition than Nicola Sturgeon but did with some success. Her scolding of Nigel Farage over HIV patients and anti-immigration rhetoric was particularly effective and she had a great line about ordinary people needing a bale out - not just the bankers.


 

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The starting gun has been fired - so who has reasons to be cheerful?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, March 30 2015

It's official: the starting gun has been fired and the formal general election campaign is underway, even if it might feel like campaigning has been going on for weeks. So, with just weeks to go, how are the parties faring in Kent and Medway?

Who has reasons to be cheerful and who may be feeling apprehensive?

The Conservatives:

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • The party has the benefit of incumbent MPs in most Kent constituencies, who will to a lesser or greater extent carry some personal vote
  • David Cameron consistently out polls Ed 'Hell Yeah' Miliband as the person most trusted by voters to be PM
  • The economy appears to have turned a corner and the party's appeal to voters not to risk damaging the recovery could be central to undecided voters 

Reasons to be worried:

  • The insurgent Ukip party is nipping at its heels in many parts of the county. The shadow of Nigel Farage, standing in South Thanet, looms large and there are fears Ukip could split the vote and let Labour in
  • Despite the up-turn in the economy, many people still say they are not benefitting
  • Immigration is still a touchstone issue in Kent and the Conservative failure to curb numbers remains a faultline
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Labour

Reasons to be cheerful:
  • Ukip is, on balance, more likely to win over disaffected Conservatives which could, in sufficient numbers, allow it to come through the middle and win seats
  • Polls point to the NHS as being a key concern and with several Kent hospitals under-performing, it is an issue Labour is strong on
  • Ed Miliband may lag behind David Cameron but if he performs well in the remaining TV debates, that gap may narrow
Reasons to be worried:
  • Ed Miliband consistently loses out to David Cameron when voters are asked who they most trust to be Prime Minister
  • The party's failure to tackle immigration cost them seats in 2010 and the issue is still seen as an Achiles' heel in Kent
  • There are signs that it is leaking voters to Ukip at one end of the political specturm - and to the Green party at the other - meaning it could be squeezed in its target seats of Chatham and Aylesford and Dover and Deal
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The Liberal Democrats

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • Things are about as bad as they could be for the  party's poll rating - surely they can't get much worse?
  • The party is heavily targetting the Conservative-held seat of Maidstone and The Weald and has an outside chance of success
  • Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, Ukip is not siphoning away supporters on the same scale
Reasons to be gloomy
  • The party has no solid county-wide base of supporters to act as foot soldiers and has struggled to find candidates 
  • It won't have much by way of campaign resources to throw at Kent as it is fighting to hang on to its existing MPs elsewhere
  • The broken promise on tuition fees continues to cost it support in university towns and cities
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UKIP

Reasons to be cheerful:
  • Kent has become an established power base for the party, meaning it has plenty of willing volunteers to canvas support
  • Nigel Farage may not be everyone's cup of tea but his presence as South Thanet candidate means the party is getting a far high-profile in the county
  • Immigration remains a key concern for voters and Ukip is seen as particularly strong on this issue

Reasons to be gloomy
  • It has had to deal with rather too many embarrassing episodes involving candidates close to home, the latest being the expulsion of Janice Atkinson as ppc for Folkestone and Hythe over an expenses claim
  • There is some evidence of informal anti-Ukip coalitions emerging in key seats which could squeeze its vote
  • Its policies on the EU and immigration are clear but less so on other subjects
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The Green Party

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • It won't win any parliamentary seats but there are signs it is picking up support from disaffected Labour supporters and Liberal Democrat voters
  • It has a record number of candidates in Kent council elections and is likely to win in some of those

Reasons to be gloomy:

  • Some of its policies have been derided as unrealistic and impossible to implement
  • After a car crash TV interview with  leader Natalie Bennett, its poll ratings took a slide

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Categories: Politics

The starting gun has been fired - so who has reasons to be cheerful?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, March 30 2015

It's official: the starting gun has been fired and the formal general election campaign is underway, even if it might feel like campaigning has been going on for weeks. So, with just weeks to go, how are the parties faring in Kent and Medway?

