We are interrupting our regular schedule for the rest of the week to bring you an examination of how each local political party appears to be preparing for the May 2019 elections.
We begin today with the Medway Conservatives.
The Medway Conservatives have been in control of Medway Council for 16 years of the 21 years that it has existed. Since 2003, they have held an unbroken run of running the council. That level of success can very easily breed complacency, and complacency can breed incompetence. Could the party be heading for a reckoning in May?
From the signs coming from within the local party, that may well be the case.
Local Conservatives have always been secretive about their internal processes, and have an almost allergic response to candidates being publicly known early or confirming what they are actually do. Given the success they have had, it’s understandable why they may operate in this manner. After all, why change a winning formula?
It does make information on how the party is preparing for the upcoming elections a little thin on the ground though. Much of the content here has been gleaned from snippets that have slipped out from social media, as well as from other sources. It’s enough to provide a glimpse into what is happening within the local party as they seek to make it to two decades in control of Medway.
Due to the setup of the local party, Conservative structures in Medway are operated as three separate associations based around our parliamentary constituencies. As such, candidates are selected by members in each of these: Rochester and Strood, Chatham and Aylesford, and Gillingham and Rainham. While only half of the Chatham and Aylesford constituency is within Medway, thus limiting its influence, internal fractures between the Rochester and Strood wing and the Gillingham and Rainham wing of the party often seem to spill out.
It also means different areas have different policies on revealing who their candidates may be. Chatham and Aylesford are the most open in this, with candidates in all five of their wards being announced and visibly out campaigning. Gillingham and Rainham have remained remarkably tight lipped about their candidates, with the only announcements there coming from local MP Rehman Chishti blurting them out on Twitter. For most residents, they will have no idea who their candidates are until leaflets start dropping through doors in the weeks immediately leading up the election. Should they be lucky enough to receive leaflets that is.
The most farcical of these associations in this regard is Rochester and Strood, where the chairman Gary Etheridge responded to us last year to confirm that no candidates were being announced until 2019. This was despite 13 of their 20 candidates campaigning publicly, leaflets being delivered with faces and names on, and privately declaring their candidacy to us. We’re not entirely sure what the benefit of trying to keep campaigning candidates secret is, but it seems to be policy through much of the party.
Of course, in the run up to any election, there is the usual game of deselections and councillors that choose to stand down for one reason or another. Indeed, in the past week, the ever popular councillor for River and cabinet portfolio holder for Children’s Services Andrew Mackness announced that he would be standing down in May.
The only other candidate confirmed to be standing down by their own decision is Cllr David Royale in Rainham South, who is stepping down after twelve years. Rumours are swirling that Cllr Rodney Chambers and Cllr Diane Chambers, who have both represented Hempstead since 2007 will both be standing down, but neither would confirm this to us. Questions have been raised about whether Cllr Rehman Chishti has time to fully commit to being a councillor alongside all of his other roles, but he has refused to confirm whether or not he will stand again. Cllr Phil Hall of Strood North told us that he would be standing down, but we get the impression he didn’t have much say in the matter given he has seemingly moved out of Medway and doesn’t turn up to many council meetings.
Others who seem to be on the way out include Cllr Peter Hicks in Strood Rural and Cllr John Avey in Strood South. His fellow colleague Cllr Mark Joy, who has managed to go from the Conservatives to UKIP to independent to dabbling with Labour, before ending up back at the Tories in the course of five years, has been removed from the ward and being sent to Twydall instead, for reasons no one fully understands.
This isn’t the only drama in Twydall, with the only Conservative to ever win in that ward, Cllr Anne-Claire Howard, finding herself deselected by the local party before she decided to resign and sit as an independent. Despite being told this was down to her poor attendance at council meetings (fact check: other reselected candidates have worse records), it was more likely down to her outspoken stance against her party on the issue of Brexit.
Much like the national party, Brexit is a course of constant friction within the local Conservatives. Indeed, recently when Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst came out in favour of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, her former agent Cllr Andrew Mackness launched a public spat about it, with current Mayor and colleague Cllr Steve Iles suggesting it was time for her to be deselected. Disagreements within parties are of course inevitable, but it is notable how many of these are spilling out publicly from the local party.
With all of that in mind, what calibre of candidates can we expect from the Medway Conservatives in 2019? Things didn’t get off to a great start when the party reselected local Islamophobe Michael Franklin in Luton and Wayfield. Joining him in the ward is Robbie Lammas, a man who managed to commit a data protection breach while out campaigning. Other new candidates include Harold Ogunfemi in Peninsula, a man who, perhaps optimistically, is already calling himself a councillor (in fairness, he is a parish councillor) and has the humblest Instagram bio we’ve seen in a while. Also in Peninsula there’s Gloria Thienel, who blocked us on social media before we even knew who she was, and Fatima Mitchell in Strood North, who can’t tell the difference between the real Prime Minister and a parody account. Then there’s the turbo-Brexiteer Rebecca Ryan being selected in Rochester West, the most remain friendly ward in Medway. If we’re being honest, it doesn’t look to be a banner year for great new Conservative candidates.
(click above images to enlarge)
2018 wasn’t a great year for the Conservatives in Medway. They lost a by-election in a fairly safe ward to Labour, and some negative news stories have swirled around, including incompetence over CCTV provision in Medway, controversy over parking permits, and ongoing disquiet on the peninsula and elsewhere over the extensive developments Medway needs in the coming years. The Conservatives hold a strong majority on Medway Council, and for them to lose it in May will take a lot of work from opposition parties, but it feels like their grip may finally be starting to slip.
What are your views of the local Conservatives in Medway?
Are they on course to win yet another term in power?
Let us know in the comments, on Facebook, or via Twitter.
Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a look at the Medway Lib Dems.