Councillors Bobby & Chrissy…
A debate called “Why My Party is Great” was held recently before students of St George’s School in Thanet with three people representing the major parties in the local council. Momentum Thanet’s JACKIE WALKER, representing Labour, describes her encounter with UKIP’s Chris Well (leader of Thanet District Council) and Tory Bob Bayford ( leader of the opposition in TDC).
We each have three minutes for statements and then questions.
The suitably suited and booted Bayford begins, picking through a sheaf of notes, mumbling general election quotes about how we achieve a fair and prosperous society.
He sees no irony in this.
I explain to students a few economic facts about Thanet, of the 43% of children in Newington living in poverty and ask how austerity – cutting money from schools, street cleaning and housing so we can pay back the country’s debts – could help an area with the highest unemployment figures in the county?
And what are we doing paying back all debt when no one else is, I ask, when not even the US, the richest country in the world, or Germany the most powerful country in Europe is doing the same.
Austerity is also the reason that our local Conservative MPs voted to take £30 a week from the income of disabled people.
I tell students at the present time that the LP is the only political party opposed to austerity.
Well’s hearty rendition of what a splendid country Britain is, and how we don’t need Johnny Foreigner interfering with our splendid-ness, is obviously a well-used ploy to raise a cheer from audiences old enough to feel nostalgic for some imagined past.
Today it falls flat.
The questions from the students are, as you might expect – the EU, Manston, education, the future for Thanet and migration.
Wells agrees with me that the airport has become a political football and implies it might never reopen.
On rubbish – Well’s comfort zone – he waxes lyrical on sacking operatives and suing punters , raising smiles from many students.
A disparaging gesture about the lifestyle of the mostly white, working class Cliftonville voters who elected him makes Wells feel even more relaxed with his performance and he eases his considerable frame into his chair, UKIP’s resounding success in changing Thanet for the better flooding his political neurons.
Game over! The debate, he can see, is easily won, until I say, “Hold on!” to the students.
“This is why you need to find the truth before you believe what some politicians tell you. These initiatives on dog poo (and rubbish of course) were started by Labour!”
It’s Poogate! The smile on Well’s face freezes.
As for the state of Thanet and the future, well, despite the poverty and the austerity yet to come, Wells and Bayford think things are mostly pretty ok in good old Thanetland, so by time we get to migration the gloves are off.
Wells has already blamed the EU for pretty much everything (except I have to admit, poo on the streets) but adds that the reason we have so many (ahem!) immigrants in Thanet (statistics are apparently meaningless to UKIP) is the low cost of housing!
Trick answer again, I say, telling the kids of the below average number of people born outside the UK in Thanet (8.59%) as compared to richer areas like Canterbury (10.2%) and the much richer London (39%).
Perhaps we need more immigrants then?
Interesting thing about these kids, even though they are at a secondary modern school, they can add up.
Asked what we would do to change education for the better, Wells and Bayford talk tests and standards and by then, I’d really had enough of their nonsense, pointing to the almost unprecedented crisis in teacher vacancies, the undermining of the teaching profession and, worse of all in Kent, the grammar school system.
When they’re asked students, to the obvious surprise of Bayford and Wells, overwhelmingly condemn the failed (for the majority) grammar school system that the Tories are now expanding in Kent by a legal back door.
The debate ends and the time comes for the vote.
I expect the worse. I’d been warned – Thanet kids tend to be reactionary.
It’s a show of hands: eight hands for Tories, maybe 10 for UKIP and the balance of over 200 were enthusiastically Labour!
My mouth falls open….
And then comes the clanger of the day – the “Can I say one more thing?” from Bayford moment.
The teacher nods.
“When I was 16, I was a socialist too,” he pleads, “but I grew out of it.”
The hall falls silent.
This confirms my fears. Not only is our council run by people with only the faintest grasp of facts, they are stupid too.
“Do you know how condescending that is, Cllr Bayford,” I ask, the full amplification resounding through the hall, “not just to the students but to me?”
The mumbling which so appropriately started Bayford’s contribution to the debate seems an apt way for him to finish and for him and Wells to leave as students queue to find out more about Momentum and Labour politics from me.