Voice of the Opposition: July

Once a month we will be offering the Leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition the opportunity to talk unedited about.. well, Medway politics. Today we hear from Vince Maple, leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition on Medway Council.

Although since my last Political Medway column some of the restrictions regarding COVID-19 have been relaxed we are still in the middle of a public health crisis.  Medway Council continues to deal with a civil contingency situation and we have new restrictions in place, such as the need to wear face masks.  As always my thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones as a result of the pandemic.

It is worth recognising with everything else that has happened over the past few months, the vast majority of Medway residents have played their part in doing whatever it takes and for that I say a genuine heartfelt thank you – we must collectively all play our part as we move forward together.

Just over a week ago, we had a record breaking council meeting which lasted more than seven hours finishing at a couple of minutes past 2am.  As you would expect there was a wide variety of issues raised throughout the meeting.  If you missed it you can watch the whole thing here.

The Political Medway blog referred to the meeting as the “worst #MedwayCouncil meeting we’ve ever sat through.” – and you can understand why.

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Will new boundaries change the electoral map of Medway?

In which Alan Collins from Medway Elects tries to figure out if new ward boundaries would result in a different political map in Medway..

The Local Government Boundary Commission for England have dropped their draft recommendations for new ward boundaries in Medway.

The organisation has proposed a scheme of 24 wards, increasing the number of councillors from 55 to 60, one more than they originally proposed when they opened the initial consultation.

Whilst there is much which may be debated in the proposals, as The Political Medway’s resident data nerd, I’m going to be looking at one key question: what would last year’s local election results have looked like if it had been fought under these proposed ward boundaries, with one caveat: this is an entirely unscientific analysis as there is insufficient local data to produce a firm set of predictions. Instead, this is based on local knowledge from the 13 years I have been politically active in Medway, personal observations made at last year’s count and some more general assumptions. And I am going ward-by-ward in the order they appear in the LGBCE’s report.

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Voice of the Leader: July

Once a month we offer a platform to the leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition. Today, we have the latest column from Cllr Alan Jarrett, Conservative Leader of Medway Council.

Alan Jarrett

THANK YOU TO OUR WONDERFUL NHS STAFF, OUR SOCIAL WORKERS, AND ALL OTHER KEY WORKERS for keeping us safe during a time of an unprecedented world-wide pandemic. 

As I write this column on 1st July it is revealing to reflect on the last few weeks, and consider some of what has been happening. Crucially to consider how people have been reacting to the ongoing understandably cautionary tone coming from government as we all seek to contain the spread of infection. 

In the main it seems as though most people have behaved responsible, thinking of their own health, and mindful of the health of others by following government guidance on social distancing in particular and also personal hygiene. There have sadly been exceptions, which I will come on to later.

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Elections on lockdown

In which Alan Collins from Medway Elects ponders the consequences of all 2020 elections being postponed..

If you cast your minds back to November, when the biggest crisis the country was facing was the threat of a no-deal Brexit and politicians and activists were busily campaigning in the third general election in four years, I signed off my predictions for those elections with a flippant comment about 2020’s Police and Crime Commissioner election.

Whilst it was written tongue-in-cheek to appear as though I was hoping for a break from elections, as someone who geeks out on electoral data, any vote is a source of unashamed joy. But of course, back in November, no one could have predicted that our lives would change so much in so little time, as they have by COVID-19.

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Voice of the Opposition: June

Once a month we will be offering the Leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition the opportunity to talk unedited about.. well, Medway politics. Today we hear from Vince Maple, leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition on Medway Council.

This is the third Political Medway column since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK – we continue to see hundreds of individuals pass away every day.  We must never forget that behind those huge numbers are personal stories, families and friends mourning in challenging circumstances with social distancing.

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Lockdown diaries

In which Vicki Sigston shares her experiences of trying to maintain family order in this strange new world..


As I write this my family are on Day 51 of lockdown.
Day 51 of not being able to spend time, in person, with friends and family.
Day 51 of work looking very different as I learn to use Zoom, WhatsApp groups and juggle family life with working from home.
Day 51 of clubs, sports and hobbies usually done away from home being cancelled.

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Cuts have consequences

In which Michael Lynch investigates the impact of child poverty on our local communities..

Medway is a brilliant place to be educated, live, and work. Medway is one of the many areas that has suffered the devastating welfare reforms brought in from central government. 30% of Medway children are living in poverty, higher than the national average, which is appalling. The increase in child poverty in Medway and the nation has a direct link to the welfare reforms and cuts that Medway and many other areas have suffered. Thousands of children across Kent are living in poverty. 

