We started this site in the run to the 2015 General and Local Elections as a way to help us and others understand a bit more about how politics works at a local level. It was originally intended to be a short run project through those elections, but we enjoyed the process enough that we stuck with it and thus The Political Medway was born.
We assumed at that point that things would be fairly quiet after that, with no more elections that anyone cared about scheduled in Medway until the next round of locals in 2019.
Dear reader, things have not been quiet.
In 2016, we had to deal with the EU membership referendum and it’s fallout, as well as two local council by-elections.
Surely 2017 would give the Medway electorate a break?
Of course it wouldn’t, and we’ll all be voting in a General Election on June 8.
Unfortunately, both of us that man this site have been a tad busy of late, so we’re a little late in getting our coverage underway, but such is life. We’re publishing the full candidate lists for all three seats tomorrow, and in the coming weeks will have some hustings coverage, some questions for our esteemed candidates, and all being well (translation: Medway Council letting us in) our election night count live coverage.
Additionally, and probably more importantly, a lot of the day to day coverage that doesn’t warrant an entire post lives entirely on Twitter @MedwayPolitics.
So dear reader, join us as we once again head unto the Medway electoral breach.
After the results of the EU referendum last year, two things were immediately clear: The UK had voted to leave the EU, and Medway had done so by a considerably larger margin than the 52-48 result nationally. In Medway, the figure was 64-36, but we lacked any more precise detail than that. How did each area vote? Could patterns be found across Medway, or was it broadly the same across the board?
Following an investigation by the BBC, we now have far more local data than before, with results from all 22 wards across Medway. But what does it show us?
First off, leave won in all 22 Medway wards, though there is considerable variation in this, from a dominating 72-28 victory in Peninsula down to a modest 54-46 win in Rochester West.
The results show the areas of Medway with the highest income and the highest levels of education had a higher remain vote, which is in line with the national trends.
Less clear are any political patterns, other than the two wards that have elected UKIP councillors having the highest leave votes. Beyond those, the remaining mix of Conservative and Labour wards are fairly mixed across the board.
The full table of how each Medway ward voted is below:
The process of introducing this code began a year ago, when we published a story on the controversial tweeting of Conservative councillor for Luton and Wayfield, Michael Franklin. The Medway Labour group lodged a formal complaint over the matter, and while no direct action against Franklin was taken, the council have drawn up a new section to the Code of Conduct (above) to emphasise how seriously such matters are taken.
While many councillors maintain rather boring accounts, and others avoid it altogether, there are some who are ‘colourful’ in their use of social media, and we look forward to seeing how they react to the new rules.
Sadly, not the setup to a hilarious joke, but one of the most depressing questions in Medway politics for years now.
The whole sorry saga begins in January 2013, at a full Medway Council meeting where the Labour group put forward a motion in favour of equal marriage, as was topical at the time. When it came time for the vote, Labour Strood South councillor Isaac Igwe got up from his seat, and proceeded to go to the toilet, only returning once the vote was completed.
Inevitably, a number of questions were asked about the behaviour of then councillor Igwe at the time. It’s not entirely unheard of for someone to hold personal views that would make it difficult to support such a motion, yet when challenged on his position, Igwe flatly refused to answer any questions on the subject. This led to an absurd scenario where he was asked, again and again, for months while continuing to refuse, which could have been wholly avoided had he just explained his position at the time.
Igwe lost his seat on Medway Council in May 2015, when he managed to fall from 2nd to 8th place in his Strood South seat. In theory, this should have been the end of the matter. Once out of public office, the questions would stop, leaving us to never truly know where he stood.
At least, it was until a vacancy became available in Strood South, following the resignation of UKIP councillor Catriona Brown-Reckless. A slightly bizarre selection process for Labour began, involving six candidates, some odd infighting, and very few actual members, and the last minute result was Igwe fighting the seat for Labour once again.
Inevitably, this has again thrust his position on equal marriage into the public eye. Questions again began, which were again refused. Questions were put to other Labour councillors, usually champions of equal rights, who again refused to comment. The whole issue has dominated a bizarre campaign, one not helped by the frankly bizarre tweets appearing from Igwe’s Twitter account, clearly not written by the man himself. Much of the wider campaign from Medway Labour has also left itself open to ridicule.
Despite the wall of silence being put up by the Labour councillors, we’ve been hearing more and more discontent from local activists and members within the party over his selection. One member told us that Igwe had told a friend that he considered being gay ‘an affliction’, some complained that he refused to tell them whether he supports equal rights, and others flatly refused to take part in his campaign. The most damning came from one activist who wished to remain anonymous, and we have published their complete comments below:
As a Labour Party member and activist of many years and, more significantly, a member from Strood, I am deeply concerned to see my party put forward Isaac Igwe as it’s candidate in the Strood South by-election.
