All posts tagged 'labour'

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

The wrong road - why KCC should engage reverse over bumping up expenses

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, July 17 2013

The taxman does not generally have many friends and Kent County Council is certainly not among them.

After a long wrangle which has been going on for more than a year, HMRC has told the authority that its 84 elected members should be paying tax on car journeys they make from home to County Hall.

The county council's response? It has set out an option to increase the mileage rate councillors can claim to compensate for the 'loss' caused by the tax deductions they will have to suffer.

Unfortunately for KCC, this particular option - which will be voted on on Thursday (18) - comes just one week after leaders announced they would be looking to make a further £240m savings from 2015 and would be looking to outsource many more services to avoid going bust.

So, the timing is not great and neither, whatever the arguments that may be made, is the perception that this amounts to a ruse by the council to ensure that they are not left out of pocket by HMRC's ruling. Inevitably, it would be the taxpayer picking up the estimated £50,000 more it will cost.

KCC's case that members should not pay tax on car journeys has turned on its contention that for many councillors, their home doubles as a place of work and consequently trips should be treated as business trips.

It is certainly true that many members do work in their own home (as indeed do many others employees who do not get any such tax relief) but HRMC said that unless members "routinely" saw constituents in their home, it did not class it as a workplace.

You can argue the case both ways, although my own feeling is that while many members do work at home, not many routinely see constituents at them - at least not as frequently as HMRC believes would be necessary.

(And no employer that I have come across subsidises travel from home to work.)

The HMRC guidance is pretty clear, saying that: "The fact that a councillor chooses to do some work at home - for example, reading council papers or completing correspondence - does not make that home a distinct place of work for the purpose of claiming tax relief on travel expenses."

All of which leaves county councillors in a quandary.

The one point where I have some sympathy is that certain members incur much more by way of expenses in travel because of where they live. Wear and tear on their cars is arguably more and so too are their petrol costs.

KCC says one other option might be to have some geographical banding, paying higher rates to those who live further away. That runs the perverse risk of incentivising more travel and the "meetings culture" too many town halls still cling too.

The county council's own report on the matter reveals just how seriously it has taken the issue.

It records "numerous representations" made to HRMC and disclosing that "members asked officers to delay implementation whilst a further approach was made to HRMC at the most senior level" only last month.

So, an idea of the priority they have given it.

I am less convinced by the argument that if this has to be accepted by the county council, it will somehow deter people from standing in local elections.

Members qualify for a pretty generous basic allowance of £12,800 already and in making this argument, KCC inadertently betrays that most of what members do takes place at County Hall rather than in their own divisions, which perhaps ought to be the case.

Cabinet members certainly do have to be at County Hall regularly, as do opposition leaders but it is less the case for backbenchers.

So, it will be interesting to see how county councillors vote and which of the options they back at Thursday's full council meeting.

I sense they may be gently applying the brakes and going into reverse gear, which wouldn't be a bad idea.

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There is a certain irony that to determine what they should do about their mileage claims, 84 members will travel to County Hall on Thursday to have a debate and a vote.

Wonder how many will car share?

 

 

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The EU, gay marriage and swivel-eyed loons put Cameron in a bind

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, May 21 2013

It is often said that one of the hallmarks of the Conservative party is its ruthlessness when it comes to ditching leaders who are regarded as having lost the winning touch.

It is this supposed instinct for survival that did for Lady Thatcher back in 1992. The current bout of turbulence within the party has inevitably led to speculation about whether, if he cannot pacify his critics, Mr Cameron could be heading for the exit door rather sooner than when voters go to the polls in 2015.

I am not sure. He is certainly having a rough time and perhaps the worst aspect of his troubles is that he looks like he is constantly on the back foot and rather reluctant to take on critics of his policies.

What is fascinating is that danger faces him on two flanks. Thatcher had to contend largely with a disgruntled Parliamentary party and notwithstanding the poll tax row, had a generally loyal following out in the constituency associations. Mr Cameron has contrived to upset both MPs and grass roots activists and it is hard to fathom who is more annoyed.

