Thursday, 23 March 2017

Super Council Scuppered? What Next?

Last night Canterbury, Dover, Thanet and Shepway councils met to vote on whether or not to hold public consultations about  merging to become a super council. It appears that this ambitious, some might say over-ambitious, plan to create the largest district council in the country serving over 600,000 people, has now been scuppered.

According to reports, Councillors in Shepway voted 18 to 8 to reject the proposed consultation on the 4-way merger. Councillors in Canterbury decided not to vote at all; an indication of their serious reservations about the plan. Councillors at Dover voted narrowly (22 votes to 18) to go ahead with the consultation. And it is reported that Thanet councillors voted by a large majority to hold a consultation, although the actual number of votes for and against have not yet been published. But with 2 out  of the 4 councils (Shepway and Canterbury)  having in effect vetoed the public consultation exercise on the super council, I can’t see how Dover and Thanet can  go ahead with what would now be a pointless and expensive consultation exercise.

My understanding is that the main reasons why Shepway and Canterbury councillors appear to have got cold feet about the merger is because they were concerned about the restricted nature of the proposed public consultation about the plans and the democratic deficit which would result from the culling of a huge number of elected councillors which, it was argued, might result in the new organisation becoming out of touch with the communities it served, just like Kent County Council. However the main reason for reticence, I have been told, is the astronomic debt which would be inherited by the proposed super council.

Working with colleague bloggers at ShepwayVox we exclusively revealed, in an article we jointly published on 18 February 2017,  that the estimated total debt which would have to be managed by the new super council would be in excess of £1billion. Canterbury, Dover, Thanet and Shepway councils have never challenged our figures because they know that they are correct. There’s a link to this  article and the debt figures at the bottom of this  post.

Huge inherited debt was the reason why Ashford Council pulled out of the merger talks  earlier this year with its leader councillor Gerry Clarkson reportedly saying he was concerned about the “financial woes” of the other 4 councils. I have been told by someone who was there, that discussions at the meeting of Shepway Council last night also raised the spectre of the, as yet unquantified, compensation payment that Thanet Council will have to make to the former owners of the Margate Dreamland Amusement Park.  My understanding is that the former owners of the park have submitted a compensation claim in excess of £20million and that Thanet Council has appointed barrister Mary Cook to head up of a team of CPO experts to resist the claim at a cost estimated to be approaching £100k.  I can perfectly understand the reluctance of councillors from Canterbury, Shepway and Dover to sign a blank cheque for a multi-million settlement deal which is likely to have to be picked up by their constituents.

My view is that the proposed super council was a badly conceived, hastily put together, undemocratic, dogs breakfast of plan which deserves to be booted out by east Kent councillors. However, I’m on record as supporting radical local government re-organisation in East Kent and my views haven’t changed. I firmly believe that Kent County Council should be abolished and its powers devolved to a series of new unitary councils based upon mergers of no more than three district councils. These new unitary councils should have councillors elected on the basis of proportional representation and the voting age for electors to the new councils should be reduced to 16. I also believe that the such changes should, unlike the prosed super council,  include the fullest  public consultation and a binding referendum of people in the affected areas.

Link to super council super debt article

http://iandriverthanet.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/super-council-may-have-1-billion-super.html
 

Thursday, 16 March 2017

No To Ramsgate Parkway Station!

Ramsgate Parkway Station is a massively expensive white elephant which, apart from enriching greedy property developers, serves no useful purpose whatsoever. I am totally opposed to granting planning permission for the station and will be submitting objections to the second round of public consultation which closes on 19th March. Here’s the reasons why I am not supporting this hare-brained proposal.

