Jane remembers 2016

jwj-remembers-2016At midnight on 31st December I was travelling by car through the bottom of Broadstairs.  In Ramsgate, minutes earlier, they’d been spilling out of pubs, crowding along the waterfront, waiting for fireworks. Three miles down the road the pavements were deserted. You could almost see the tumbleweed blowing along Albion Street. I could only imagine that all the revellers were huddled behind doors – The Dolphin looked pretty crammed through its steamed up windows – in case 2016 had one final act of retribution up its sleeve. Nothing would have surprised me. In a year that saw us voting to shoot ourselves in our collective foot, our prime minister resigning, horrific acts of terrorism across Europe, losing an incredible amount of artistic talent, and gaining Trump while strangers crawled all over other strangers’ gardens looking for Pokemon, frankly anything could have happened. Now we are safely through to 2017, it’s time to breathe out and look back in wonder at the local highlights and national low-lives of the past twelve months.

A THUMBS UP FOR:

New outlets, increased business and general let’s-go wow factor in all three main towns. Margate Old Town gets ever more cutesy and the Harbour Arm continues to thrive with all units taken since the  latest addition to this snazzy food and drink destination – Mala Kaffe – in the spring.   2016 also brought the two-millionth visitor to the Turner Contemporary. Lucky teacher Linda Tucker was presented with a bottle of fizz when she walked through the gallery’s doors in June.

Over in Ramsgate, more restaurants and bars have popped up along Military Road in the old fishermen’s arches alongside such favourites as The Arch and The Greek Arch – and weren’t the lights on the boats gorgeous this year? Down in Pegwell Village, Frank Thorley – 81 this year and still working seven days a week – presided over the opening of the Seaview Bar & Restaurant – and extension to The Stanley Grey pub. I took Mike-humbug-Pearce (dining criteria: no kids, no office parties, nothing foreign, nothing spicy, no fish) along there for our annual pre-Christmas lunch and even he liked it.

In Broadstairs, despite the continuing blots on the landscape that are Costa and Iceland, the prevailing tradition of independent shops and eateries is upheld with the opening of teeny, acclaimed Stark by Michelin-starred chef Ben Crittenden, Taylors Seafood Restaurant and cocktail bar on the site of what was once the Rose pub, and the under-new-ownership, being-revamped-as-we-speak, Fish & Beer bar and restaurant, reopening on 27th January as The Reef.

Meanwhile, Micropubs continue to mushroom all over the Isle stretching from the Hair of the Dog in Minster to the Wheel Alehouse in Birchington. I am convinced most of society’s ills can be laid at the now-closed door of “The Local” (The Dane Valley Arms is the latest to be demolished)  so this is all good and worth its own small round of applause. 2016 additions include Nautic Ales at Northwood and Mind the Gap in Broadstairs, next to Houdini’s – our first “magic” bar…

My personal culinary discovery of the year goes to the London Tavern, Margate for their fab food and utterly superlativeburger. They do real ale too.

A DROPPED JAW AT:

Nigel Farage being shortlisted for Time magazine’s Person of the Year award.

(And then Donald Trump winning it.)

SHOCK OF THE YEAR

A dual award given to 23rd June and November 8th 2016. No doubt there was much rejoicing on the morning after the referendum in Kipper Towers (aka Thanet District Council) but most sane people I know were walking about in a fog of shock and bereavement. Waking up on 9th November to find a buffoon with no political experience whatsoever now had his finger on the nuclear button, it felt as if the world had ended twice.  My friend, the award-winning restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin, tweeted simply: “There are no more jokes”.

Which as it’s turned out there won’t be, tragically, from some of our brightest stars. We bid farewell to Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Ronnie Corbett, Sir Terry Wogan, TV comedy writer Carla Lane, ascerbic and brilliantly witty journalist AA Gill.

OTHER (NON) EVENTS

Meanwhile work started, and was then halted, in Ramsgate on what is rumoured to become the biggest Wetherspoons of all time and Margate house prices surged beyond all other seaside towns. Perhaps because, while commuters in other parts of the country faced unrelenting misery, our hi- speed trains mostly ran on time.

Tracy Emin “married” a lump of rock, Emeli Sande’s music video for her single “Hurts” filmed on Botany Bay collected over ten million hits on YouTube, Margate Caves got lottery funding, and new dog waste bag dispensers were introduced. Well done TDC. (And you didn’t think you’d hear ME say that in this decade, did you?)

Which leaves me to conclude it’s not been all bad. May I wish you health, wealth and happiness in 2017. It can only get better now. (Can’t it?)

Happy New Year! xx

Plain Jane 150716: Brexit is going well…..

Jane 150716It’s going well so far, isn’t it? As I write, the big property funds have been forced to suspend trading, we’ve lost our triple-A credit rating and the pound is still well down against the euro and the dollar.