This doubles the jeopardy: MPs harbour grievances over lots of policy issues, many of which are of little interest to their rank and file activists. However, both the EU and gay marriage are agitating both camps which means Cameron is getting flak from all sides. And then there is the lurking threat of UKIP - seen by some as more Conservative than the Conservatives

After coming close to losing control of Kent County Council,  several Conservatives confided that they felt that making Mr Cameron leader had proved a disastrous mistake and they wished  David Davies had got the job.

That, of course, is the beauty of hindsight but their incandescence at being led by someone who they feel has trampled all over traditional Conservative values was palpable. 

Whether all this will lead to the party deciding that it is time to dump DC is anyone's guess. Europe remains a Conservative faultline and always will be.

The difficulty of Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum on the EU is that it is contingent on him winning an outright majority and not many Conservatives see that as happening.

But you do sense that there has been a serious fracture in the relationship between the leader and his party which could ultimately see the party deciding they have had enough.

If the sense that he won't produce a clean win in 2015 grows, the party might just throw their weight behind someone who it thinks could.

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UKIP will become the official opposition at Kent County Council on Thursday - historic for the reason that with 17 members, it has broken the three party stranglehold from a standing start.

Here is the shadow cabinet team:

Roger Latchford: Leader

Zeta Wiltshire: Deputy leader

Finance: Jeff Elenor

Mike Baldock: Transport + Environment

Chris Hoare: Corporate and Democratic Services

Hod Birkby: Economic Development

Mo Elenor: Adult Social Care

Adrian Crowther: Education and Health Reform:

Bob Neves: Community Services

:Frank McKenna: Commercial and Traded Services

Adrian Crowther who defected from the Tory group at County Hall and regained his Sheppey seat is an interesting choice for education. He has already spoken out about Conservatives trying to lure him back to the Tory fold.

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What is the future for Kent County Council's locality boards, set up barely two years ago? The answer: they don't have one, at least not in their current format.

An edict has gone out that all future meetings of these boards - one for each district - are suspended until a "review" has been carried out. A review that is certain to conclude they should be scrapped.

This is interesting in as much as they were ostensibly designed to devolve decision-making to local groups of county and district/ borough councillors - in line with the grand "localism" project beloved of Mr Pickles and the DCLG. In reality, they didn't actually take decisions -  leading to complaints they were simply talking shops.

These boards were inevitably packed with Conservatives when set up but clearly that would have had to have changed given the council's new political make-up.

We are sure the two are unrelated.

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Politics

A sea change: is the political tide really turning UKIP's way?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, May 5 2013

UKIP did not win control of any councils and three quarters of people who turned out did not actually vote for them. But it is a measure of the impact it had on the political landscape on Thursday that it has succeeded  in becoming the talking point in the debate about whether the the political map of Britain has been radically redrawn.

No mean achievement for a party dismissed as clowns, loonies and fruitcakes by their opponents.

The Kent County Council election  results and reaction>>>>

Nowhere was their success more shocking or stunning than Kent where against even the most optimistic predictions they came tantalisingly close to depriving the Conservatives of securing control of County Hall for the first time in two decades. From a standing start, they took seat after seat from the Conservatives, who were paralysed with anxiety that their grip on KCC was being loosened. To end up with more seats than Labour and the Liberal Democrats and become the formal opposition was truly staggering.

There are lots of reasons why UKIP did well and it may be that in Kent, sensitivities around issues like immigration and asylum seekers were more pronounced and resonated more with voters than elsewhere. It is telling that the areas where they did particularly well - Thanet and Shepway - are both places which have had deep rooted problems with economic deprivation and have also been areas where the impact of new communities have been seen and felt at first hand.

In fact, while the party did target Thanet, it did not have a concerted campaign in Shepway yet nearly pulled off a clean sweep of all five seats with very little canvassing. Gains in Swale - another area where the recession has hit - were also notable.The exception is the affluent west Kent town of Tunbridge Wells, where it also won seats.