Cost. The original, 2014, cost estimate for Ramsgate Parkway Station was £11.2million.  These costs were reviewed again in April 2016 and estimated to be £23million. That’s a staggering 109% increase in less than 2 years. But it’s almost certain that the final construction costs will be much higher. Taking into account inflation,  Brexit-related cost increases, and any changes to the construction plans resulting from the second round of public consultation, my guess is that the actual cost of building Ramsgate Parkway station will be approaching £30million. That’s a massive 3 times the original estimate!
So where’s the money coming from? Well £10million has already been allocated by the Government from its Local Growth Fund scheme and according to documents presented to the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership in January 2017 a bid has been submitted to Network Rail’s New Station Fund for £8.77million. If the bid is successful then almost £19 million will have been raised towards the 2016 estimate of £23million - that’s a shortfall of £4million – but in reality the shortfall is more likely to be £6-8million, which will probably have to be paid for by Thanet and Kent County Council tax payers. Is it any wonder that the South East Local Economic Partnership (SELEP) , which is overseeing the development of, and  manging the fundraising for,  Ramsgate Parkway Station, has flagged this project as being high risk because of funding uncertainty.
Value for money. The original purpose of Ramsgate Parkway station was to service Manston Airport. When it became clear that Manston Airport was unlikely to re-open, the justification for building the station suddenly shifted. Planners began to argue that Parkway would help to support the growth and development of Discovery Park, Manston Business Park and the proposed Stone Hill Park which is to be located on the former airport site. This is utter nonsense. The overwhelming majority of people working at, or visiting, Discovery Park and Manston Business Park are local to East Kent and travel to the sites by car using the new dual carriageway system not the train. I’m certain that exactly the same situation will prevail at Stone Hill Park when/ if it is built and becomes operational.
The other justification for building Parkway station is supposedly to relieve the stress being placed on Ramsgate station by the increase in passenger numbers following the introduction of HS1, and to tackle the difficulties faced by commuters wishing to park near the station. Once again this is nonsense. Rather than spending somewhere in the region of  £30million to create  a new station with a massive 350 space  car park, surely KCC, it’s planners and consultants, would have saved  a small fortune by looking at local solutions to  manage and reduce  pressures on Ramsgate station instead. There is plenty of spare land near Ramsgate station which could be used to provide more car parking such as the disused railway sidings and nearby former industrial land which is not being used. Some of the commercial and industrial premises located near to the station could also be compulsorily purchased by KCC and the businesses relocated elsewhere to create new parking capacity for the capacity for the station. Investing in improved bus services to and from the station and developing safe cycling routes and secure cycle storage facilities would actually reduce the need for parking spaces at Ramsgate station.
Last but not least is the fact that that Ramsgate Parkway station makes no contribution towards reducing the journey time from Thanet’s railway stations to Canterbury, Ashford and London. In fact it actually makes journey time longer. Surely, from an  economic regeneration point of view,  it would be much more sensible to invest   £30million into  improving tracks, signalling, etc to cut the journey time from Ramsgate to London to one hour or less, instead of spending it on station which adds no, or little, value to Thanet and its residents. Even the SELEP which is overseeing the development of, and managing the fundraising for, Ramsgate Parkway Station has its doubts about whether this project generates value for money and has categorised the project as high risk because of the “current funding gap, value for money uncertainty, key risk issues currently unresolved

Environmental issues.  It’s not just the spiralling costs and the doubtful value for money which has led me to oppose Ramsgate Parkway station, but the massive environmental damage it will cause as well. The Kent branch of the Campaign to Protect to Rural England (CPRE) says that “this station will be a significant generator of car journeys as it encourages out-commuting”. These additional car journeys will add to the air pollution in and around Thanet and Ramsgate which is rapidly becoming a serious threat to public health and is the cause of  tens of thousands premature deaths every year.The other, equally important threat to the environment is the loss of a large (2 hectare) area of previously undeveloped farmland, which will be concreted over to make way for the station.
But the loss of greenfield land will not be restricted to the station site itself. The prospect of new station on the HS1 line to London will unboundedly attract greedy property developers from far wide hoping to make huge profits by building houses on the open land surrounding the station.  Sadly this process is already beginning. According to Thanet Council planning records 4 planning applications have been verified in the past 12 months, one of which has already been approved, to build a total of 157 new houses in and around Cliffsend. If planning permission for the station is granted then I fear that we will see many more planning applications. In fact the SELEP estimates that one of ancillary “benefits”  of building Ramsgate Parkway station would be the building of 800 new houses in the vicinity of the station and Cliffsend. There is no doubt in my mind that granting planning permission for Ramsgate Parkway station would be the beginning of the end for Cliffsend. It would almost certainly become absorbed into Ramsgate’s rapidly expanding urban conurbation, losing its separate and historic identity as a village. And in the process valuable and irreplaceable top grade agricultural land will be lost forever, along with the habitats and protection this land offers to our wildlife.
Politics. Ramsgate Parkway station is a Kent County Council project. I am unware of  Ramsgate’s two UKIP Kent Councillors, Trevor Shonk and Martin Heale, having made any public statements about this costly and controversial  development in their own backyard. They said nothing during the first 2015 public consultation and 2 years later during the second 2017 consultation they have said nothing again. Considering that plans for the station were widely opposed in 2014 and appear to be strongly opposed again, surely Ramsgate’s KCC councillors should be playing an active and vociferous role in supporting their constituents in stopping this damaging scheme getting off the ground. Sadly, I think the truth is that UKIP actually supports Ramsgate Parkway station and is looking forward to the 800 new houses it will cause to be built in and around Cliffsend and the £2 million or so in extra council tax payments they will generate each year for the cash-strapped Thanet Council.  
But UKIP doesn’t stand alone in supporting Parkway station and turning their backs on the plight of Cliffsend and its residents. Tory KCC candidates Marc Rattigan and Paul Messenger have remained silent on Ramsgate Parkway making no statements  in the media about this important issue. Labour candidates Karen Constantine and Raushan Ara have also been silent.  Not surprisingly when you consider  that Thanet Labour Party executed a massive U-turn, from opposing the station on environmental grounds  to supporting it in 2014. Here’s the link to an article I wrote at the time.  http://thanetgreencouncillor.blogspot.co.uk/2015_01_01_archive.html

