General Election 2024: Questions to candidates – Grahame Birchall, Independent, for East Thanet

Independent candidate Grahame Birchall

On July 4 the country will go to the polls for the General Election.

Nationally, Electoral Calculus predict Labour will have a 272 seat majority of 272.

Predicted votes are 21.9% Conservative; 41.4% Labour; 10.8% Lib Dem; 14.8% Reform; 5.6% Green and the remaining 5.7% going to SNP, PlaidC and ‘other.’

In the 2019 General Election, before the boundary changes that have come into force this year, Conservative Craig Mackinlay took the South Thanet seat with more than 56% of the vote.

He polled 27,084 votes, some 10,587 ahead of nearest competitor, Labour’s Rebecca Gordon Nesbitt, who gained 16,497 votes.

Mr Mackinlay announced he would not stand in the forthcoming General Election due to the continued medical appointments and procedures that he continues to face after having had his arms up to the elbows and legs up to the knees amputated due to an extreme case of septic shock.

In East Thanet the poll has Labour with a 91% chance of winning the seat and Conservatives on 9%.

In East Thanet there are eight candidates vying to become the area’s next MP.

We have asked the candidates to answer some questions on issues that matter to Thanet.

Here Grahame Birchall, standing as an Independent in East Thanet, tells us his views on subjects ranging from housing development to the NHS:

Housing development- particularly on farmland – and the housing numbers dictated for the Local Plan are a concern for many residents.

What is your view on this, can government reduce housing need figures due to them being based on 2014 ONS stats which do not seem to reflect the 2024 situation and need?

Alongside this Thanet needs more social housing, how would you tackle this?

The Objectively Assessed Number (OAN) of houses for Thanet is based on past trends and future projections, which are exaggerated and inputted by Kent County Council. It is a little known fact that KCC sends to Thanet a disproportionately large number of ex-offenders and drug addicts to be re-habilitated, socially deprived families to be re-housed and children in care to be fostered and place in homes, I can give you one guess why they don’t send as many to Sevenoaks or Tunbridge Wells ! Unfortunately, Thanet has no control over these numbers, but they do add to the very large number of houses we are being forced to accommodate in our already over-crowded Local Plan.  If we wish to re-gain control over the number of houses being foisted on us, we have got to get out ‘from under’ Kent County Council, and start to reduce the large number of socially challenged newcomers to Thanet, for ourselves. Under a Unitary Authority for Greater Thanet, we would have the control we need to set those trends and projections for ourselves.

With regard to social housing and affordable housing, Thanet needs more. However, there is no incentive to build more social housing, when council tenants have the right to buy them after only such a short time in occupation, and government restrictions on councils to re-use the sales proceeds to build more houses, by way of replacement. As East Thanet MP, I would be keen to re-negotiate these central rules which in my view should be flexible from one region to another, according to need.

Minster Marshes – There is a campaign against the National Grid plans for a converter station as part of the Sea Link project. What are your views on this?

This issue reveals what poor value we get out of the taxes we send to Kent County Council, which to my knowledge has not yet come to support the people of Thanet, and our valiant rural county councillors, Derek Crowe Brown and Lynda Wright, in our resistance to this environmentally disastrous development.

As  a resident of nearby Ramsgate I am very much against this development and even more against the way in which the ‘so-called’ consultation has been conducted. Thanet Council summed it up when it wrote “It is difficult for us to assess and understand the exact impacts of the Sea Link project given the limited details that we have at this point.”

Moreover, the initial impact statement produced by National Grid PLC in October 2022 said “Visualisations will be produced, using the maximum development parameters, to illustrate the converter station from all the representative viewpoint locations where it is visible, to assist an understanding of the potential visual effects.”

To my knowledge, in the 20 months since, no such visual representation have yet been produced or circulated to the local population.

A closer ‘landfall site’ would be on the North Kent coast, yet there appears to be no consideration of any potential sites closer to Suffolk than Thanet. Moreover, Pegwell Bay, appears to be favourite, based purely on overall costs (and thereby profits) to this private company.

It is time Thanet residents stop paying 80% of their council tax to KCC and pay it to their own Greater Thanet Unitary Authority, which will spend the money 100% to the benefit of Thanet and be more able to defend our interests against profit hungry private utility companies.

Southern Water sewage releases in our sea – how would you tackle this?