The government must respond with a credible and urgent response to child poverty in Medway and the wider region. Medway is one of the worst-hit regions in Kent. In Medway the worst ward for child poverty is Gillingham North, where 2916 children are affected by poverty, a shocking statistic. The statistic below posted by KentLive shows that 30% of all children in Medway are affected by poverty, the 4th highest in Kent. 

Medway Council must act to solve this crisis that Medway faces. Six out of the ten highest child poverty wards in Kent are in Medway. With the local council failing to act and deal with child poverty in Medway, my local area has seen a continuous and horrendous rise in child poverty. 

The UK’s leading child poverty coalition is calling for the government to outline ambitious child poverty-reduction strategies as new data shows that child poverty is becoming the new normal in many parts in Britain, which is shameful. The data, published by the End Child Poverty coalition, highlights how worrying levels vary across Kent and the nation. 

The government need to restore the link between benefits (including housing support) and inflation, and then making up for the loss in the real value in children’s benefits as a result of the four year freeze and previous sub-inflation increases in benefit rates. The government needs to end the two-child limit on child allowances in tax credits and universal credit. The government need to reform the Universal Credit system which has plunged millions of families and children into poverty in the UK. The government need to reverse the cuts and investing in children’s services such as mental health, education, childcare, and social care. 

There are around four million children growing up in poverty, which isn’t good enough. The poverty rates have risen year after year for every type of working family – lone-parent or couple families, families with full and part-time employment. The figures are stark! 

In 2017, four in ten children were in temporary accommodation, around 50,000 children. 

The temporary accommodation that thousands of children find themselves in is regularly substandard. Frequently the accommodation is a B&B where often the bathrooms are shared and there is nowhere to cook. Places where vulnerable families can be living in the same corridor. Office block conversions into individual flats that many families live and sleep, the size of a parking space. Even converted shipping containers – cramped and airless, hot in the summer, freezing in the winter. It always seems to be disabled and vulnerable people that of lower priority. Families are disgustingly living in theses horrendous conditions for years. Our housing system needs to be urgently reformed. Child poverty should be a moral endeavour for every government regardless of its political persuasion. I’m afraid to say our government is failing us on this. 

A million children – around four in every school class – need help with mental health problems. Over 50,000 children aren’t getting any kind of education, while nearly 30,000 are in violent gangs. Many more children are growing up at risk, due to family circumstances. These are young carers; kids living in households where the adults are involved in substance drug abuse, mentally ill, or violent. These children bear the brunt of the cuts in public spending and services rationing.

I’ve heard more from politicians about: HS2, tax cuts, and of course Brexit, more than about the vital issue of child poverty. Child poverty has been overlooked too long by politicians and the government – enough is enough! We need to see change to Universal Credit; we need more affordable housing, and vulnerable families are not having to live in shipping containers and converted office blocks. 

I am calling on Medway Council and central government to prioritise child poverty and tackle it head-on. The welfare reforms and cuts introduced by the government have had a detrimental impact on the most vulnerable children and families in Medway. The government need to take urgent action and prioritise such an important issue in my local community. Child poverty has been brushed under the carpet for too long now, something needs to change! Medway is one of the many towns that have a heavy percentage of child poverty, this has to stop! The failure of central government and councils have led to millions of children and families plunged into poverty, and the government and council need to take responsibility and rectify this urgent situation that Medway and the nation face. 

Michael Lynch is a young Labour activist. He has lived in Medway all my life, and believes it’s a great place to live, work. and for education. He is a member of the Medway Youth Council, and is running to be the communities lead in their upcoming elections.

Voice of the Leader: May

Once a month we offer a platform to the leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition. Today, we have the latest column from Cllr Alan Jarrett, Conservative Leader of Medway Council.

Alan Jarrett


So, the coronavirus pandemic moves on. The number of daily deaths has fortunately decreased, which is absolutely no comfort for family and friends of those who have tragically passed on.

At least there is a degree of clarity in the reported numbers, as when we were running at death rates approaching 1,000 a day there was a feeling that these were merely the deaths recorded in hospital. Now the numbers are being reported as all encompassing.

There are of course time-lags in reporting. It is no coincidence that reported numbers fall each weekend, only to climb again once we get into the following week.

Despite the ongoing crisis there has been some very limited relaxation, with the message of STAY AT HOME being modified to STAY ALERT. Some of the territorial restrictions have been lifted, whilst there has been more latitude shown for those engaged in recreation and sport. Team activities are of course still very much in lockdown although we are hoping for better news after 1st June.