I’m deeply saddened that UKIP, the Tories and Labour all appear to be supporting the Ramsgate Parkway Station and are arrogantly unconcerned about the massive waste of public money on a station that serves no useful purpose; a station that most people don’t want; and a station which will cause considerable and significant harm to Thanet’s  environment and the village of Cliffsend. Hopefully a KCC election candidate might come forward who will fight this scheme and put the wishes of residents and the protection of our environment before misguided party loyalty.   

Monday, 6 March 2017

Breaking! Ramsgate Labour Candidates Election Fundraising Deceit?


Last week Ramsgate Labour Party’s candidates for the forthcoming Kent County Council elections, Karen Constantine and Raushan  Ara and their election agent Kaz Peet, were exposed by the BBC, The Daily Mail and the  Thanet Extra  for trying to sell  off  Lush cosmetics intended for homeless and deprived people, to raise funds for their election campaign.  Not only were their actions morally and ethically repugnant, but it’s now emerged that Constantine and Peet,  might also have tried to mislead the public about the purpose of their Lush sale at the Churchill Tavern on 18th February.  
 
In an interview on BBC Newsroom Southeast tonight a woman who was working at the Churchill Tavern on the day of the Lush sale, Natalie Garrett, said that she was asked by Constantine to make a large display sign advertising the sale of the Lush products and to include on the sign a message saying that they were being sold for charity. Here’s a picture of the advertising sign which Natalie Garrett made and which was prominently  displayed on the day of the Lush sale .

Whilst requesting Ms Garrett to make the sign advising passers-by and Churchill Tavern customers that the Lush sale was for charitable purposes, Constantine and her agent Kaz Peet were simultaneously  posting messages on Facebook aimed at their Labour Party colleagues and friends, saying that all proceeds from the Lush sale would be going to the Labour Party. Here’s some Facebook screen shots dated the 18 February which support my claim.
 


 
Ms Garret says that some of her friends and family were misled into buying the  Lush products because they believed they were being sold to help charities. Had it been made clear to them that the products were being sold to raise funds for the Ramsgate Labour Party’s campaign to elect Constantine and Ara to Kent County Council then, Ms Garrett,  said it was unlikely  that  they would have bought them.  Ms Garrett’s claim of deceit about the real intention of the sale in the Churchill Tavern is supported by a Facebook post made last week. I’ve edited out the name of the poster, but it would appear that some  people were led to believe that the sale of the Lush products was for charitable purposes  and not for Ramsgate Labour Party’s campaign to get Constantine and Ara elected to Kent County Council.  
 
 

So what we appear to have here is an appallingly unethical effort by Labour candidates Constantine and Ara and election agent Peet to sell off charitable donations, intended for homeless and deprived people, to raise funds for their election campaign, whilst at the same time allegedly deceiving passers-by and customers of the Churchill Tavern that the proceeds of the sale would go to charity not to the Labour Party. If this is true it’s an utterly despicable and dishonest way to raise funds for an election campaign.

There is no excuse for election candidates to behave in this way, especially experienced candidates like Constantine, who also claims to be a magistrate. No amount of apologies can excuse what seems to have been a deliberate effort to deceive and mislead the public about the real intention of the Lush sale at the Churchill Tavern on 18 February.   It was not until 20th February  - 2 days after the Lush sale,  and after she and Constantine had been contacted by a journalist from the national press, that Kaz Peet announced that the proceeds from the Lush sale would be donated to local charities. Until then everyone involved, apart from hoodwinked customers of the Churchill Tavern, clearly understood that the cash was destined for Constantine and Ara’s election campaign.

