I interview the Tory hopefuls by adopting police tactics. Sir Roger Gale has been in politics for half a century and the MP for Thanet North for 32 years. He is unlikely to be fazed by anything I can throw at him, and I don’t want newbie Craig Mackinlay – candidate for Thanet South – cribbing the answers. So I separate to interrogate and roll up early to Gale Towers – a charming farmhouse-style affair with open fireplaces and assorted dogs – where I am made tea by the smiley, hospitable Suzy. Roger Gale is a BOGOF candidate (Buy one get one free) – vote for him and his energetic wife is thrown in. He encourages Suzy to join us for the interview. She interjects to correct him on the exact number of votes that held a marginal seat in 1982 and, amusingly, flicks through a magazine during a particularly long anecdote. But she works alongside Roger on the day-to-day. “Suzy and I spend huge amounts of time just dealing with constituency stuff that you never hear about or read about,” Roger tells me. “It’s all private and that’s how it should be. It’s like being a doctor.” It also sounds like a lot of hard work. “Did she secretly wish he’d retired instead of standing again? “Absolutely not,” Suzy retorts. “If anything, I was the one shovelling him along. . .” I follow on with the obvious. But is it time, as other candidates have suggested, after all these decades, for a change in North Thanet? Sir Rog is characteristically unruffled. “It is the obvious chant for anyone who isn’t a member of parliament to say we need a change. . . ” And when I quote his words at a recent hustings, he is unapologetic. “I’m not going to say I’m suddenly going to be someone different, someone new and exciting. Of course they are going to get ‘more of the same’ because I’ve done the job – and am going to do the job – in the way that I believe that it needs to be done.” So what does need to happen to Thanet in the next five years? “Obviously Manston is a key issue. People say ‘he’s only interested in Manston because of the election’. No, I’ve been promoting Manston for more than 20 years.” As a Manston supporter myself, I know this to be true and we fall into a long discussion about the various options, upon which Roger is more realistic than I am. I just want to have a plane to jump on. “Passengers!” I cry. Roger attempts to manage my expectations. “In order to get the bedrock right, you’ve got to have the cornerstones. The cornerstone would be freight. Once you’ve got the business up and running on a sound financial footing then yes, RiverOak wants passengers, I want passengers. “What about night flights?” I ask wearily, as I feel I must. “We don’t need night flights.” Manston is “the most important thing bar none” but Roger is also enthusiastic about other projects. He speaks warmly about the regeneration that is going on in Margate, believes now in the new Dreamland project although would like to see more of it undercover: “Boys need boys’ toys to play with so you want the dodgems undercover so that when they’ve done their conferencing, they can thrash into each other”, and has ideas for a new hotel, a lifeboat centre and an ambitious overhaul of the Winter Gardens complete with “indoor beach”. Craig has pitched up by now, with party supporter Chris Brannigan, and as we prepare to swap seats, I finish on the possible threat from Ukip. Nationally, Roger says, he fears them splitting the Tory vote and letting “the Milliband government in through the back door”, but locally feels Nigel Farage may be in for “an unpleasant shock”. One thing is clear: “I don’t want to be re-elected with the support of anyone who thinks Ukip because I see 1930s Europe,” he says. “I hear the march of boots and I don’t like it.” He and Suzy disappear, and with those words still hanging in the air, I turn a beady eye on Craig, who was a founding Ukip member. “Nice to see you,” he says. “I am the uncharismatic Craig Mackinlay.” He is referring to a previous Gazette piece in which I summed up the various contenders for South Thanet. “The word I used was ‘unappealing’, I tell him. He laughs loudly and warily and I quiz him on his political past. “It was a very different Ukip in those days,” he counters. “Tell me,” I say. Adding, when he protests that he doesn’t want to “spend the whole interview talking about Ukip”, that otherwise people will see him and Farage as one and the same. This galvanises Mr Mackinlay into a full and detailed explanation, which, in fairness to himself, he should probably repeat more often. Ukip was founded in 1991 in a pub in Covent Garden and Craig was one of six members, his motivation being soaring interest rates – he is a chartered accountant by trade – the effects of the exchange rate mechanism and the cost of the EU. “It had an academic base to it.” Immigration “wasn’t even on the agenda.” He became leader in the late 90s but by 2005 was “getting towards the end of my tether”. Ukip was starting to attract “some odd characters” and two of the MEPs were arrested for fraud. Meanwhile, the Conservatives were talking about the EU again. “It was time to come home. I never changed. I stayed in exactly the same spot in my view.” So what is the Mackinlay take on immigration? He welcomes the new rules on benefits but has no objection to anyone coming here to work. His wife is Hungarian and her doctor brother is with the NHS. I thus unpin him from the floor and we take respite in the flapjacks Suzy has left us (excellent) before moving on. If elected, what will Craig do for Thanet? His years as both a councillor and a magistrate, as well as on the Kent Police Authority (he was up against Ann Barnes as for the position of Police Commissioner), he says, “gives you an insight into the real world, the gritty end. . . “Forget the politics, I know what this world is all about.” That’s as maybe, but I suggest that it must be daunting to follow Laura Sandys, of whom everyone speaks so highly. He does too. “She has been a wonder worker that crosses the political divide and I see myself exactly the same.” Even though he is more right-wing? “I think that people who do the right thing should be supported. The Conservatives are the right party to create a great economy and without a great economy you can’t pay for all the things that we want. I see a good economy as the main driver of everybody’s lifestyle. So is that right wing or left wing?” We have a spirited exchange over what constitutes poverty and get back to Thanet. Craig is pro-Manston too – he once tried to set up a “Malaga Airlines” flying out of it – and thinks Ramsgate Marina and Harbour “one of the biggest assets we’re not using properly,” predicting it could create 500 jobs. He likes the new businesses in Military Road and sees high speed rail as having the “potential to transform”. He is driven, he says, by the idea of “making Britain better”. The Ukip MEPs have cost £84 million in their 16 years, he tells me. “And what have they done? Beyond living a fantastic lifestyle?” After meetings in Brussels, the stories go, “Ukip are first up to a bar for the champagne, thank you very much, but have they done any of these things that they now say they want to achieve? Not one. They haven’t achieved anything. . . ” “I’ve got a history of public service,” says Craig Mackinlay. “I’m the real candidate with real experiences, who is a real person. . .” Verdict: Something old, something new, something blue… Also standing: Name: Ruth Bailey Party: Manston Airport Independent Party Age 57 No of years in politics: Four months or so!! What’s the most important thing you would do for Thanet? Revitalise Thanet through the re-opening of Manston airport. Impose a compulsory purchase order on the current owner, securely underwritten by a company that will offer high end jobs, training and apprenticeships and put Thanet on the map. The big dream:
- A thriving Manston airport and fully operating port/marina in Ramsgate.
- Flourishing tourism, protection of our green spaces, affordable new homes and regenerated High Streets, with derelict properties compulsory purchased or legally enforced to improve.
- One hour’s free parking in our town, reasonable business rates and more community centres.
Next week: Mike Pearce on the Election Flipside…
You can read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-meets-Tories-Manston-Airport/story-26308450-detail/story.html