There could be a question-mark hanging over the 500,000 British jobs provided by German-owned companies and both main political parties remain in disarray*. At least Nigel Farage is going to get his “life back” (while hanging on to his £80,000 European job – no surprise there) after systematically wrecking ours.

Time then to draw on one’s inner Pollyanna and look for a bright side. My detractors are quite entertaining – my favourite to date is the woman on Facebook who told me to stop winging (sic), and the tweeter who posted that I was no longer a local celebrity (how exciting to learn that I once was), as well as the infuriated Brexiteer who found me “pomppous” (I think I’d have been inclined to make sure I could spell it first). At least the abuse is predictable – yeah, yeah, I am “rude” and “biased” – and one is never short of something to argue about. I will not go into the appalling acts of racist vandalism that have been perpetrated against the blameless since the vote was cast, but I hope the irony will not be lost when I choose for this week’s choice of positives-to-highlight, that at least our trains run on time.

Reading about the upheaval to Southern Rail – where a dispute rages about the roles of conductors versus supervisors, and where passengers have been subject to endless cancellations in a situation described by one commuter as “an absolute nightmare”, I was struck this week by how very fortunate we are with our own train service here.

The Hi-speed to St Pancras is brilliant, and it is very rare for it not to roll into Broadstairs station bang on schedule. I have no idea what job description applies to the jolly chaps who check the tickets, but whether they are called conductors, supervisors, or something else entirely, on both my journeys this week, “Jack” and then “Stephen” were the very epitome of good customer service and cheer. Jack, possibly a frustrated radio presenter (I sympathise!), always keeps his travellers informed with upbeat announcements and a big smile; Stephen, with equal charm, took the trouble to advise me on the best possible ticket to ensure I got a bargain. We are also lucky with our station surroundings.

As I was waiting for the train in the first place, a member of Broadstairs town team was clearing up dog-ends with a dustpan and brush and putting stray bits of rubbish in the bin. How lovely, I commented to Andy of the Red Bean Machine – the hot-drink-mobile that does a great Americano and homemade flapjack – as I compared and contrasted this altruistic lady with the unthinking morons who’d dropped their fag butts and beer cans in the first place. He pointed out the attractive wooden plant containers, also supplied and maintained by the team, observing sadly that some people sit in them! There are those who give and those who take away. And I think we’ll find that from now on, it was never more so…

Read here: Hike in train passengers heading to Margate

One further tiny reason to be cheerful. The Brexit debacle has inspired a new family game: “Spot the Leaver”. Run along the lines of the one-time Carling Black Label ads, the rules are simple and one only needs to watch and observe.

Overhear an unfortunate (and usually factually inaccurate) exchange about immigration? See a Union Jack T-shirt hoving into view? Witness the bloke moaning about “them” and talking drivel about the economy? My son and I raise eyebrows, roll eyes and see who can be the first to cry: “I bet HE voted Out…”

* NB this was written last weekend – before Theresa May was appointed.

 Read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/plain-jane-brexit-is-going-well/story-29512479-detail/story.html#ixzz4ET8CGdAg
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Plain Jane 010716: After the Vote

Plain Jane 010716I woke up on Saturday morning feeling strangely unwell. I mentally ran through what I’d eaten the night before and counted up the glasses of Cava, before I registered that the sick, traumatised sensation in my stomach was simply the realisation that the previous day hadn’t been an awful dream brought on by too much camembert. We really had voted ourselves out of the EU and into the abyss.

On Sunday I felt exactly the same. By that time, we could add to our list of outcomes not only that the pound had crashed and the markets crumbled and that big companies were signalling their intentions to move away from the UK, but that the Labour party was in crisis, nobody from the Tories was seeming ever so keen to be the one to trigger article 50 and in fact a lot of them seemed to be wandering about in confusion wondering what would happen next.

I’ve had my fair share of flak on Facebook for expressing my shock and shame and I have been urged to accept the workings of democracy, to respect the wishes of the majority and to stand firm against the divisions which have sprung up between those who voted to Leave and those who wished fervently to Remain. All well and good  and laudable. But what do I do with my rage?

I have always respected the political opinions of others – I have friends on the right and the far left and the wishy-washy centre (where I usually reside myself) and I will listen to anyone with an intelligent, informed view. And there is the rub.

I feel no animosity towards, say, Craig Mackinlay because I know our South Thanet MP has a brain, is an accountant and voted from a position of unshakable conviction based on his own (even if in my view, mistaken) economic analysis. Ditto any of the members of Westminster who went that way although I note that Boris is not looking particularly jubilant now – time will tell what his particular stance was all about.  But I cannot recover from my fury with the ignorant. Or those that fed them the lies.

The woman interviewed on Radio 5 Live who voted to leave because Wales and Scotland got free prescriptions and she in England didn’t. The bloke filmed for Channel Four news who thought an out vote would  “stop the muslims from coming into this country”  or the chap on the same piece of film who was fuelled by the fact that 13 million quid had been spent on art!  The girl who came on next who thinks a Leave vote  has put “England on the globe” (where was it beforehand then?) or the chap on BBC Radio Four who didn’t mind “the ones here already” but was none too keen on “them others”.  The local woman who said she was doing it because it was “best” for her finances but who hadn’t yet bought the euros for her Spanish holiday next week. (See what it costs you now, love.)