More than that, UKIP has tapped into widespread voter antipathy and disenchantment with mainstream politics and mainstream political parties: its success has a lot to do with people regarding it as anti-establishment; anti-elite and somehow outside the system - a perfect repository for protest votes. But it has also tapped into a major issue that the big parties have spent too long pussy-foting around - Britain's role and future in the EU. The unwilllingnes of the main parties to be explicit (particularly in terms of time scale) about when people might be given a say has been devastating for them.

But after the euphoria of Thursday's results, there comes the cold reality of the consequences of suddenly finding yourself elected to office.

UKIP county councillors will troop into County Hall next week for an induction programme that will remind them that as locally-elected representatives, they will not be able - much as they like -  to spend the next four years banging on about an EU referendum and immigration. They will all be receiving allowances of around £13,000 to represent constituents whose interests may well be rather more parochial but no less important  - the state of their roads, school places, families dealing with difficult social services issues and planning.

The ability of UKIP to build on the momentum that it has will not be based on how loudly local councillors shout about the need for a referendum on Europe. If they want to be more than a flash in the pan and establish a secure position as a genuine political alternative, voters will need to be convinced they can tackle and influence policy in ways that affect - for the better - the 300 different services that Kent County Council provides. It will also be interesting to see how and if the 17-strong group, all newcomers with one or two exceptions, to the world of local government, remain a cohesive unit.

Parties that achieve success quickly and unexpectedly can sometimes find it awkward adjusting to the demands of being elected to public office and it was intriguing hearing in private how some Conservatives at KCC are already speculating over the prospects of "turning" some of the new UKIP councillors and returning them to the Tory fold.

The other challenge, allied to this, is that UKIP's USP - a movement outside the political system - has actually been undermined by their stunning success. They are, in a sense, no longer outsiders looking in at mainstream politics. If they believe the hype and really do consider they are part of a four-party system, then the consequence is that people will at a council level particularly be judging them on what they actually do rather than on what they say.

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For the Conservatives in Kent, the election was a sobering moment. Only once in its history have the Conservatives lost control of County Hall, back in 1993. That they came within a whisker of losing outright control last Thursday was a discomfiting experience, to put it mildy. In one sense, they were not being punished because of their track record over the last four years but were being punished for the perceived failings of the coalition, which is what they had expected.

But I do think that the party has to do more than blame the dismal results on mid-term blues. Senior Conservatives in Kent have been quick to turn their fire on the national leadership, with KCC leader Paul Carter being particularly damning - accusing some in his party at Westminster of acting more like Lib Dems than Conservatives.

Implicit in this is the idea that the party's woes can be dealt with by a lurch to the right. I am not so sure. The received wisdom so far as general elections are concerned is that they are won and lost in the middle ground. Tony Blair won three because he realised that in places like Kent, classic middle England territory, you had to appeal to the centre ground to deliver victory. 

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Labour has insisted that it is satisfied with the progress it has made in Kent but it fell short of its key objective: recapturing all the seats it had lost back in 2009.

For it to have shown it was making real advances, it should have won more and the fact that it has secured too few to even be the official opposition at County Hall is not where it wants or needs to be. Ed Miliband staked a lot by coming to traditional Tory heartland during the campaign but on these results, it seems the party still has a Southern Discomfort issue.

Their one hope may be that over the next four years, there will inevitably be  a handful of by-elections. The Tories need only lose a few seats for the arithmetic to be changed in a way that just might lead to the authority having a different rainbow coalition.

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We expect the jungle drums at County Hall to be beating with news of a Conservative cabinet reshuffle within a few days. The defeat of the well-regarded cabinet member for schools Mike Whiting means there will have to be changes. Education remains one of the key roles and there are many awkward issues looming, not least trying to persuade Michael Gove to back the KCC plans for a new grammar school.

