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Ukip engulfed in internal row over Manston as leader sacks one of his cabinet members

By Paul Francis

Political in-fighting over the efforts to re-open Manston airport has cost a senior Ukip councillor her job.

Cllr Helen Smith was effectively dismissed from her cabinet post by the council leader Chris Wells yesterday, triggering a bout of recriminations within the authority’s controlling Ukip group.

It is the latest development in the on-going saga around the fight over Manston and concerns among campaigners about what they regard as a lack of progress in a possible Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) for the airport.

The row comes barely three months after Ukip swept to victory in the council elections, with Thanet becoming the first authority in the country to be run by the party.

In a statement on Cllr Smith, council leader Chris Wells said:

“It is with considerable regret that I have today decided that Cllr Helen Smith can no longer continue as a cabinet member for the present. Helen possesses many of the skills and abilities cabinet members require, but has struggled to separate her new responsibilities from her campaigning interests regarding Manston Airport.”

The statement added:

“I wish her well in using her greater freedom as a backbencher as we continue our efforts to bring this matter to a proper resolution.”

Ukip's Cllr Chris Wells, leader of Thanet District Council

Ukip's Cllr Chris Wells, leader of Thanet District Council

But Cllr Smith, who was cabinet member for corporate governance, retaliated and issued a hard-hitting statement, accusing Mr Wells of failing to do enough to secure a CPO for the airport.

She also accused the council of hampering her efforts to get information from officers and claiming her position was untenable.

The statement said:

“I have become increasingly alarmed at the autocracy to which I have inadvertently entered. Since becoming a cabinet member, my position has become untenable. I have been misdirected and blocked by officers and kept in the dark and received no guidance from the leader (who you will recall took no portfolio himself so as to supposedly guide and enlighten us in our infancy in these positions) on - amongst other issues - our primary election pledge - Manston.”

“I have become increasingly concerned as I have struggled, against considerable odds, to appraise myself of fact to ensure I could properly fulfil my portfolio responsibilities with impartiality and free from bias as is required from a cabinet member.”

“I stand by my convictions of democracy, transparency, integrity and I took - and continue to take - my responsibilities with paramount importance.”

"Best wishes to you all. Stand and deliver on your values and election pledges. Keep the moral high ground. Time is short, truth will prevail and change is imperative before the damage becomes irreversible. “

The first meeting of the UK's first Ukip-controlled council

In a sign that there are possible other splits developing, another Ukip councillor contended she had been threatened with legal action over a meeting she had arranged to meet the American consortium RiverOak.

Cllr Beverley Martin (Ukip) said she had been told that a meeting she organised for Ramsgate Town Council this week to hear from RiverOak might lead to her being liable for legal costs that may arise from any court action.

But that was disputed by Ukip deputy leader Lin Fairbrass, who said the authority was seeking to clarify the arrangement for a bond with the indemnity partners RiverOak.

The row comes as Thanet council said it still needed more information from RiverOak from its investment partners and their financial credentials.

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