My esteemed colleague on this column, Mike Pearce, has always taken the view that some people are too stupid to vote and I have always squealed with horror. Finally, reluctantly, I feel forced to agree.

But the responsibility lies with the likes of UKIP leader Nigel Farage, now distancing himself from any suggestion that the EU contributions could go to the NHS (not what you said a few weeks ago, Nige!) or the Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan who has finally admitted that coming out of the EU will not result in reduced immigration.

Many, many voters were sold a vision of a Britain that cannot be delivered and they won’t realise that until much too late. For those of you who will respond by telling me I am wrong, then let me answer you now that I so dearly hope I am.

In the meantime, I still feel sick. What, oh what, have we done?

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You can read the original post at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/plain-jane-after-the-eu/story-29462228-detail/story.html.

Plain Jane 170616: How we vote on Thursday will probably come down to instinct

Plain Jane 170616So it’s finally here. After all the weeks of posturing, scare-mongering, claims and counter claims, the referendum is finally upon us.

Come Thursday we can put our cross in the box and say once and for all, whether we want to be part of the EU or go our own, not necessarily sweet, way. (After the way our football fans have behaved, Europe may heave a collective sigh of relief.)

Having listened to the hours of debate, read acres of news coverage and had a couple of wine-fuelled exchanges in which I have  just stopped short of banging the table and shouting “Enough!” ( a habit I am trying to grow out of), I have concluded that the way one intends to vote, boils down to a single, simple question. Namely: is one the sort to become over-exercised about the concept of immigration? Or more of the kind of chap who believes in reserving one’s energies for fretting about the economy? I.e. if you spend a lot of your time muttering about “them” stealing our jobs and taking all the housing, and find Nigel Farage can easily whip you into a lather, you’re in the first camp and  fully focused  on getting OUT.

If on the other hand, you have been struck by how the economists and business leaders and top academics involved in research funding, have all been urging caution on the potential dosh front and you believe that a strong economy is paramount – otherwise how can you sort anything? – then you are probably planning on adding your voice to staying IN.

It strikes me, however, that along with the back-stabbing there is wealth of misinformation on both sides.  Of the sixty-five million of us living in the UK, only around three million are EU Nationals. On the other hand, about five million Brits live abroad, so they’ve still got more of us bellowing at the waiters and demanding more chips than the other way round. (It does give me a wry smile when I hear the Outers complaining that the least those coming here could do is speak fluent English.)  Of those three million, over two-thirds are in employment and contributing to the national coffers. And it is a statistical fact as well as my personal opinion, that if anyone is going to swing the lead and bleed the benefit system dry, it is more likely to be a home-grown Brit than an incoming (and in my experience, very hard-working) Pole.

The hard truth is that we need immigrant workers – the NHS would fall apart without them – and since one in five of our care workers comes from elsewhere, so would lots of the elderly. As for them having nowhere to live, do you know how much of the land that makes up England actually has buildings on it? 2.27%  Yes, I was staggered too.  We’ll just put up some more houses on the other 97%. If all those ex-pats get sent home, we’ll certainly need to!

As far as our wealth and financial stability goes, there’s a tough truth to be faced there too. Nobody knows. Not one of our politicians, experts, pundits or blokes from the pub actually has a clue what the effect of leaving the EU would have on the state purse. It’s all guesswork. It could be brilliant; it might be disaster.

As a friend old enough to have been able to vote the first time around, observed: there is nobody left with any experience of how to run the country without being in Europe. At the end of the day, for all the hypotheses and fears, with the xenophobia and clutching of the Tetleys teabags to the patriotic chests at one end of the spectrum and the idealism surrounding diversity and joys of European culture at the other, what we vote for on Thursday will come down to instinct. Mine says that for all the annoying and petty bureaucracy that comes out of Brussels, we are better off, on balance, with the devil we know.

Plain Jane 030616: Debt, water and the sugar tax

Plain Jane 030616

My latest Plain Jane column. The version that came out in print – and online – was mysteriously lacking my last sentence. Is it that dreadful and offensive? 🙂 Had my tongue protruded too far from my (overly chubby) cheek? Answers, as always, very welcome… 🙂

