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Stormy waters face new leader’s ship

And they’re off! With just five months until the Canterbury City Council elections and the day John Gilbey quits as leader, Gazette columnist Harry Bell gives his take on the main runners and riders to replace him

Word has it that there are at least nine Tory councifiors who fancy stepping into John Gilbey’s shoes. There will no doubt be some Labour, independent, Lib Dem and Ukip counciflors who want the job, too. But the simple fact is the Conservative group will win in May. The only thing in doubt is the size of their majority, which will be smaller than the 22-member one it enjoys now — not least because the council is quite rightly slimming down from 50 councillors to 39. Whispers in the corridors of Military Road suggest that the Gilb has already anointed Herne Bay’s Joe Howes as his successor.

This would be a mistake. Howes is uninspiring and a poor public speaker – a drawback which would affect the ability to communicate the council’s message not just in The GuildI’d1 on meeting nights, but when representing the authority on other occasions. One can’t help but wonder whether this is reward for his ultra-loyalism to the high priest. It was a perceived lack of loyalty which cost Simon Cook, who represents the rural North Nailboume ward, a seat on the executive. Cookie is phenomenally clever, his genius for business has earned him a fortune and he retains an independence of mind that is lacking in some of his colleagues. His forensic analysis meant that he could identify flaws and problems in policies – often when others wished they had not surfaced.

One Tory told me he would be an ideal deputy leader, but not leader. His problem is that he can sound superior and haughty when addressing the chamber – but he is no doubt a strong contender. He has formed a sturdy “I’ve got your back” alliance with Tankerton ward’s Neil Baker, an increasingly weighty voice of good sense. Bakoid speaks well, doesn’t treat members of the public like idiots and – like Cook – won brownie points for championing the switch from executive governance to a committee system. His main obstacle is undoubtedly his 2013 drink driving conviction. Members may feel it’s a black mark too far for the authority’s supreme political master.

Emasculated

Veterans of the chamber and former Lord Mayors Ian Thomas and Pat Todd, both men of the Chestfleld and Swaledilife ward, also have their eyes on the prize. Thomas has coveted the job for a long time and was said to be furious when Gilbey emasculated him by removing from the executive. He has been biding his time, and there are at least two councillors who will support him. Toddmeister is one of the most popular of all the councillors. As a figurehead, the former plod would appear as a steady pair of hands on the wheel as the authority faces further spending cuts. But the dearth of speeches he has made in full council meetings means he has been invisible of late. Surely, backbenchers want someone prepared to wade into the political fisticuffs? The other big beast swirling around is Chartham and Stone Street’s Rosemary Doyle. She’s been around a long time, has been an ever-present on the executive since the Tories seized power and no doubt feels it’s her turn. The Doyle may be intelligent and a consummate politician, but she is resented by council watchers. A hectoring style and habit of telling critics they are constantly wrong are alienating factors. Two rank outsiders are also understood to covet leadership – Herne Bay’s Andrew Cook and Peter Vickery-Jones. PVJ is tainted by his obstinate belief in the failed Westgate Towers traffic trial. Charisma-free Cook is something of a limp-wristed yes-man. He would struggle in the top job because he reacts badly to criticism.

And as the only thing we can be certain about is that there will be even less money in the pot and an unpopular local plan on the table, whoever is sitting on the throne is going to be blasted with grief.

Herne Bay Gazette, December 11th 2014

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