As a Councillor, Mr Igwe hid in the toilet at the time of a vote – which Labour called – urging the Council to support Equal Marriage. Since then, despite many attempts to ask him to do so, Mr Igwe has never clarified his position publicly.
The Labour Party is the champion of equality and I am ashamed to see my party stand by a man who appears to be both a bigot and a coward. If Mr Igwe opposes equal marriage then he should say so and the party should not accept him as it’s candidate. If he support equal marriage then he should say so. What I find most alarming is his – and the party’s – public silence on the matter.
For some time now, I, amongst others, have sought to confront Mr Igwe about his views. He has publicly failed to do so. However, I was enlightened in a recent private discussion with him to find that he ‘was happy to spend time with gay people through work and in his personal life’ but that he ‘was not entirely comfortable’ with equal marriage. My suspicions of Mr Igwe being a bigot were confirmed and his failure to declare his position publicly confirms him to be a coward as well. That the Labour Party would chose to endorse a candidate with such views is abhorrent. I am in no doubt that other figures within the party as aware of Mr Igwe’s views but I am appalled by the failure of figures to respond to questions about Mr Igwe’s views. The wall of silence is appalling but should not be surprising. Cllr Vince Maple, Cllr Teresa Murray and Cllr Tristan Osborne appear comfortable in ‘ignoring’ the matter and I am aware that they have encouraged activists to do so. I am disgusted in the behaviour of my party and it’s local leaders. What are we if we are not the party of equality? I will not be supporting Mr Igwe in this by-election because I refuse to support a bigoted coward. I would urge all other members, activists and voters to examine their consciences before they do.
It seems baffling that Labour would select a candidate that would be so controversial even within it’s own party, and it’s even more baffling because it’s so unnecessary. Igwe should have come clear long before now to set the record straight on where he stands on this issue, so both his party and the electorate can make an informed decision about him and his views.
Many councillors voted against the Labour motion in favour of equal marriage in 2013, and several abstained. The difference with Igwe is the manner in which he did so. If you don’t want to vote on something, then don’t vote on something. Just don’t run off and hide in the toilet in the hope that no one will notice.
Whether or not we’ll ever get an answer on where Igwe stands is questionable. If he loses the by-election on Thursday, this won’t come up again, unless he seeks public office again in the future. If by some miracle he wins though, we fear this sorry saga will drag on and on and on.
It remains curious why Alan Jarrett, the Leader of Medway Council, promoted Mackness to the Children’s Services portfolio, even after the original allegations came to light.
We reached out to the Medway Conservative group for comment on this story, and received this response to the situation from Cllr Mackness:
“It is imperative for elected Members to be transparent in their work, as I am at all times, which is why I declared my interest at Hook Meadow in the first instance, along with my other declarations. The declaration in relation to Hook Meadow was incorrect and was not a pecuniary interest at all and should not have been listed. I have no financial interest in this site at all and it has been removed. This is pure administrative error on my part.
Whilst I of all people am keen for this to be resolved, there is a process that must be followed, I have co-operated completely with Medway Council’s legal department, and should the Police be in contact, I will be pleased to assist them in any way that I can to conclude this matter.
When this matter is concluded I will be asking for a review of the whole process, having been unable to comment or be interviewed at any stage by the Councillor conduct committee, which is a ridiculous situation.
The matter raised by the Labour group is a clear attempt to damage my reputation and nothing else.”
The Medway Labour group have formally written to Medway Council’s Monitoring Officer to complain about the actions of Conservative councillor for River ward, Andrew Mackness, alleging a breach of the council’s rules regarding conflicts of interest.
Cllr Mackness and the Hook Meadow redevelopment
Cllr Mackness is part of the governing cabinet of Medway Council, as the portfolio holder for Children’s Services. As such, any decisions the council needs to take about redeveloping or selling off council assets would be a decision for him and the other nine cabinet members.
On 12 February 2016, Cllr Mackness added a new role to his register of interests: ‘Consultant Hook Meadow Library Site Redevelopment’. This in itself may have raised a few eyebrows as at the time there were no known council plans to redevelop the Hook Meadow site, but there’s nothing problematic about this appointment in itself.
Things took a bit of a turn on 7 June, when an item appeared on the cabinet agenda that involved the disposal and redevelopment on a number of council sites, including Hook Meadow. According to the minutes of the meeting, no disclosable conflicts of interest were recorded:
As per the council’s code of conduct (set out below), Cllr Mackness should have removed himself from the discussion the disposal of the Hook Meadow site, but he remained in the room, and voted for the disposal and redevelopment of the site.