I couldn’t care less whether Chris Wells, leader of Thanet Council,  was unable to pay his council tax back in 2012 and I certainly don’t stand in judgement. Lord knows, I’ve had my cash flow problems in the past – who hasn’t – and if he says it’s all been paid back now, then all well and good, let’s yawn and move on. I do,  however, think it’s a trifle rich to accuse his rivals of highlighting his past penury for political gain and then using it himself – through his column last week  – to do exactly the same. After a brief re-run of his non payment of bills  and a side swipe at “political opponents encouraging the media circus”, Mr Wells moved swiftly to compare and contrast his debts with that of past councils. And then, in a deft demonstration of the tactical non-sequitur, bangs on about alleged Tory election expenses, claiming that Thanet Conservatives “truly fear” a re-run of the general election, “knowing” that Nigel Farage and UKip  would win this time around and be able to celebrate the victory that they “earned” a year ago.  Oh dear, Chris, if you can hear me over the unmistakable clatter of barrels being scraped,  I feel I should offer counsel. Putting aside the obvious fact that Ukip  didn’t earn anything – on polling night Nigel Farage got fewer votes than Craig Mackenzie and therefore didn’t secure the seat (the number of hotel rooms paid for in Ramsgate will never change that) – may I remind you of the valuable mantra, heeded by all shrewd figures in the public eye.  Never complain, never explain.  To which we might usefully add: Or descend into fantasy…

A GOLD STAR for Southern Water’s customer service. Last Saturday I answered the phone to  a nice lady called Denise who informed me that our water meter reading had been taken and our bill was much higher than usual. Rather than sending out an invoice for a scary amount, she was calling to enquire if our usage had dramatically increased. Having waited politely while I interrogated my son on his bathing habits and faucet-shutting prowess, she explained that even if he had cleaned his teeth with the tap running (a practice I have long attempted to crush)  we were talking a very large quantity  of H20 for three people to consume, and we probably had a leak. She then texted instructions as to how I could find out.  On Monday I braced myself and phoned the number I’d been given to report that yes, it seemed the meter was still moving even when the water was switched off, and what a shock I had. There was no “press one for a payment”, two to change my address or three to listen to mindless music for forty minutes and then cut my throat.  Instead, the phone rang and someone answered! Just like that. And an equally lovely-sounding Sarah said she’d send an inspector round this week. If anyone has had any recent dealings with certain other infuriatingly inefficient and almost-impenetrable  utilities (to mention no names, British Gas!) you will understand my almost speechless wonder.

THE Taxpayers Alliance wants the proposed “sugar tax” to be axed, as it fears it will adversely affect the poor. Its reasoning is that the tax will not apply to all sugary drinks across the board but will target those more likely to be purchased by families on low incomes. It offers as an example  Coca-Cola (10.6 grams of sugar per 100ml) which will be subject to the levy, as opposed to a Starbucks’ hot chocolate with whipped cream and coconut milk (11 grams), which will not. The organisation also notes anomalies such as “energy” drinks being taxed (11 grams) but not Tesco chocolate milk (12.4). I quite see where  the TPA is coming from but  surely there’s a much simpler answer. If we really want to make things fair and save the poor NHS from buckling under the weight of obesity, then let the government ban sickly drinks altogether. Make it illegal to sell any soft drink containing more than a certain level of the sweet stuff and have done with it. They’ve come for the smokers and the drinkers. Fatties – it’s your turn next!

You can view the original article at http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-Debts-water-sugar-tax/story-29351761-detail/story.html

Plain Jane 290116: Election gaffe

Plain Jane 290116Channel Four’s Michael Crick started it, the Electoral Commission is looking into it and now, according to Mr Crick’s blog, one Michael Barnbrook from Ramsgate, whose hobby is filing complaints, has gone so far as to contact Kent Police. I refer to the minor hoo-hah surrounding South Thanet election expenses on behalf of the Tories. Mr Barnbrook, who, charmingly, has spent time as a member of the both the BNP and Ukip, has made the complaint under sections of the 1983 Representation of the People Act which has various tedious things to say about election expenses, but the basic allegation is that the Thanet South Tories spent way too much.

The main excitement surrounds the Royal Harbour Hotel – a very nice gaff if I may say so – in Ramsgate, where, it is claimed, an assortment of Central Office campaigners were drafted in to stay over and fight the good fight in the battle against Ukip. Running up a bill that was over and above the amount permitted. Craig Mackinlay, our illustrious MP for Thanet South, who famously beat Nigel Farage back on May 7, had just had a tooth out when I phoned him to make enquiries, but bravely gave me the slightly muffled lowdown. “It was national expenditure,” he assured me, “and completely out of my control.”

Yes they descended from Central Office and cost money but that was because “the seat became a focus of the Ukip Conservative challenge across the country”. The world’s media were down here, he recalled, and had to be responded to. It was, Craig declared firmly, and for the second time “properly national expenditure”.

My view is this. It worked. We did not end up with a Ukip Member of Parliament and having to suffer the indignity of watching Farage followers strutting round Thanet. As far as I’m concerned, whatever it cost to keep the Kippers out was money very well spent.

It can come as no surprise that a recent Mori poll found that, when it comes to trusting others to tell the truth, the public favour their hairdressers over politicians. Just 16 per cent of Britons rely on MPs to come up trumps in the veracity stakes, compared to the 69 per cent of us who are ready to believe anything uttered by he or she who wields the scissors, putting the locks-snippers up there with doctors (90 per cent) and teachers (86 per cent). Journalists and estate agents get an equally bad press, with only 22 per cent of those polled trusting either group to be honest in what they say.