The other gossip surrounds the future of the deputy leader Alex King, who was unable to be at his count after breaking his leg. It could be that his tenure as the reliable second-in-command could be coming to an end. If it is, perhaps the role could go to the Sevenoaks councillor Roger Gough - well-thought of, intelligent and potentially a good foil to the rather direct style of the current leader.

But I also think he'd make a good education cabinet member. And whenever I make these predictions, they usually turn out to be well wide of the mark so you might be advised to disregard them...

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Precept

The battle for County Hall: Who will get to the magic number of 43?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, May 1 2013

 UP-DATED, Thursday May 2.

If I knew who was going to take control of Kent County Council in tomorrow's election, I would, of course, be hurrying down to the bookmakers to place my house on the outcome.

But I don't and neither does anyone else - despite what the politicians are all telling me. There's nothing new or revelatory about that but the battle for Kent County Council's 84 seats is for once, much more unpredictable in 2013 than it was in 2009 when Labour went into meltdown as Gordon Brown's premiership was in its final death throes.

The unpredictability of the outcome has much to do with the high-profile campaign being waged by UKIP, not just in Kent but right across the country.

It is unusual for one party to have such a disproportionate impact on any election but UKIP has, for better or worse, been the dominant feature of this campaign. The media has been criticised for giving them too much publicity and for failing to subject some of their candidates and policies to greater scrutiny.

That may be  valid but so too is the fact that they are - like it or not - a party seeing a popular surge in support, just as the Social Democrats did in the 1980s and the Greens did when they made a breakthrough in the European Parliamentary elections in 1989.

Quite how it will perform on the day is anyone's guess. In Kent, the party has high hopes of making some kind of breakthrough but that could be anything from one seat to half a dozen or more. It could conceivably gain no seats and simply post a lot of 'good' second places.

In Kent, the party that has most to fear from UKIP is the Conservatives although it is true that it is disquieting both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, too.

It is a sign of the Conservatives' concern that recent days have seen one or two Kent MPs and Conservative candidates go on the offensive against the Nigel Farage gang, a tactic that may not be wise given that it has the effect of drawing more attention to a rival you would prefer voters to ignore.

The Conservatives' greatest fear is not just that UKIP will win seats but that its 70-plus candidates could cost them seats they would have expected to win.

That leaves open the tantalising prospect - or nightmare scenario for the current administration - of the Conservatives just failing to reach the 43 seats they need to continue running the council.

I see that as a long shot but given that no-one can tell how the votes will stack up on Friday, it is what makes this election rather more intriguing and interesting than it was back in 2009.

 

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Even before the ballot boxes are emptied, the political spin doctors will be working out how to put the best complexion on the results. So, what would be a good result for each of the parties in Kent and how might they explain away a poor result?

Conservatives: Retaining control of County Hall with a comfortable, albeit smaller, working majority will be depicted as a good result, given these are mid-term elections. Losing control, or being forced into some kind of joint administration, would be a pretty gruesome result but could be blamed on the national political picture, the recession and the unpopularity of some Conservative policies, notably gay marriage and the EU referendum being held back until 2017.

Labour: A result that sees it recapturing the seats it lost in 2009 and taking a couple more would be a good result and probably enough for the party to claim that it is winning back support in the critical middle England territory. Falling short of that would be awkward but will probably be blamed on voter antipathy to all the mainstream political parties rather than a vote of no confidence in Ed Miliband.

 

Liberal Democrats: Has made it clear that is has modest aspirations and retaining its seven seats on KCC would probably be portrayed as a decent outcome. Anything that sees their numbers shrink might start hares racing about Nick Clegg's leadership. Likely spin: "We are now part of the government and that is different to being in opposition. Voters have used the election to give us a message."

UKIP: Given the hype and publicity surrounding the campaign, a failure to win any seats would be a disappointing outcome. Breaking through and taking a handful away from the Conservatives would be a good result. Likely spin if no seats won: "We increased our share of the vote; these elections were really a staging post before next year's European elections; we have a solid base of support to build on."

