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Kent's week in politics: Marcus Rashford leads food hamper concerns, election delays and possibly more chaos in Dover


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It's been a testing week for the government, put on the back foot over free school meals by footballer Marcus Rashford and warned that gridlock at the Channel ports post-Brexit is still likely.

And there was bemusement at a Downing Street briefing with the Home Secretary.

Priti Patel. Stock picture
Priti Patel. Stock picture

Priti Vacant

The Home Secretary Priti Patel had a PR car crash when she chaired a Downing Street press conference on the latest lockdown developments that caused collective brows to be furrowed among a bemused media.

If you wanted an exercise in political evasion, this was an object lesson. Her tortuous answers - although they weren’t really answers - saw a brutal mauling of the English language. It was as if she had swallowed a bag of Scrabble tiles and was regurgitating them to form random words.

At one point, she felt the need to remind us “that we are in a health pandemic right now”. No, really?

It all left journalists and anyone watching struggling to decipher what she meant to say rather than what she actually said.

Marcus Rashford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Images
Marcus Rashford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Images

Food Parcels Not Delivering

Not for the first time, the government got itself into a tangle over free school meals after pictures emerged of the food parcels that some families were getting in place of vouchers during the lockdown.

After an intervention by Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford, who gives politicians the jitters, the outcry over the paltry contents of the food parcels inevitably led to yet another u-turn by the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

He announced that vouchers for meals would be reintroduced after mounting public anger.

That hasn’t fully quelled the outcry after the government said free school meal vouchers would not be provided during the forthcoming half-term.

Williamson - the new Chris Grayling - has suffered reputational damage of the kind that might ordinarily have prompted either a resignation or sacking.

The mystery is how he has survived despite yet another fiasco.

Covid mass-vaccination centres were unveiled by the government. Stock picture
Covid mass-vaccination centres were unveiled by the government. Stock picture

Kent Off Grid

Covid mass-vaccination centres were unveiled by the government but Kent was strangely not on the list - at least in the initial schedule.

This omission was heavily criticised by the North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale, who was characteristically robust in his response.

But fears that those eligible for jabs faced journeys to places outside Kent were partly allayed when it emerged that Lydd Airport was being lined up as a centre.

Some criticised the location as difficult to access, particularly for elderly frail people.

It is still not certain whether county council elections will take place in May. Stock picture
It is still not certain whether county council elections will take place in May. Stock picture

Election Blues

It is still not certain whether county council elections will take place in May. But if they do, two long-standing Conservatives won’t be on the ballot papers after they were deselected.

Cllr Eric Hotson, who represents a Maidstone division and is a former cabinet member, was jettisoned after two decades and decided he would contest the seat as an independent.

The other victim was Cllr Matthew Balfour, also a former cabinet member, who failed to persuade a selection panel that he should have a shot at defending his Malling Rural East division.

He too was critical of a new selection process, saying the ‘methodology’ now used as part of the process was flawed but declined to elaborate.

Despite lorries experiencing few delays at the Channel ports, the worst may be yet to come. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA
Despite lorries experiencing few delays at the Channel ports, the worst may be yet to come. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA

Keep On Trucking?

Despite lorries experiencing few delays at the Channel ports, the worst may be yet to come.

MPs were warned this week not to be fooled by the lack of queues snaking back to the M20.

Industry bosses said the number of HGVs crossing the Channel was way below normal numbers and the full effect of new bureaucracy was yet to come.

And while the ports may be calm, there were long delays for hauliers trying to access one of the two new lorry parks at Ashford, where some waited for up to eight hours to get their paperwork checked.

Transport chiefs said a long line of hauliers at the Waterbrook Park facility in Ashford was evidence the government "isn't fully prepared" for disruption in Kent.

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