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It’s a tough one to call as 97 candidates bid for power in Maidstone

By Alan Smith

Maidstone Borough Council is normally elected one third at the time, but the total has been boosted by resignations, and this month 20 of the 55 seats will be contested.

The Conservatives, who have run the council for the last six years, need to drop only three seats to lose overall control. They are defending 10 of the 20 seats up for grabs.

But whatever happens at the polls, they are set to lose some of their most experienced councillors with a number of veteran councillors standing down. They include Cllr Jenefer Gibson, 28 years in Headcorn; Cllr Eric Hotson, 23 years in Staplehurst, and Cllr Rodd Nelson-Gracie, 17 years in Marden and Yalding.

The votes will be counted tonight at the Maidstone Leisure Centre
The votes will be counted tonight at the Maidstone Leisure Centre

The Lib Dems are hoping their opposition to aspects of the Tories’ draft Local Plan will help them improve on their current tally of 19 seats, but might themselves be vulnerable in some of the seats they are defending.

Both Labour and the Green Party are fielding more candidates this year, and Labour did pick up its first seat on the council last time around.

Two factors adding to the uncertainty are the intervention of five Independent candidates, including a former Conservative who quit the party over its house-building targets, and the arrival of UKIP.

UKIP is fighting every seat this time and hoping that the Euro-elections, which are held on the same day will help turnout.

Their candidates include Ericka Olivares-Penroz, who briefly achieved national notoriety when she confronted David Cameron on his visit to Yalding following the Christmas flooding. She joined UKIP after the Prime Minister’s visit because she was so incensed by his attitude and said she did not believe any of the main parties would keep their promises.

There is also an English Democrat standing in Shepway North.

One thing is certain, with a total of 97 candidates seeking election, voters have plenty to choose from on Thursday, May 22.

Tory chairman John Wilson
Tory chairman John Wilson

The Conservatives are starting from a position of strength. They are the ruling party on the council, with 30 of the 55 seats.
Cllr John Wilson, chairman of Maidstone and the Weald branch, said: “We are particularly proud of our record in Maidstone since we took control in 2008. Under Conservative stewardship, the borough is now independently rated one of the most successful economies in the UK. The council has been run efficiently and effectively, with significant investment in the town centre, Mote Park and the museum, despite vast Government funding cuts.
“The local elections this year coincide with European elections, where UKIP are expected to do well. Our message is simple: Your local Conservatives have worked very hard for you over the past six years – don’t lose them to a European protest vote.”

Peter Edwards-Daem, UKIP
Peter Edwards-Daem, UKIP

UKIP are this year’s unknown factor. They made a breakthrough at last year’s county council elections winning 17 seats and becoming the biggest party after the Conservatives.
Peter Edwards-Daem, chairman of Faversham and Mid Kent branch, said: “For the first time, UKIP has been able to stand candidates in every Maidstone ward that there is an election. Hopes are high that we will achieve a breakthrough this year.
“If elected, UKIP will stop building on greenfield village sites, introduce 20mph speed limits in built-up areas, support local people opposing solar farms, relax car parking charges at weekends and look to solve the gridlock for drivers on Maidstone town streets. We will also reintroduce a weekly rubbish bin collection.”

Cllr Fran Wilson: leader of Maidstone's Lib Dems
Cllr Fran Wilson: leader of Maidstone's Lib Dems

Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats are fielding candidates in 17 of the 20 contested seats. The local party has published a four-page manifesto of its aims at http://maid.lib.dm/aOJvV
Maidstone group leader Fran Wilson said: “The borough is at a crossroads and must choose to take either the Tory road to over-development and a growing gulf between haves and have-nots, or the Lib Dem road of fairness, quality of life and sustainable growth.
“Cynicism and mistrust of politicians at every level has reached an all-time high. I promise you personally that under a Lib Dem-led administration consultation will be real, and that we will always listen and seek consent when arriving at important decisions.”

Labour councillor Malcolm McKay
Labour councillor Malcolm McKay

The Labour Party is fielding 14 candidates. After a period in the wilderness on Maidstone council, Labour made a small comeback at the last election, when Cllr Malcolm McKay was returned in Shepway South.
This May a second seat in Shepway South is due to be contested and the party has a candidate there.
Cllr McKay, for Labour Cllr Shepway South, said: “It is highly likely that the Conservatives will lose control of Maidstone, with no party holding a majority. This would give the Labour group an opportunity to influence policy and help shape Maidstone.
“Clearly the major issue facing Maidstone is housing. We seem to have a competition going on as to which group can claim to support the lowest housing figure. The Labour group is clear: we need housing, but we also need the road network improved. The Leeds-Langley by-pass should be built, but the bus-lane proposed by the Conservatives is a non-starter. We need to build on brownfield sites first.”
The Green Party
The Green party is fielding its biggest haul of candidates to date: contesting 15 of the 20 seats available. Pundits think their best chance of success may be in Fant, where branch chairman Stuart Jeffery is standing, and in Headcorn, with veteran campaigner Penny Kemp and where the long-standing Conservative councillor is stepping down.
Maidstone branch chairman Stuart Jeffery said: “We are standing firmly against the ridiculous housing numbers proposed by the Conservatives. Our own work has shown that the real need is for around 10,000 homes most of which need to be affordable or social housing. We have identified town centre sites for all these new homes and we are saying no to greenfield development.
“We want urgent investment in public transport, cycling and pavements to reduce the need to travel by car, 20mph limits in residential streets and we want to see public transport provided for free when smog levels are at their highest.”
English Democrats
The right-wing party is fielding one candidate – in Shepway North South East. Area chairman Steve Uncles said: “The English Democrats launched in 2002 and we are the English nationalist party campaigning for a referendum for independence for England; to leave the EU; for an end to mass immigration; and for the Cross of St George to be flown on all public buildings in England.”

Stuart Jeffery, leader of Maidstone Greens
Stuart Jeffery, leader of Maidstone Greens
Steve Uncles
Steve Uncles

There are five independent candidates contesting seats in the local elections, who are all broadly taking the view that party politics should not play a part in local government.
They are Geoff Licence (Bearsted), Janetta Sams (Harrietsham and Lenham), David Savory (High Street), Carol Vizzard (Park Wood) and Paul Butcher (Staplehurst).

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