(Delayed) Reaction ‘Return to Rochester & Strood’

Sunday Politics South East: 1st March

In the studio is Mark Reckless (former Conservative councillor and then MP, then UKIP MP, now UKIP PPC), Craig Mackinley (former UKIP Leader, then Conservative councillor, now Conservative PPC) and Naushabah Khan (former Labour PPC, now Labour PPC). The presence of Mackinley is fine – he is after all a councillor in Rochester’s River ward, but he is a PPC for South Thanet, not Rochester like the other two PPCs, which is what the main segment is about. It does raise the unasked question of where is Kelly Tolhurst (Conservative councillor and former Conservative PPC, now Conservative councillor and PPC).

Another unasked question is if Farage – rhymes with garage – loses South Thanet and thus the UKIP leadership, are Reckless and Mackinley potential future UKIP leaders? (No. No, they aren’t. – Jennings)

Following the discussion of the UKIP conference piece, I would make a joke about Khan feeling the need to make a point about being from an immigrant background, and feeling uncomfortable about watching a UKIP documentary, despite continuing to watch it, but as the show points out she is an amateur boxer, I just want to say: well said Naushabah, well said.

Head to 11 mins and 43 secs for the ‘Return to Rochester and Strood’ and for what it’s worth, I hate that opening and the rubbish random horror gag.

Is a majority of over 2,500 really an only just victory? How many thousand would tip it into comfortable win? Is there a scale?

We are taken into a long drawn out could it be UKIP or Tory, only to get a ‘we just don’t know’. I really dislike the music and voice over.

There follows a series of mini interviews:

Kelly Tolhurst: At the time there was the Conservative website leak that the constituency was a non-target. It was promptly visited by Mr and Mrs Cameron, on separate occasions. So is it a target? Or is it a target in the Labour sense of everywhere is a target?
Strong words from Tolhurst ‘I know the people, I know the place.’ Tolhurst disappoints however: She has yet to be seen, despite her words, with her sleeves rolled up.

Clive Gregory: Strong opening, ‘I’m not here because I want to become an MP..’ that’ll get you a vote for MP every time. There is a valid idea that the best way to actually put pressure on the government is to become an MP.

Goeff Juby: SPSE starts off by spelling it Geoff which is awkward, though not nearly as awkward as interviewing him after the disastrous by-election result, or that he is no longer the candidate.
And then it gets awkward(er) when he sets the Lib Dems the target of returning to over 7,000 votes, but I suppose that’s fine when its up to somebody else to do.
They cut to a wide shot, but cut back before Juby has a chance to point out some potholes.

Rochester & Strood is described as part of the new battleground. I can see that in the by-election, but the general election?

Back in the studio, where we discover that Tolhurst was invited but is too busy, and thus why Mackinley is stepping in.

Khan is asked ‘Ed is your biggest handicap’ that actually isn’t a question, but I think that’s my poor note taking. This was all before ‘hell yes, I’m tough enough’.
Khan’s then asked what she is going to do differently, and the answer she gives is to do everything the same. Which presumably includes coming third.
Khan does however hold her own, talking of pounding doors, amidst disbelief of any effect.

Mackinley is asked if he would have won the by-election.
‘Who knows’ comes the response, which isn’t a ringing endorsement of himself or Tolhurst. It could be argued he was being honest, but in the run up to an election you perhaps want a ‘Kelly did the best all considered and will do better in May’.
Not ‘I wasn’t in the pool’.

Reckless then takes everybody by surprise by ignoring this is an election and trying to talk positively about issues. Khan is particularly aghast when he says Labour were right on the NHS.
Which as he pointed out was in his blood.
When reproached on his voting record by Mackinley, he states he believed Ministers, but they were wrong and he is free of that now.
So did Chisthi and Crouch also vote based on wrong information from ministers?

Reckless is then cut off from speaking further, which is surely a sign of the media’s obligatory anti-UKIP bias.



Left Disunity


Left Unity was formed in 2013, after Ken Loach’s “Spirit of 45” documentary and a call for a new voice of the left.

