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Kent politics in 2018: Resignations, Operation Brock and Benny the Beluga

It was the year dominated by one key issue: Brexit. And the county was at the sharp end as politicians tried and failed to reach a consensus about exactly how the UK would leave the EU. Political editor Paul Francis looks back on the key events for the county in a year of political high drama...

Ukip: The purple tide recedes

Henry Bolton quit as Ukip leader
Henry Bolton quit as Ukip leader

The party that once staked its purple flag in a corner of Kent saw its power base slowly unravel. Ukip relinquished control of Thanet council after a split, forcing leader Chris Wells to throw in the towel.

Meanwhile, the party turned its back on its leader Henry Bolton after revelations about his relationship with a glamour model from Maidstone.

And to cap it all, Nigel Farage handed in his resignation, complaining the party was fixated with anti-Muslim policies. As ever, he left open the possibility of a return to the front line.

Own goal? Gillingham FC reveals new sponsorship deal - with the council

Gillingham FC announced a sponsorship deal with Medway Council. Credit:Kent Pro Images
Gillingham FC announced a sponsorship deal with Medway Council. Credit:Kent Pro Images

Manchester United FC boasts car manufacturer Chevrolet as a sponsor; Arsenal FC has the Dubai-based airline Emirates - and Gillingham FC has the local council.

The tie-up may have lacked glamour but was hailed as a unique partnership that would benefit the club and the council.

But the Labour opposition group was underwhelmed and cried foul - even when it emerged the deal involved no actual money.

Manston: a step closer to take-off?

The site of Manston Airport (5906524)
The site of Manston Airport (5906524)

Campaigners fighting to re-open Manston as an airport had a boost when the government’s planning inspectorate approved a bid by the consortium RiverOak Strategic Partners to consider whether it should be a nationally important infrastructure project.

The current owners have other ideas - with plans for thousands of homes and businesses. A public inquiry is scheduled for next year for what will be am epic planning tussle.

Operation Brock: jam today and jam tomorrow?

Operation Brock will keep Kent moving - transport minister (4935719)
Operation Brock will keep Kent moving - transport minister (4935719)

The government had a cunning plan to avert the threat of semi-permanent gridlock on the county’s roads caused by Brexit.

The only problem - it forgot to tell anyone about it. The plan, involving using the M26 as another lorry park under Operation Brock once capacity on the M20 had been used up, only came to light when unexpected roadworks were announced by Highways England.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was forced to apologise to an apoplectic Tom Tugendhat - the MP for Tonbridge and Malling - after the previously undisclosed part of the contingency plan surfaced.

Tracey Crouch: A principled resignation

Tracey Crouch (6189998)
Tracey Crouch (6189998)

The Chatham and Aylesford MP blew the whistle on her spell as a minister in a row over delays to her plans to curb the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals.

She was not prepared to sit back and wait for the implementation of her reforms and hinted the government had bowed to pressure from other MPs with certain interests in the betting industry.

The irony was that the government capitulated over its delay under pressure from MPs of all parties, who threatened to call a vote and force a U-turn.

Losing momentum? Labour stumbles in its efforts to recover ground in Kent

Rosie Duffield.Picture: Tony Flashman
Rosie Duffield.Picture: Tony Flashman

It was not the best year for Labour in Kent. Rosie Duffield, MP for Canterbury, faced a critical motion of censure from party members for protesting at Labour’s stance on anti-Semitism.

It was hastily withdrawn after some arm-twisting behind the scenes but the episode left a bad taste. So much so the MP said she was contemplating quitting.

The party performed poorly in a county council by-election in Canterbury North, where it surprisingly came third behind the Lib Dems. And in South Thanet, national party chiefs dropped parliamentary hopeful Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt - because of tweets defending suspended member Jackie Walker during anti-Semitism allegations.

Brexit - in, out, shake it all about

What will Brexit look like?
What will Brexit look like?

Almost everything in the political world seemed to come back to the ‘B’ word in 2018. As the clock ticked towards March 29, the possibility of leaving without a deal triggered ominous warnings of Kent being transformed into some kind of dystopian outpost of the UK.

Kent County Council warned gridlock and disruption could result in bodies not being buried; piles of rubbish building up and carers unable to get to vulnerable people.

Oh, not forgetting the prospect of having 10,000 lorries parked up on a routine basis.

The council that cancelled a firework display...because of a whale

Benny surfaces near Shorne Marshes. Picture: Fraser Gray (6202850)
Benny surfaces near Shorne Marshes. Picture: Fraser Gray (6202850)

In one of the oddest decisions of the year, Gravesham council was forced to disappoint residents looking forward to the annual firework display. Out of consideration for Benny the beluga whale, who had found its way into the Thames and couldn’t - or didn’t want to - leave.

The council acted on advice from experts, saying "the need to keep Benny safe while he visits us in Gravesend must take priority".

Long and winding road: the motorway scheme that took a decade to get started

Junction 10a from above (6151698)
Junction 10a from above (6151698)

Work on the new junction at the M20 at Ashford got under way - a mere 10 years after first being mooted. Construction will go on until 2020 when it will finally open to traffic.

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Quotes Of The Year:

“This is an issue that excites high passions; sometimes destructive and dangerous passions; but if Parliament is to do its job...then I think we need to temper those emotions with calm judgement.” - Ashford MP Damian Green on the Brexit deal.

Nigel Farage. Picture: Tony Flashman
Nigel Farage. Picture: Tony Flashman

“I sense within me I have not fought my biggest battle yet – that is how it feels. Whether it is happenstance, serendipity, destiny” - ex-Ukip leader Nigel Farage hints at relaunching his political career with a new party.

“From the time of the announcement to reduce stakes and its implementation, over £1.6bn will be lost on these [betting] machines, a significant amount of which will be in our most deprived areas including my own constituency” - Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch in her resignation letter to Theresa May.

“I sincerely hope that we never have to implement any of our contingency plans and that the UK has a smooth exit from Europe. However, we don’t know whether or not that will be the case. We must never forget the chaos that we had across half of this county in 2015” - referring to weeks of Operation Stack misery, KCC leader Paul Carter on the threat to Kent posed by a no-deal Brexit.

Craig Mackinlay
Craig Mackinlay

"I was just a small cog in a machine" - South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay tells court where he is on trial over election expenses.


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