Writing today on the Kent Online website political correspondent Paul Francis says  that at a meeting of the Ramsgate Labour Party held last   Friday, Constantine gave an account of the Lushgate scandal and reiterated her apology.  Party members accepted her explanation of the events and voted to take no further action. I wonder if Constantine included in her explanation of events any reference to allegedly having misled and deceived the customers of the Churchill Tavern about the destination of the cash raised by  the Lush sale on 18th February. I wonder if she had done so, whether her Labour Party colleagues would have been prepared to accept her explanation  and agree to take no further action?

Paul Francis goes on to say that the  line has not been finally drawn under what appears to be an  appalling example of election fundraising abuse. He says  that regional and county Labour Party officials are examining the Lushgate  events. I wonder whether or not the regional and county officials will do what in my opinion is clearly necessary – to force Constantine, Ara and Peet to stand down as elections candidates/ agents. I’m not holding breath.

Constantine is employed as a paid official of the GMB trade union which has a lot influence in the Labour Party. She is also very influential in south east region Labour Party politics being a regional board member  and a national policy forum member for Labour’s south east region. I’m sure that because she is so high profile in south east Labour she is very likely to be treated with kid- gloves. But then I’d like to believe  that south east Labour is not so morally and ethically bankrupt  that it would tolerate as members and occupiers of senior positions,  people who appear to have hijacked charitable donations, sold them  off  to fund their political careers, and deceived many of the customers at the sale about where the cash was going. Surely the south east region of the Labour Party could never endorse such alleged actions?    What would Jeremy Corbyn say if they did?  
 
Here's  the BBC report. I'd like to pay tribute to Natalie Garrett for being so brave to speak out. Unlike others I could mention she is a woman of integrity and principle.
 
video
 
 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Ramsgate Labour’s Election Fundraising Charity Rip-Off. Candidates Apologise

So Ramsgate Labour Party’s candidates, Karen Constantine and Raushan Ara have apologised for their unethical, and possibly unlawful, syphoning off of charitable donations intended for homeless and deprived people and then selling them to fund their campaign to be elected to Kent County  Council.

But it was only after the intervention of the BBC, the Sun,   Kent online political editor Paul Francis and the publication of my blog post on 25th February that they were forced to fess up and offer their apology. Since I published my exposure of this appalling and unethical  fundraising tactic, my blogsite story has had almost 21,000 hits  which
demonstrates the strength of feeling about this emotive issue.  I have also been contacted by many people from the Ramsgate Labour Party and elsewhere who have expressed their distaste and anger that Constantine and Ara could have sank so low as to have sold donations destined for vulnerable and homeless people in order to fund their own personal political careers. I agree.
I find it hard to accept that this was a genuine mistake. Most people recognise that taking charitable donations destined for vulnerable people and then selling them for personal gain is morally and ethically wrong. So why did Constantine, Ara, and Peet choose to do it? I can only assume that they  didn’t care and don’t share the moral and ethical values that the overwhelming majority of people subscribe to.
As a lifelong socialist who has campaigned all of my adult life against injustice, poverty and discrimination, I’m sickened and disgusted that prominent members of the Ramsgate Labour Party, who claim to hold views similar to mine, thought that it was OK to advance their political careers on the back of filthy lucre raised from the sale of charitable donations intended for vulnerable people.  
Where’s the socialism in that comrade? Where’s the sensitivity, compassion and moral principles people expect from prominent members of a party which is allegedly dedicated to social justice?  Even the, well-respected, former Thanet Council Labour Leader Richard Nicholson called in a Facebook comment Constantine and Ara to resign. I’m sure that many people, myself included, agree with Richard Nicholson.  I’m also sure that Labour Party Leader Jeremy
Corbyn would also be appalled about the actions of his party colleagues. They are certainly not part of Crobyn’s much heralded new-politics, but more akin to old fashioned self-promotion at the expense of others which has discredited our democratic system and has led to a growing disenchantment with politics.  
Sadly Constantine and Ara are not the first, or the last, politicians in Ramsgate to have been caught engaging in highly questionable election campaign tactics. The Tories and, more recently UKIP, have also been accused of serious breaches of election rules and ironically Constantine was one of their most ferocious critics when they were caught. However the difference in this case is that I would have expected much higher standards of behaviour from members of the Labour Party and am bitterly disappointed that the Party has taken no action against them.
 Hopefully new candidates might emerge for the Ramsgate KCC election who are open and honest and who will put the interests of local people before their own self-interest and self-promotion.
video
BBC Newsroom South East 27 Feb
 

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Breaking! Ramsgate Labour Candidates RipOff Charity Donations To Fund Campaign