‘Labour is part of the problem, not the solution’
Ken Loach

The Labour left has all but disappeared, being left of the Conservatives or UKIP isn’t the same as being on the Left, and sadly Tony Benn has passed away.

‘Viewing the Greens many admirable policies, but lack analysis for fundamental change.
Calling for a new party, democratic, principled and properly organised.’ Ken Loach

Medway Left Unity was formed soon after. Keevil did not go to the launch, but Jennings did and reached the conclusion that it probably wasn’t for him when someone declared that they wanted to “kill the fucking Tories” to the approval of many in the room.

Medway Left Unity is listed on Left Unity’s website of local branches, yet when Left Unity launched there 2015 manifesto, from a squat in Soho, Medway’s Left Unity were silent.

Since we launched this blog we have repeatedly requested comment from Medway Left Unity, in the beginning were informed of MLU’s GE2015 intentions, and then asked not to publish and we would receive official word.

And we never did.

Left Unity, the new voice of the left, democratic, principled and properly organised is not standing parliamentary candidates in Medway in 2015.

To no fanfare and little notice they decided and much later announced that they would instead be supporting TUSC candidates.

We contacted MLU for confirmation and received no reply.

So all things considered, what’s left for what’s left?

– Is this the Labour left? (The guy in the background)

– Joining MLU and support TUSC who have taken aim at Medway Greens, their former anti-cuts comrades, over Brighton Greens implementing council cuts, showing that TUSC are the only anti-austerity party to seemingly no response from the Greens?

– Or join the party of the NHS, and no tax on minimum wage, that sounds left?

Are watermelon’s the political Jabberwocky?


Grain’s ‘China Syndrome’

Grain village is on the Isle of Grain, part of the Rochester & Strood constituency, and on the edge of the Thames estuary.


On the island is a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) plant owned by National Grid, which was expanded upon with giant gas storage tanks, moving it closer to the village.

One Grain resident, Jack Hope, has since 2011 been questioning the validity of any emergency plan and been vitriolic on social media on the issues. Calling many local politicians out on the situation, this has left many of them, some of whom feel they are not being given a fair deal having previously engaged with Jack, to ignore and in some cases, block him. As a result, many were reluctant to engage with us for this piece, if at all, due to not wanting re-engage with the issue or Jack Hope, who has been viewed as ‘obsessive’ and ‘abusive’. We want to make it clear that whilst we have used information provided by Jack, this is not a piece by him, and not a piece written with the intention of unreservedly supporting him.

Jack posted the following comment on Facebook before the publication of this post.

“A big thankyou to Steven Keevil & Ed Jennings for taking the time to at least ask questions about my concerns.
I could be about to be torn apart here or I could be shown to be right that my questions deserve answers and that the safety here in Grain should not be hidden in redacted documents. Whatever this blog shows, Steven & Ed have taken the time to write this up and to put across my views and the views of certain Politicians.
If the Politicians in Medway had not been so devious in their attitude to being questioned publicly then maybe the off site plan would today be fit for purpose and not hidden away. ( For the record I have no Idea what the centre and whats left have written. ) All I ask for is the airtime to be heard and to show how politicians here in Medway have placed people in danger zones so that National Grid can profit. Kids are at risk and politicians are trying to hide that fact!!
Thanks Ed & Steve looking forward to reading your blog.”

I’m not going to go into detail about LNG here, for which there are environmental concerns, or about the nature of LNG storage, for which there is evidence of hazards.

There are two main concerns to consider;
1) There have been allegations that the Emergency Plan for the island, in case there was a serious incident, has been hidden and redacted.
2) That children have  been placed in a danger zone.

A map dated 2010, the most up to date we have seen, shows the outer zone in the event of an incident would affect the whole village, and we are given to understand the current plan requires a manual barrier to be placed on Grain road, to stop people driving into the incident, Jack maintains the planned site for the barrier, is in the wrong place.

map 2010

Medway Council and National Grid have in the past maintained that there is little likelihood of an incident, and that is why no public evacuation test has been done. Jack Hope believes this to be one of many unsatisfactory conditions, including the fact that;
– the village fire station is not manned 24/7,
– there is no clear plan to deal with panic should an incident occur,
– or any plan to evacuate the village.

