The battle for Strood South officially gets underway

Following the resignation of UKIP councillor Catriona Brown-Reckless, the battle to replace her in Strood South is underway. With the by-election being held on 20 October, less than four weeks away, we’ve put together this handy roundup of the six candidates for the seat.

josieilesConservatives – Josie Iles
The first of two former Strood South councillors trying to win the seat back, Josie Iles represented the ward between 2011 and 2015, when she narrowly lost her seat to UKIP. Josie is a former mayor of Medway, and has lived in the Strood South ward for 30 years. She voted leave in the EU referendum, and while it’s unclear exactly what platforms she’ll be standing on, she’s off to a great start in the ‘having serious photos taken in front of things’ competition.

Mike Russell

English Democrats – Mike Russell
The English Democrats continue their slow march on Medway, as once again Mike Russell is standing for the party. Mike has stood for Medway Council several times in the past, has campaigned to be the MP for Chatham and Aylesford, and even had a run at the European Parliament. This campaign is likely to be about as successful as all of those.

stevedykeGreen Party – Steve Dyke
Steve Dyke is the current leader of the Medway Green Party, and unsuccessfully stood for election in Strood North in 2015. Steve has lived in Strood for 50 years, and intends to run on a platform based around sustainable housing, transport improvements, and the environment. You can follow him on Twitter.

isaacigweLabour – Isaac Igwe
The second former Strood South councillor trying to win his seat back is Isaac Igwe, who represented the ward between 2011 and 2015. Despite coming 2nd in the ward in 2011, he dropped to 8th in 2015. Given Labour only selected him at the last possible minute, it’s unclear what he intends to campaign on. Notably, in 2013, Isaac once fled a council meeting and hid in a toilet to avoid having to cast a vote in favour of equal marriage. You can follow him on Twitter.

isabellecherryLiberal Democrats – Isabelle Cherry
By far the youngest candidate in the by-election, the Lib Dems have put forward Isabelle Cherry. Isabelle has lived in Medway all of her life, and is currently studying for her A-levels. Isabelle intends to run a campaign based around improving schools and public transport, and reducing litter. You can follow her on Twitter.

karlwellerUKIP – Karl Weller
Despite currently holding the seat, UKIP have put forward an unfamiliar face in Karl Weller. Karl has lived in the ward for 18 years, and beyond that, we know pretty much nothing about him. You can follow him on Twitter.

The Week

Return of the Igwe
After leaving their selection for the Strood South by-election to the last possible moment, Medway Labour picked former councillor in the ward, Isaac Igwe to contest the seat. Thanks to the archaic way Labour selects it’s candidates, it was left in the bizarre position of having six candidates, and barely more than that many members making the choice. Igwe is a curious choice though, not supported by the new left of the party, and plenty of others uncomfortable with his views on social issues like equal marriage.

Greens recycle candidate
The Green Party also selected their candidate for the Strood South by-election this week, announcing that local party leader Steve Dyke will fight the battle. The Greens didn’t stand in Strood South in 2015 (Dyke stood in Strood North), so the fact they’re putting forward a candidate indicates some improvement in local organisation.

UKIP? Uwhat?
Proving that Labour aren’t the only party wrapping themselves up in petty infighting, there seems to be a kerfuffle within UKIP locally over their Strood South candidate selection. Karl Weller announced himself as the candidate some time ago, while former local chairman Chris Spalding claimed no selection process had been followed and announced he also wanted to be the candidate. As it stands, Weller remains the candidate, but it seems unlikely the local party divisions will be healed anytime soon.

Regressive alliance
Huge news this week for the structure of Medway politics, as Medway TUSC announced that they will no longer field candidates against Labour. Aside from leaving a question of exactly what the point of a political party that doesn’t field candidates is, one has to wonder how much impact this will have on the upcoming Strood South and Rainham Central by-elections. Given they got a combined vote of about 300 in both seats, it would seem very little is the most likely.

Brace yourself, it’s good news from Kelly Tolhurst
It’s not often we write something positive about Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst, but she’s putting forward a Private Member’s Bill that seems to be doing something genuinely positive. She’ll be moving a bill in Parliament that will enshrine a 12 months ‘breathing space’ window for those in debt to be able to get themselves back on their feet. You can find out more about the bill here.