Would you take donations intended for  charitable purposes, sell them, and then use the cash to finance your political  career? Of course not!  Most people know that doing something like this is morally wrong and deplorable. It would be like walking into a pub, or corner shop, distracting the staff and pinching the charity collection box. An act which would sicken most people and provoke anger and outrage against the lowlife scum who did it.
But as improbable as it might seem, this is what  Ramsgate Labour Party’s Kent County Council candidates, Karen Constantine, Raushan Ara and their election agent, Kaz Peet, tried to do, until they were caught red-handed by a national newspaper.  Here’s the full story – sorry but its long and complicated

The Donation.
In September 2016, London based charity, Food for All, (charity no. 1077897) announced on its Facebook page that it had received a donation of £250,000 worth of expensive handmade Lush cosmetics via an organisation called the Kindness Offensive (TKO). Food for All works with homeless, vulnerable, and deprived people and says it provides 900 free hot meals a day, six days a week to people who are homeless or are in conditions of need”.   When I spoke to David Goodfellow from TKO , he told me that when Food for All collected the Lush products it was made clear to the charity that these products were for the use of their service users and should not be used for resale or raffles. 

The manufacturer of the cosmetics donated to the Kindness Offensive (TKO) and then to Food for All, was Lush. Lush is a highly respected, ethical, company, well known for donating to charities and campaigning groups. Lush attaches stringent conditions to its product donations. Its website says that donated products can only be used for the benefit of “service users (clients/ patients) of homeless shelters, hospices, women's refuges, children's groups, overseas aid etc. We prefer to direct our products to the above vulnerable groups, and we do not give products to other charitable groups, including schools and religious groups ------ Please note that these products cannot be used for fundraising (such as raffle prizes), gifts or handouts for supporters, or be sold”.

Ramsgate Labour Party “syphons off” Lush. On 7th February 2017 at a warehouse in London, Ramsgate Labour Party officials, KCC election candidate Karen Constantine and her agent Kaz Peet, met Jennie Matthias, the manager of Matchless Gifts, a London based charity shop operated by Food for All. Also present at the meeting was Food for All trustee Peter O’Grady.  The purpose of the meeting was to hand over a large consignment of Lush cosmetics to Constantine and Peet  to be sold and raffled to raise funds for Ramsgate Labour Party’s  campaign to get Constantine and Ara’s elected to Kent County in May 2017. This was the second lot of Lush products handed over to an official of Ramsgate Labour Party in less than a week. Labour Party election agent and press and public relations officer, Kaz  Peet, had already received Lush products from Matthias and posted about it on her Facebook page on 4th February. 
 
These are the self-same Lush cosmetics donated to Food for All by TKO which should only have been used for the benefit of their service users and most certainly not for the benefit Ramsgate Labour Party’s campaign to have Constantine and Raushan Ara elected to Kent County Council. 

In a short video filmed in the warehouse shop manager Matthias can be heard saying “We were fortunate enough to have been given thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds worth of Lush and within that what we do is to give out to charities and good causes and one of the good causes, and one of the good causes which I stand for, happens to be the Labour Party”.
 
video
 
Matthias’ comments are clearly at odds with the terms and conditions on which the Lush products were donated to Food for All by TKO. By any stretch of the imagination Constantine, Peet and the Ramsgate Labour Party are not poor, destitute or homeless and they should never have been given products which were explicitly destined for the use of vulnerable people.  In my conversation with David Goodfellow (TKO) he told me that he was “livid” with Food for All for abusing the terms and conditions on which the products were donated to them. He said that  TKO would no longer make donations to Food for All, and that their actions brought  into disrepute the amazing work by so many other organisations and the reputation of Lush who had been fantastically generous.   

Lush For Labour” Sale.
The syphoned off Lush products were stuffed into Constantine’s car. Several pictures of her car full to the gunnels with Lush products were published by Constantine and Peet Facebook Page on 7th February with the capitations

·        Coming back to Ramsgate with a boot full of delicious Lush products - kindly donated by Food for All to the Labour Party KCC Campaign - to replace UKIP in Ramsgate with Karen Constantine and Raushan Ara in order to Build a  Fairer Future. We will be putting together some fantastic  raffle prizes with this lot!”

·        Support for the Labour Party KCC Campaign from Food For All and Jennie Matthias”.

·        Bringing home the fund raising booty”.  