‘Stay home, tune in’ is the best advice given by the council.

In 2011 Cllr Mike Obrien responded by saying:
“I’m confident that I can say to the people of Grain. You have nothing to fear”

The worst case scenario that is acknowledged, maintains that the incident would be contained to the LNG site, and that any attempt to evacuate would result in residents or first responders being placed in danger. If residents go home and stay there they can be contacted and found. The river and beach front then used to bring services to the island. First responders only responding when a risk assessment had been carried out.

Robin Cooper, Medway Council’s Director of Regeneration, Community and Culture, said at the time that a new escape road would be unworkable.

What didn’t help the situation, if not caused the situation, is the reported dropping of an LNG safety leaflet which incorrectly stated significantly high casualty figures as a possibility. More people in fact then lived in the village, which Cooper stated was a blunder. This led to several meetings to be called, meetings which did not alleviate the fears of all residents.

There is a belief that telecommunications would not be vulnerable, despite them traveling past the LNG site, and that the residents homes would provide suitable shelter, offering a safer option then any attempt to evacuate, with Grain having approximately 2,000 residents. Jack Hope’s concerns being for those not in their homes, and for those at school. Would children be safe in those buildings during an incident?

Have children been placed in danger? It is an incredibly emotive question. The 2012 plans are confidential, as they contain sensitive information and intended for emergency responders. There has been no public consultation, and it was suggested that it was actions by Jack Hope that led to previous plans being removed from public view, though we do not know what those actions were.

Jack Hope has requested that a compensation package be made available to those residents of the village who wish to relocate due to the LNG site.

The councils Health & Safety Executive are satisfied the current plan is well tested with an emergency notification system and a warning siren, which Jack insists is not sufficient. And the council insists that the school is beyond any danger zone, though again Jack points out the consideration of wind carrying any fallout.

“Should something happen to the LNG facility it would affect the whole of the Medway towns in a worse case scenario.”
Chris Sams, council candidate for the Liberal Democrats

TUSC candidate for the Peninsula Chas Berry does believe that children have been placed in danger for this very reason.

We spoke with Vince Maple, Labour Group Leader, and a significant target for Jack’s anger.

“We met with Jack because in the large amount of emails there was legitimate concerns… one being the siren system, which is now louder.
Glyn Griffiths and I visited the National Grid LNG plant – I am not “on the payroll” when I say it seemed to be well run and as safe as possible.
With regards redacted files, the plant is a site of National Interest, there will be redacted information, which the public, which I as leader of the council opposition do not have a right to see. I think that for national security that is acceptable.”

Have children been placed into a danger zone?

“I don’t believe this is a simple yes or no.

When a child crosses the road they are at risk, but using the green cross code and safe driving dramatically reduces that risk.
So is there is a risk, but the risks are being managed.”

Mark Reckless, the UKIP MP for Rochester & Strood, of which the Village of Grain is part of told us

“Jack’s approach hasn’t necessarily encouraged bodies to co-operate, but when he started he drew attention to important issues;
1) the evacuation plan involved the parish council, something they weren’t aware of and hadn’t agreed to.
2) The siren which had been installed wasn’t sufficient and hadn’t been fully tested.
3) I ensured that a senior HSE representative came to a meeting of Grain residents, and I feel this meeting was constructive and showed safety was being taken seriously.

I have visited the site three times, and before I visited the LNG I met with other MPs researching LNG sites and I was satisfied the plant was well run and they take safety extremely seriously, for what is in a worst case scenario a horrific outcome.
It is a concern about the information that is available, but there is a trade of between local concerns and National Grid/ Police concerns about making information available to those that would do us harm.”

Have children been placed into a danger zone?

“I think there is a small, a tiny, possibility, as there would be when you store that much gas in one place, although the temperature it stores at mitigates against the risk. I believe HSE believe the most stringent measures in place.”