The Green Party: A very good result would be winning a seat somewhere in the county; a good result would be increasing their share of the vote above 2009.

 

 

 

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Categories: Local Politics | Localism | Politics

We get the soaking while the rich and famous stay dry

by The Codgers' Club Saturday, July 14 2012

by Peter Cook

It's as if our sodden summer is a judgement, caused by the Gods weeping over the appalling way in which we are being stitched up, ripped off, swindled and robbed, by the monsters who are supposed to be leading us.

They turned on the waterworks again last Sunday as Andy Murray crashed out of Wimbledon, and of course, being a tennis god, he reciprocated in kind.

The British people have always been lions led by donkeys, and never was this more true than today.

Did you witness the disgraceful spat between Wee Georgie Osborne and Lumbering Ed Balls in the Commons, which was repeated for our edification over and again on the TV news?

One commentator likened it to the “Thriller in Manila”. I thought it was more like two terriers snarling and snapping over a disputed bone. There is far more dignity in boxing than in politics.

It was all over the Libor rate, something – let’s face it – most of us didn’t even know existed till now. So four years after the banks let us in for the biggest financial crisis this country has ever known, they are still lying to us – big time.

If Wee Georgie Osborne could tax the porkie pies told by bankers, in the same way that he does pasties, we might get out of this mess.

As it is, according to a report I read, we have each of us – you, me, the person next door – contributed £20,000 to the banks, to keep them in business. Yet they refuse to invest in other people’s businesses.

Of course we need a proper, judge-led, judicial enquiry into their wickedness. MPs will not do because they are “all in it together” to coin a phrase.

Where do senior politicians go when they’ve finished messing up the country? On to the boards of banks – that’s where.

From whom does the Tory Party get half its funds? From the big City financiers – that’s who.

Labour’s no better. They colluded with big money to generate PFI deals that will cost future generations eye-watering amounts in interest repayments.

The people – we – deserve a proper, forensic, judge-led enquiry into the whole financial system. Nobody trusts politicians.

It’s not just about who lied about the Libor rate, it’s about the whole soggy mess. We need a review that will not just look at what we know already, but that will lift stones and expose the murky goings on beneath to the light of public opinion.

When you look at the institutions that run this country it’s really hard to find anything that does not make your skin crawl.

Day-by-day the Leveson inquiry reveals the dirty doings of the national press that could even stoop so low as to hack into the phone account of a teenage murder victim.

I have never bought anything from Murdoch’s evil empire and never will. The News of the World was always a dirty sleazebag rag and despite the stomach-turning sentimentality at its demise, I for one am glad it’s gone. But it was never alone in the gutter.

Now we have the prospect of the Old Bill being held to account for taking back-handers from so-called reporters.

Bent coppers are nothing new, but corruption in the Force seems to have gone further and higher than we thought.

What about tax avoidance? That was never really talked about much until UK Uncut started to reveal the scale of what is going on.

It was thought of merely as good accounting practice. It still is, among those rich enough to benefit from it.

They can argue all they like about it being the fault of poor legislation. But if taxes are levied they are meant to be paid. Not got around by means of complex loan-back arrangements from offshore accounts.

I don’t hold with people who cheat on benefits, but the cost of that – despite the self righteous and venomous protestations of the Daily Mail – is as nothing compared with tax avoiders. And that’s before we even start on evaders.

Fair play to Jimmy Carr. At least he coughed up, confessed, put on a hair shirt and offered no slimy excuses, as a politician would have done.

And so we have the National Health Service being systematically sold off to big business – the profitable bits anyway.

We have people being told they have to work until they’re 70, while at the same time their pensions are being plundered.

We have social care in which infirm pensioners can expect only 20 minutes of attention a day from underpaid workers employed by profit-motivated, privatised companies. It goes on and on.

So what can we do about it?

