This week we are interrupting our regular schedule to bring you an examination of how each local political party appears to be preparing for the May 2019 elections.
Today we are looking at the Medway Liberal Democrats.
The story of the Lib Dems in Medway is not a particularly happy one. When the unitary authority was formed in the late nineties, they were the second largest party on the council, but it was not to last. They quickly fell to third party status and spent the next fifteen years on a slow decline into oblivion.
In 2015, they were wiped out from Medway Council completely.
So are they prepared for the coming elections in May?
On paper, this should be a fertile period for the Lib Dems in Medway, as it has been across other parts of the country. Nationally, they are winning by-elections at a faster rate than other parties, and sure solid growth in the 2018 local elections. Medway, however, is telling a different story.
Following a record low vote share of 3.6% in the 2015 elections, the party has struggled to break 5% of the vote in any by-election since then. Even Rochester West, the most pro-remain ward in Medway, saw them still come in a distant third, barely ahead of the Green and UKIP candidates.
So exactly what is holding back the Lib Dems in Medway?
There’s no one answer to that question, but the local party seems to be embroiled in a vortex of ineffective leadership, internal spats, and a complete lack of resources and political will.
Given we are less than four months out from local elections, we have seen very little activity of the Lib Dems mounting any kind of campaign. The party managed to announce four candidates spread across two wards (their former stronghold Watling and the rather more baffling River) months ago, but no more have been forthcoming.
Further to this, one of those candidates – Paul Chaplin – has walked away from the party following a series of rows on social media. Exacerbating the problem further, Chaplin was the party’s parliamentary candidate in Gillingham and Rainham, and had been elected to the role of local Chairman only days before his resignation.
That election alone was surrounded by controversy, with several local members telling us they were uncomfortable with his online persona and him taking on more responsibility. This was made worse by internal questions about whether his election was carried out in the correct manner, with members not receiving the relevant nomination papers within the designated timeframe. When local members challenged the process as unconstitutional, it was deemed that while that might be the case, no one could prove it as no one knew where the constitution was located. We have been assured that it has thankfully been found in the weeks since.
Still, the problems within the local party seem to run deeper than one person. The lack of activity on the doorstep seems to be mirrored online too. Their website hasn’t been updated in months, and thus still offers Paul Chaplin as a candidate and a contact. More bafflingly, their Watling candidate, Martin Rose, seems to be keeping his @RochWestLDs username from the Rochester West by-election, which we’re sure will go down well with electorate in Gillingham.
There is perhaps one dynamic new member on the horizon though. Sources tell us that Mike ‘The One Man Rainbow Coalition’ Walters has been getting involved with the party again, even being elected to their executive committee in recent months. Walters continues a near two decade journey that has seen him switch between the Lib Dems, the English Democrats, the Conservatives, and the SDP in 2015 (yes, really). If Walters ends up being a candidate for the party in May, that’s a sign the party really is in dire straights.
So how many candidates will the party realistically be able to offer in May?
Several promising younger members of the party have ended up walking away within relatively short amounts of time, some citing the ineffectiveness of the ‘old guard’ in control of the local party as being the main problem. With few new faces, and the existing members increasingly no spring chickens, the party will struggle to even match the meagre 18 candidates they put up in 2015.
Don’t hold your breath for the Lib Dem fightback sweeping Medway anytime soon.
Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a look at Medway UKIP.