It is our measured and non-scientific or expert opinion that whilst there is a real risk with LNG, just as there is with any gas storage, it is unlikely to cause the destruction of Grain village, however the lack of clear continual communication on the issue has given the appearance of a conspiracy to hide the fact that people, including children, have been placed in danger without care or consideration.

A clear frustration for Jack Hope is that he is the only person talking about this. A clear frustration for others is that Jack Hope is talking about this.

Following the issue becomes difficult for some on social media, with Jack’s passion being a barrier to some from using Facebook groups where Jack can frequently be found accusing many of Medway’s local politicians for being silent and complicit in the danger. We contacted members of each party regarding this post and there was reluctance to speak with us and answer questions on this issue because of the connection with Jack, and he needs to take some responsibility for poisoning the well of available information, and muddying the water of available information, on this issue.

Medway Council refused to answer any of our questions seeking clarity on the points above, citing the fact that we had been in contact with Jack Hope as the reason.

Parish councillor Chris Fribbins said on his blog:
“with hindsight the worst thing I did was trying to help you (Jack) in the first place”

We hope that isn’t true for us at this blog also. If so, then this was written by Jennings.


A measured response

Jennings attempts to counterpoint Keevil’s old posts, but instead has a breakdown about his political positions and gets a few things off his chest.


It’s a bit of an odd situation to be tasked with responding to a set of blog posts that were written four years ago. It’s an even odder one when they begin with a central conceit that I can’t even get my head around: that Conservatives are evil. (The actual conceit is dealing with the fact they aren’t, but nevermind. – Keevil)

I’ve never been a Conservative by any stretch of the imagination. (sometime’s it’s not that much of a stretch – Keevil) But equally, I’ve never had the hatred for them that many a few years older than me seem to. Indeed, many of the politicians I admire tend to come from the Conservative benches. There is no one stronger in the Commons on civil liberties than David Davis. Until he buggered off to UKIP, Douglas Carswell was one of the most forward thinking voices on electoral reform. I even have a grudging respect for Michael Gove. Wait, come back. I have a lot of problems with what Gove has done, but there are few politicians of such conviction amongst the newer intake. (I’d rather a lack of conviction then a repeat of the Gove effect on education – Keevil)

I suspect part of this is my age. At 32, I never really experienced the periods that others seem to be most angry about. By the time I was politically aware, most of the damage was already done. More importantly, starting to engage around the turn of the century, there was a new enemy to fight: the (New) Labour party.  The double whammy of the Iraq war and their dismantling of civil liberties entrenched a distrust of them so deep that I still find Labour to be the most off-putting of the major parties.

Of course though, politicians are individuals are the idea of an entire group of them being inherently evil, or all inherently good, is completely absurd. I’ve met remarkably friendly people in all parties. I’ve met people I disagree with but who truly believe they are doing the right thing in all parties. I’ve met arseholes in all parties. I don’t believe it’s helpful to characterise an entire party, positively or negatively, but doing so makes our politics far easier to justify.

I have a dirty little secret: I hate the political compass. (Its really not a secret – Keevil)  Sure, it’s fun to answer a bunch of questions and be told where you sit on a scale. Sure, it’s more helpful than a straight left or right scale. But something being twice as useful as something completely useless isn’t necessarily that helpful either. (So we should change the name of the blog? – Keevil)

I had a lengthy Twitter exchange with a friend the other day over what I define myself as politically. I’ve struggled with this a lot over the years. When I first engaged with politics, I was a liberal. Then it turns out that label doesn’t apply to you if you are in favour of a free market. So I became a libertarian. Then it turns out a lot of them are lunatics in favour of no government at all. So I became a classical liberal. Limited government, free markets, individual liberty and all that. The problem is that no one has a clue what a classical liberal is, and it still doesn’t fit perfectly.