Well, we can do something about it if we really care. Mrs C and I have already removed our millions from the commercial bank in which they were deposited, to a mutually-owned building society. It’s dead easy.

We need to go further. We need to pester our MPs and councillors all the time about the iniquities that are happening under their watch. I know stamps are expensive these days but it’s a price worth paying.

We need to join and support organisations that do protest. A trade union perhaps, or a pensioners’ forum.

And maybe we need to take more direct action. Get out there with our banners. Not during the Olympics – you’ll get shot – but afterwards maybe.

We have to let them know that not only do we not like what they’re doing to this country – we’re not going to put up with it either.

As our American cousins would say: “Let’s kick ass.” And I’m not being rude. As I said before, we are lions led by donkeys.

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Categories: Moans and groans | Politics

Labour's woes in Kent after the elections

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, May 17 2011

Labour has a considerable distance to go before it can claim to be a political force in Kent.

Not my opinion but those of an increasing number of Labour figures who, in the cold light of day, have come to realise that gaining one council from the Conservatives on May 5 was hardly the breakthrough Ed Miliband tried to present it as.

Among those to offer his insights as to what went wrong is a former Labour councillor in Medway and now an MP, Bill Esterson. His analysis? That voters in Medway "accept the Tory argument and rejected ours." That's a devastating indictment but I suspect he's right. The Conservatives ought to have been troubled in councils like Medway but emerged relatively unscathed and in some - Dartford - actually increased their numbers.

Why Labour was rejected in Medway>>>

Bill's analysis is that while there was no lack of enthusiasm among candidates, Medway had no real support from the wider party and only a handful of volunteers. Part of this is that Labour lost all its MPs in Kent in 2010, leaving it without a natural organisational base and the lines of communication to the national party that make it easier to get big hitters down during election campaigns.

And his warning that the next general election could be tough is a salutary one. "Unless we put resources into Medway and dozens of  seats like it, we won't make enough progress at the next general election." In other words, we'll have another four years in opposition.

He's partly right about the organisation and need to build up an army of activists. But there's another equally important task: if Labour is to make any headway against the Conseratives, not just in Kent, it needs to present a coherent, meaningful alternative to the government's.

Taking an anti-cuts stance is fine as far as it goes but I don't sense that Labour has fully understood that is not enough. The party has endless policy reviews under way and while every party who is turned out of office is right to re-examine its policies, voters won't take much of an interest until Labour puts a bit of flesh on the bones.

As Bill Esterson rightly says, voters appear to have accepted the government's argument over the key objective of sorting out the economy. That may not last, of course, especially as I expect there to be much more pain to come from the spending squeeze before thigs improve. That might undermine the Conservative support among the all-impoertant "squeezed middle" that represents the heartland of Kent's parliamentary constituencies.

But relying on people to get even more disillusioned with the coalition does not strike me as presenting voters with a compelling political alternative.

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Categories: Labour

How Ed's election will go down in the business community

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Thursday, September 30 2010

The election of the “wrong” brother to lead the Labour Party is unlikely to be good news for business.

That Ed Miliband owes his position so much to the trade unions will be a running sore. If activists threaten a winter of discontent, he may try to restrain them but they will always be able to retort “we put you there - keep quiet.”

Employers may find a revival in union militancy insufficiently curbed by a new leadership that is likely to be more pro-union than New Labour.

I read a lot about the end of New Labour and getting back to core support under a “new generation.” But surely it was Tony Blair’s creation of New Labour and its shift to the centre ground of British politics that ensured those election victories. It engaged Middle England and that engagement is vital to Labour if it wants to get back into power.

I’m sure that most Middle England voters in Kent would have preferred David Miliband, and it is strange that Labour rejects a man with so much experience at senior level in favour of someone with so little. I suppose it’s a bit like businesses that turn their back on an experienced employee in favour of an outsider with shiny-new appeal. But that lustre often fades as the organisation has second thoughts about their choice.

It is curious to think that had David been more ruthless about deposing Gordon Brown, he may well have been PM today, rather than playing second fiddle to his kid brother and quitting frontline politics.

