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From Brexit to Boris Johnson's General Election triumph KM political editor Paul Francis reviews 2019 in Kent politics

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It was a tumultuous year in politics, dominated by Brexit and culminating in an historic General Election that produced an unexpected outcome.

Political Editor Paul Francis picks out the highlights and the lowlights.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn going head to head in the BBC Election Debate in Maidstone Picture: Jeff Overs/Press Association Images
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn going head to head in the BBC Election Debate in Maidstone Picture: Jeff Overs/Press Association Images

Delayed: The new franchise to run Kent’s train services won’t be arriving shortly —

It wasn’t a case of leaves on the line but value for money that prompted the government to scrap the bidding competition for the rail franchise held by Southeastern.

Transport minister Grant Shapps shunted the competition in to the sidings.

Why? In government jargon “no certainty that this would deliver envisaged benefits for passengers in a timely fashion.”

Kent MPs were unimpressed, saying the government had made a mess of the whole thing. Rail passengers, meanwhile, faced another year of eye-watering season ticket prices.

High speed train is now back in service
High speed train is now back in service

Nigel Farage: The Reboot —

Just when you thought he had finished with politics, Nigel Farage stepped back into the ring to launch the Brexit Party. In characteristically flamboyant fashion, he vowed to change politics “for good.”

He pulled off a coup by going on to win the European election and managed to persuade former Maidstone MP Ann Widdecombe to sign up.

But after deciding the party would not contest seats held by the Conservatives, he faced a backlash from members and four MEPs elected in May left and announced they were backing Boris Johnson.

Farage remains undaunted and announced plans to launch another party - the Reform Party. Which will campaign for voting system changes and the abolition of the unelected House of Lords under his leadership.

Nigel Farage campaigning in Gravesend
Nigel Farage campaigning in Gravesend

Theresa May calls time:

Sometimes in politics you need a bit of luck. Unfortunately, Theresa May found it in short supply during her stint in Downing Street and bowed to the inevitable, leaving office in June with an emotional final address.

Support among Kent MPs steadily drifted away with Tom Tugendhat, Tonbridge and Malling MP, summing up the feelings of many by declaring: "Leadership matters and it has been absent for too long."

High points? There weren’t many. Lowest point? That calamitous conference speech when she lost her voice, part of the set fell down and she was handed a P45 by a prankster.

At least she showed a sense of humour when she sashayed on to the stage at the following conference to the Abba song Dancing Queen.

Theresa May left office in June
Theresa May left office in June

Boris seals the deal in leadership battle:

After a lengthy series of hustings events which culminated in the two Conservative contenders pitching up in Maidstone in July, Boris Johnson waltzed to victory over rival Jeremy Hunt.

In a typically rambling acceptance speech, he road tested the slogan that he would deploy incessantly during the general election: “We are going to get Brexit done on and take advantage of all the opportunities it will bring with a new spirit of can do.”

He missed the October deadline but is back on track.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

A changing of the guard at County Hall:

After 14 years - longer than Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair - the Conservative leader of Kent County Council Paul Carter decided it was time to stand aside.

He was not everyone's cup of tea but no-one could fault his commitment to the job or championing of Kent’s corner even if it left a few bruised and battered bodies along the way.

His successor was Sevenoaks county councillor Roger Gough, who described his predecessor as “a legend.”

Affable and popular among his colleagues, he beat off three rivals for the top job.

Cllr Paul Carter giving his final speech
Cllr Paul Carter giving his final speech

Operation Brock: A pantomime rehearsal —

There was derision over a dry run of the contingency plan to park 6,000 lorries on the former Manston airport site in the event that it might be needed as part of Operation Brock and a no-deal Brexit.

Just 89 lorries turned up to participate in a practice run that involved travelling to Dover and back again.

And it hardly mirrored what actually might happen — it was pre-planned and the police knew all about it.

Still it was a nice earner for the lorry drivers who took part who got paid £550. Not bad for being stuck in a traffic jam.

Operation Brock in full flow Picture: Barry Goodwin
Operation Brock in full flow Picture: Barry Goodwin

The Liberal Democrat flip flop in Canterbury:

Few parliamentary hopefuls could have had such a short career than Tim Walker.

Picked to fight the Canterbury seat, the journalist lasted barely a week. After appearing alongside Labour hopeful Rosie Duffield on KMTV's Paul On Politics and then sharing a lift back to Canterbury, he concluded he had no hope of winning.

As a consequence, he withdrew and urged people to vote Labour.

But party chiefs insisted there should be a Lib Dem on the ballot and hurriedly parachuted in Claire Malcomson from Dorking. An actress, it emerged that she had once appeared in a racy TV advert promoting a Belgian casino dressed in very little.

Claire Malcolmson in the Casino777 advert. Picture: YouTube/Casino777
Claire Malcolmson in the Casino777 advert. Picture: YouTube/Casino777

The Election:

Where do you start? While Labour was confronted by an electoral meltdown and losing seats in supposed stronghold areas, the political map of Kent saw no change whatsoever.

The Conservatives made a clean sweep of all the constituencies in the county bar one: Canterbury, a lone citadel for a Labour party that was otherwise crushed; the Lib Dems imploded.

Canterbury also saw the first live broadcast election interviews with parliamentary candidates in a general election, watched by thousands.

Boris Johnson won the election convincingly
Boris Johnson won the election convincingly

Quotes of the year:

  • "I want a bit of my life back. I have spent six - sometimes seven - days a week doing this job..." - Paul Carter, ex-leader of KCC
  • "We are once again going to believe in ourselves, and like some slumbering giant we are going to rise and ping off the guy ropes of self doubt and negativity..." - Boris Johnson on winning leadership race
  • "I would willingly ignore that law and if necessary go to jail, because the British people voted to leave the EU and that was three years ago and now we have got to deliver and if that means we have to break the law then we will do so..." Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson lays down his red line on Brexit
  • "There is nobody whom I could less wish to desert. I knew what I was doing was right but I was still sad and nowhere do I feel that more keenly than in Maidstone...” former MP Ann Widdecombe on joining the Brexit Party
  • "The speech is usually a gift reserved by the whips for those thought to have had their best times... so asking me to do this is the equivalent of shouting 'your career is behind you'..." - Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch gives the Loyal Address after the Queen’s Speech
  • "I believe there is genuinely more that unites us than divides us. I hope as we all leave the hall tonight that, whatever our beliefs, our hopes and our aspirations, that we will now find a way to heal our divisions, unite our country and move forward together..." - Defeated Conservative candidate in Canterbury, Anna Firth
  • "I genuinely believe this nation, right now, we are lions led by donkeys. I do believe that we can win these European elections and that we can again start to put the fear of God into our members of parliament in Westminster — they deserve nothing less than that after the way they have treated us..." - Nigel Farage launches his new Brexit Party

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