All posts tagged 'rochester'

The big artillery rolls into Rochester...but will voters care?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, October 17 2014

We were promised that the Conservatives would blitz Rochester and Strood with the party's big hitters and hundreds of activists and for once, no-one can accuse a political party of breaking its pledge.

The frenzy of activity will reach a new level this weekend when the Conservative machine deploys a reported 1,000 activists to Kent to drum up support for a still unknown candidate.

Buses will be bringing down this army from London to distribute leaflets, knock on doors and generally remind us - as if we needed to - that there is a byelection going on.

There is every chance that they will bump into Ukip activists, who are doing much the same with supporters coming from outside the county to rally behind its candidate.

For the Conservatives, this strategy is all about signalling that - unike Clacton - they will not roll over and are going to be putting up a fight to stem Ukip's purple wave. It is as much about the deep loathing for Nigel Farage as it is for defector Mark Reckless.

And there is clearly no love lost between the Ukip leader and Mr Cameron, who said that if voters plumped for Ukip "all they are doing is giving Nigel Farage the chance to have a long gloat in the pub."

Much of this activity is designed for media consumption, of course, but you do wonder if the high-intensity strategy might prove counter-productive if it carries on at such a velocity until November 20.

For the Conservatives, the risk is that while it will be effective in shoring up support from core supporters, it gives the impression that it is concerned about the outcome. Cameron's own personal involvement means that if Ukip does produce a coup, his leadership will come under the spotlight. I suspect that the game plan is as much about trying not to lose badly as it is about trying to win.

The other risk is that the scale of activity only serves to remind supporters of other parties lacking similar battalions of activists (and deep pockets) that there is an election going on.

Still, anyone who does not like politics or politicians may be advised not to answer the door for the next four weeks.

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The Conservatives deserve some credit for opening up its selection process to all voters in Rochester and Strood, although the compressed timetable has rather limited the amount of time for residents to get to know the two who were shortlisted well.

Its big event was the hustings meeting this week in the Rochester Corn Exchange, which was open to everyone. That is everyone but not journalists from the national media.

They were kept out as party managers had decreed that only local media could attend, which meant myself and Radio Kent.

This provoked some tension behind the scenes, with Professor Tim Luckhurst from the Centre For Journalism,- who chaired the event, along with invited guest Dr Sarah Woolaston MP, suggesting unsuccessfully that the ban be reconsidered.

It wasn't and the net result, unsurprisingly, was that the national media turned away at the door rmade the ban the focus of their reports rather than what was said at the meeting.

And to rub it in, managed to get a transcript of the event anyway.

In fact, both candidates acquitted themselves well and had interesting things to say, not least on immigration.

Whoever gets the nod will be in a high-pressure political cauldron for four weeks and under forensic scrutiny from the media.

This week's hustings could have been useful acclimatisation.

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Professor Luckhurst says the Conservatives made a mistake in having only selected media present.

"I believe the Conservative Party’s decision to exclude from the hustings journalists from national newspapers and broadcasters  was foolish and entirely unnecessary. Freedom of speech is a core democratic principle and no political party should restrict it.”

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When Labour leader Ed Miliband turned up in the County Town of Maidstone last year for the county council election campaign, he did so to demonostrate that there were no "no-go" areas for the party.

It's early days but in comparison to Ukip and the Conservatives, Labour appears to be taking a low key approach to the fight for Rochester and Strood. No single comment has come from a senior member of the party's leadership about the election to date.

Perhaps it is waiting for the Conservative bandwagon to run out of puff.

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You can't draw too much by way of portents for November 20 from a council ward by-election where only one in five voters bothered to exercise their vote but Ukip notched up a small victory in Kent this week when it romped to victory in the Sheppey Central ward in Swale.

And it was pretty comprehensive, too with the victoriuos candidate getting nearly 60% of the vote.


 



 

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Categories: Conservatives

This magnificent folly in the woods has been opened to all at last

by The Codgers' Club Friday, April 11 2014

by Alan Watkins

Deep in the woods between Strood and Cobham stands a magnificent folly which – by all rights – should never have survived.

It annoyed the Dean of Rochester and so angered the bishop it was never used for the purpose for which it was conceived and built.

It was vandalised, gutted and (if the people responsible had had their way) might have been blown up.

Then a number of people said enough was enough – they believed the Darnley Mausoleum deserved to be saved for the community, history and the nation.

Last week their dream came true and it was finally opened to the public.

The floor has been rebuilt. Marble pillars lost when a massive tyre pyre burned the heart out of the two-storey building on Bonfire Night in 1980 have been restored. The original source in Italy could not provide the orange-red stone, so the National Trust got the final quarrying from a source in Spain.