Of course we hacks are a sleazy lot – having to cope, as we do, with the irritating manner in which facts get in the way of a good story – and how would an estate agent ever sell anything if he answered sincerely about the damp and the woodworm and the thoroughly ghastly neighbours? But picture the chaos if politicians really did start to embrace the whole truth and nothing but.

Imagine a world in which they shared: “Frankly, I’m only in it for the power,” “The NHS is in deepest crisis” or “We’ve made a terrible cock-up with education.” It would shake the very foundations of the world as we know it. The political system on both a national and local level relies fundamentally on those who wish to be elected giving out a load of cobblers and us pretending to believe it. How else do you explain the overwhelming number of votes for a council who promised to clean up the streets and sort out rubbish collections.

And then re-open Manston?

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Read the original post at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane/story-28624656-detail/story.html#ixzz3ylE11Wgi
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Plain Jane 150116: Wine, sugar and health improvements

Plain Jane 150116FAR be it from me to agree with Nigel Farage (unless he’s talking about Manston airport) but I can’t help feeling a certain sympathy with the self-styled “boozer not an alcoholic” who has spoken out against what he calls “over the top” Government advice about drinking.

I shall not be following his suggestions for a middle-of-the-day mass protest against the new guidelines (now none of us must drink more than 14 units a week), however, as I rarely imbibe at lunchtimes, can’t over-concern myself with what the chaps are allowed to knock back (female limits remain unchanged) and think actually it is a tad irresponsible for a politician to actively encourage the population to swig alcohol. Still I cannot help but share his irritation with “nannying”.

There is no doubt there is a problem with binge drinking in the UK (even though our recommended limits are set lower than in many other countries) – as any member of the police force or NHS worker will confirm – but I don’t believe banging the table about units is the answer. Perhaps taking the French approach, whereby alcohol in moderation with which to enjoy food is part of a civilised life, would stop many a teenager passing out cold on their 18th birthdays.

Or a spot of awareness training in schools about the risks of alcohol poisoning to health and personal safety. But it would probably be wasted. Young people, of course, know much better about everything than old fogeys like me and it’s not until you are of a certain age that you realise that stumbling, slurring, shouting one’s mouth off in the town centre and then throwing up in the gutter is not a good look. Regular readers will know that I like a glass of wine as much as the next woman but it has never landed me in A & E and I would implode with shame if I came close. I abhor “drinking games”, think knocking back shots is for idiots and can honestly say that much as I enjoy the feeling of a nice glass of fizz skipping its way round my veins I have never, in my entire life, gone out for the evening with the sole purpose of getting hammered (although it has occasionally been an occupational hazard). I know, however, that if I delivered this speech to my son and his friends they would listen politely and put my staid ways down to my great age. Something needs to be done about the nation’s long-term wellbeing and clogging up of the NHS but if the Government really wants to improve things I would suggest there are more pressing trees to bark up. Maybe yes, drinking alcohol does account for 15 extra cases of breast, liver, mouth and throat cancers (strangely it appears to offer some protection against cancer of the kidneys or thyroid) per 1,000 women, as cited in a recent study, but compared to the cancer risks of smoking and obesity these figures are still relatively low. Smoking accounts for around one third of all diagnosed cancers with diet-related factors thought to explain a further third, against which alcohol is currently blamed for approximately 5 per cent of cases. Which would seem to suggest that a tax on sugar, moves to discourage supersize portions and reminding the nation that suet pastry and chips is just as bad for you as too much gin, might be the way forward.

Or one could simply reflect that people have many reasons for finally deciding to take themselves in hand: for giving up the fags, losing weight or realising that being drunk most days tends to mess up one’s life rather than improve it. If you canvassed a thousand people on why they took life-changing steps to improve their health, I’d wager that discomfort, embarrassment, illness or a failed relationship might all feature highly as the salient wake-up call. And not many would reply: “Because the Government told me to.” Or, come to that, Nigel didn’t…

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Plain Jane 220515 – A chilly reception

Plain Jane 220515OH DEAR! It seems I haven’t got off to the best possible start with our new Kipper council. Let’s hope I don’t require a new wheelie bin in the next five years.

The Winter Gardens was rammed on the night of the general election with 150 members of national and regional media poised to see Nigel Farage’s moment of – what turned out to be non-glory.

I joined the throng the following morning in time to witness Mr Farage’s exit stage left without waiting for the others to finish their speeches (considered very bad form in political circles) and the ridiculous “prophet” utter an obscenity (considered very bad form by me).

Two days later, the much smaller band of – mostly local – hacks were still looking tired, but I arrived to see an apparently restored, grinning and hand-clapping Mr Farage – or “Daddy” as one successful candidate rather nauseatingly dubbed him – leading his merry band in the cheers and flag-waving as we watched TDC turn purple.

