So Thanet Council’s UKIP Cabinet voted 5 votes to 1, last night, not to pursue the Compulsory Purchase of Manston Airport with its US indemnity partners RiverOak. Does this mean it’s the end for Manston Airport? No far from it! Many more dramas are yet to be played out before this controversial political issue is finally decided.
The first of these dramas will be about numbers. If my maths are right UKIP, following recent defections to the Democratic Independent Group (DIG) and the Conservatives, now has 27 councillors. The Conservatives with the addition of ex-UKIP councillor, Emma Dawson, have 19, DIG 5, Labour 4 and Independents 1. This means there are 29 non-UKIP councillors on Thanet Council. Enough to overturn last night’s Cabinet vote not to pursue the CPO.
Leader of the Thanet Council Conservative Group, Bob Bayford, has already called for a coalition of councillors to be established to save Manston Airport and continue to pursue the CPO. Key to this coalition will be TDCs 4 Labour councillors. Without them the pro-Manston opposition will only be able to muster 23 votes which would be insufficient to bring down the UKIP Cabinet and overturn last night’s decision. Of course there is the possibility that more UKIP councillors might defect to the DIG or the Conservatives, or that other UKIP councillors follow Vince Munday’s lead and resign from TDC forcing by-elections which UKIP might then lose. But in the short term the ball is firmly in the court of Labour’s gang of four.
My information from several trusted sources deep inside the Thanet Labour Party is that their councillors are highly likely to back Tory Leader Bayford and his pro-Manston coalition. This is hardly surprising because TDC councillor and former council leader, Iris Johnston, is herself a supporter of Manston Airport. And I don’t think it would be difficult for her to persuade her colleague councillors Jenny Matterface, Michelle Fenner and Peter Campbell to back her in supporting Bayford, especially because Labour probably believes that it could cynically manipulate a coalition with the Conservatives to try to rebuild electoral support following their absolute trouncing by UKIP in the May elections.
However, one of the key issues underlying the Manston Airport controversy has always been environmental, especially the noise and atmospheric pollution which would result from the operation of a busy 24-7 freight-hub as proposed by RiverOak. Surely Labour would not be willing to support a coalition whose only aim is to facilitate the re-opening of an environmentally damaging airport in the middle of what is hoped to become a revived and rejuvenated tourist destination? Indeed it was Labour who gained massive electoral support in the 2011 council elections, especially in Ramsgate, because they rightly and properly opposed night flights to and from the airport on the grounds of noise pollution. It seems utterly inconceivable that the remaining four Labour councillors could jettison their environmental credentials in favour of joining a pro-airport coalition with the Tory’s and disgruntled ex-UKIPers.
But since when have Thanet Labour Party and its elected councillors ever cared about principles and honesty, especially when it comes to environmental matters. In February of this year I posted an article on this blogsite which documented how the then ruling Labour Group on Thanet Council had torn up its 2011 election manifesto promises about protecting Thanet’s environment, by dumping its commitment to prevent building on green field sites and reversing its opposition to the environmentally damaging Parkway Station
Johnston, Fenner, Matterface and Campbell were all senior Labour councillors at this time and were instrumental, through their actions, in reneging on these important Manifesto promises so why should they be in the least bit bothered about jumping into bed with supporters of a polluting airport if this might ultimately bring them electoral success.
Finally it’s interesting to speculate how, if my information is true, a pro-airport coalition of Labour, Conservative and ex-UKIP councillors would be viewed by new party boss Jeremy Corbyn who’s powerful anti-austerity and pro-environmental policies place him in implacable opposition to Tory’s and former Kippers. And then of course what about the tens of thousands of new Labour supporters who have joined the party because they desperately want to begin work campaigning against and defeating the Conservatives and UKIP. How will these young energetic idealists react when they discover that Thanet’s old school Labour power brokers are doing deals with the enemy simply to protect their political arses and keep drawing their allowances? As a left of centre idealist myself, I know I would be infuriated and would work tirelessly to deselect any such traitor from their councillor position.
So the next episode in this unfolding drama may well be Thanet Labour, though an alliance with it class enemies, coming to the rescue of an economically unsustainable and massively polluting airport, purely out of self-interest, greed and hunger for the power it routinely abused when last in control of the council. I sincerely hope I am wrong.