Monday, 27 April 2009

Kent Conservative election manifesto shock

I’ve just read the Kent Conservative manifesto…and it’s pretty good.

I agree and disagree with specific points – but as a format for a political manifesto for the County it’s good.

Specific chapters on the main areas of Kent life eg Education. And then within those sections examples of what has been achieved and what the plans are for after the election.

A couple of caveats for improvement though:

#Many of the points are a rehash of existing policy: whoever was elected many of these points would be the same. It would be better to know exactly how Kent Conservatives (in power in Kent since 1934) would improve things over the other parties.
#Many of the points are weak eg “to reduce benefit dependency amongst 16-24 years olds” – you don’t say. And water is wet. From what level now to what level by the next election?
#Lots of the details are peripheral eg building low carbon communities…in Elham Village. Great but not really a stretching target – or is this a “pilot project”?
#The blurring of County and District responsibilities: KCC does seem to want to claim credit for big ticket projects – unless they’re going wrong. And no involvement in day-to-day improvements. Again, TDC is a model of an abysmal council and accepted as such by KCC and our MP’s
#No mention of any of the candidates or future Cabinet
#No mention of any innovative policies like closing museums or removing noise and air monitors from airports

Overall though credit for producing more detailed plans than the Labour manifesto. And where are the LibDems and Green and UKIP plans?

Don’t we have a serious democracy deficit when manifestos are issued less than 6 weeks before an election? How on earth can the public understand or raise these issues?

Maybe the Party Machines don’t want us to. Much better to keep quiet and hope no-one asks and maybe tweak the electoral boundaries around like cutting Margate into two.

As MP I will introduced a 6 month prior notice for manifestos and fixed election schedules.

Back to the Conservative manifesto though as there are some serious gaps:

#no mention of Thanet or other deprived areas of Kent: some of the worst deprivation in Europe around Coastal Kent – and not one word.
#Almost no mention of the 2012 Games: a reference to the Kent School Games – but with only £1M in the KCC 2012 budget there is almost no real evidence of real activity for 2012 a once-in-a-generation event. After 4 years of planning.
#Lots of “soft and wibbly” targets: creating a “Business Support Centre” (sounds good but I think that’s a webpage) or “working towards improving Kent tourism” (don’t ask we’re not sure but it sounds good). Wouldn’t it make more sense to redeploy some of the £2Bn budgets – like the £110M in bank charges?
#A blurring of the role of a County Council and other organisations: KCC lays claim to reducing crime with 100 community wardens – possibly but isn’t that down to Kent Police rather than the civil servants – and the Police budget?
#No mention of the costs of delivering these services – no mention of council tax, salaries, pensions, FOI and “Scores on the Doors”
#The briefest possible mention of Climate Change – no KCC or Kent Conservatives if the planet fries seems to have escaped consideration.
#Culturally there’s confusion and a tension over “the environment” – to most people that’s things like trees and flowers and plants – to Kent Conservatives it usually refers to the “built environment”: roads and houses – the opposite of trees and flowers. The council tradition of being in thrall to the road-building and construction lobbies is ever more important in the Kent of London’s Patio.
#Reducing quangos? Hardly. Rather like the absurdity of massive bank charges for simply handling Government funds, Kent is an alphabet soup of quangos – many of them simply KCC departments by a different name eg Locate in Kent: KCC Regeneration. No wonder Kent has a 40% public sector economy if Paul Carter is spending his time changing SEERA into SEEDA or ASLC or vice versa: these are just the councils going insular. Deckchairs on the Kent Titanic. Has he gone native and now can’t differentiate between public sector priorities and private sector priorities? Councils are funded from the private sector ie the public and direct Government funding: they don’t exist by for for themselves. That would be silly.
#No mention of elected officials in “partner agencies”: Kent Police, Education etc. Again a blurring of what are adopting some of these organisations aims and achievements but no oversight of them.
#No mention of Manston airport and the drinking water: the biggest public health and flytipping disaster in Kent with polluted drinking water and dumped jumbo jets and every safety measure breached.
#Nor Thor mercury and Sericol poisoning the drinking water over years and decades.
#Nor ChinaGate.

On the whole a good attempt at a County manifesto, but there are serious gaps and omissions after 70 years of power and a £2Bn budget.

And never once being able to reduce council tax.

Unless the first duty of Government is to expand Government.

Clearly after the Budget and the latest recession the emphasis now is on slimlining the public sector: more value, redeploying efforts and less cost. No mention of that in the manifesto – simply existing resource with larger budgets.

I wonder if we’ve reached the point where KCC has the cultural assumption that the Conservatives are KCC and vice versa. Room for serious flaws in not fast-forwarding regeneration and serious polices, a reliance on flannel and career preservation polices - and a reliance on KCC the organisation rather than KCC the public’s provider of services.

A reliance on “rubbing along as usual” rather than driving real reform.

And KCC as Maidstone’s County Council with a reliance on the Tunbridge Wells Triangle. Rather than the council for all of the county of Kent.

As MP I will insist that all manifestos include staffing levels and cost assumptions for Country manifestos.

And as the political parties age and decline we are now witnessing a New Weald Order of the last automatic Tory generation in County Hall.

If Labour and Tory ideologies are now Thatcher-Blairite then there are no real differences other than specific details of policy and performance.

Labour poses little threat and will likely be washed away at the General Election by the recession – and the rise in UKIP, BNP, LibDems, Greens and Independents are the real challenge.

Plus the spectacular switch off of the public from voting for any of these policies and candidates. Most County elections now have turnouts of less than 30%. The ruling party is elected on the tiniest margins of the electorate.

A serious democratic deficit.

And one question.

How can I as a Thanet resident vote for Paul Carter and his administration? On their performance?

I can’t. We seem to have District elections masquerading as County elections.

As the Blazers and Builders drift out of County politics what will be left?

A truncated County system stagnating without reform?

As MP I will call for real Kent County elections in a regional Senate format with a mix of Kent Ambassadors and Kent MP’s as appointed and/or elected for oversight.

Time for Change.

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