It is not what one would have chosen, not least because most of the new intake have never done it before, but since I would usually go for people not parties in local elections, I decided to approach proceedings with an open mind.

When I found myself in the coffee queue with two purple rosettes, and a hand was extended my way, I shook it. John Buckley HAS done it before, he told me.

Newly elected to the Beacon Road Ward, he explained he had previously represented Broadstairs & St Peters town council for Labour. When I expressed surprise at this profound leap of allegiance, he countered it with his support of Manston.

Far be it from me, an ardent airport fan, to disagree, but my eyebrows remained raised. But wasn’t he, I asked nicely, a little concerned about a certain element that UKIP tended to attract? Mr Buckley opened his mouth to begin what sounded like a reasoned reply, and was drowned out by what I can only describe as a squawking from the second rosette. I will not bore you with the entire exchange, suffice to say that it included much huffing, puffing and eventual storming (hers) from the queue, some ineffectual attempts at pacification (Councillor Buckley’s) and the rather curious accusation being hurled my way that I made racist comments myself in what had suddenly become MY paper.

UKIP, it seems, also tend to attract people who don’t listen, don’t understand, don’t want to engage in rational debate and who think that the best way to win round a sceptic is by shrieking about the shortcomings of the Socialist Workers Revolutionary Party (I don’t like them much either) and complaining that a councillor from the Labour party had called one of their number a fascist. Entertaining as all this was, I think we can be thankful that the lady in question is only married to a Kipper (not Mr Buckley, I should perhaps make clear) and not standing for office herself. Council meetings, I fear, will be chaotic enough already.

Word clearly got round for there was a definite chill coming from factions of the purple camp for the rest of the afternoon. Ironically, the only one who looked pleased to see me and offered a smile, was Nige himself! But: “we have cleaner streets already”, tweeted a local in protest at my cynicism, “or is it my imagination?” I think it might be, love. It took the new lot a week to get email addresses, let alone the dog mess cleared up, but let us wait and see. My mind stays just about propped open. And if it turns out I’m wrong to feel quiet dread, I shall say. In the meantime I shall watch and I shall listen. Lady of UKIP who never got her coffee – you should try it some time…

You can read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane/story-26546957-detail/story.html
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Plain Jane 100415: Plain Jane meets the Tories and Manston Airport Independent Party

Plain Jane 100415I 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…

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You can read the original article at: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-meets-Tories-Manston-Airport/story-26308450-detail/story.html

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Plain Jane 030415: Plain Jane meets the Labour and United Thanet candidates

Plain Jane 030415

Continuing our series in which Jane Wenham-Jones meets the candidates, this week: Labour…

THERE is a framed cartoon by Giles on my writing-room wall that my grandmother cut out of the Daily Express in 1980.

The intervening years have turned the newsprint brown, but it still clearly shows a teenager propped up on her bed amidst detritus and chaos, perusing an article entitled “MPs at 18”.

Her mother stands just inside the door with mop, vacuum cleaner and a long-suffering expression. “First thing she’s going to do when she’s an MP,” the caption reads, “is straighten up the whole world.”

I saw the joke, but was still convinced I had the answers. Along with the duffle coat, the badges, and the marching shoes. In grouchy middle-age of course, I have come to view anyone under 30 as a mere whippersnapper, and have made my share of the jokes about South Thanet’s Labour candidate’s recent progression from short trousers.

They have probably been unfair. At the only hustings I have been to – the memory of which still brings me out in hives – the 25 year-old Will Scobie acquitted himself well, proving to be better informed, more eloquent and (mercifully) more engaging than several of the older panellists.

So I set forth to meet him and his opposite number in North Thanet, Labour candidate Frances Rehal, with an open mind. We gather in The Arch, the fab new bar set into the cliff opposite Ramsgate Harbour, where I get confused and kiss Chris Clarke, the press officer (he looks startled) before Will appears behind him.

Young Scobie does look very youthful indeed, but he’s been a local councillor for the past four years, and is firm and clear on what needs to be done, saying: “For the first time in 20 years, we finally have people coming to invest in Thanet. What Frances and I can do to help to push that is about banging the drum for the area, making it clear that Thanet is a beautiful place to live and work.”

At 60, Frances Rehal has not been in politics before but has a lot of experience she feels will be relevant. She’s been a health visitor, a manager in the NHS with responsibility for child protection, and was the director of the first Sure Start programme in Kent.

“Thanet needs jobs,” she tells me. “High-skilled jobs.” She is concerned with how we can help those currently in school “who perhaps aren’t the highest achievers”, and when Will starts banging his drum for the proposed Parkway station and reduced journey times to London – “if we can get it down to 56 minutes, it will transform the area” – it is the young she is thinking of. “If I were elected”, she tells me, “I would see how we could get reduced fares. You need to have a pretty high level of skill to get a job in London that pays enough to commute.”