Who has reasons to be cheerful and who may be feeling apprehensive?

The Conservatives:

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • The party has the benefit of incumbent MPs in most Kent constituencies, who will to a lesser or greater extent carry some personal vote
  • David Cameron consistently out polls Ed 'Hell Yeah' Miliband as the person most trusted by voters to be PM
  • The economy appears to have turned a corner and the party's appeal to voters not to risk damaging the recovery could be central to undecided voters 

Reasons to be worried:

  • The insurgent Ukip party is nipping at its heels in many parts of the county. The shadow of Nigel Farage, standing in South Thanet, looms large and there are fears Ukip could split the vote and let Labour in
  • Despite the up-turn in the economy, many people still say they are not benefitting
  • Immigration is still a touchstone issue in Kent and the Conservative failure to curb numbers remains a faultline
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Labour

Reasons to be cheerful:
  • Ukip is, on balance, more likely to win over disaffected Conservatives which could, in sufficient numbers, allow it to come through the middle and win seats
  • Polls point to the NHS as being a key concern and with several Kent hospitals under-performing, it is an issue Labour is strong on
  • Ed Miliband may lag behind David Cameron but if he performs well in the remaining TV debates, that gap may narrow
Reasons to be worried:
  • Ed Miliband consistently loses out to David Cameron when voters are asked who they most trust to be Prime Minister
  • The party's failure to tackle immigration cost them seats in 2010 and the issue is still seen as an Achiles' heel in Kent
  • There are signs that it is leaking voters to Ukip at one end of the political specturm - and to the Green party at the other - meaning it could be squeezed in its target seats of Chatham and Aylesford and Dover and Deal
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The Liberal Democrats

Reasons to be cheerful:

  • Things are about as bad as they could be for the  party's poll rating - surely they can't get much worse?
  • The party is heavily targetting the Conservative-held seat of Maidstone and The Weald and has an outside chance of success
  • Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, Ukip is not siphoning away supporters on the same scale
Reasons to be gloomy
  • The party has no solid county-wide base of supporters to act as foot soldiers and has struggled to find candidates 
  • It won't have much by way of campaign resources to throw at Kent as it is fighting to hang on to its existing MPs elsewhere
  • The broken promise on tuition fees continues to cost it support in university towns and cities
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UKIP

Reasons to be cheerful:
  • Kent has become an established power base for the party, meaning it has plenty of willing volunteers to canvas support
  • Nigel Farage may not be everyone's cup of tea but his presence as South Thanet candidate means the party is getting a far high-profile in the county
  • Immigration remains a key concern for voters and Ukip is seen as particularly strong on this issue

Reasons to be gloomy
  • It has had to deal with rather too many embarrassing episodes involving candidates close to home, the latest being the expulsion of Janice Atkinson as ppc for Folkestone and Hythe over an expenses claim
  • There is some evidence of informal anti-Ukip coalitions emerging in key seats which could squeeze its vote
  • Its policies on the EU and immigration are clear but less so on other subjects
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The Green Party

Reasons to be cheerful:

It won't win any parliamentary seats but there are signs it is picking up support from disaffected Labour supporters and Liberal Democrat voters
It has a record number of candidates in Kent council elections and is likely to win in some of those

Reasons to be gloomy:

Some of its policies have been derided as unrealistic and impossible to implement
After a car crash TV interview with  leader Natalie Bennett, its poll ratings took a slide

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Categories: Politics

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

It's a two-way fight in the by-election battle - but who will deliver the knockout blow?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, November 7 2014

We are, as football commentators like to say, at the business end of the by-election battle for Rochester and Strood.

You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks it is anything but a two-way fight between Ukip and the Conservatives, with the former still ahead on points as they continue sparring.

Conservatives sources say that although the party is behind, the gap is not as wide as the recent opinion polls have indicated and it could yet be a tight race.

I think that may be an optimistic assessment but the last thing any party is going to do or say is anything that could be construed as running up the white flag.

 

The biggest difficulty facing the Conservatives is persuading undecided or floating voters to opt for them rather than Ukip, along with cajoling their own supporters to get out and vote on polling day rather than sit on their hands in protest.