According to rumours – and readers may know the truth – the original marble was removed after the fire and now graces several fireplaces in the Medway Towns. But that may be a part of the legend.

The mausoleum sits high on a hill in Cobham Woods, a short walk from Strood and also from Ranscombe Farm.

You need to know where it is to find it, walking from Medway. It is so easy to get lost in the overgrown woods and end up miles from the mausoleum.

The easiest way to approach it is from the war memorial in Cobham. Lucky drivers park next to the National Trust’s newest office, a converted barn overlooking the golf course and Cobham Hall. The unlucky park two miles away at Shorne Park – and pay.

Not like the second half of last century, when gangs would bring to the mausoleum cars, which, after being raced through the woods, would be set on fire and crashed into the dry moat or allowed to roll down the hillside until they set fire to the woods.

More than 100 wrecks were eventually removed by a charitable trust set up by Gravesham council and chaired by its former chief executive Eddie Anderson.

He was not there on Sunday morning when, without panoply or pomp, your scribe and his wife, by chance, were the first visitors to the restored structure.

We walked up with some of the volunteers who will now man the building each Sunday from noon to 4pm.

They will help visitors to understand the thinking, the expenditure and the value to north Kent of restoring the building.

Meanwhile, for my wife it was a long-dreamed-of visit with a special surprise on reaching the pyramidal-topped turret – she was invited by the chief warden of the park, Jonathan Ireland, to unlock the doors to the funerary chapel and become the first of what could be millions of future visitors.

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Categories: Moans and groans

Spare a thought for majestic barn

by The Codgers' Club Friday, January 18 2013

by Peter Cook

It's great news that Eastgate House is to be developed and restored with the help of a Lottery grant. Well done Medway Council.

But it’s sad that across the river a much older building, the Frindsbury Barn, languishes derelict, despite grandiose castles in the air schemes for it to be restored for the benefit of the community.

It’s four-and-a-half years since the barn was off-loaded by the Church Commissioners, unburdening themselves of a huge white elephant. Since then nothing has happened to bring the 800 year old structure – described as the Queen of Kentish Barns – back into good repair.

If this majestic mediaeval marvel falls down it will be our fault – for failing to kick up enough fuss over its neglect.

Only the still small voice of the Frindsbury and Wainscott Community Association has been raised in protest, when what’s needed is the roar of public anger.

The problem, of course, is money. Restoration projects like these cost millions, and I’m guessing that the grandly named Heritage Design and Development Team, which owns the Barn, are not sitting on that kind of boodle.

The company has plans to build houses on a nearby quarry as a means of generating finance. But this is a pie in the sky scheme. First the quarry would have to be filled in, which would take, probably, 10 years or so.

It would also involve building roads across prime farmland to get the lorries through. And local people are set against more housing in the quiet cul-de-sac of Parsonage Lane, where the quarry and the barn exist.

Meanwhile, the barn remains unprotected and open to the elements, despite the fact that the owners told me six months ago work would soon take place to sheet it over.

The council has powers to carry out work to make it weather-tight and bill the owners for the work.

But it says it cannot do this as the timbers are sound and it is not in imminent danger of collapse.

Or put another way, you have to wait until it’s falling down before anyone takes action.

They say because the barn is open to the air, the timbers are kept healthy and free of rot. Well there’s some truth in that. Holding in the damp is a recipe for fungal growth. But restoration experts know about that and have techniques for keeping ancient structures both aired and protected.

Its present state of dereliction makes it look like an abandoned ruin, attractive only to rats and vandals.

What is needed is a properly structured project backed by the kind of people who know about restoration and pulling together the right kind of funding. Schemes of this kind can’t be managed by small private concerns, unless these are run by people with exceptionally deep pockets.

It’s time for everyone concerned with the barn, the council, English Heritage, the owners, us, to think carefully about bringing in heavyweight assistance to get the job done.

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Categories: Moans and groans

Great CV but did we try hard enough?

by The Codgers' Club Friday, March 23 2012

by Alan Watkins

What is stopping Medway  becoming a city? It’s the 20th biggest conurbation in the country and outside of the capital the biggest in the South East.

It is striving to improve – and hasn’t done badly with four universities, a fine campus and a new bus station. It has support in the community.

At 6/1, it was also second favourite (behind Reading) so someone fancied us. So why were we overlooked?

It could be the cavalier way that Rochester lost its city status, not once but twice (Whitehall has a long memory).

Maybe it had something to do with all the other events in 2012 and we’ve got enough to be getting on with.

There’s 200 years of the Sappers, 200 years of Charlie D, two annual festivals in honour of him and the Diamond Jubilee.