Pigeonholing aside, this has a detrimental impact on your political thinking. When taking a position on an issue of the day, everything becomes too knee-jerk. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. In recent months, I took up positions against plain packaging on cigarettes, against a ‘mansion tax’, and against an increase in the higher rate of income tax. Have I spent a lot of time thinking about these positions and looking arguments on either side? Not really. These just feel like the right stands to take. Which means somewhere along the line, without even realising it, truthiness became a real thing.


The Virtual Doorstep


It is said that elections are won on the doorstep, and that may well be true. Being an armchair activist, it’s difficult to check up on that. Labour, TUSC and the Greens recently launched their Medway election campaigns on the High Street, and again this was difficult to check from the armchair. Twitter and blogs however are part of our social media present and future, and if the election was decided there, how would the Medway parties do. (The following is accurate at the time of writing) (Images were the first offered for each under a google search!) (Image size was not manipulated)


@Medwaytories haven’t tweeted since sept 2014, the home page has the same content and the latest news is dated 2012! Either the webmaster has defected to UKIP or they have no news. Both MPs Crouch and Chisthi have Twitter accounts, and Crouch genuinely appears to connect on a human level, with a mixture of MP news and personal responses. Chisthi is almost automated response unit of pictures and statements, informative but at times cold. PPC Tolhurst regularly tweets, about the issues on the campaign, however does appear to tweet in the 3rd person! Cllr Mike O’Brien regularly tweets and blogs, and something to like about it is it genially reflects his day to day activities as a Councillor,  but the rest of the @Medwaytories seem to not feel the need for electronic communication.


@medwaylabour regularly tweets, though they have been accused, by Keevil mostly, of being negative. @Cllrtrisosborne, regularly tweets in support of Labour national and local, as well as individual ward. He also blogs. Reports that he would sacrifice your young to the Twitter gods to win remain unsubstantiated. The Rochester & Strood Gillingham South candidate @naushabahkhan semi regularly tweets in a fairly pleasant if unremarkable fashion. @paulclark4GandR regularly tweets from the campaign trail, or at least somebody does. @vinceMaple leader of the labour group, and fellow beardy, regularly tweets along party lines. Well say regularly, its almost as if he does social media in bursts. And you can often find older tweets retweeted. Vince has challenged Rodney Chambers to a debate #BattleForGunWharf and we fully expect Cllr Chambers to respond in the next 3-4 not in your lifetimes.

Liberal Democrats

They don’t trust the internet, they don’t think people of Gillingham have the internet, and therefore Twitter is one of the only places a Gillingham resident wont get sent a picture of Goeff Juby pointing at a pot hole. The above image on the Medway Lib Dem website is, in a rumour we are making up here and now, part of a Lib Dem plan to annex Rochester from Stood Constituency and close the bridge. Chris Sams, a LibDem candidate in Gillingham does tweet but wants it to be made VERY clear he does so in his own capacity and does NOT have a view that represents the Medway Lib Dems. On anything. In unrelated news he also runs the @medwaylibdems account. @Prue4Rochester is the Lib Dem PPC for Rochester. Do not mention to her that she is from outside Medway. Its not relevant. Or of interest. Or have any merits in mentioning. Which is why we haven’t brought it up here. At all. No. @MedwayPaul Paul Chaplin representing the hallowed Gillingham Lib Dems. This sentence is as interesting as his tweets. Contact has been received from Tonbridge & Malling @TMLibDems so that’s Chatham and Aylesford covered.
We have been ‘accidentally’ blocked by @medwaypaul so he may have got much more interesting. or liberal. its impossible to tell.
Prue Bray fairly requested us to actually say something about her tweeting, What’s of interest is her Rochester centric account @prue4rochester hasn’t tweeted in a week (at time of writing) whilst her regular account @pruebray has. Does this mean she has given up on Rochester already?


Medway UKIP hasn’t tweeted since February. @UKIPRochester is currently tweeting. Has @MedwayUKIP been expelled from the party? MP @MarkReckless semi regularly tweets and shows a mixture of party line and seeming to actually care. He has so far failed to say anything racist, which just goes to show that Medway Ukip are not a racist party. Cllr Chris Ivine aka @ci247 formerly @cgi247 is the tweeting voice of Medway UKIP, happy to inform or cause offence in equal measure. Not all tweets survive. TUSC


@MedwayTUSC regularly tweets, and can be easily angered. PPC @Jacqui Berry regularly tweets and blogs pushing the anti-austerity message, somebody should.

