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Nurses' pay, the Brexit gridlock that never was, a massive hole in KCC's budget and bye-bye Nigel Farage - it's all in a week of politics


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From the outrage provoked by the suggestion nurses receive a 1% pay rise to the news Nigel Farage is withdrawing from frontline politics - it's been a busy week.

Here, KM Group political editor gives his take on the last seven days.

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We had a foretaste of the ground on which the forthcoming local elections in Kent could be fought this week when PMQs were dominated by the issue of nurses' pay.

The skirmishes didn’t produce a clear winner but it is clear that Labour leader Kier Starmer feels it is an issue the party can capitalise on and he underlined that when he launched the party’s local election campaign.

He invited voters to use the poll to register their dissatisfaction with the pay award on offer to nurses.

Leaving aside the fact that the NHS is nothing to do with local councils, the issue for Labour is whether that invitation will get any traction with supporters of other parties.

The NHS is seen as an issue that the Conservatives traditionally fare poorly on and against the backdrop of the coronavirus, the party might be anxious about the electorate accepting the invite to express their unhappiness with its handling of the crisis and in particular, the nurses' pay award.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

The challenge for Labour is not about shoring up its core vote.

It is about whether a narrowly-focused campaign strategy will widen the party’s appeal against opinion polls that suggest they are behind the Conservatives by a margin of anything between 4% to 13%.

For the Conservatives, it has the vaccine card to play and Boris Johnson has shifted slightly on the nurses' pay issue.

His line now is a pledge to “study” any recommendations that come from the independent pay review body.

That gives him some wriggle room and it is a line that buys him some time. Although if the pay board reports in the run-up to May 6, it could place the government in an awkward decision to make.

Lorry chaos at Manston
Lorry chaos at Manston

Fears that Kent’s roads would be plunged into some traffic armageddon with the road network semi-permanently gridlocked because of Brexit continue to be misplaced.

And there was more evidence that emergency planners are now increasingly convinced that we may be over the worst.

The Kent Resilience Forum announced it was decommissioning Manston as a holding point for HGVs - with a press release announcing that taking the former airport site out of its contingency plans represented “a significant step towards normality on Kent’s roads”.

Of course, what represents normality is capable of being interpreted in different ways: the measures in place to deal with disruption haven’t all gone away, lorries will be diverted to using the M20, where Operation Brock remains firmly in place and is likely to do so for some time. Welcome to the new normal.

KCC could have a £120million hole in its budget
KCC could have a £120million hole in its budget

Some gargantuan figures featured in a meeting of Kent County Council this week, with the Conservative administration suggesting next year’s budget might mean savings of £120million.

Yes, that big.

Although that is the top end of the estimates: county councillors were told that at the lower end, it might be a more modest £20m.

Either figure would result in some serious pain for the county council and its capacity to deliver services.

It’s definitely not the kind of sum you find down the bottom of the sofa, not that KCC has a lot of them.

Craig Mackinlay won the South Thanet seat over Nigel Farage in 2015
Craig Mackinlay won the South Thanet seat over Nigel Farage in 2015

So, it’s bye-bye Nigel Farage, former Ukip leader; former Brexit party leader; former Reform party leader; former South East MEP. But not despite many attempts, an MP.

The closest he got was in the titanic struggle in the 2015 general election, when he was thwarted in a close-run battle for the South Thanet seat, which he lost to Conservative Craig Mackinlay.

He claims to be withdrawing from frontline politics, saying that after three decades he has had enough.

We shall see. He is a politician who has had more comebacks than Frank Sinatra.

Don't bet against a return to the political fray.

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

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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