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downsmail.co.uk


Great to see more diversity on councils


ON THE campaign trail across Maidstone & The Weald this year there was an unusually strong level of engagement from people on the doorstep. There was a heightened level of understanding about how important our local authorities and elected representatives are, almost certainly as a result of witnessing the multiple challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The turnout was 11 percentage points higher in the Police and Crime


Commissioner ballot than the last election in 2016.


Many Maidstone Borough Council wards also saw signicant increases in voter engagement than in 2019, such as Allington and East. I was also encouraged by the proles of


several new candidates standing this time around; more women and more young people than before, connecting very successfully with their electorates at borough and county council levels. But we are still well shy of achieving gender balance in our councils, and we are lamentably short of candidates from diverse backgrounds.


Why is that important?


Because our councils need to fully reect the society they represent; with voices,


By Helen Grant MP for


Maidstone & the Weald


opinions and ideas from the wide spectrum of cultures we enjoy in this great country. Next year, there will be more elections and I really hope that an even wider selection of candidates will come forward. If anyone would like to talk to me about how the process works, I would welcome any approaches and will make introductions to colleagues who can help too, at all levels, from parish, borough and our county councils.


I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to every candidate, of all political colours, who stood for election this month. I know that standing for office is hard work, but your efforts are crucial to the success and sustainability of our local democracy and I know that people across Maidstone and the Weald are enormously grateful for, and respectful of, your public service.


Silver lining of COVID cloud


COVID-19 has been and continues to be a dreadful experience. It has brought much suf- fering and loss. As I write, the situation looks more hopeful,


but we don’t know what is around the corner. I can easily become preoccupied by dark clouds. But I can see that there have been silver linings. Over recent years, commentators have noted


a decline in the importance of neighbourhood and the rise in networks – links being made, not through physical proximity, but resulting from common interest. Before COVID, for instance, many commuters’ lives focused on work, social- ising with colleagues before returning home. The first lockdown saw a real growth in the im-


portance of neighbourhood. In Bearsted, the parish council and the Bearsted Hub played an important role in channelling help from the less vulnerable to the more vulnerable. I heard of older parishioners who had up to


five of their neighbours getting in touch to offer help! New relationships were made and old ones deepened – hopefully these will endure. COVID-19 has also made many of us “upskill”.


Those who had shied away from communication technology have made the plunge. The number of “silver surfers” has increased. Families have met up over the internet, some


By Canon John Corbyn Vicar of Bearsted and Rector


of the North Downs Parishes


have held quizzes and other social activities. Peo- ple have kept in touch in new ways, which will en- rich people’s lives long after COVID has receded. Online meetings have widened people’s hori-


zons. I attended a Diocese of Canterbury train- ing day which was held online. Twice the number attended compared to the last physical meeting, with a huge saving in travelling and air pollution. Even the restriction on numbers able to attend baptisms, weddings and funerals has had a pos- itive side effect for some, in creating personal and intimate events. Families have been able to bid farewell to a loved one without being ex- hausted by having to speak to large numbers of people on that day. Just as good things happened in wartime, so


there have been good things arising from COVID. We can see some of those now. I wonder how we will see things when we are able to look back in a few years’ time?


Opinion


F


ORMER independent councillor Eddie Powell knows his place at home, now he nds himself with time on his hands. Very much at the top of the food chain are wife Lorraine and her rescue goats. At one time, Eddie could rely on his barbecue as a source of manly solace – not anymore. The brick structure has become a mini haven for furry mammals and the ousted borough member for Shepway South been banished to the cooker instead.


Y VERY good socialist chum Cllr Malcolm McKay, who has stepped back from leadership of his four-strong Labour group at the borough council, doesn’t envy the Tory leader David Burton trying to control a ock of 29 councillors, many of them new. He condes: “It must be like herding kittens.”


M M


HE Liberal Democrats’ much-reduced circumstances at the borough council may be reduced further if the persuasive powers of senior Tory types have anything to do with it. The Conservative defector Nick de Wiggondene-Sheppard will be beckoned back into the fold and out of the losers’ clutches, I hear.


T I


PICK up a response to a Lib Dem press release from a Conservative spokesman which reads: “Meanwhile, the new Tory administration in Maidstone is about to start work on picking up the pieces after years of neglect inicted on the borough by the defeated Liberal Democrats. I can tell you that we are really dreading what we’re going to nd once we open the books.” What can it all mean?


HERE may be trouble ahead for Roger Gough, Conservative leader of Kent County Council. I hear rumblings of discontent among his backbenchers that the authority is becoming increasingly officer-led and remote. Knives are being sharpened for a possible coup later in the year, a little bird tells me.


T A


STUDY of Cllr Gough’s register of interests shows a couple of items that catch my eye. His wife, Michelle Lowe, works for social care minister Helen Whately, Faversham and Mid Kent MP and he receives £1,800 a year from the Local Government Association’s Children and Young Persons’ Board.


Chin chin! 47


INUTES after tasting success in the borough council elections in the once strong Liberal Democrat principality of Allington, the Conservative Stan Forecast, aged just 20, did what any young man in his place would do – he rang his mother to tell her the news. But Dad answered.


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