With Kent on Sunday describing KCC as “stifling democracy” then elected governance is clearly at a low point in Kent. With over 90% of councillors from the Conservatives then a one-party state is the reality.
Throw in double-hatters where the same person sits on various councils, and falling turnouts (as low as 15% in by-elections and the Police elections), and monotone politics is the order of the day.
Declaring an interest, I’ve stood as MP and now Mayor in Ramsgate as an Independent, to “Stop the Pollution. Stop the Corruption. Stop the Construction.”, against the worst excesses of County governance. We seem cursed with an almost wilfully backward political system: KCC funding Infratil at Manston knowing that the airport is on the water supply, and Infratil and TDC removing the air monitors are heinous crimes.
Or there’s the silence over the banned EU aircraft such as Afghanistan’s Kam Air or known gunrunners and blood diamond shippers such as DAS Air, or Jihadist flights such as IranAir – effectively making Manston and Ostend and Luxembourg the hub for the dirty trade of guns and drugs into Africa. Just last week yet another airline, Germany’s ACG, was banned from the skies over Kent.
Or there’s the quieter horror of KCC investing in tobacco, booze and BAE shares – while tasked with improving public health. All the more concerning with my predecessor Jonathan Aitken jailed for the ongoing Al-Yamamah corrupt Saudi arms deals or now Sangcom. Or Thor mercury banned in Margate 20 years ago for poisoning its workers and the public, doing the same in Cato Ridge, South Africa – and remaining open to this day at the Margate site.
Clearly many of these aren’t councillor issues as such, the ageing councillors can hardly keep up with the pace of modern events or desire much more for Kent than an indoor privy, but rather a bloated and failing public sector still exempt from full FOI after 7 years. The alphabet soup of the Environment Agency, HSE, Southern Water, Police, and CAA have all shied away from action preferring silence and cover-up and pension protectionism rather than protecting the public. The Belgian civil service, just a few miles away and speaking English and paid for from UK tax, could run the place better and cheaper?
A similar picture exists with blatant corruption such as the ChinaGate bung to Ramsgate Labour – its largest ever donation for Kent’s largest ever development shrouded in secrecy. Or Pleasurama, Kent’s largest seafront development again shrouded in secrecy with its directors registered in the British Virgin Islands. Hardly sensible for KCC, supposedly one of the largest and best UK’s top two councils – especially with George Osborne clamping down on tax havens ahead of the G8 Summit this Summer in Northern Ireland.
While Top Temps, effectively a front company for KCC staffing-up or Top Travel also undercutting the private sector with public funds, the failed investments in Icelandic banks, the million pound Laser fraud, the 0% salaries fraud of the senior civil servants and Cabinet at TDC, and Two Carters salaries and – Manston again – the failure of EUJet and KCCUSA investments and now shuttling money to Infratil via Visit Kent hardly inspire confidence in a £2.3Bn tax organisation – almost Malawi’s total GDP and larger per capita than India, Cambodia or Uganda.
Clearly we have First World funding but Third World services.
I make no bones that the Toxic Three of Carter, King and Wild have not just failed Kent, but deliberately and repeatedly endangered the public and, as with the Gang of Four and Gale and Sandys, have no place in Kent public life. The doodlebug did less damage.
Rather, as with the Infratil Directors they should face criminal charges and jail.
What must other Counties think? What must your children and grandchildren think if this represents the best of County governance? How bad must failed councils such as TDC or Tower Hamlets or Hackney or Birmingham be if this is Great Britain at its greatest? What must our international partners in Virginia or Hungary or dozens of European towns think?
The recent Vietnam Trade Mission must wonder what is going on, although the Vietnamese Foreign Minister having described over a third of his department as completely useless, would no doubt feel at home.
And we seem to have a two-speed Kent not dissimilar to the Jim Crow period of the US Deep South with East Kent as a plantation state lorded over by the West Kent dormitory towns. And we could have had town planning to create Venices rather than the verrucas of Gillingham or Ashford or Dover or Dartford or any of the tarmac slop that passes for regenerating Kent’s towns.
I maintain we need deep reforms to make Kent fit for the twentieth century at least: a directly-elected Leader, more vibrant opposition parties and independents, political exams, void and rerun elections under 30% turnout for better policies and candidates, and manifestos published 6 months before elections. And specified recall, referenda criteria and of course full FOI- all over 7 years late now for civil service protectionism.
For the challenges of the 21st century far more is required: detailed public health and pandemic policies to mitigate the foolishness of lifting rabies restrictions at Kent ports and live animal exports bans, and coping with the TB alert across London and Romania - and even the measles outbreak in Wales.
SARS, Bird flu and Swine flu are a plane flight away and would surely blitz dozing Kent with its surfeit of ports, airports, Chunnel, language schools and tourists. We struggle to provide a flu vaccine for more than the first few weeks of winter and scandalously allow thousands of our pensioners to die like flies.
And with Manston flying in guns and cocaine – 85% of illegal drugs are seized in Belgium on the transit routes from Afghanistan, Turkey and Amsterdam, illegal immigrants are the least of our problems as they could have a first class seat day or night in any Jumbo jet into Kent.
While Police reforms are underway such as tighter Cold casework in Kent with the O’Leary case or Surrey Police and Magnitsky, Missing Persons and Drug den and counterfeit tobacco raids and even FOI on guns, spydrones and uniform improvements on procurement and international partnerships with Mexico, Thailand, Cambodia and Romania – and even dragging the Coastguard up by its bootstraps with oil tankers berthed off the Blue flag coast.
Yet British citizens are largely stranded on Death Row in Congo or Indonesia or extradited to USA at the drop of a hat and left to the idle mercies of a cocktail party Foreign Office.
And Kent’s schoolchildren face the ignominy, not of homes and schools for heroes promised to their grandparents and great-grandparents but asbestos schooling, the vote at 16 provided to Scotland first and slum town planning and overbuild. Yet countries such as Finland and Thailand easily lead the way for a digital future with free wifi, FabLabs and tablet PC’s. Junky towns in a RapeNation, and a horsemeat burger for school lunch is thin gruel indeed, but perhaps a fitting end for the Kent white horse conquered by apathy, incompetence and corruption.
And now with less than 1,000 days to go – after 12 years of inaction - to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals it’s time to fast-forward Kent with every public sector organisation and NGO adopting and adapting the goals. Initial UK elections for the UN World Parliament. Every organisation needs to adopt Climate Change and Fairtrade principles and a County-wide economic plan to drive growth. Those civil servants working hard on embedded water policies, desalination plants or tourism policies must rightly feel ignored. They are. So are Lord Heseltine’s recommendations on growth.
I’m not confident if can be done. The rot has set in and worked its way deep. The Northfleet children with their intestines growing out of their stomachs are ignored, the KCC vulnerable children abandoned to the night, Lydd airport expansion detailing in high Court bungs to councillors, the 2012 greatest games in a generation been and gone, Dreamland derelict and Pfizer losing over 2,000 jobs in the last 2 years.
Frontline Kent seems to have collapsed – British heroes such as Ramsgate’s Channel Dash airmen, or the victory over the Spanish Armada off Margate are ignored. Britain’s Korean War heroes, staving off Communism to create a vibrant South Korean democracy and economy, forgotten 70 years on. Kent’s legions of troops creating democracy from the beaches of Normandy to the jungles of Burma left to rot.
And the cruel political farce of next month’s 70th anniversary of The Dambusters celebrated not in Broadstairs with the trials of the bouncing bomb, but in Kings Hill as a political vanity.
Kent has fallen low. Kent’s worst generation has failed us. The County elections are on Thursday 2nd May: hold your nose and vote if you dare.