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Politics in Kent in 2022: More Channel crossings, local elections and a new Prime Minister?


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From Brexit to Covid; climate change to energy bills and asylum crossings: our political editor Paul Francis sets out the key issues and events that will dominate the political landscape in Kent this year.

Some people have already made the dangerous journey across the Channel this year. Photo: UKNIP
Some people have already made the dangerous journey across the Channel this year. Photo: UKNIP

Asylum seeker crossings

Despite claims that it is beginning to get a grip on the asylum seekers crossing the Channel, the government looks like facing a similar challenge in 2022.

The figures suggest the numbers willing to take the perilous journey across the Channel from France to the UK are likely to be as high again if the French and British governments do not find a mutually acceptable agreement to stem the tide.

Even if there is some kind of bilateral agreement, the problem may not be resolved - the idea that France would accede to some kind of diplomatic "push back" system is hard to conceive.

One plan that is likely to get some attention is the possible announcement of processing centres outside the UK to assist with the development of safe routes for genuine asylum seekers.

But until that happens, the sight of small boats and often overcrowded dinghies being escorted into Dover harbour and being picked up at other points around the coast by border force officials looks set to continue.

Boris Johnson at the vaccination centre at Saga in Ramsgate. Picture: NHS Kent and Medway (54067637)
Boris Johnson at the vaccination centre at Saga in Ramsgate. Picture: NHS Kent and Medway (54067637)

Covid

The unpredictability of Covid and the possible surge in numbers contracting the virus is already placing our hospitals under huge stresses and strains and a growing backlog of delays in treatments and diagnoses.

Ashford is one of the areas that will have a site to deal with the escalating infection rates, with a so-called 'Nightingale' facility planned for the grounds of the William Harvey Hospital.

With the NHS seeing a large number of medical staff contracting the virus, there could yet be problems caused by significant absences in key areas.

Energy bill up....and up

The political thermostat is already being pushed up over rising energy prices and the government is facing calls to intervene to ease the financial burden on those struggling to meet the costs.

Thanet South MP Craig Mackinlay, who is chairman of the Net Zero Energy group of Conservative MPs, is among signatories to a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to step in.

“We hardly need to point out that high energy prices, whether for domestic heating or for domestic transport, are felt most painfully by the lowest paid," the letter states.

With predictions that average household bills for gas could rise to £944 a month from £467, the heat will be on the government to act.

The MPs want a 5% VAT cut and the cancellation of levies for renewable energy, saying that could cut bills by £200.

Council ballots

A string of councils hold elections in May and will be a litmus test for how voters rate the parties.

As is always the case, the vote will be as much to do with voters delivering their verdict on the national government as it is on local services. There will be some relief among Conservatives that Kent is not a key battleground.

With just two councils having elections in the county, it will be difficult to draw conclusions as only a third of seats in both are being contested.

But an intriguing battle looms in Tunbridge Wells, a totemic Conservative strong-hold which could slip from the party’s grasp for the first time in years.

It already runs as a minority administration and on current form is facing losing outright control. It could see the council being run by a rainbow coalition, depending on results.

Voters will also head to the polls in Maidstone.

Number 10 Downing Street (54067944)
Number 10 Downing Street (54067944)

Will Boris bow out?

If the Conservatives perform poorly in local elections, it could be the tipping point for Boris Johnson to stand aside and hand the keys to 10 Downing Street to someone else.

But even before that, he will have to face up to what could be a damning report on a string of parties held in government offices and inside Number 10.

For some, he is already living on borrowed time. His critics include the veteran Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale, who has never seen eye-to-eye with the PM and will not pass up any opportunity to push him in the direction of the exit door.

Will the men in grey suits be prepared to act ruthlessly? The party has a reputation for ditching leaders if they are seen as liabilities rather than assets.

Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer (54067284)
Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer (54067284)

Can Labour shake-off southern discomfort?

He may not have the political guile and personality of the man who steered Labour to three successive general election victories.

But for Sir Keir Starmer, there has been some grounds for more optimism with opinion polls suggesting his personal rating is edging up and in some cases is overtaking Boris Johnson on the key question who would make the best Prime Minister.

But opinion polls are a fickle thing and what voters might say today does not necessarily indicate what they would do at a real election.

It’s a cliche but Labour has to win seats in Kent if it is to form the next government.

To date, it has seen modest progress in council elections. And although the election may not come until 2023, it really needs candidates in place now to tread the streets of the constituencies they hope to win.

Land battles

If there is one issue in Kent that unites the parties in Kent, it is the oppposition to large-scale housing development.

The government has already made some concessions to its much-maligned reforms involving algorithms but in its place, there are other controversial proposals for zones in which development would be permitted without the need for planning permission.

Ministers have already licked the wounds of by-election defeats where voters have issued an ultimatum to the government to retreat over its policy.

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