Audit combo
An interesting story that hasn’t received a large amount of attention about how Medway and Gravesham Council have combined their audit services to save £230,000 between the two councils. This kind of thing is seemingly becoming more common, and when savings of that scale can be made relatively easily, I expect we’ll be covering plenty more such changes in the future.

The Week

Reviewing the Boundary Review
On Tuesday, the Boundary Commission for England unveiled their proposed new constituency boundaries. There were no huge changes for Medway, but a fair number of little ones. Higham will be brought into the Rochester and Strood constituency, Lordswood and Capstone will move to Gillingham and Rainham, and Chatham and Aylesford is set to become Chatham and the Mallings. The proposed boundaries are now subject to a lengthy consultation period, so it’ll be next year before we hear any final plans.

Radicalised French Radicals
It’s been a whirlwind week for the internal machinations of the Labour Party. We reported earlier in the week on the suspension of long time member and Momentum activist Alan Higgins, who was planning to stand as the Labour candidate for Strood South. Since this, Medway Momentum endorsed a new candidate, Brian Kelly, but now Higgins has been reinstated by the party, so we’ve no idea what’s going on there now.

Cherry picked
In a rare bout of organisation, the Medway Lib Dems managed to be the first party to select their candidate for the Strood South by-election. In an even more unusual step, they’ve selected a new – and young – candidate, 18 year old activist Isabelle Cherry. Cherry’s campaign will apparently focus on issues like school improvement, litter, and public transport, so all fairly safe, but at the least the Medway Lib Dems are putting up a fight once again.

Return of the Iles
In perhaps the least surprising Strood South selection, the Conservatives have selected Josie Iles as their candidate for the Strood South by-election. Iles is a former mayor of Medway, and was the Councillor for Strood South up until losing her seat to UKIP last year. Going into the election, she remains the odds on favourite to retake the seat.

Other Strood South candidates
Not much else to report on the Strood South by-election front, despite the fact that the election is a mere 31 days until the election takes place. UKIP have two candidates to choose between (one being former local chairman Chris Spalding), Medway Labour have about 800 people putting themselves forward, and the Greens apparently have a candidate, but are busy filling out the paperwork to announce who it is.

Councillor allowances
As per their legal obligations, Medway Council recently published the details of councillor allowances paid for 2015-2016. The small problem with this is that they seemingly did a horrifically sloppy job with it, as Medway blogger Alan Collins covered in forensic detail. The sheer number of errors in the document raises serious concerns about the openness and transparency of Medway Council.

Cabinet reshuffle
Following last week’s sad passing of Councillor Mike O’Brien, a necessary reshuffle took this week within the Cabinet. Councillor Andrew Mackness will take over O’Brien’s education portfolio, with new Councillor Martin Potter taking on the new portfolio of educational improvement. The former corporate services portfolio of Councillor Mackness will be split amongst several other Cabinet members.

Medway MPs in Parliament
Remarkably, Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst raised concerns in Parliament about the consequences that the EU referendum that she voted for has had on small businesses in her constituency. Meanwhile, Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti once again spent his time banging on about laser pens.

Reviewing the boundary review

This morning saw the Boundary Commission for England publish the first proposals for their 2018 boundary review. The aim of the review is to reduce the number of MPs in parliament to 600 from 650, as well as creating roughly equal size constituencies. As you can imagine, this has caused some quite dramatic changes to the electoral map to be proposed.

But what do the changes mean for Medway and it’s three parliamentary constituencies?

Rochester and Strood


By and large, Rochester and Strood remains broadly unchanged from it’s current layout. Some of the bizarre quirks remain, such as Chatham town centre remaining part of Rochester and Strood. The only significant change is the addition of Higham to the west of the constituency. Higham is not part of Medway on a council level (it falls under Gravesham), so it’s curious to see it moved into a primarily Medway constituency.

Gillingham & Rainham


Also remaining largely unchanged in Gillingham and Rainham, which sees the addition of Lordswood and Capstone from the Chatham and Aylesford constituency. While the Capstone part of the ward might be a logical fit, it’s a bit of a stretch to consider Lordswood as part of Gillingham and Rainham, but here we are.

Chatham and Aylesford


Chatham and Aylesford has always been a sprawling constituency, but the new version, now dubbed Chatham and The Mallings takes things to new heights. The area within Medway is reduced yet further with the loss of Lordswood and Capstone, and yet large swathes of Walderslade still remain outside of any Medway constituency.