Within a day of the Lush cosmetics arriving in Ramsgate, Constantine advertised on Facebook that a “Lush for Labour" sale will take place on 18th February at 2.00pm! At The Churchill Tavern”. All Lush goodies will be heavily discounted!!!”.   Her daughter posted on Facebook saying “Going to be selling a whole range of Lush products, hugely discounted, at The Churchill Tavern at 2pm on February 18th. All proceeds go towards the local Labour party campaign! So you'll smell angelic for a splendid cause”. A copy of an  e-mail given to me by a concerned member of the Ramsgate Labour Party dated 12th February alerts all party members to the fundraising sale of Lush products at the Churchill Tavern on 18th February and advises members that there will be “a fantastic raffle featuring a divine "Lush" products basket worth £500!!!” at an election training event of 18th March.

On 18 February the sale of the Lush cosmetics took place as planned.  A short video posted on Facebook shows lots of people in attendance. Pictures posted on line show vast quantities of Lush product on sale.  At the end of the afternoon Constantine posted an announcement on Facebook saying “we raised over £500”. Comments on the video suggest that half of the Lush products were left over which I assume will be sold off and raffled at a later date, or given away to Labour Party election campaign volunteers.  In a post on Facebook Jennie Matthias says “I am so happy that you were able to raise what you did and hopefully more in the not too distant future, PLEASE can you make sure that ALL your volunteers get something for themselves also as it very much in keeping with what we do, much LOVE to you all from our team and especially me Jennie Matthias xx” 

video
 
 
video

So there you have it, donations of expensive handmade Lush cosmetics which both Lush and TKO explicitly required to be passed on to homeless and deprived people, were knowingly “syphoned off” from a registered charity by Constantine, Peet, Matthias and O’Grady with the clear intention of being  sold and raffled to raise funds for Ramsgate Labour Party's Kent County Council election campaign to get Constantine and Raushan Ara elected to Kent County Council. 

Morally & Ethically Indefensible.  
Constantine and Peet must have known that Food for All was a Charity. In fact they were photographed standing with O’Grady and Matthias, next to a Food for All Van which had the organisation’s charity number emblazoned across it. Like the overwhelming majority of the population, they must have also known that it’s morally and ethically indefensible to take goods  from a charity, which had been donated with the express purpose of helping homeless and deprived people, and then selling  these products to raise funds for their own election campaign.   Most people would regard these actions as being heartless, uncaring, and insensitive. These are certainly  not the actions that most people would expect our countenance from aspiring Kent County Councillors.

The fact that Constantine, Ara and Peet are members of the Labour Party makes their apparent lack of ethical judgement appear to be even worse. The Labour Party was founded over a century ago to fight for a better life for the poor, the marginalised and the homeless. Yet here we have 3 senior and active party members who seem  to believe that it’s perfectly acceptable to deprive vulnerable people of charitable donations and to use these donations to fund and promote their own political careers. Surely their  actions cannot be anything other than diametrically opposed to the underlying philosophy and principles of the Labour Party?  
 
Thankfully, it would appear that Labour Party do not share Constantine, Ara and Peet’s less than scrupulous approach to fundraising. The Labour Party Rule Book for 2016 requires election candidates and elected representatives to “uphold the highest standards of probity and integrity in public life”.  I hardly think that using charitable donations intended for the poor and  deprived to fund your own political career qualifies as upholding "the highest standards of probity and integrity" . Something which I hope will be taken into account when, and if,  the Labour Party launch a full investigation into what many people believe, were the  shameful actions of these  party members.

Finally, Constantine claims to be a magistrate. According to a conversation I had with a member of staff from the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, magistrates must adhere to the Judicial Code of Conduct which, amongst other things, requires judges and magistrates to act with probity and integrity both in court and as part of their everyday life. I think that most people would agree that syphoning off charitable donations destined for homeless and deprived people in order to raise money for your election campaign, falls massively short of the standards of conduct expected from a member of the English judiciary and is likely to been seen as  bringing the magistracy into disrepute. 

Regulations & Law. 
It’s not just ethics and morals which are at issue here, but also Charity and Election laws which may have been broken by Constantine, Ara, Peet, Matthias and O’Grady.  Let’s begin with charity regulations. The Charities Commission, which is responsible for regulating England and Wales’ 167,000 registered charities recently published a guidance document “Charities, Elections and Referendums” which says that
 
·        Charities must not support or oppose a political party or candidate. Charities must  not donate funds to political parties

  • Charities should be especially wary of associating or becoming associated in the minds of the public, with a particular candidate or political party.

·        Charities must never support particular candidates even if those candidates belong to a range of political parties.

