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Levelling up plea for Kent and a rainbow alliance in Tunbridge Wells could be on the cards

It's been a week of calls for unity at both a local and national level of politics.

Political editor Paul Francis takes a look back at another busy week...


Where does Kent stand in the government's levelling up agenda? The answer is at this stage no-one actually knows. The focus at the moment remains firmly on the red wall seats the Conservatives won from Labour at the general election.

In the absence of anything firm about Kent’s prospects under the government’s flagship policy, the leader of Kent County Council has made an intervention setting out a possible political template.

He rightly points out that Kent is not a universally prosperous county and has pockets of deprivation in line with many of the seats in the north.

Cllr Roger Gough says the policy could be the bedrock for what are described as “county deals” which would add to the emerging lexicon of combined authorities, elected mayors, regional powerhouses and devolution.

Cllr Gough says that where county deals are struck, they should be the catalyst for a new strategic partnership between national government and local leadership.

Cllr Roger Gough
Cllr Roger Gough

That means, he argues, that when a matter of local importance also has national significance, the two can address the issue together systematically.

He cites as an example Kent being the border with the continent and the impact of the “massive volume of trade, as well as passenger traffic that passes through it and across the Short Straits.”

After managing Brexit relatively well and without too much disruption, he says there remains “an ever-present vulnerability to disruption with some of the special measures and capacity available a year ago no longer in place.”

That presumably refers to the use of Manston as a holding area for stranded HGVs - now no longer an option.

There is one option in the government's locker in the form of Operation Brock - a necessary option in the absence of anything else.

Matthew Sankey was elected for the Tunbridge Wells Alliance
Matthew Sankey was elected for the Tunbridge Wells Alliance

COULD Kent soon see a second council move towards being run by a rainbow alliance?

The tantalising prospect of the Conservatives being deprived of running Tunbridge Wells council has arisen after a by-election result which saw the independent group known as the Tunbridge Wells Alliance win the seat from the Conservatives.

This has left the council with no one party having the numbers needed to form a working majority.

There are discussions going on behind the scenes among the opposition groups to see if there is a consensus that can be secured to form a coalition.

However, one potential obstacle is that in order to force the council’s current Conservative administration to relinquish control a two-thirds majority would be required and the numbers do not stack up.

Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

One route through this could be achieved through a piece of constitutional ingenuity: if the opposition parties were to table a vote for the suspension of standing orders at the next full council meeting, they could then dispense with the two-thirds majority rule, bring a vote of no confidence in the Conservative administration and hey presto, take over.

Also in the mix is the prospect of another set of elections next year and the uncertainty of the political backdrop against which they will be fought.

Either way, the prospect of the party losing control of a true blue Tory heartland is, as they say, on a knife edge.

AWAY from revelations about a boozy Downing Street party street last December and confusion over whether kissing under the Mistletoe should be allowed, why are some Conservative MPs so agitated about the requirement to wear masks in shops and on public transport?

The answer lies in that familiar territory where civil liberties and the right to choose bumps up against the state introduction of restrictions the government says are needed to help reduce the transmission of the new variant of Covid.

Thanet South Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay was one of 22 who rebelled in a vote on masks. In a debate he told the Commons: “I am still a little bemused as to how a fairly flimsy mask with a filter size that is far greater than a coronavirus particle can somehow be the salvation, but so be it. I am not terribly concerned about that.”

He labelled the proposal for mask wearing as infantile, exemplified by the fact that you could go into an off-licence and buy some beer or wine and have to wear a mask but not at the party you are going to.

He has a point.

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