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Community Support Groups – A new force in a new world

In which Stuart Bourne talks us through the Mutual Aid Road Reps Community Initiative, and how such groups might continue in a post-coronavirus world..

Mutual Aid Road Reps - Community Initiative - a Food and Drink ...

It’s fair to say that this country is going through some traumatic times, and yet that trauma has spawned many acts of kindness. We have all seen them, from the wonderful support shown for Captain Tom to the support of the NHS and care workers shown on every Thursday evening. But nothing is more symbolic of this kindness than the multitude of community support groups that have sprung up across the country. These groups have provided a vital service in getting shopping to people, picking up prescriptions, and even providing a person to talk to over the phone. They have reassured people that no one is alone at the moment. I myself have been working with the Mutual Aid Road Reps (MARR) group of volunteers in Medway since March. Yet are these groups just around until the crisis is over, or are we witnessing the start of a revolution of community cooperation and mutualism that will impact our political landscape?

I imagine most of the groups have started very much like ours did. You have one or two people, who are already community spirited, who see the crisis unfolding and know they have to do something. Then there are people who have never thought about volunteering before, but the extreme nature of the crisis has awoken a desire to help that has been dormant inside them. And then you have those people who have been active in the community for years, community leaders, local politicians or charity workers. Years of experience has shown them that there will be a lot of work for people to do. Then all these people end up coming together, normally through social media, and they begin to be organised. There’s a WhatsApp group setup, maybe even a Facebook group. Soon they grow bigger as word is spread, maybe several groups even merge to share resources. Then suddenly before you know it, the ad hoc group has turned in well-funded, well-structured organisation, which is filled with dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers. As of the end of April, MARR has well over 150 registered volunteers from across the Medway towns, with new members joining each day. We are organised into several areas of Medway, with a dedicated Admin officer assigned to organise each area, and with a dedicated WhatsApp group to distribute tasks to people.

This is a lot of people willing to join a brand new organisation, and they are coming from many different backgrounds. Yet, they all seem to be gravitating together under the same simple idea. The idea that COVID-19 threatens the people of community like nothing before, and the only way to fight it is for the community to come together to ensure no one is left behind. But alongside this is the concepts of mutual aid, which has spread from many different groups across the country. Mutual aid is where a group of people organise themselves to meet their own needs, which is outside the formal structure of existing governmental organisations or charities. It’s about people coming together, in a spirit of solidarity, to support and look out for one another. And this emerging feeling of community solidarity isn’t just isolated in those people volunteering. From my experience of talking to the people I’ve helped, there has been a consistent comments of ‘where has this been?’ and ‘once the crisis is over, I hope this keeps going.’ So whether the Covid crisis has created this feeling, or it’s been bubbling under the surface for years, there is a good chance that this will still be around after we have returned to some level of normality.

The next question is where would these groups fit within the political landscape in that new world. This is hard to predict as they have much more longevity than other single issue community groups that have often shaped local elections. An example would be the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, which was formed to fight the civic complex development, but is now haemorrhaging councillors back to the conservatives. It is also hard to predict as the ethos of mutual aid is for communities to take care of themselves outside the normal government control. This makes them oddly politically non-political and wary of working within local politics. Finally, many volunteers are not politically minded and are members to simply help people. It would be far from certainty whether they would switch their time for any other reason. 

However, what I can predict is that these groups should not be ignored. From my own experience of MARR, they are filled to the brim with enthusiastic and dedicated people. People who are willing to drop anything to help deliver shopping, prescriptions, and offer a friendly chat to anyone alone. I have seen nearly the whole of Medway leafleted within a month (something many political parties would be jealous of during an election) to make sure no one is forgotten about or missed. And we have had nothing but positive responses from many people, even those who did not need our immediate help have been grateful and appreciative. They have even told me that we have restored their faith in humanity. That sort of political muscle and high favourables would be the envy of any Medway political party, let alone a normal community group.

It is hard to predict what the future will be like in a post-covid world. Yet it’s also hard to imagine that the many community support groups, whose beginnings have been forged in the traumatic world of a pandemic, will not play a major role in shaping that future.

If you would like to contact MARR or volunteer to assist in our work, you can email us at mutualaidroadreps@gmail.com, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Stuart Bourne became politically active in 2005, helping to re-elect the Chatham & Aylesford MP Jonathan Shaw. He became the branch secretary for Chatham Labour Party, and stood as a Labour candidate for the local council elections in 2007 and 2011. He moved away from Medway in 2012, but has now moved back as a Liberal Democrat.