I interviewed him at the Thames Gateway forum a few years ago and even then he seemed a leader-in-waiting, with an accessible personality, lots of intelligence and popular support.

Ed may surprise us, but he has a lot of obstacles to surmount if he is to win the wholehearted support of business  and a majority of Kent voters.

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Categories: Business | National Politics

Will Ed do it for Labour in Kent?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, September 27 2010

What does Ed Miliband need to do to restore his party's fortunes sufficiently for Labour to be in with a chance of recapturing the seats it relinquished to the Conservatives in May?

I've been trying to ask some former Kent Labour MPs this question. One I contacted this morning said rather cryptically that he wasn't making any public comment on party politics.

But Paul Clark, the former Gillingham MP and Labour MEP Peter Skinner who I have spoken to both identified immigration as ther party's achilles heel - both at the election and now. Their analysis is that the government was not direct enough about telling voters what it was doing to tackle the issue and introduced measures - such as the points system - too late.

Read my latest story on Ed Miliband

Both also said that the recession had made the subject even more combustible - unlike 2005, when it was still there but because there was no economic downturn and people were not losing their jobs.

They also complained that the government had somehow managed to think  that it had got its message out when all the experiences they were having while canvassing and talking to voters on the doorstep was that no-one thought enough was being done. A classic communications breakdown and a surprising one given the party's supposed reputation for being able to spin.

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I must admit to predicting the wrong result while watching the live coverage of the event on the BBC on Saturday. David Miliband positively radiated optimism while Ed looked like he'd swallowed a wasp and washed it down with neat lemon juice.

Still, I was in good company thinking that Dave had got it. So did the BBC's Nick Robinson, who also called it for the elder brother.

 

 

 

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Categories: Local Politics | National Politics

The academy revolution's slow start

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, September 2 2010

There's not exactly been a huge rush among Kent’s schools to become one of Michael Gove’s new-fangled academies.

In fact, only one of the county’s 600-odd schools is in the academy vanguard of about 120 that was established this week.

A handful more in Kent will join the bandwagon in October.

Critics have suggested that all this points to a less than ringing endorsement of the programme. (At County Hall, I daresay politicians and officials will no doubt be secretly relieved they have been spared a wholesale defection)

I think they could be wrong. Most schools will have decided to wait and see what the programme has to offer and how others fare before jumping in with two feet into an initiative that has promised much but in a rather imprecise and intangible way.

I don’t expect the initial trickle to become a flood but we have been here before. When Margaret Thatcher offered schools the chance to opt out of council control and become grant maintained, many governors stayed their hand but were eventually won over – not least by the promise of extra cash. It took time for the policy to become popular.

If schools see others reaping benefits and enjoying their new-found freedoms, particularly as budget cuts hit home, we will soon be seeing a splintering of the system in Kent and elsewhere.

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Mind you, it's interesting to see Michael Gove set out plans for failing primary schools to become academies. I'm confused. nder the government's proposals, I thought it was - at least in the first instance - only "outstanding" schools that could join the scheme.

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NEW Labour’s temerity over grammar schools was powerfully illustrated by the fiendishly complicated ballot legislation it devised to supposedly offer parents a chance to vote on scrapping them.

The legislation introduced in 1998 was so skewed against grammar opponents, it was used just once. Which was precisely what Tony Blair wanted.

So, what do those vying for the party leadership think of the issue of selection?

Step forward contender Ed Miliband who says in an interview that as leader he would take a look at the legislation.

He’s couched his promise in a rather safe way, mind you, as you can tell:

"I think that an issue has been raised about the system of ballots for grammar schools and whether the right people get a chance to vote in the ballots. I'm not giving you a definitive answer, I'm saying it is an issue to be looked at."

A politician not giving a definitive answer? Whatever next?

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A politician not giving a definitive answer? Whatever next?

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Categories: Local Politics | National Politics | Education

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