·        Charities must not assist candidates with their election campaigns, financially or otherwise

By handing over charitable donations to help Ramsgate Labour Party fund its campaign to get Constantine and Aras elected to KCC, Food for All has almost certainly broken Charity law. I’ve alerted the Charities Commission to what I have uncovered and I assume it will launch an investigation which could lead to Food for All being struck off the Charity Register and deservedly so!  
 
It’s also possible that Constantine, Ara and Peet may have acted in breach of election law as well. The Electoral Commission’s publication Local Elections in England May 2017: Guidance for Candidates and Agents sets out the rules for managing an election, including fund raising. It begins by warning that “the election agent has the main responsibility for complying with these rules”, but that “candidates also need to be fully aware of the rules, and ensure that their agent is following them”. So at the time of becoming an election agent, or an election candidate, the onus is on you to familiarise yourself with, and understand, all the regulations and rules governing the election. Ignorance of these rules is no defence if you make mistakes.  
 
The guidance on accepting donations says “If you take donations that you can’t legally accept, you may commit a criminal offence and we may apply to the courts for it to be forfeited”.  By donations the Electoral Commission means “money, goods or services which are given: towards your candidate spending and have a value of over £50. Some examples of donations include: a gift of money or other property”. The guidance adds “When you receive any donation of more than £50, you must immediately make sure that you know who the donor is and that the donation is from a permissible source”.

Well from the comments posted on Facebook by Constantine and Peet it’s evident that they knew that the Lush products had come from Food for All and that they knew that Food for All is a charity. So what does the Electoral Commission say about accepting donations from a charity?  Here’s what they say “charities are not usually allowed to make political donations under charity law”. So it would seem that the donation of Lush products to Constantine and Ara’s campaign was not a permissible donation and that the donation should, in accordance with Electoral Commission guidance,  be returned to the donor (Food for All) within 30 days. This might be a bit a tricky as half of the donated cosmetics were sold on 18th February. I assume that when impermissible donations are sold to raise cash then the cash raised by the sale of these products must also be handed back to the donor,Food for All. 
 
I’m amazed why Constantine and Peet  failed to realise that by taking and selling a donation from a charity, they might be breaking election law.  Peet is the Labour Party Election agnet for South Thanet and almost certainly must have had specialist  training on managing elections and election fundraising. Peet also stood as a Labour candidate in the Northwood by-election in 2016 and must again have had some training on election law.  Constantine is already a Thanet District Councillor and has fought 2 election campaigns in Thanet. She also claims to have studied at  Harvard Law School in the USA.  Surely  through their training, studying  and election campaigning  they must have gained a detailed understanding of election law  and realised what they were  doing was unethical, unlawful and wrong?

I’m also astonished why no-one else in the Ramsgate  Labour Party appears to have spotted  what is,  at the very least,  highly questionable,  and at worst,  potentially illegal , fundraising practices employed by Constantine, Ara and Peet. In fact very experienced and senior Labour figures actually backed them. Former Thanet and Kent County Councillor, David Green posted “well done you” on Constantine’s Facebook page in response to her Lush fundraising efforts. Ramsgate Labour Party Treasurer Graham Redwood posted jokingly on Constantine’s Facebook page about her Lush escapades “Now all we need is someone with a bathtub that fits 970 and we can have a mass CLP bubble bath!” I’m also surprised that Labour Party election agent for Thanet North, Keith Veness, “loved” one of Peet’s Facebook posts about the donation and sale of the Lush products. Veness is a very experienced election manager  and was Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s election agent for many years.  I can’t understand why, through his use of the Facebook love tag, he appears  to have endorsed actions which he surely must have known to have been highly questionable, if not illegal. 
 
This apparent neglect of election regulations by Constantine, Ara and Peet and they failure of the Ramsgate Labour to scrutinize and check upon their actions,  is a very serious matter which threatens to undermine public confidence in the conduct of democratic elections. Rather than brush this extremely important matter under the table and pretend it didn’t happen the Labour Party must launch an immediate investigation into what happened and why.

This is especially important because Constantine has been one of the most vociferous critics of Ramsgate MP, Craig MacKinlay’s alleged election expenses malpractices and has made many public comments about UKIP’s alleged lack of electoral honesty. Yet here we have someone who appears, on the basis of the evidence I have set out in my article, to have been  be acting in a similar manner to those she has publically criticised. Hopefully there will be no whitewash or cover up by the Labour Party. Our democracy must be open, transparent and fair and the Labour Party along with all other political parties, must ensure that it's candidates and agents play be the rules.

