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Political editor Paul Francis' review of the year

By Paul Francis

It was a year that began with Brexit, ended with Brexit, featured a surprise general election and saw the political careers of two Kent MPs come crashing down. At times, there was more drama than an edition of House of Cards. Political Editor Paul Francis looks back at the highlights and lowlights over a tumultuous 12 months.

The Fall From Grace: Damian's Descent:

Ashford MP Damian Green didn't so much fall on his sword as have it plunged into his back as he was sacked as de facto deputy Prime Minister.

Ashford MP Damian Green
Ashford MP Damian Green

An inquiry found he had made misleading statements about what he knew about pornographic material found on an office computer.

He apologised, headed for the exit door and will return in 2018 as a backbencher.

The Election Gamble That Backfired:

Filed in a draw marked "seemed like a good idea at the time" the usually timid Theresa May threw caution to the wind and called a general election.

It was, she declared, a choice between strong and stable government and chaos under Labour.

The only problem was to many voters, that was all it was. Come the day of reckoning, she contrived to lose her party’s working majority

Labour reacted as if it had won; the Conservatives as if they had lost.

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May
Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May

Election? What election?

In 2015, you couldn’t move for high profile politicians piling into Kent during a frenzied election campaign.

Two years later, political tumbleweed rolled through the Garden of England, despite the usual utterances about Kent being a key electoral battleground.

There was not a single visit by any of the party leaders as the battle buses headed anywhere but the county.

Canterbury: The Constituency That Confounded Pundits:

In the grip of the Conservatives for 160 years, Canterbury went from blue to red as Labour stunned everyone by winning the seat against all expectation.

It became the equivalent of the "were you still up for Portillo?" moment of 1997.

Rosie Duffield’s unexpected victory was attributed to - or blamed on - a well-organised mobilisation of the student vote.

Rosie Duffield enjoys a glass of champagne after becoming Canterbury and Whitstable's first Labour MP
Rosie Duffield enjoys a glass of champagne after becoming Canterbury and Whitstable's first Labour MP

Her margin of victory may have been a wafer thin majority of 187 but as they say, no-one remembers who came second. For the record, it was Julian Brazier.

Ukip: The Year The Party Lost Its Mojo

Kent's reputation as a Ukip stronghold took a battering and there were signs that the purple tide was on the way out.

At the county council election, the 17 councillors elected in 2013 all lost their seats.

A string of defeats in council by-elections did not help its cause.

Still, it continues to run Thanet council in the face of the Manston saga and its new leader Henry Bolton insists the party still has a role to play in mainstream politics.

Public Relations Disaster Of The Year:

Kent County Council ignored every rule in the book about how to avoid a PR car crash when county councillors awarded themselves a 15% payrise.

You don't have to spend much more when eating a plant-based diet. Stock picture
You don't have to spend much more when eating a plant-based diet. Stock picture

A backlash from angry voters was entirely predictable - especially as the Conservative-controlled council has been slashing its budget, pleading poverty in the face of the austerity regime imposed by government.

Operation Stack: The Lorry Park U-turn:

The government crashed into reverse gear over its plan for a huge lorry park on a site the size of Disneyland off the M20.

It said it would not contest a legal challenge brought by opponents and was withdrawing the park plan.

The sting in the tale? Minister Chris Grayling said the search for an alternative site would begin "immediately" - although there hasn’t been much sign of that just yet.

Could victory be a bitter-sweet one?

Brexit: The Conspiracy of Silence

If you have ever wondered just what the government has in mind to avoid Kent becoming gridlocked when we finally leave the EU, you will have to remain in the dark - at least so far as the Department of Transport is concerned.

The Brexit debate continues to rumble on
The Brexit debate continues to rumble on

It ruled it would not be in the public interest for details of any of its plans to be put into the public domain and rejected a Freedom of Information request by us for details of any proposals to mitigate the impact of Brexit in 2019.

Crossing The Divide: A New Thames Crossing

The government announced a new third Thames crossing east of Gravesend but there was hardly political unanimity as the two MPs representing the area could hardly be further apart about the scheme.

Gravesham MP Adam Holloway described it as "an appalling logistical travesty" and a "looming disaster".

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson, on the other hand, said his colleague was "advocating the funneling of more traffic into the Dartford area, whereas the solution, surely, is to take traffic away and site the crossing east of Gravesend".


Quotes of The Year:

“I regret I've been asked to resign from the Government following breaches of the Ministerial Code, for which I apologise" - Ashford MP Damian Green resignation letter after the Prime Minister gives him his marching orders.

“I accept in the past I have fallen below the high standards that we require of the armed forces that I have the honour to represent" - former defence secretary and Kent MP Michael Fallon resigns.

Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon
Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon

“I do not think the increase is any way unreasonable. Why should we have to tolerate a freeze? It has not reflected the cost of living increase everyone else has had" - KCC Conservative leader Paul Carter defends a 15% payrise for councillors.

“We are immediately starting...to promote a lorry park through the normal planning process, including a full environmental impact assessment, as a potential permanent solution to Operation Stack" - Transport minister Chris Grayling scraps the lorry park plan off the M20.

"Contingency planning is essential. If the Government gets this all wrong, we could be facing Operation Stack on steroids" - MP Yvette Cooper, chairman of Home Affairs Select Committee warns of the gridlock facing Kent without a Brexit deal.

MP Charlie Elphicke
MP Charlie Elphicke

"It is a denial of justice when people who have had allegations made against them, lose their job or their party whip without knowing what those allegations are" - Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke on his suspension from the Conservative party.

"It’s obviously disappointing...I’ve enjoyed the last 30 years...the biggest factor was the very large number of students" - defeated Conservative Julian Brazier on losing his Canterbury seat after more than three decades.

"I’m in shock" - the newly-elected Labour MP for Canterbury Rosie Duffield on breaking 160 years of history

"We are the only party to offer a credible and constructive pro-Brexit opposition is ours" - Henry Bolton, the new leader of UKIP

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