Sunday, 19 February 2012

Boris Island will be death of local Tories

One of the big issues that is always on the mind of residents, politicos and environmentalists in the Medway towns and indeed into the villages and even across the estuary to Southend, is the construction of either Boris Island or the Foster design on the Isle of Grain.

The story and the fear will not die down and the local paper, the Medway Messenger has recently unearthed a great story about Lord Foster and Boris Johnson meeting with George Osborne and the Treasury to discuss the scheme behind closed doors last August.

Further to that is Medway Labour’s online voice continually questioning the Conservative Party’s commentment to the  “NO campaign” and reminding everyone that Boris is a Conservative and that Justine Greening, who was sent a letter signed by the leaders of the four main political parties on the Council (Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and Independent group) requesting an audience and to protest the scheme on behalf of their constituents, has yet to reply. Which really, she should have, even if it was just to fob Medway Council off.

Now, as an opposition party member, I too, could take cheap shots at the Conservative group for failure and some may read my forth coming comments as that but please be aware that they are really observations rather than criticisms and attacks. This is, of course, because I think we are better off all standing together and by infighting we will ultimately be weaker. So I hope that this will be taken as the former rather than latter.

The Conservative group must know that should the No campaign fail then they will suffer electorally in Medway - big time. The electorate, like Darth Vader, do not tolerate failure when it comes to big issues, they expect results.
You can babble a defence in an Admiral Ozzell way; “It was a National decission, we did all that we could, we were betrayed, it could be smugglers it could be……”  but they aren't interested.

The only real defence for any project put through by National government against a Council's will is if the National Government is another party. For example when the Cliffe proposals were going through it was easy for the Conservative Council to say it was a Labour Government move and gain support in a later local election.
Another easy excuse would be to say that the Coalition was forcing it through and that it was the will of their partners the Liberal Democrats - Unfortunatly Nick Clegg has come out and publically stated that the Lib dems are against the scheme and that he is not convinced. A stance that is echoed by the Medway Lib Dems.

I have no doubt that the Medway MPs, Rehman Chishti, Tracey Crouch and Mark Reckless have done all they can including questioning successive Ministers for transport, David Cameron himself and lobbeying to try and get it stopped but the public won't see that, they'll only see a dirty great airport as a symbol of their failure.

As I've tried to explain in past posts there is a difference between Local Parties and National Parties and in this case I would assume it is safe to say that No Conservative Councillor in Medway wants to see the Airport built or if they do have an opinion to the contrary they won't say so knowing that it is an immediate vote loser. The problem is that the Messenger has revealed there were meetings between Boris Johnson and George Osborne and Norman Foster to discuss the project. There is also the fact that the Country's airport capacity does need expanding. National Government may well be looking at the expansion and projects whether we, the people of the Medway towns and Grain want it or not.

What I will say, in criticism, is that up until recently the Council's Conservative groups response has been very lukewarm and head in sand. It reminds me of Chamberlain and Appeasement with the continual reassurances that "Its just Pie in the Sky" or "It didn't happen before, it won't happen now." The public don't want reassurances, this is starting to look like a real credible threat and they want to see their Council leaders standing up and doing  something and the Conservative group, as by far the largest need to take a lead on this.

Labour on the other hand have been very vocal. For them this is a win win situation as they by blaming "The Tories" you can blame the National and Local groups as a vote winner. Now I may be being cynical but come on Medway Labour... you are aren't you?  You can dress it up as representing voters and constiteunt concern and I am sure that is part of it but lets be honest... Its like Christmas isn't it? Especially as it is coming up to the Mayoral elections too...

However you feel about it, Labour are leading, currently on this in demonstrating against the airport. I would suggest that the Conservatives will have to up their game in fighting the proposals. At least then, should the worse come to the worse, they can say;
"We gave it our best shot." and hope for the best, but currently they have everything to lose if this proposal actually goes ahead.

If the worse does come to the worse then the Political landscape in Medway could change drastically for quite some time.


In light of Alan W. Collin's comment below I've decided to add and rephrase a couple of things. I must admit I got caught up in my thoughts and day dreams as I wrote and suddenly my Lunch break was almost over and I pressed send before I could edit properly.

I must admit that I hadn't thought as deeply about the reprecussions as much as I should have and I am indebted to Alan for the election returns stats and in retrospect the swing will probably be less than I have implied above. There is also the distance from the epicentre of Grain (which would be hardest hit) across to Rainham where the population as a whole probably care less about the project.
However, I do stand with the assertion that if this is coupled with a knee jerk reaction away from the Conservatives due to other national issues linked with austerity as well as local issues like the selling off of elderly care homes, cuts in local services, the bus station over spend... There is a lot of mud that can be flung, and flung it will as Medway Labour will do all in their power to cause havoc. Change may be a foot but as Alan and John M Ward have stated- It is difficult to predict the future.

As for Medway Labour's role. Yes they do appear the more active and, I failed to sharpen this point before, they are being counter productive too. Yes they are giving voice to those who are concerned but it is also fairly counter productive to the campaign as a whole. By using terms like "Tory Airport" it draws people into hating the Conservatives (rather than focusing on the over all goal) and, considering the Conservatives make up the biggest part of the Council, let alone the three MPs, and not being interested in their work, down playing often hard fought little victories. If we are to stand, we will stand united on this or we may as well not bother.

Also, on the referendum - I've said it once, I'll say it again. It won't make any difference. Local Councillors are already representing the "No" campaign and battling the proposals. However if National Government decides to build it the views of some hundred thousand (probably less) citizens will count for less if it means more money for the country. Also there is the concern that the people of Medway Could vote Yes... then what?

1 comment:

  1. Call me mad, but I don't see this as a major vote-losing issue at all. Of course, if the airport goes ahead (which I sincerely doubt that it will) then residents directly affected (which, to be frank, are mainly those in Peninsula and Strood Rural) will start to question the council and their local councillors - but, given the majorities in both those wards, it would still require a large swing away from the Conservatives to a single party to cause an upset or the "death of local Tories".

    To put it into perspective, in 2010, the Conservatives in Medway and Aylesford won the combined support of around 65,000 voters (as opposed to around 41,000 Labour voters and around 23,000 Liberal Democrat voters). In Peninsula last May, the Conservatives polled on average 2,300 votes along with an average of 2,000 in Strood Rural. If all 4,300 voters deserted the Conservatives and voted Labour (extremely unlikely!) then Mark Reckless' majority in Rochester and Strood would be dented to the tune of some 8,600 votes.

    Assuming everything else was constant, Mark would emerge from an election with a majority of around 1,300 - some six times larger than Bob Marshall-Andrews' in Medway in 2005!

    Similarly, if all six seats in Peninsula and Strood Rural were lost by the Conservatives, and everything else remained constant, then they would be left with 29 councillors as opposed to 35 - still being in majority control of Medway Council.

    The reason the Conservatives are opposed to a referendum on the airport is that it does not evoke the same strength of feeling in Gillingham, Rainham or Chatham as it does on the Peninsula and in rural Strood. A low turnout, or worse a "yes" vote, would dent a strong opposition.

    Labour's "opposition" is also counter-productive and purely politically motivated. They are making our opposition to the proposals - which should be united - look divided and weak, when Medway Council has been reacting appropriately to each level of threat presented as the saga has drawn on. Labour are not leading on opposition to the airport, they are leading on partisan attacks - which is something different entirely!