It does appear the party's strategy is geared towards pushing Ukip as hard as it can on November 20 and closing the gap to a point where it can depict the result as a by-election blip and a good platform to recapture the seat next May.

Unless, of course, it finds a way to deliver a decisive knock-out blow in the next two weeks.

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Meanwhile, Ukip remains bouyant but underlying its outwardly confident mood, there are jangling nerves.

It cannot afford to be seen as complacent and cannot afford to make any high-profile gaffes that could be exploited by its opponents to renew the "fruitcake" charge.

It slipped up this week at its open hustings meeting when Mark Reckless rather clumsily described dictator Colonel Gadaffi as "good for immigration" - trying to make a wider point that in so doing, he had stopped migrants leaving Libya and entering Europe through Italy.

And there continues to be plenty of mud being thrown in Ukip's direction about Lodge Hill, with the Conservatives in particular ensuring that the apparently contradictory positions held by Mark Reckless remains in the public domain.

It has just released an American-style attack ad video outlining what it believes to be his flip-flopping on the issue - an interesting development in its strategy.

This is undoubtedly a faultline for Ukip and while it has tried to counter by suggesting that the position of the Conservative candidate Kelly Tolhurst is ambiguous, it has looked defensive on the issue.

Still, Nigel Farage - who we haven't seen as much of in recent weeks - gave a turbo charge to its hustings meeting in Hoo this week and is said to be returning for a rally to ramp up the Ukip campaign next week.

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The last thing Labour wants in the run-up to polling day is for questions to be asked about its leader Ed Miliband.

But that is what it has got and the danger now is that its prospects in a seat it held for 13 years until 2010 are even worse. Bookmakers are now offering odds of 80-1 against it wininng the seat.

If there is a plan for Ed Miliband to make a return visit, I would expect it is being reconsidered rather urgently.

The party is working on a result which would give it a creditable third place but even that is at risk.

And although it is a long shot, might the Green party pull off a shock and squeeze it into fourth place?

A crushing defeat like that would have huge repercussions for the party - and take some of the heat off David Cameron.








 



 

 

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Is the Rochester and Strood by-election pendulum swinging away from the Conservatives?

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

It is almost impossible to discern which way the political wind is blowing in the Rochester and Strood by-election but if you are to believe what some commentators are saying, the Conservatives are bracing themselves for a loss.

I don't necessarily subscribe to that view but there is no avoiding that the convergence of various issues is not offering the party a particularly propitious backdrop to its campaign.

The by-election is being dominated by the twin issues of immigration and the UK's membership of EU as much as anything else.

So, to say it was unhelpful to have been ambushed by the EU demanding an extra £1.7bn is something of an under-statement. The fact that the Prime Minister had to truncate a campaign visit to Rochester because he was still in Brussels at a press conference last Friday only served to underline the seriousness of the issue.

Of course, it is possible this could play to the Conservatives if the PM manages to negotiate a reduction but for many, the demand for the money is another illustration of the suspicion  we put in rather more than we get out, which plays to Ukip's appeal.

On immigration, Conservative spirits would not have been helped by the comments made by the Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchard, who gave evidence to the Home Affairs select committee this week.

In fairly blunt remarks, she told MPs the reason so many migrants were gathered at the French town was because the UK was seen as "El Dorado" and there were jobs to be filled and benefits to be claimed.

This was followed by a set of figures suggesting that there was a growing backlog of asylum seeker claims and 50,000 asylum seekers were "lost" - exactly the kind of thing Ukip laps up to suggest that the governemnt has and is losing control over its borders.

Finally, it seems the government is preparing for a revolt by Conservative backbenchers over the European Arrest Warrant, with MPs believing that it hands other countries too much power to detain UK citizens.

In 2012, the Dover MP Charlie Elphicke organised a letter to the Daily Telegraph signed by more than 100 MPs which outlined their concerns over the EU Commission's ambitions for "a pan-European code of Euro Crimes" - and "deep concerns" over the EAW.

Among the signatories were eight Conservative Kent MPs but I rather suspect they will be brought round to support the government when a vote is held.

