Ukip leadership hopeful Henry Bolton clashes with council leader Chris Wells over Manston airport
PUBLISHED: 15:06 19 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:06 19 September 2017
Copyright © Ian Pollen
Cllr Wells hit back after Mr Bolton claimed the leader “has not covered himself or the party in glory”
Ukip again appears a party divided after two of its key figures in the county clashed over the future of Manston airport.
Folkestone’s Henry Bolton will next Friday find out if he will be the party’s next leader, when members meet at its annual conference in Torquay.
Bookmakers have slashed odds on the former Kent police and crime commissioner candidate being elected as Paul Nuttall’s successor, but he this week found himself at the centre of a war of words in the run-up to the election.
Ukip won control of its first ever local authority in Thanet back in 2015, but Mr Bolton was critical of the job done since by council leader Chris Wells, particularly with regards to Manston airport, over which the party has been accused of breaking promises.
“So many times political parties get themselves elected saying they will do this and that and then just don’t deliver,” Mr Bolton told us.
“When it comes to Manston, I understand there are some commercial sensitivities around it, however Chris Wells should realise he is not just the leader of the council but the leader of the community and has a responsibility to keep them informed as to what is happening and why.
“You cannot maintain trust if you are delivering little and not communicating with people. I am afraid he has not covered himself or the party in glory.
“One of my leadership objectives is better preparation of candidates for being in office. We have failed to ensure candidates are of the best calibre and there has been a breakdown of strategic communication.
“What I would like to see him do is start talking to people. If he doesn’t do that I suspect Thanet is going to be disastrous in the local government elections.”
Pushed on whether he thought Cllr Wells should step down, he said: “Every day that goes past makes it harder.
“But there’s still a solid base in Thanet and I think even if we take a massive hit next time around, there is still something to build on.”
The Manston site is currently owned by Stone Hill Park, which plans to develop 2,500 homes and leisure facilities on the land.
However, there are several parties still interested in returning the site to aviation use, with RiverOak Strategic Partners looking to submit a development consent order application before the end of the year.
Cllr Wells told us in response: “I read Henry Bolton’s comments with interest. I wish him well in the forthcoming leadership election, in many ways he has good qualities for the role.
“He also has other candidates to beat and seems to be desperately seeking headlines to shore up his campaign.
“Like many others however, he suffers from blind spots on particular topics. Manston is clearly one.
“I will take his comments on election preparations and results with a pinch of salt. Not only did we win the election in Thanet but shortly afterwards helped deliver a pro Bolton vote for police and crime commissioner here, whilst he failed elsewhere.
“His undimmed enthusiasm for a company that failed the most basic tests of financial credibility and public interest when offered their second chance at indemnity partnership says more about his critical abilities than I ever could.
“Should he succeed in becoming the leader of Ukip he will have to organise and encourage donors. Would he accept redacted financial information to rely on their input? I trust not, and neither did or should I.
“Ukip locally have steered Thanet Council from its 2014 toxic and dysfunctional tag, to an award winning and admired status in local government circles.
“With Brexit coming Ukip have to build from local communities not MEP budgets, and Mr Bolton’s niavete on local government is not a good signal for a future under his leadership.”
Mr Bolton is now recognised by bookies as fourth-favourite to lead the party, behind Anne Marie Waters, Peter Whittle and Jane Collins.
However, he insists his range of experience makes him the best candidate for the role.
Cllr Wells added: “Real political leadership is about being honest with the electorate on important issues.
“Manston has been a political football since before the general election of 2015. I suggest Mr Bolton looks closely at the facts rather than trotting out campaign myths about Manston.
“The chief myth surrounds the capacity of Riveroak to deliver what they claim in their volumes of suspect reasoning and half truth forecast.
“Plus the terrifying impact on Ramsgate residents if they do get their fantasy cargo hub up and running.
“The third the falsehood is of a debate about housing v airport. It is clear from government if we want an airport, which is our preference, it will be at the expense of many green fields for government demanded housing.
“If Mr Bolton uncritically laps all that up, then perhaps he is not the man to lead Ukip, or any other serious political organisation.
“As for election predictions, Thanet is doing neither better nor worse than Ukip nationally, generally because of national issues and a leadership crisis.
“Mr Bolton may be keen to do the job, but it sounds like he is already getting his excuses in for coming electoral failure, which is not the best reason to vote for any leadership candidate.
“Any time he wants to listen to the truth, on Manston, Ukip nationally, and perhaps hear a few home truths on understanding local government, I am available.
“And have had that sort of excellent working relationship with every other leader to date.”
RiverOak Strategic Partners says its final DCO submission will take account of feedback from its recent statutory consultation, further development of design and business plans, while any night flight proposals will be “comprehensively assessed within the environmental statement”.