Clearly the privatization of water in the UK has not turned out as originally planned. It is actually a dismal and expensive failure. The company has been allowed to become too highly geared and neglect the water distribution system it was supposed to modernize with private investment over the last 30 years. It was allowed by Government to become nothing more than a financially rewarding investment asset. Moreover it has broken the law and been fined several times. It has continued to perform badly and break the law many times, with impunity, whilst finding money for high dividends instead of honouring its legal duties to the nation. Effectively some of its directors should now be in jail.

Sadly the Environmental Agency has been weak and on occasions, actually seen to be condoning bad behaviour. As the nation’s watchdog, the EA is an expensive and ineffective quango.

I would disband the environment agency completely and return those powers to local authorities who understand better their local environmental issues, such as flooding and pollution.

Needless to say, in our particular case, I would place those powers and environmental protections under a newly created Unitary Authority for Greater Thanet, which would then go about suing the water companies for damage to our beaches and rivers.

Cost of living – Thanet families are struggling to make ends meet, businesses also struggle as a result and there are a large number of empty shops in our towns. How will you help the economy to recover and how will you help our families and businesses?

Clearly there is no single solution, as indeed, the problem is both local and national in nature.

Nationally, people are still suffering from the effects of the pandemic and Brexit. The pandemic cost the government massive amounts of tax payers money, not helped by wasteful short procurement otherwise known as ‘cronyism and incompetence’, and writing off huge debts and dubious ‘bounce back’ loans. With regard to Brexit, SMEs, musicians, fishermen and farmers are all visibly suffering from loss of trade and the rest of us are suffering from the enormous rise  in the cost of incumbent red tape. More recently, of course, we are all suffering from huge increases in interest rates, thanks to a disastrous Truss budget in Nov 2022.

What is done, however, cannot be undone easily. Brexit was a party political initiative designed to save the Conservative party from the clutches of UKIP at the 2015 election. As we can see with the rise in threat from Reform UK, that has not gone too well ! Clearly we need to restore better trading arrangements with our largest trading entity, the EU,  if they will allow it.

Locally, the answer lies in a wealth creation strategy designed and funded by a Unitary Authority for Greater Thanet. Currently KCC receive and spend 80% of our council taxes, returning very little in the form of wealth creation in Thanet. Moreover they do not really understand the needs of Thanet. Town centres in general are suffering from on line shopping and out of town shopping precincts. Combatting these trends requires specialized local knowledge of where to place investment. That can only come with the localisation of an economic strategy and public investment focussed on individual community needs.

Again, a directly elected ‘metro mayor’ type of council leader for Greater Thanet will have the incentive to respond to those community business needs. Again we need the politics of place, not the politics of party.

NHS – Thanet has a severe shortage of dentists and there are not enough GPs, getting an appointment is problematic.

There is also desperate need for improved mental health services, both adult and child. What are your views on this?

Again a multi-faceted answer is required.

First, the NHS needs major reform urgently. As demand grows exponentially, it needs a lot more funding, as enjoyed in neighbouring countries. The UK needs a system which is both ‘affordable and available’ to the patient at the point of need. Such systems exist with insurance based systems such as in France or Germany.  There is no point in treatment being completely free at the point of need, if it is not available ! And there is no point treatment being available when you need it , if you can’t afford it !

The supply of doctors, nurses and dentists cannot be increased until the problem of getting more money into the overall system is resolved. Relying purely on the tax payer is not going to be enough. It requires radical cross party solutions, as mooted above.

Second, as we often see, the availability of medical treatment is linked to the availability of social care. The first, NHS, is provided by Government and the other, social care, by Local Authorities. So we have a natural barrier.  The creation of a Unitary Authority for Greater Thanet would allow us in Thanet to control our own social services locally, free from the remoteness of KCC. Moreover, it would allow Thanet to liaise more closely with its own hospital in Margate and those in neighbouring Ashford and Canterbury, without having to go through central control in Maidstone. Ultimately the formation of ‘Greater Thanet’ could bring its own control and funding for its own GPs and hospital, as well as its own care homes. This would be much more financially efficient and responsive to local coastal medical needs.

With regard to mental health, Thanet desperately needs its own A&E facilities for adults and children. It is not sensible to continue relying on the police and existing A&E’s, neither of which are designed or equipped for this purpose. Again, creation and control of this new centre, would come under the creation and control of a Thanet Unitary Authority.