Medway Greens

If we hear anything we will let you know.

State of the Unitary

What is a Unitary Authority?


 “A Unitary Authority (UA) is a local government structure which combines the functions of the two tiers of County and District/Borough Councils.
Medway became a UA following the decision to amalgamate Rochester Upon Medway and Gillingham Councils with the relevant part of Kent County Council.”
Cllr Vince Maple, leader of the Medway Labour group

 “Usually, you have two tiers of Local Government, the County Council which deals with strategic and major issues such as organising elections, working with schools and emergency services for example. They work parallel to the District Council, which is responsible for a much smaller area. So you would expect many district councils to operate in the same area as one county council. District Councils are responsible for issues such as housing, car parking and environmental health.

The concept of a unitary, is to for a specific area merge those powers under one authority. Therefore, in the case of Medway, all decisions be they working with emergency services or with social housing are taken by the one council.”
Cllr Mike O’Brien, Conservative councillor for Rainham Central

“Obvious answer is that it is a single tier of local government covering a specified geographic area to reduce costs, as opposed to wider areas which may comprise of district and county councils.
Medway does still have Parish Councils which some argue represent another tier of local government. I am generally supportive of Parish Councils as they tend to be made up of representatives from distinct villages who may be better placed to consider and address hyper-local matters, though at a cost in the form of a Parish precept.”
Cllr Chris Irvine, leader of the Medway UKIP group

“A top tier local governing body that administers an area but is separate to the local council”
Chris Sams, Liberal Democrat council candidate for Gillingham South Ward

“Unitary authorities of England are local authorities that are responsible for all local government services within a district.
So says Wikipedia anyway.”
Jacqui Berry, TUSC PPC Gillingham and Rainham


 Why isn’t Medway part of Kent?


“The majority of KCC administers rural areas and Medway being the largest urban area was not being represented so broke away possibly? But before my time!”
Chris Sams, Liberal Democrat council candidate for Gillingham South Ward

“Because it is a unitary authority. Seemples.
I’m not sure however that many people get the nuance and it is largely subjective as to whether someone in Medway considers themselves to be in Kent.
I think it’s nice to be both.”
Cllr Chris Irvine, leader of the Medway UKIP group

 “Medway is part of the historic county of Kent through basis of our geography and for many other services is recognised as such.
In local political terms it is distinct; Medway Unitary Authority was formed in 1998 when the City of Rochester-upon-Medway amalgamated with Gillingham Borough Council and part of Kent County Council to form Medway Council, a unitary authority independent of Kent County Council”
Cllr Tristan Osborne. Labour PPC for Chatham and Aylesford

 “It is in Kent, but it’s a bit big to be a borough of Kent County Council. Plus, with the dockyard it’s always been a bit separate.”
Jacqui Berry, TUSC PPC for Gillingham and Rainham

“The individual towns in Medway are classed as Kent as far as what ceremonial or geographical county they belong to. Therefore the Lord Lieutenant of Kent is responsible for the Medway towns as much as he would be Maidstone. The Medway Towns however are not under the prerogative of Kent County Council as they are a Unitary Council, though as you would expect there is much scope for joint working between the two.”
Cllr Mike O’Brien, Conservative councillor for Rainham Central

Why is Medway a unitary authority?