The Cover Up.
Unbeknown to Constantine, Ara and Peet the national press was taking an interest in their “syphoning  off” of  charitable donations and the subsequent unethical  and possibly unlawful “Lush for Labour” sale to raise funds for their KCC election campaign. I understand that a journalist from a national paper made contact with Constantine and Peet during the afternoon of Monday 20th  February asking  questions about what they had been up to with the Lush cosmetics. Within an hour of the journalist’s calls election agent  Peet had posted on her Facebook page “Happy to announce that Saturday’s sale of Lush products was so super successful that we are able to give a nice donation to not 1, not 2, but 3 local charities”. 

Apparently  worried by the trouble she might be  in and presumably anxious to get herself Constantine and Ara off the hook, she announced that some, or all, of the cash raised from the sale of the Lush products was destined to go to 3 local charities - the Salvation Army, Oasis and the Thanet Volunteer Bureau, instead of going, as originally intended and advertised, to Ramsgate Labour Party’s campaign to get Constantine and Ara’s elected to  KCC. They hoped that this rapid change in destination for  the Lush sale cash,  plus storm Doris and the Stoke and Copeland by-election results would spike the newspaper story. They  were right. The national newspaper never published. 
 
But in some ways this manoeuvre has made things much worse and may have backfired on Constantine, Ara and Peet.  Labour Party members and many others who bought the Lush products did so on the clear and well-publicised understanding that all the proceeds from the sale were going “to the Labour Party KCC Campaign - to replace UKIP in Ramsgate with Karen Constantine and Raushan Ara. However, apart from Peet’s Facebook post on 20 February, there appear to have been no other posts on social media from any of the trio giving a plausible explanation as to why it was suddenly decided to pass on the proceeds of the Lush  to local charities instead.  No doubt many of those people who thought they supporting a worthy cause are now wondering what happened to their money and why.
 
The truth is that Constantine, Ara, and Peet were caught red-handed by the national press engaging in what was an unethical, and possibly unlawful, election fundraising activity. Instead of being open and honest to all concerned and admitting that the national press had caught them out, they appear instead to have tried to the spike the newspaper story,  save their reputations and hopefully protect their political careers by giving the misleading impressions that it was they who had suddenly decided to pass the Lush sale cash to local charities, rather than the intervention of the national press.

My belief that this is the case is supported by the fact  that Constantine issued, via her union the GMB, a statement to thejournalist on 21 February which says that I fully apologise for not knowing the election funding laws regarding charities. Once the law was made clear to me and I realised there was a mistake I took immediate steps to ensure monies raised - £415 were donated to local charities. I am sorry that this happened and unreservedly apologise. This will not happen again”
 
To the best of my knowledge this statement has not been published on social media or anywhere else, which indicates to me that this was a “statement of last resort” by Constantine intended to limit damage to her reputation if the national newspaper had published the article, but to be kept under wraps and never allowed to see the light of day if the article wasn’t published.   

MY THOUGHTS
Democratic elections are a very precious civil right and those people presenting themselves as candidates and election agents should never seek to gain advantage by cheating and manipulating the system. Anyone caught doing so should be punished by the courts and/ or disciplined by their political party. 

What I have discovered and written about here is straight from the horse’s mouth and based upon pictures, comments and Facebook posts published by Karen Constantine, Kaz Peet, Jennie Matthias and others. The actions of these individuals have in my opinion been reprehensible and unethical. Had it  not been for the intervention of the of national press  Constantine, Ara and Peet would, I believe, have continued to fund Ramsgate Labour Party’s KCC election campaign by  selling off charitable donations intended for the use of vulnerable people. 

Constantine’s apology is hollow and meaningless. She has not said sorry to the hundreds of vulnerable people who, through her actions, have been deprived of products destined for them. Nor has she apologised to the many people who purchased the Lush products in good faith believing that the fundraising sale was legitimate and their money would go to the Ramsgate Labour Party KCC election campaign. Last but not least she has not apologised to  Lush for damaging their reputation by suggesting via her “Lush for Labour” slogan, used  presumably without the company's permission, that it supports the Labour Party. 
 
The Labour Party rule book says that its election candidates and elected councillors,  MPs & MEPs should “uphold the highest standards of probity and integrity in public life”.  I don’t think Constantine, Ara and Peet come anywhere close to meeting this standard. I believe that the Labour Party should suspend the trio and immediately launch a full investigation into their activities. If it was anything to do with me I would recommend that they all  be expelled from the party, or disallowed from  standing  as Labour candidates because I don’t believe that people who attempt to syphon off charitable donations to  fund their own political careers are  fit to occupy public office.