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Labour leader Ed Miliband visits Kent as Kent County Council election campaigns hot up

Labour leader Ed Miliband
Labour leader Ed Miliband

Labour leader Ed Miliband has been on the campaign trail in Kent today with the battle for control of the largest county council in the country beginning in earnest.

The visit - which saw Mr Miliband, pictured right, tour north Kent before travelling to Maidstone - is being seen as a sign the party is far more optimistic about its prospects on May 2 compared to 2009 when it went into meltdown.

Mr Miliband fielded questions from members of the public on everything from immigration to the controversial bedroom tax.

In an interview after visiting Gravesend, Mr Miliband commented on the furore surrounding Kent youth police commissioner Paris Brown - who
stepped down after a row over offensive tweets

He said: "She made the right decision to step down and we should respect that.

"I don't agree with the idea of crime commissioners - I think more people would rather see money being put in to fund more police on the streets, than politicians in charge.

"But I do think that getting young people involved in politics is a good idea.

"Miss Brown has done something which she has admitted is clearly wrong, but we do need to get youths more involved in politics with positions like this and more generally, with youth councils."

Labour lost all but two of its seats and the Conservatives romped to victory.

The May poll looks like being one of the most closely contested in decades, with a record number of candidates fighting across the county for the 84 divisions up for grabs.

The Conservatives, who currently control the council and hold 73 seats, face a challenging election with UKIP mounting a major offensive in Kent.

It believes it could be poised to make a historic breakthrough at the expense of all parties and is said to be targeting Thanet, Tunbridge Wells and parts of north Kent.

KCC leader Cllr Paul Carter
KCC leader Cllr Paul Carter

Conservative Paul Carter has led Kent County Council for eight years

Cllr Paul Carter (Con), who has led the county council for eight years, acknowledged the political climate was challenging for his party - but said voters should think carefully about a protest vote with UKIP.

Speaking at his party's manifesto launch in Sittingbourne, he said: "I am not going to make predictions, but we have got a good track record and have good management of services.

"It would be foolish to write off the threat of UKIP - clearly they are, but we have to get across to voters that as a Conservative-run council, we have strong leadership and look after public money in the most efficient way."

In a sign of the party's nervousness, its manifesto contains a page on Europe that urges voters to think carefully about voting UKIP.

It says the Eastleigh by-election showed the likely outcome was that a more pro-European party would win.

However, UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who attracted a crowd of more than 300 activists to a rally in Gravesend to launch the Kent manifesto, said he was confident his party would take a handful of seats.

Mr Farage said: "I would be very surprised if, come May 2, we did not win at least a couple of seats and possibly more. All over the country we have seen astonishing rises in our vote.

"There are some seats in Kent we are working very hard on. I am not going to make rash or bold predictions, but I will be extremely disappointed if we do not have some representation on May 2."

Paul Francis blog button
Paul Francis blog button

Meanwhile, Labour's manifesto commitments include a pledge to offer a Kent version of the EMA grant abolished by the government and an extension of the Kent Freedom Pass for students extended to 18-year-olds.

Its group leader Cllr Gordon Cowan said: "Just like their Westminster colleagues, they stumble from crisis to crisis - if they're not under heavy criticism for failings in children's services, they are squandering our money on massive pay-offs to senior staff."

On the party's prospects, he said: "We have to go out and earn our votes."

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