Following the council’s processes, the Medway Labour group ‘called in’ the disposal of Hook Meadow and another community centre, claiming they were being carried out without proper consultation. As such, on 9 August, the issue once again returned to cabinet for discussion. Once again, the minutes again show no declaration of interest from Cllr Mackness, despite another cabinet member declaring a similar interest and removing themselves from the room:
Once again, Cllr Mackness took part in the discussion on the proposals for Hook Meadow, and once again voted for the disposal of the site:
The Medway Council Code of Conduct sets out the rights and responsibilities of all councillors when it comes to declaring interests outside of their council role:
You must act solely in the public interest and should never improperly confer an advantage or disadvantage on any person or act to gain financial or other material benefits for yourself, your family, a friend or close associate.
You must not place yourself under a financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence you in the performance of your official duties.
When carrying out your public duties you must make all choices, such as making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards or benefits, on merit.
You must declare any Disclosable Pecuniary Interests as required by law.
You must, when using or authorising the use by others of the resources of your authority, ensure that such resources are not use improperly for political purposes (including party political purposes) and you must have regard to any applicable Local Authority Code of Publicity made under the Local Government Act 1986.
The Code of Conduct goes on to state that all entries to the register of interests must be complete and up to date, and states the following regarding the participation in relevant meetings:
Unless dispensation has been granted, you may not participate in any discussion of or vote onto any matter in which you have a DPI.
Failure, without reasonable excuse, to comply with the above provisions as to notification and disclosure of DPIs and participation in a matter in which you have a DPI is a criminal offence in accordance with section 34 of the Localism Act 2011.
Unless dispensation has been granted, you must leave the room during any discussion of or vote on any matter in which you have a DPI.
Following all of this, Cllr Vince Maple, leader of the Medway Labour group, has written to Perry Holmes, the Monitoring Officer of the council, to ask whether the actions of Cllr Mackness have been appropriate.
Cllr Maple suggests that Cllr Mackness has not met the seven principles of councillors – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. He goes on to ask further questions, the answers of which are all in the public interest:
All Councillors are given access to Council officers. Consultants for developers are not. Has Councillor Mackness received access to Council officers in his capacity as a ‘Consultant’ that he would not have received were he not a Councillor?
Do you believe that it was appropriate for a Councillor to be voting, in his capacity as a Cabinet member, on a decision on which he clearly has a vested interest?
Do you believe that it is right for the Leader of the Council to keep Councillor Mackness in post knowing that he would be voting on a decision which would directly influence him in his role as a ‘Consultant’?
Clearly, these are all questions that need answering. That Cllr Mackness chose to both declare his interest in the redevelopment and participate in meetings where decisions on it would be taken is questionable at best. That the leader of the council allowed this to go on without question shows anything from poor judgment to outright arrogance.
It’s unclear exactly what will happen from here. The council’s internal procedures for dealing with complaints are notoriously toothles, the system being so perverse that a panel made up primarily of his colleagues would assess the issue. At the very least though, it allows the Medway Labour group to make some noise about such things, as they will tomorrow (13 October) when Cllr Griffiths asks the following slightly awkward question at full council:
It may well be that, despite all of the above, Cllr Mackness hasn’t done anything that formally breaks the code of conduct. But if that is indeed the case – and that a paid ‘consultant’ on a redevelopment is allowed to vote on the very same redevelopment – it does raise very serious questions about the rules that are currently in place.
Update 14 October: The matter has now been referred to the police. More details here.
Following the sad death of Councillor Mike O’Brien, a by-election will take place in Rainham Central to elect his replacement on 3 November. We’ve taken a quick look at each of the candidates standing in the election:
Conservatives – Jan Aldous We’d love to be able to tell you all about the Conservative candidate, but there seems to be very little information on Jan Aldous available, other than the fact she’s lived in Rainham for 40 years. So, er, good for her.
English Democrats – Mike Russell
The English Democrats continue their slow march on Medway, as Mike Russell is standing in his second by-election in a fortnight, as he’s also standing in Strood South. 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.
Labour – Simon Allen Simon Allen is a freelance journalist and has previously worked for MPs and campaigned against fixed odd betting terminals. Beyond that, he apparently intends to campaign on the ‘issues that matter locally’. Rightio. You can follow him on Twitter.
Liberal Democrats – Paul Chaplin Paul Chaplin was the parliamentary candidate for the Lib Dems in 2015, coming in 4th place. Paul is a lifelong resident of Medway, and school governor, and intends to run a campaign on supporting students and their families. You can follow him on Twitter.
UKIP – Mark Mencattelli We don’t really know much beyond Mark Mencattelli, other than that he stood in Gillingham North last year and came pretty close to taking one of the seats.
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.
Conservatives – 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.
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.
Green 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.
Labour – 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.
Liberal 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.
UKIP – 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.