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.
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”
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?”
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.
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.