Charlie is that hirsute Victorian author and ex-news hack who wasn’t born here, spent much of his life in Pompey and Broadstairs (when he wasn’t hopping into his mistress’s bed) and died in Gravesham. Medway adopted him, but the government robbed him of his last wish, and buried him in a congested corner of Westminster instead of Rochester Cathedral where he really wanted to lie in eternal rest.

Someone worked out most of his famous scenes were set in Rochester (must have been a council researcher). We’ve bid for the City of Medway three times.

The point now is to start asking why a town like St Asaph (population 3,400) should get the title while 250,000 of us have no idea where it is.

And before any clever Welsh geographer mutters Denbighshire, that’s a county with the same size population as the district of Gillingham, Medway (93,000).

I hope the councillors are now re-examining their laid-back approach to the city bid, and comparing their lack of effort with the energy of the other contestants. Maybe Chelmsford will throw the bouquet our way next time.

It won’t make much difference: the next English city will probably be in the west, and most likely in the north-west.

I suspect the Rochester supporters will have had a collective smirk.

Right, back to the drawing board ...

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Categories: Moans and groans

Get ready for a summer of stars

by Tuned In, with kmfm DJ Andy Walker Friday, March 9 2012

The Critics Choice winner at this year’s BRIT Awards, Emeli Sande, will be performing at Lounge on the Farm in Canterbury this summer.

Emeli has stormed into the charts with her debut single, Heaven and now Next To Me. Her real name is Adele but of course there can only be one Adele in the music business.

Also announced on the bill so far are The Wombats, Chic, Mystery Jets, former headliner Roots Manuva, David Rodigan and Goldie.

News of the other summer concerts are starting to filter out. Rochester Castle Concerts are back this year with Steps headlining on Thursday, July 19. Jools Holland is playing the evening before. It will be great to see Steps back on the main stage blasting out their big classics that we remember back in the 1990s.

As the weather has been mild recently and the nights are lighter, now feels right to write about what is coming for Summer 2012. Cheryl Cole will be back with a new album and it is said she will mark her return by performing on new TV talent show, The Voice. Her American manager, will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas is a judge, so it makes sense.

You may have been to see Kylie Minogue in concert last year. Well, expect another concert and another album from her, celebrating 25 years in the music business. I can confirm she puts on a brilliant show.

Mariah Carey and Beyoncé may have recently had babies, but that has not stopped them making music. Beyoncé has already spoken about releasing new material. She has been writing with Ryan Tedder who is the lead singer from band One Republic. He also co-wrote with Adele on her record-breaking second record 21. Mariah already has new songs ready to go – one of which she is about to debut in America, so expect to hear it here soon.

The last few weeks I have been teasing you by saying that coming soon you could be seeing Coldplay live. So, get ready to win one of the biggest ever prizes on kmfm. Win your way in to see Coldplay... live... in... Boston! We could be flying you and your other half or friend to America to see one of the world’s biggest rock bands

Make sure you are listening to kmfm in March!

Speak to you on your way home

Why now is the right time to bring Dickens home

by The Codgers' Club Friday, February 17 2012

by Peter Cook

This is my latest big idea. Let’s bring back Dickens.

Forget those old campaigns to fetch HMS Victory back to Chatham, where she was built. That plan is dead in the water. Or rather dead in the concrete.

We would need dozens of road drills to dig her out before we could even get a tow line aboard. That might wake up the neighbours.

Dickens is a different matter. And we would be doing the old boy a favour. We’d also be doing Rochester a favour and people could come and pay homage at his tomb for free, instead of having to pay through the nose like you do in Westminster Abbey.

He never wanted to be buried in Westminster Abbey with all those other puffed-up writers.

The original plan was to pop him into Shorne Churchyard. But that might be a bit close to the motorway these days, albeit quite near Cobham Woods, where he loved to walk.

The Dean and Chapter at Rochester Cathedral offered to have him interred there. A grave was even dug for him. Perhaps it’s still there under the flagstones, waiting to collapse under some preaching prelate.

Imagine the astonished looks on the faces of the choir as the Dean or even the Bishop was inexplicably swallowed up, with just a puff of masonry dust to show where he had been.

Being realistic, they have probably put someone else in there now. After all, if you’ve dug a good hole, you don’t want to waste it.

So let’s start a campaign now to have the coffin exhumed and repatriated to the city that he knew and loved – well, it soon will be a city.

Devotees would flock to Rochester from every country where Dickens is read and loved – and that’s just about every country.

At a stroke it would make Rochester High Street a commercial gold mine, offering everything from Dickens soap on a rope, take-aways from the Chuzzlewit Chip Shop, treatments at the Our Mutual Massage Parlour and so on.  Actually, it’s a bit like that now.

So I’m looking for full support for this campaign. The next Dickens Festival should be a protest march with placard-carrying characters from his books chanting Bring Back Boz.

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Categories: Chatham | Charles Dickens

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