While some of these proposals are something of a mess and not hugely helpful for local identity, they do make more sense than the previous proposals, which saw such strange suggestions as Hempstead and Wigmore joining Chatham, and Luton and Wayfield joining Gillingham. We have not assessed the electoral consequences for our MPs here, and at first glance, we’d suggest they will face no major changes from these proposals.

The consultation period for the new boundaries runs until 5 December, and the public are invited to offer feedback on them via the Boundary Commission’s 2018 Review website.

Radicalised French Radicals

Last year I demonstrated how little I knew about the Labour Party when I wrote the article ‘The French Radicals’. I said that “Jeremy Corbyn will win the first round of the Labour leadership but I don’t expect him to win the leadership.” Which much like our predictions for the general and local elections in 2015, showed how bad we are at this. This time I expect Corbyn to win the leadership election by a considerable margin, I expect the PLP to react even less graciously then they did last time, and I expect positioning for Labour Leadership elections in 2017. Go #DavidMilli2020.

Last year’s piece postulated, via a clip from The West Wing that members of the Labour movement only stood against not winning. The current Leadership contest is a magnification of this, with those opposed to Corbyn’s leadership terrorising that Corbyn will cause Labour to be in opposition for a generation and that anybody speaks out against Owen Smith either wants May as PM, and or should enjoy the May premiership. Very little is given in the way to explain how Owen Smith will win a General Election, except Corbyn definitely won’t.

To be clear, neither Jennings or Keevil are endorsing either Labour candidates, readers will be happy/sad/apathetic to hear.

Having been wrong about Labour last year, I wanted to double down and be wrong again this year when discussing an ongoing situation within Medway, specifically Gillingham and Rainham CLP. When it came time for different CLPs to hold leadership nomination contests; Chatham and Aylesford CLP agreed not to nominate, Rochester and Strood nominated Corbyn, and Gillingham and Rainham decided – well, the exec committee decided – not to hold any nomination discussion at all.

I was informed I was wrong to question this, as they have never nominated a leadership contender. A tradition that goes way back to the origins of the Gillingham and Rainham CLP in 2010. Somebody else who vocally questioned the executive committee’s decision was Labour and Medway Momentum member Alan Higgins. Meanwhile, former MP and technically current Labour PPC for Gillingham and Rainham Paul Clark, didn’t join the Labour PPCs for Chatham & Aylesford and Rochester and Strood in signing a letter.

But he did host a pro-Owen Smith event organised by Labour’s Chatham and Aylesford PPC and former PCC candidate Tristan Osbourne. This raises a distinction that I clearly am unable to understand, something along the lines of; individuals have the right to support whomever they please, PPCs must represent the constituents who didn’t vote them in as MPs and/or PPCs don’t have to represent the CLP that elected them as candidates in pre-Corbyn era.

Meanwhile during #LabourLeadership2016 a series of events called #LabourPurge2 has occurred. In brief, members who are felt not to upheld the aims and values of the Labour Party have been informed they will not be allowed to vote for the leader. We at The Political Medway are concerned for members of Gillingham and Rainham CLP:
Firstly, former MP and current PPC Paul Clark, representing a candidate when his CLP exec does not, has had a complaint made against him to the Regional Director of the Party by member Alan Higgins, for behaviour during CLP meetings. No action has been taken on this complaint at this time.
Also Presumably, current Gillingham North councillor and former Liberal Democrat PPC for Gillingham and Rainham Andy Stamp will be allowed a vote, despite his previous allegiance.
We have been reassured however that 2015 Green Party PPC for Gillingham and Rainham, Neil Williams, seen here with Medway Labour group Leader Vince Maple joining Medway Labour, has been allowed to vote in the contest.

Meanwhile, Alan Higgins, a member of the Labour Party for 45 years, and a Labour candidate for Princes Park in 2015, previously mentioned as the member who criticised Gillingham and Rainham executive committees failure to hold an all members meeting to nominate a leadership candidate, contacted Vince Maple regarding his lack of election ballot.


Since then, Alan – who put his name forward to be the Labour candidate in the forthcoming Strood South by-election, a move The Political Medway believes was supported by Medway Momentum – has been suspended from the Labour Party for comments he made on a Medway Momentum Facebook group. Those comments were supposedly criticising the Gillingham and Rainham executive committee over their decision not to hold a vote on endorsing leadership candidates, but we have been unable to see the exact comments ourselves. Unsurprisingly, Medway Momentum have not taken this news well.