Manston airport – the DCO is now confirmed and it appears there will be no further legal appeals. What is your view of the airport/cargo hub scheme and what involvement , if any, will you have with the scheme going forward?

As an army trained pilot, I am very keen on aviation activities in general. I would like to see all the aviation activities at Manston, including pilot training, gliding, ballooning, heritage flights, tourist flights and private aircraft, all continue to operate at Manston.

Sadly, under the current ownership, and the Tory government’s DCO for a cargo hub, nearly all the aviation activities at Manston are doomed and are in danger of being lost. The idea of a cargo hub is absurd, given Manston’s geographic location, and the idea of commercial passenger flights has been proved to fail 3 times in same number of decades. As a former investor, I have also lost money believing Manston could be made profitable. The government inspector was correct in his assessment of there being insufficient need for cargo or commercial passenger flights. He was overruled purely on party political grounds. In the meantime, Thanet is suffering from planning plight and lost opportunities for Manston to be developed for a mixture specialized light industry, residential, recreational and privately run airfield. I hope that this delay in Thanet’s future growth will not continue for more than another year or two.

As the MP for East Thanet, I would be energetically on the look-out for a developer to take over from the current owner for the purpose of ending the existing planning blight and developing Manston into a mixed industrial, residential and recreational site, with privately run airfield for the continuation and expansion of its current wide ranging aviation activities.

Asylum – what are your policies on asylum and small boat crossings?

The UK is almost unique in the modern world for not having any form of ID card system. Hence, it will continue being a magnet for illegal immigration, until it introduces them, on a compulsory basis, hopefully for a sufficiently long period of time, in order to ‘turn off the tap’.

Consequently, the total number of ‘illegal’ immigrants, now living ‘under the radar’ in the UK, will never be known accurately. It is at least 1 million according to last Head of Border Control. Probably a lot more.

I am afraid, the Rwanda plan is doomed to fail. It is a very expensive gesture to the right wing of the Conservative party, known as ‘dog whistle politics’, without a hope of forming a deterrent, even when they increase the number of migrants sent there. The attraction of coming to a country with no ID cards, a massive black market for labour and an unregulated ‘gig’ economy, is just too great.

Black markets can have a number of negative consequences for local economies. They reduce council and income tax revenues, distort the market, and create opportunities for crime.

A more powerful Unitary Authority for Greater Thanet would be able to play an enhanced role in combatting existing prevalent black market activities and modern slavery, by a policy of ‘in-sourcing’ many of its activities, such as social services, rubbish collection or highway maintenance.

By bringing such services back into public hands, Thanet could enhance labour conditions, improve accountability, reduce inefficiencies, and ensure greater consistency. These sort of reforms would be more far-reaching and thoroughgoing than central Government’s meek and rather under-developed controls.

Again, local solutions are best.

Youth services: There has been a loss of funding for some youth services (such as Pie Factory and The Pavilion in Thanet). What are your views on provision of youth services and how this should be done?

An important part of our GRIT campaign is the granting of ‘mandatory rights of consultation’ to voluntary and community groups. There are many such charitable and community organisations, which are run by excellent community leaders, whose services are often given for free.

This ‘mandatory’ status, granted by the local council, not only gives such voluntary groups more recognition and publicity, it also gives them to the right to be consulted, by their local council, on those aspects of local policy that affect them. 

It means that the local council is obliged to consult them, not the way around !

By establishing this kind of formal relationship with local voluntary and community groups, their value to the community will become more self-evident. With a directly elected mayor for Thanet, the question of funding and competing priorities is greatly eased, as again, a directly elected mayor, will need to retain the direct support of his/her communities and the excellent voluntary work being done by their leaders. (See www.grit.how for more detail).

We will publish responses from the East Thanet and the Herne Bay and Sandwich candidates as we receive them.

4 Comments

    • Leave him alone, he sometimes goes by a n other alias the notorious Checksfield from Birchington. He’s probably getting ready to throw all his weight behind the client journalists currently working for the Daily Mail, Telegraph, Express who will continue to feed anyone stupid enough to read their tripe some red meat regarding immigration, benefits, scroungers, obesity and so on. Can’t wait Pete, bring it on.

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