Rehman Chishti resigns from government to spend more time with his other jobs

It’s a busy day in Westminster with ministers resigning from government all over the place, a potential leadership challenge, and a fair chance that the government won’t make it until the end of the week.

None of which would be particularly exciting on a local level, until Rehman Chishti, MP for Gillingham and Rainham, announced he was resigning his position as Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party and as the Trade Envoy to Pakistan.

His full letter is below, where he makes it clear that he cannot support the current EU Withdrawal Agreement currently on offer. Chishti is the seventh government minister to resign over this today.

Continue reading “Rehman Chishti resigns from government to spend more time with his other jobs”

Fear and Loathing: GDPR on the Campaign Trail

It was inevitable that someone in Medway politics would screw up in this brave new GDPR world.

Politicians sharing reports and images from the campaign trail is standard practice at this point. Barely a weekend can go by without local activists telling us about the ‘fantastic response on the doorstep’ that they achieved. So it would have been easy to glance at the below image shared by Medway Conservative candidate for Luton and Wayfield Robbie Lammas and not think much of it.

Unless you care about data protection, anyway.

Continue reading “Fear and Loathing: GDPR on the Campaign Trail”

Vote for me! I’ll attend full council 44% of the time

In recent weeks, we’ve seen increasing questions raised about Councillor Rehman Chishti’s ability to juggle several jobs, and how much time he has left to be an active councillor for Rainham Central. As we pointed out previously, in recent years, he has turned up at less than half of full council meetings. Following this, we decided to analyse the attendance rates of all 55 Medway councillors.

First of all, some caveats to this data: We have used the attendance data made available from Medway Council, so if any councillor believes our data is wrong, we’d suggest they take it up with the council. Secondly, we are only analysing attendance of full council and not other committee meetings. While we may look at those in the future, full council is the only meeting where all councillors are expected to attend, so it creates a level playing field. Finally, we have used percentage attendance rather than number of meetings, so we can create a fair comparison between the 52 councillors that have served a full term so far, and the 3 elected in by-elections. Continue reading “Vote for me! I’ll attend full council 44% of the time”

Councillor declares independence from Conservative Party instead of Europe

A second Medway councillor has resigned from their party to sit as an independent for the remainder of their term. Councillor Anne-Claire Howard, who represents Twydall, has quit the Conservative party after failing to be reselected to stand for the party in upcoming local elections.

This move won’t be entirely surprising to followers of local politics. Cllr Howard has long been one of the more outspoken members of the Conservative group, regularly criticising the stance of the party on Brexit as well as the actions of other councillors in the chamber.

Councillor Howard has issued this fairly damning statement: Continue reading “Councillor declares independence from Conservative Party instead of Europe”

Pub landlord calls time on UKIP

Today, following weeks of rumours about his future, Peninsula Councillor Mick Pendergast formally resigned from the UKIP group on the council, choosing to sit as an independent for now.

Pendergast, who runs the Nags Head pub in Lower Stoke, was elected as part of a small UKIP wave in 2015, when the party managed to win four seats on the council. Since then, three of those councillors have resigned or defected, leaving leader Councillor Roy Freshwater as the only UKIP representation in the chamber. Continue reading “Pub landlord calls time on UKIP”

Is Rainham Central to Rehman Chishti?

How many jobs can a councillor do and still fully serve their local residents?

That’s one question Rainham Central councillor Rehman Chishti is pushing to it’s limits. Since adding being the MP for Gillingham and Rainham to his list of jobs in 2010, Rehman has continued to do more and more on a national and international level, and less and less on a local level.

Indeed, when it comes to local council meetings, Rehman has only managed to turn up to 40% of council meetings in the last 18 months, but has managed to find time for everything listed below. We’re by no means suggesting councillors can’t have other roles, but this all seems like rather a lot for one person. How much time can Rehman Chishti truly to be dedicating to the people of Rainham Central? Continue reading “Is Rainham Central to Rehman Chishti?”

EU referendum results in Medway by ward

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:

New social media code of conduct for Medway councillors

At this week’s full Medway Council meeting, Medway councillors will agree to add a new section to their Code of Conduct, specifically around councillor’s use of social media.

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.

An indication might come from the aforementioned Councillor Franklin, who has spent recent days calling celebrities ‘silly cows’ and demanding black people thank him for ending slavery. With the change in policy, it’s probably best he gets it all out of his system now.

Why did the councillor hide in the toilet?

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.

Cllr Mackness’ alleged conflict of interest referred to police

The previous allegations about Councillor Andrew Mackness and a possible conflict of interest between his paid employment and his Medway Council Cabinet role have escalated, with the matter being referred to the police.

In a closed meeting on Wednesday, we’re hearing that the group of councillors tasked with looking at the claims, the Councillor Conduct Committee, unanimously agreed to refer the matter.

The Councillor Conduct Committee is made up primarily of his Tory colleagues, and following an internal investigation by Medway Council, they elected to refer the matter to the police for further investigation.

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.”