With all these issues heaping pressure on the Conservatives, perhaps the question is not so much whether it can win but whether Ukip can lose.

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A chirpy Ed Balls followed his leader down to Rochester to rally support ahead of November 20 but it does seem that their objective is not outright victory but not to lose so badly that it undermines their prospects in Kent at the general election

It is a measure of the changing political landscape that it has almost been forgotten Kent has, over the last four elections, been a battle between Labour and the Conservatives rather than a contest between Ukip and the Conservatives.

But Ukip's growing appeal is drawing support away from Labour as much as it is from the Conservatives. Yet the party knows that to form a government, it will have to win seats in Kent - it is not enough to base your strategy around general national poll ratings which put you marginally ahead of the Conservatives.

It seems the party has one eye on next May but it does seem curious it has allowed the impression to form the contest is a two-way battle between the Conservatives and Ukip while it plays for a decent third place.

Tony Blair recognised the secret to the party's success over his three terms was to ensure it won over "middle England" voters who are now peeling off to Ukip in large numbers.  Ed Miliband seems to be concentrating on shoring up its core supporters, a more defensive strategy.

Perhaps there is some consolation in the fact that a new poll out today puts the NHS as top among voters' concerns in Rochester and Strood - one issue that Labour is strong on.

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If you want an indication of how difficult it is to read this by-election, take a confrontation that William Hague and Kelly Tolhurst had with a disgruntled former Conservative voter in a walkabout in Rochester.

Donna Ripley confronted the pair to demand why a "mega" mosque in Gillingham had been given planning permission and asked whether "this was the way you want England to go?"

She was rather underwhelmed by the reply.

So, would she be voting Ukip? Not at all. "I think they are racist and bigoted."

 


 

 

 

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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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Kent's political map turns a tinge of purple

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, May 28 2014

Whether it was an earthquake or tremor, the success of UKIP at the European election has sent a shockwave through the political establishment.

UKIP celebrates after stunning election success>>>

An understandably euphoric Nigel Farage has now set his sights on propelling "the people's army" into Westminster and breaking the mould. In one of his less guarded moments, he said that the scale of his party's victory meant  "anything was possible" and while UKIP would never form a government, it just might hold the balance of power after the election.

So, how realistic is it that UKIP will have MPs in Westminster? Mr Farage says the party will focus its efforts on a string of constituencies where it has already secured a power base. Ironically, this mimics the successful campaign strategy adopted by the Liberal Democrats in places like the west country.

Several Kent seats will be among the targets. Among them will be the two Thanet seats, Folkestone and Hythe and Sittingbourne and Sheppey. Or as Nigel Farage put it: "Yes, we do like to be beside the seaside."

Of course, the main problem is that, unlike the European election, MPs are voted in on the first-past-the-post system.

Still, in some of these seats UKIP has the benefit of a well-organised and enthusiastic base of activists and councillors, notably Thanet where UKIP now boasts seven county councillors out of the eight that represent the area. These things matter in campaigns where the margin between winning and losing will be tight.

Also on the plus side is that in most of these areas, UKIP did extremely well in terms of their share of the vote. In Thanet, the party took 46% of the vote compared to 24% in 2009. Many now expect Nigel Farage himself will contest  Thanet South, where the Conservatives have yet to adopt a candidate following Laura Sandys' decision to stand down. That may cut both ways, of course  - the leader is loved and loathed in equal measure -  but on balance will be seen as an advantage.

UKIP's contention that it takes away as many votes from Labour as it does from the Conservatives has something in it but can it siphon away enough of their supporters to come through the middle?

Mid-term elections always see the government taking a kicking in the form of protest votes and, important though they are, UKIP will have campaign on more than just immigration and withdrawing from Europe at the general election. They will also be under even greater scrutiny by their opponents..

Still, if ever there was a time for UKIP to make a parliamentary breakthrough, this is surely is it. The party's European success - albeit on a low turnout - is important because voters will now be less likely to think that putting a cross against "the people's army" is a waste.

Traditionally, the political map of Kent has been red and blue - and more often just blue. UKIP's success this week and at the county council election means the map is developing a distinctly purple tinge.