Of the party members mentioned, with all of their various allegiances, only one has had action against them, which to this uninformed observer seems questionable at least.


The Week

Cllr Brown-Reckless resigns from Medway Council
In a move that surprised absolutely no one, UKIP councillor for Strood South Catriona Brown-Reckless this week resigned from the council, having been elected only 16 months ago. This triggers a by-election in the Strood South ward, with a three way fight between UKIP, the Conservatives, and Labour for the seat taking place on October 20.

Remembering Mike O’Brien
Sad news this week as councillor Mike O’Brien, Conservative representative of Rainham Central and portfolio holder for Children’s Services, passed away. Mike had been a longstanding member of the local political scene, first being elected to Gillingham Borough Council in 1976 and Kent County Council in 1979.

Cabinet record
Not for the first time, the ruling Cabinet of Medway Council managed to conduct their business in record time this week. Despite having to discuss discretionary business rates relief for local charities and not for profit organisations, government proposals on the distribution of business rates, and a recruitment freeze, they managed to have everything wrapped up in 15 minutes. Because that’s how open and transparent democracy is done.

Boundary review
Plans that could quite literally change the shape of Medway politics will be unveiled on Tuesday, as the Boundary Commission release the first stage of their 2018 boundary review. The review is intended to reduce parliament to 600 seats from 650, and create constituencies of roughly equal size. Reasonable enough at first glance, but previous proposals have suggested moving Hempstead & Wigmore into Chatham and Aylesford, and Luton & Wayfield into Gillingham and Rainham. We’ll be pouring over the proposals in detail once they’re made available.

Local plan
The local plan stumbled forward slightly this week, with a meeting held in parliament to discuss it between Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst and, er, six other Conservative councillors. Given that the local plan is a vital document that will shape the direction of Medway over the coming years, it’s a shame that the direction is seemingly being directed by the Conservative benches and not a cross-party group.

Medway Labour website hackwatch, day 7182
After months and months of the Medway Labour website being hacked by someone dodgy, and the party doing nothing to fix or take down the site, councillor Tristan Osborne declared this week that something new is on the way! While we’re delighted to hear that something is actually happening, the Medway Labour group will have to excuse us if we don’t expect much this side of Christmas.

Remembering Mike O’Brien

We’re saddened to hear that Councillor Mike O’Brien has passed away. Mike was always a thoroughly decent man, and his presence on the council will be missed.

Mark Templeton, the former Senior Press Officer at Medway Council, shares his memories of his friend:

Mike O’Brien was a truly wonderful man. Yes, that’s the sort of thing you always hear at these sad and difficult times but he really was.

On my first day at work at Medway Council he made a bee-line for me – and hardly a day went past in the two years I was there that we didn’t talk.

Mike loved his work with the media and he always believed he should be held to account being in such a high-profile role. He never wanted to hide or dodge the tough questions, in fact he wanted to face those difficult times head-on because he knew being a politician meant taking the rough with the smooth.

He thrived on his cabinet education post. He wanted to make a difference to the young people of Medway and he did. Many children will have seen him at their school. When we used to go to schools for media interviews he would always spend time – away from the media glare – talking to pupils about their hopes and aspirations.

Whatever subject we were talking about he always turned it back to his family. He was a proud family man, forever talking to me about wife Sheila, his children and, more than anything else, his grandchildren who he doted on.

There was nothing unusual about Mike texting me at all hours of the day if he had something on his mind. 5.30 in the morning ahead of a live radio interview would be his favourite time to text – I once made the mistake of telling him I got up early and from then on I was fair game to him.

One Sunday afternoon, a text message alert flashed up from Mike. My first thought was what’s the problem? It read: “That was a fantastic goal by Rooney”. From then on in, hardly a match passed when we didn’t comment on it either by text or through social media, which he also loved.

Mike stood out for me as a politician with his integrity and desire to be completely transparent and the fact he truly  had young people at his heart. He wanted them to do well and was always telling them how important education was to their future. But it was as a family man I admired him most because of that smile he had every time he talked about them.

I last saw him six months ago at my leaving do when he came with wife Sheila. I would have thought there was something wrong if he had not asked me for that selfie which he put up on social media. We kept in touch after I left and  although I’ve lost friends through this awful illness before, he’s the one that never once lost that smile.

