The local election campaign in Medway is now properly underway, with a surge in activity across Medway from a wide range of candidates and parties. One of the most striking things early in the campaign was this leaflet being distributed throughout Watling ward, not in favour of any one party, but solely against Conservative candidate Andrew Lawrence.
Andrew Lawrence has since responded to the leaflet via his blog. We reached out to all Medway parties that took part in the 2015 elections and those taking part in this one to get their views on the leaflet, and if they fancied admitting being behind it. Well, it was worth a shot.
As usual, we told all parties that we would publish their responses entirely unedited. They are published below in the order they were received.
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.
It is said that elections are won on the doorstep, and that may well be true. Being armchair activists, it’s difficult to check up on that. Twitter and blogs however are part of our social media present and future, and if the election was decided there, how would each of the wards be looking?
The Medway Commercial Group (MCG) has been in the news recently, whether it be over issues regarding CCTV or potential controversy regarding the building of a new Independent SEN School. Who or what is MCG? Keevil set to impartially find out, using an alternate delivery model of as many screen shots as possible to save on typing.
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.
Reviewing the Boundary Review
On Tuesday, the Boundary Commission for England unveiled their proposed new constituency boundaries. There were no huge changes for Medway, but a fair number of little ones. Higham will be brought into the Rochester and Strood constituency, Lordswood and Capstone will move to Gillingham and Rainham, and Chatham and Aylesford is set to become Chatham and the Mallings. The proposed boundaries are now subject to a lengthy consultation period, so it’ll be next year before we hear any final plans.
In a rare bout of organisation, the Medway Lib Dems managed to be the first party to select their candidate for the Strood South by-election. In an even more unusual step, they’ve selected a new – and young – candidate, 18 year old activist Isabelle Cherry. Cherry’s campaign will apparently focus on issues like school improvement, litter, and public transport, so all fairly safe, but at the least the Medway Lib Dems are putting up a fight once again.
Return of the Iles
In perhaps the least surprising Strood South selection, the Conservatives have selected Josie Iles as their candidate for the Strood South by-election. Iles is a former mayor of Medway, and was the Councillor for Strood South up until losing her seat to UKIP last year. Going into the election, she remains the odds on favourite to retake the seat.
Other Strood South candidates Not much else to report on the Strood South by-election front, despite the fact that the election is a mere 31 days until the election takes place. UKIP have two candidates to choose between (one being former local chairman Chris Spalding), Medway Labour have about 800 people putting themselves forward, and the Greens apparently have a candidate, but are busy filling out the paperwork to announce who it is.
Councillor allowances As per their legal obligations, Medway Council recently published the details of councillor allowances paid for 2015-2016. The small problem with this is that they seemingly did a horrifically sloppy job with it, as Medway blogger Alan Collins covered in forensic detail. The sheer number of errors in the document raises serious concerns about the openness and transparency of Medway Council.
Following last week’s sad passing of Councillor Mike O’Brien, a necessary reshuffle took this week within the Cabinet. Councillor Andrew Mackness will take over O’Brien’s education portfolio, with new Councillor Martin Potter taking on the new portfolio of educational improvement. The former corporate services portfolio of Councillor Mackness will be split amongst several other Cabinet members.
We haven’t written an actual post about the referendum, because what can you say, really? We try and remain impartial with this site, yet this was a decision we cared greatly about, and impacts our futures in a big way.
In the next couple of days, we’ll get something up on the exact results from Medway and what it might mean, but for now, let’s do what we always do: snark mercilessly about what each of the parties have been up to in the past couple of weeks.
Medway MPs in Parliament
Neverendum When it all came down it, our three Medway MPs managed to provide three different stances for where they stood on the referendum. Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst decided to focus on her career by endorsing remain, which will have seemed like a horrible mistake by Friday. Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti went for leave, which probably sets himself up nicely for this post-Brexit world. Finally, Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch decided to vote, but not tell us how. Which is absolutely her right, but we wonder how that might go down with her constituents down the line.
Medway Labour Utterly incredibly, it’s now been 17 weeks since the Medway Labour website was hacked, proving a security risk to user’s visiting, and they still haven’t managed to fix it. And yes, we are going to mention this every single time until they do something about it.
It’s hard to keep track of all of the animosity between Labour councillors and activists on Twitter at this point, but it’s worth noting that three councillors – Tristan Osborne, Naushabah Khan, and Andy Stamp – all called for Corbyn to step down this week. Which went down with certain activists like a cup of warm sick.
Medway UKIP Still missing, because.. wait, why the hell would they be missing at this point?
Medway Liberal Democrats Unsurprisingly, they aren’t thrilled about the referendum result, and dealt with it the best way they know how: a 60,000 word essay about it on their website.
Matthew Scott is Kent’s new Police and Crime Commissioner – full story Last week, after an uninspiring campaign period, voters of Kent went to the polls to select a new Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent after sitting Commissioner Ann Barnes decided to stand down. Matthew Scott for the Conservatives was victorious, beating second placed Henry Bolton of UKIP. We had full analysis of the results, including an awful lot of graphs.
The Medway Council April ding dong – full story Medway Council held it’s April meeting, which featured such exciting events as a new mayor being selected, and some revelations on the EU referendum. As usual, we were there to livetweet the proceedings, and you can catch up with all of the highlights above.
Medway MPs in Parliament
Save Sod the children In one of the most remarkable votes of this parliament so far, both Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti and Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst voted against allowing unaccompanied child refugees into the UK. Kelly Tolhurst even spoke at length in the parliamentary debate on why taking needy children in would be such a terrible thing to do. Of course, it’s all slightly moot now as it seems the government will u-turn and allow the children in after all, but it’s worth remembering that the first instinct of Medway MPs was to refuse to help children in need.
In, out, shake it all about Six weeks out from the EU referendum, and our three Medway MPs are still declining to reveal where they stand on this incredibly important issue. It almost seems like they are all attempting to run out the clock and not tell their constituents where they stand, to avoid any awkward confrontations with their local party members.
Medway Conservatives Missing, because after winning the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner election, they don’t really need to bother doing anything.
Medway Labour Utterly incredibly, it’s now been ten weeks since the Medway Labour website was hacked, proving a security risk to user’s visiting, and they still haven’t managed to fix it. Yet they’d like the voters to hand them the keys to Gun Wharf.
Medway UKIP Curious events within Rochester and Strood UKIP as chairman Chris Spalding stepped down from the role. No reason was given for this, but rumours of disharmony within the local party over the actions of Medway UKIP leader on Medway Council Roy Freshwater may well have played a part.
In a rare bout of local campaigning, the very same Cllr Freshwater was out and about in Chatham, encouraging people to leave the EU. Obviously.
Medway Green Party As you might expect, the local Greens are a little concerned about Medway’s new local plan allowing housing development on green spaces, particularly after leader of the council Alan Jarrett stated that this would be necessary.
Reckless move After being unceremoniously losing his Westminster seat in last year’s general election, Mark Reckless made his return to mainstream politics after being elected to – of all places – the Welsh Assembly. While we wish Mark well in his new venture, we are left wondering what will happen with his wife’s council seat in Strood South. Will she be resigning this to head to Wales, or will Mark be taking in one hell of a commute? Either way, it’s a question that Cllr Andrew Mackness is eager to get the bottom of.