Will has worked as a “transfer manager” in a local language school and chimes in to remind us that good connections with the capital will lead to a lot more foreign students coming our way, which is “big money at the moment”.

Will has toiled in a working men’s club too, which he loved because “I love talking to people and there was always football on”, but it also taught him about working long hours for little financial reward and being forced to rely on tax credits. “We’re a low-wage blackspot here”, he says sombrely. “Labour’s big push is to make sure we can transform that.”

Frances is also earnest on this issue, proposing “a process where people are upskilled as they get older”. Will is right there with her, saying: “One in four people leaving school in Thanet aren’t able to find a job. My vision of the welfare state is for it to be a hand up, not a hand out.”

There is nothing here that anyone with a heart could possibly decry, but how confident would they be that, in practice, they could make a difference? I tell them that Nigel Farage claimed he’d be a good MP for Thanet because he had “a powerful voice”. Did they think they could say the same?

“He would be an embarrassment for the area,” says Will immediately. “What has he done as an MEP?” enquires Frances. When I push the point, Frances is keen to remind me about her past experience at Sure Start, saying she ” laboured at many national conferences”, but Will is our man for the soundbite.

“We have a record of delivery,” he declares. He regales me with the tale of his one-man fight against the easyJet slogan “We’d rather be in Malaga than Margate”, saying: “I saw this and started a social media campaign, which within six hours had got them to withdraw that. I then spent the next three days going on TV talking about Thanet and all the wonderful things that were happening locally. I took something that could have been a disaster locally and turned it into something good.” The reason he could do this, he emphasises, is because “I’m based here in Thanet, I’m responsive and I know the area”. In this, he highlights the difference between himself and the Ukip and Tory candidates for South Thanet – “they don’t have local links”.

“So you’re saying, you’re both hands-on,” I suggest helpfully.

“We’re hands-on,” agrees Frances. “We’ve been encouraging people to come together, to create a new Thanet. It’s the responsibility of those of us in public services, including politicians, to identify common issues.”

Will is adamant that he would continue what he’s been doing throughout his time on the council: “Volunteering on Christmas Day to feed the homeless, picking up dog poo in Cliftonville…” ( I am grateful for this – someone sure needs to do it – could he extend his remit to Ramsgate too?) He is not deterred by my asides, adding: “It’s not always about speeches, and nice media interviews. It’s hard graft most of the time, and that is what you’ll get from me.”

Verdict: Thin on laughs. Big on social responsibility.

 

 

Also standing: Party for a United Thanet.

Name: Grahame Birchall (South Thanet)

Age: “Late middle”

Political experience: Previously been a Labour councillor for Whitstable. Also stood as an Independent and Conservative.

What’s the most important thing you would do for Thanet?

Get rid of TDC and take Thanet out of KCC. Once this is done, I will stand down and allow ‘normal politics’ to resume by way of a by-election.

iPUT is a political party that is not interested in exercising power, only in acting as a catalyst to rapid change.

The big dream:

For the people of Thanet to be set free from KCC and such a malign, unaccountable and secretive system of government.

To turn Thanet into the Riviera of the South East, the European destination of choice.

Name: Cemanthe McKenzie (North Thanet)

Age 34

No of years in politics: None

What’s the most important thing you would do for Thanet?

Create a Unitary Authority for the isle of Thanet. An elected leader would head a hybrid system which involves community groups, town parishes and localised councils.

The big dream:

The majority vote! Which will indicate a vote of no confidence by the people of Thanet in their structure of local government.

Other contenders

Thanet North: Piers Wauchope, Ukip, Roger Gale, Tory, George Cunningham, Lib Dem, Ed Targett, Green,

Thanet South: Craig Mackinlay, Tory, Nigel Farage, Ukip, Russ Timpson, Lib Dem, Al Murray, FUKP, Ian Driver, Green, Ruth Bailey, Manston Airport Independent, Nigel Askew, Reality Party, Tim Garbutt, Independent, Graham Birchall, Independence Party for a United Thanet, Prophet Zebadiah Abu-Obadiah, Al-Zebabist Nation of OOOG

Watch out for Mike on the Election Flipside – coming soon!

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Read more: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Plain-Jane-meets-Labour-candidates/story-26272508-detail/story.html#ixzz3WGwzqXWP
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Plain Jane 270315: Meet the candidates for the Green Party

Continuing our series in which Jane Wenham-Jones meets the candidates, this week: the Greens…

Plain Jane 270315I was initially invited to visit the Green candidate for Thanet South  at his Broadstairs home – an arrangement I jumped at, to check if it featured  sacks of mung beans and a composting toilet. In the event, we meet in the Belgian Bar in Ramsgate, which boasts  neither. It is a testament to Councillor Ian Driver’s capacity for forgiveness or the thickness of his hide that he wants to meet me at all. I have been less than complimentary on these pages in the past. But his smile is wide when I arrive, so I cut straight to the nub of my doubts.