Myself and a colleague had a nickname for him. We called him Granddad Mike. That was because he wasn’t just a work colleague to us, he felt like a member of our family.

I never told him that nickname. I wish I had now. He’d have loved it.


Cllr Brown-Reckless resigns from Medway Council

Medway Council is set for it’s first by-election in several years, following the resignation of Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless.

Cllr Brown-Reckless was elected to represent Strood South as a UKIP councillor last year, and was deputy leader of the UKIP group on the council.

As such, a by-election will now need to be held to fill the vacancy in the ward, on a date to be decided in the near future.

It also means that the UKIP group on Medway Council has now been reduced from 4 to 2 since their election last year, with Cllr Brown-Reckless’ resignation following Cllr Joy’s decision to sit as an independent.

Strood South has been a split ward for some time now, with Conservative, Labour, and UKIP councillors all representing the ward in recent years, so a fierce by-election battle looks likely for the vacant seat.

The Week

Yeah yeah, it’s been a while. We’re also trying a new format as the old one was a pain in the arse.

Shopmobility shafting
Shopmobility services provide a vital way of disabled people getting around town centres. However, that hasn’t stopped Medway Council spectacularly changing theirs with next to no consultation. On Thursday 25th August, it announced that the existing provision in Chatham would be closing, replaced by a new service on 1st September. The new service is located at the opposite end of Pentagon Shopping Centre to the disabled car park, and charges have been introduced, making it far more difficult for disabled people to make use of the service. Disability campaigners, Medway Labour, and Conservative Chatham & Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch are unhappy about the changes, but we don’t expect much to be done to make this right.

Rochester Riverside plans
The regeneration scheme for Rochester Riverside has been dragging on for roughly 238 years now, but things might finally be getting moving. After appointing Countryside and Hyde to proceed with the project last year, Medway Council will be showing off the plans in a generous three hour window this Tuesday. The project is set to include 1,300 homes, school, hotel, bar, restaurant, offices, retail units, and a new riverside walk. What isn’t mentioned is transport infrastructure, which given the existing congestion on Corporation Street, is conspicuous by it’s absence. If you’re interested in taking a look at the plans for yourself, they will be on display at the Corn Exchange in Rochester on Tuesday 6th September, between 5pm and 8pm

Cabinet kerfuffle
Medway Council’s ruling cabinet will meet on Tuesday to discuss business rates, and, er, not much else. Being the good little citizen journalists we are, we’d like to be there, but alas they hold these supposedly ‘public’ meetings in the middle of the working day. We’ve looked and struggled to find other councils that make their democratic processes this inaccessible (most hold such meetings around 7pm), and we’ll be doing so in more depth going forwards.

NIMBYism in action
Once again, the Medway NIMBY brigade are out in force, this time objecting to a planning application for a new bar and restaurant on New Road in Chatham. For our money, the application seems to be put together pretty well, with continuous staffing of inside and outside areas, CCTV coverage, and a fairly strict licence request. That hasn’t stopped the locals being outraged at the idea though, claiming it’ll lead to anti-social behaviour and, weirdly, diners being beaten up. The giant boarded up shop that’s currently in it’s place is, of course, absolutely fine.

Back in February, the Medway Labour website was hacked, with someone sticking some malicious content into it’s code. Remarkably, the website still remains in this state, with Medway Labour having done nothing to fix the issue, take the site down, or even warn users that visiting the site puts them at risk. This whole sorry ordeal has been going for over six months now, meaning the Medway Labour website has been hacked for a longer time than Tim Peake spent on the International Space Station.

“The only thing that cunt wants is a bullet between the eyes”
Interesting times at the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, which has been locked in huge infighting between it’s members. Police have been called to meetings that threatened to get out of hand, and a new report details some remarkable tales of bullying and intimidation (such as the quote above) that took place within the organisation. What does this have to do with Medway, we hear you ask? The former chair of the BASC, who resigned in June, is none other than Alan Jarrett, the leader of Medway Council.

Car-aoke challenge
As part of the September campaign for local charity Danny’s Angels, the Medway Labour group have taken part in a car-aoke challenge. We’ll be curious to see whether the other political groups in Medway take up the challenge, and The Political Medway has offered a generous donation if representatives of all five local political parties – Conservative, Labour, UKIP, Lib Dem, Green – all take part in a joint singalong. Will they accept the challenge?