“Very good question.
Many in my ward of Peninsula feel no affinity whatsoever to Chatham, Rainham and Gillingham, and some are even calling for independence from Medway Council, particularly following the council’s decision to concrete over Lodge Hill.
Unitary authorities are, in my opinion, a reasonable proposal but we need a representative democracy on the council which we simply don’t have under the current Leader and Cabinet model which UKIP will scrap.”
Cllr Chris Irvine, leader of the Medway UKIP group

 “There is a massive population in one of the largest conurbations  in the south.
Makes sense it is self governed.”
Chris Sams, Liberal Democrat council candidate for Gillingham South

“At the time it was recognised by the government that Medway being a major urban centres has major strategic and political challenges best managed at a Medway-level. The Labour-led Borough Authorities at the time supported the move towards a single-layer of local government.
The creation of the UA led to the lowest Council Tax in England and a single layer of political representation and accountability.”
Cllr Tristan Osborne, Labour PPC for Chatham and Aylesford

“The formation of Medway Unitary Council goes back to 1998, when John Gummer as Environmental Secretary rolled out plans for Unitary Councils. Representatives of various councils met with Mr Gummer and it was felt that the towns would benefit from being a Unitary.”
Cllr Mike OBrien, Conservative councillor for Rainham Central

“I’ll be honest, I don’t know if anyone really cares.”
Jacqui Berry, TUSC PPC for Gillingham and Rainham

How did the Budget affect Medway?

A special in a series of posts, ‘inFrequently Answered Questions’ all Medway parties, MPs and candidates, have been invited to answer and we will update should further answers be presented.
The answers are presented here unedited.
If you have an iFAQ then leave it as a comment and we will attempt to get it answered for you.

“The first thing to say about the budget is that it is clear that having Lib Dems in government has made a difference over the past 5 years. It was OUR manifesto commitment to raise the threshold at which people start paying income tax, not the Conservatives. Thanks to us, over 25 million low and middle income earners have had income tax cuts of over £900. More than 50,000 of those people are in Rochester and Strood. 
Another thing that will help people locally is the Help to Buy ISA, which will give people who are saving to buy their first home up to £3000, which with property prices as they are must be useful.  And of interest locally, there is the reduction in the bingo tax, which will be welcome to all those who play at the bingo hall in Strood.
Less good are the Conservative and Labour plans for the future. Labour seems bent on going back to believing in the magic money tree, and the Conservatives are preparing their sharpest knives to cut public services to the bone. As for UKIP, who can say what they would do?  The Lib Dems in the next government would borrow £70 billion less than Labour and cut £50 billion less than the Conservatives, sticking to the sensible middle ground.  And that is what people should bear in mind when they think about who to vote for on May 7th.”
Prue Bray, Liberal Democrat PPC for Rochester and Strood

“As most people noticed there was no mention of the NHS in the budget. 
I can only assume that was because the tories know they can’t say anything as the have cut funding to the NHS and will continue to do so and they know the electorate won’t accept that.  
Medway hospital is surrounded by constituencies which have Conservative MPs.  Indeed the MP for Gillingham is an Ex Labour councillor now Conservative MP.  
During this current government Medway Hospital was put into special measures. This was all on the watch of the Medway tories. So when they start bleating on about supporting the NHS we all know it’s a complete lie.  They as much as their leader want to see the NHS under increasing private control.  
Labour are no better. It was under them that the infamous “Private Funding Initiative” was bought in and we all know that was privatisation through the back door.  
There is only one group who would fully fight against ALL privatisation in the NHS and across ALL of our public services and that is TUSC.  TUSC candidates are people who work in the NHS and other public services. We know the issues facing people of medway as we talk to them every day. Only TUSC candidates know what’s needed for our public services in Medway.” 
Dan Burns, TUSC PPC for Rochester and Strood

“On the positive side, the reduction in the duties levied on beer, cider and whiskey will be well received, as will the raising of the 40p tax threshold for the middle classes. 
The most significant thing for me was that the public outcry against public spending cuts has made Osbourne change his mind about creating a public surplus for 2020 from £23bn to £7bn.
This is a huge result, especially for Medway Council and our public services, eg Medway Hospital. Although he still plans severe cuts  for the next 2 years, another £12bn (from where? We are already down to bare bone!) it does seem that Cameron has finally listened to the public…..ever so slightly! 
Obviously this is all just tinkering for me, the establishment are still hell bent on robbing the poor to pay the rich, it’s just that they are a bit worried about triggering a revolution! 
The really interesting thing was listening to Ed Balls stating that he wouldn’t reverse any of the Budget measures.
Just another shade of blue rather than red!” 
Neil Williams, Green Party PPC for Gillingham and Rainham