He tends to party hop, doesn’t he?

“Not really, no,” he says.  “I’ve gone Labour, Independent, Green.” He cites other council movers.  “Zita Wiltshire’s gone Conservative, Independent, UKIP…”  I wouldn’t hold her  up as a shining example, I tell him.  He guffaws. “Perhaps not…”

He needed to find an organisation he was happy with. “I tried being Independent but I kept on arguing with myself.” He pauses for another chuckle – this is clearly a well-worn joke – but admits it was “really tough”.  He’s always been sympathetic to the Green Party and Labour do not have a good record on “the environmental thing.”  Is that why he left them? I enquire, preparing myself for a worthy speech about greenhouse gases. His answer is somewhat more colourful and I have not been permitted to quote it.  But I like a man who speaks his mind, and you get plenty of that from Mr Driver. “The Thanet Labour group is a bit like you’d expect 1930s Chicago politics to be… .they are self-opinionated and they won’t take criticism.” (This is the short version.) Nationally, you couldn’t “slip a cigarette paper between them and the Tories”. Labour is full of people who “don’t really know what the world is about”. The 58-year-old thinks he does.

Photo by Ryan Howard of the Belgian Bar
Photo by Ryan Howard of the Belgian Bar

He was a Labour councillor in Southwark before he moved to Thanet in 2007 and was previously “very active” in the Trade Union movement. He bemoans the lack of “ordinary men and women” in politics today – it is the one area he agrees with Nigel Farage on. “There is a political class that is out of touch and serves its own self-interest.” He is angry about hypocrisy and can still get heated about the expenses scandal: “…snouts in the trough. It stinks!” Again he defends Farage. “At least when something goes wrong with his party,  he kicks their arses”.  I enjoy a further diatribe on the state of Thanet District Council before bringing him back to the matter in hand.  What will he, personally, do for Thanet if he is elected? He is honest enough to acknowledge that there isn’t much chance of this but standing helps to “raise the profile of the Green Party”, and he is up for the council again too where he hopes there will be a shake up. “There is an opportunity now to get new blood in that will do things in a different way.”

So what needs to be done?

“Regeneration is the big one.”  He would “throw open” the Regeneration board, Invest in Thanet, empowering local people and tapping into the creative, artistic groups here, as well as the business-minded. “We’ve got quite an entrepreneurial community developing ‘despite the council’”. He doesn’t want Manston to be an airport but  a mix of housing and business park. His dream is to see Ramsgate develop a new modern marina and is vocal on how much the port costs compared to how much it is utilised. “Pound for pound it could create more jobs and business opportunities than anything else, and bring in more visitors…”

I realise we’ve not mentioned traditional “Green” issues much at all. “Housing!” he says. We need 2000 more homes in Thanet.  All new-builds  should be environmentally friendly with solar panels, rain water re-use, treble glazing, massive insulation. Thanet has the highest level of fuel poverty in South East England. Over-65s are dying because they can’t keep warm…”

I agree this is appalling but how will improvements be paid for?

By an end to Trident, he tells me.

“Affordable social housing – that’s what I’m passionate about.”

There is no denying his fervour. He seems genuinely upset and angry that there are people sleeping rough in Thanet and that Carers are denied a proper wage.

“You shouldn’t be in politics if you’re not passionate,” he says. “You shouldn’t be in politics if you don’t care…”

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OVER IN NORTH THANET Ian’s counterpart Edward Targett also has a vision. The Green candidate says he will donate £1000 of his MP’s salary each month to local causes, if he is elected. The 32-year old has been working long hours at his day job as an editor –  motorcycling to and from the city from his home in Margate (he’d ride  a push bike if it wouldn’t take so long and use the train if he could afford it) – so we converse by email. He has no political experience but enthusiasm in spadeloads and a clear plan for what he would  do if elected. “I’d work ferociously hard to create quality jobs, make sure services are properly funded and regeneration money is handled transparently and allocated democratically.”  As well as giving to charities and  sports clubs he would want to “bring empty buildings back into use and plant thousands of trees”.IMG_0114 (2)

So what’s his big dream?  “Plenty of secure employment that pays the living wage, thriving and well maintained High Streets with affordable business rates, cheap, clean and efficient public transport; an egalitarian society with free access to education and higher education for all.” It all sounds wonderful but he hasn’t finished yet.

“Public services in public hands, not asset-stripping with nationalised losses but privatised profits. World-leading engineering and energy independence, reducing pollution, creating jobs and combating climate change. Flourishing, protected wildlife and green spaces. Robust, representative democracy, with civil liberties protected and the powerful held accountable.”

Phew. How is he going to pay for it?

He types back straight away: A ‘Robin Hood’ tax on financial transactions, along with a wealth tax on the richest 1%. I’d also crack down on large-scale corporate tax evasion.

VERDICT: Commitment shines from the Green Candidates. Everyone needs a dream.

Watch out for Mike on the Election Flipside – coming soon!

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