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The European election results have left the main parties wondering what they can do to counter the threat of UKIP next May.

So far, they seem to think that if they can get their message across - or "deliver" their message - on key issues like immigration and the promise of a referendum, UKIP will be neutered. I am not so sure. Both Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have been hammering their key messages on these issues in the weeks running up to polling day.

It is not that they failed to spell out in detail what their position was - it was that voters did not believe them. Retreating to the same strategy but saying it much louder will not be enough.

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Is Labour still suffering from Southern Discomfort? The party's share of the vote went up by more than 6% to 14.6% but fell way short of the Conservative share, which fell to 31%.

With a general election a year away, they will need to improve on that significantly if they are to have any chance of winning back any of the seats they lost in Kent in 2010. The message from party chiefs is that they know there is "more to do" but they can get there. There is nothing wrong with an optimistic outlook but these results make it less, rather than more likely that they are in a good position to win. (Some Conservatives were quietly pleased with the way their vote held up reasonably well).

In the key target seats of Dover and Chatham and Aylesford, they need a swing of 5.2% and 6.9% respectively. With national polls giving them only a narrow lead, that is a big hill to climb.

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Categories: Precept

No-go areas, Manston grounded and EU elections: the week in Kent politics

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, May 16 2014

Here's a round-up of the top political stories of the week in Kent and Medway:

1. Three words uttered by a would-be UKIP MEP standing for election in the south east region succeeded in sparking a furious row.  UKIP's Janice Atkinson claimed there were now "no go areas" in many parts of the county as a result of the presence of East European migrant gangs - identifying parts of Thanet, Medway and Gravesend as such areas. She appealed for calm after a major police operation which led to the arrest by Kent Police of 22 suspects thought to be connected to trafficking. To her political opponents, they were reckless and irresponsible comments. But judging by the reaction, it seemed she had wide support. But what did Kent's police commissioner Ann Barnes think? She wasn't able to say because of the election purdah rules, according to her spokesman.

2. There was to be no eleventh-hour reprieve for Manston Airport despite a huge campaign by supporters to keep it open. Even the pledge by the Prime Minister to do what he could failed to persuade the airport's owner Ann Gloag to think again. Despite a final throw of the dice by the American investment firm RiverOak, which  improved its offer right up to the final day,  there was to be no deal. Why? No-one seemed quite sure as they wouldn't say.

But already there is speculation that the site could be sold for housing development at a more lucrative price. Which can be scant consolation to the 150 staff who lost their jobs as the doors closed amid emotional scenes.

3.  Just when it needed some stability, there was yet more political turmoil at Thanet Council with the abrupt and unexpected resignation of Labour leader Cllr Clive Hart. In a lengthy and emotional resignation statement posted on his Facebook page,  headed "Enough is Enough" Mr Hart gave full vent to his feelings about the "toxic behaviour" of certain other members. In particular, he pointed the finger at the Green councillor Ian Driver  - a persistent thorn in the council's side. Mr Hart - who only a week before had been elected unopposed as Labour leader - said he had felt under siege because of Cllr Driver. For his part, Mr Driver said he was a convenient scapegoat and all he was doing was trying to keep the council open and accountable. 

Clive Hart was replaced by the veteran Thanet politician Iris Johnston but even she faced problems straightaway as the former Labour deputy leader Alan Poole, along with Michelle Fenner announced they were quitting Labour and intended to sit as independents. Decontaminating the toxic political residues of Thanet politics will clearly take some time to complete.

4. It was bad news for Manston Airport but better news for Lydd Airport as it won a High Court battle against opponents who were trying to block its expansion. A new terminal for thousands of passenger and a runway close to 300-metres long will now be built although not everyone who lives in the area was happy.

5.The Conservatives may be braced for a drubbing in next week's European poll but will take heart from encouraging signs that the economy is definitely on the turn - illustrated  by a fall in the unemployment rate in Kent and Medway. If this trend continues, Labour's sloganeering about the "cost of living crisis" might not prove as resonant with voters as it hopes.

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Categories: Politics

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

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