“See my previous tweet for comment on budget. All in 140 characters. #brevity” 
Jacqui Berry, TUSC PPC for Gillingham and Rainham

Two more Medway councillors defect to UKIP

As Medway UKIP have been promising for a while now, two more former Conservative councillors have defected to the party. One of these – Tom Mason – is not surprising in the slightest. The other – Vaughan Hewett – is rather more out of the blue.

Tom Mason is currently a Conservative councillor for Strood Rural, and had recently been unceremoniously deselected from the Conservative party for the upcoming election. After being a local councillor for 45 years, he didn’t take this too well, and made no secret of his outrage over the matter. After a few months of flirting with UKIP but not going public, he’s today revealed he’ll be standing for the party in the coming elections.

The case of Vaughan Hewett is rather more strange. Until last year, he was a Conservative councillor for Rainham North, and actually one of the more reasonable ones. He resigned from the party following a falling out with his fellow ward councillor David Carr. This was because Cllr Carr had made unpleasant comments about travellers that Cllr Hewett described as “something akin to the BNP”. After a year of sitting as an Independent Conservative, Cllr Hewett has now joined UKIP, and will also fight his seat in the coming elections.

Is this the last of the UKIP defections in Medway, or do the party have one or two more surprises up their sleeves?

(Delayed) Reaction: Winning Back Medway

During the Sunday Politics South East (SPSE) on 15th Feb there was a piece entitled ‘Winning Back Medway’ book-ended with an interview with Medway’s own Labour PPC for Chatham & Aylesford, Cllr Tristan Osborne. We at The Centre and What’s Left thought it would be good to consider and counterpoint the piece, and a month later, here that is!

The programme makes the valid starting point that Medway should/ could be a key battleground – we covered this with Medway Voter Power – yet only Chatham & Aylesford appears on the target list for Labour, whilst Rochester & Strood is in a nexus point of being/not being a target ward for the Conservatives. Whether Chatham & Aylesford is a target for Tonbridge & Malling Liberal Democrats remains unclear, but we probably all know the answer to that.

Former MP for Gillingham & Rainham Paul ‘confident of a Labour comeback’ Clark appeared in the piece full of political bluster. He is obviously not going to appear on SPSE and say Rehman Chisthi has a clear lead, even if he does. Clark stated he is

“determined the Labour Party wouldn’t forget about Gillingham and Rainham”

If he is true to his word we can expect additions to ‘Our Honoured Guests’.

The piece goes on to interview the Prime Minister, in Chatham, the Labour target. Yet he fails to mention he was there with Conservative PPC for Rochester & Strood Kelly Tolhurst, not Tracey Crouch MP, because whilst the location was Chatham, the constituency was Rochester & Strood.

The presenter then hits the high street to vox pop our way to meaningless insights. Asking people who they would vote for, then showing the party leaders for the Conservatives and Labour, rather than Tracey Crouch MP and PPC Tristan Osborne, who they can actually vote for (ignoring this is a High street, so the people being asked might not even live in Chatham). The meaninglessness was compounded when residents were also offered Nigel Farage, somebody else they can’t vote for, and at the time of writing UKIP don’t have a candidate standing in Chatham & Aylesford!

In the main show Labour PPC Tristan ‘I am aspirational’ Osborne appears to discuss issues live, there is no sign or mention of Tracey Crouch the MP for Chatham & Aylesford in the whole show. Importantly however they do point out that Tristan did use to be a choirboy, and he for good measure points out that ignoring the concept of target seats Labour are “fighting to win every seat”, it will be interesting to see how good a fighter they really are for the Medway seats, and if they do have a full slate of 55 Medway Council Candidates, name them.

“Will be announcing that on Saturday (21st March) as well as launching local government manifesto”
Cllr Vince Maple. Labour Group Leader