We started this site in the run to the 2015 General and Local Elections as a way to help us and others understand a bit more about how politics works at a local level. It was originally intended to be a short run project through those elections, but we enjoyed the process enough that we stuck with it and thus The Political Medway was born.
We assumed at that point that things would be fairly quiet after that, with no more elections that anyone cared about scheduled in Medway until the next round of locals in 2019.
Dear reader, things have not been quiet.
In 2016, we had to deal with the EU membership referendum and it’s fallout, as well as two local council by-elections.
Surely 2017 would give the Medway electorate a break?
Of course it wouldn’t, and we’ll all be voting in a General Election on June 8.
Unfortunately, both of us that man this site have been a tad busy of late, so we’re a little late in getting our coverage underway, but such is life. We’re publishing the full candidate lists for all three seats tomorrow, and in the coming weeks will have some hustings coverage, some questions for our esteemed candidates, and all being well (translation: Medway Council letting us in) our election night count live coverage.
Additionally, and probably more importantly, a lot of the day to day coverage that doesn’t warrant an entire post lives entirely on Twitter @MedwayPolitics.
So dear reader, join us as we once again head unto the Medway electoral breach.
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.
Following the resignation of UKIP councillor Catriona Brown-Reckless, the battle to replace her in Strood South is underway. With the by-election being held on 20 October, less than four weeks away, we’ve put together this handy roundup of the six candidates for the seat.
Conservatives – Josie Iles The first of two former Strood South councillors trying to win the seat back, Josie Iles represented the ward between 2011 and 2015, when she narrowly lost her seat to UKIP. Josie is a former mayor of Medway, and has lived in the Strood South ward for 30 years. She voted leave in the EU referendum, and while it’s unclear exactly what platforms she’ll be standing on, she’s off to a great start in the ‘having serious photos taken in front of things’ competition.
English Democrats – Mike Russell
The English Democrats continue their slow march on Medway, as once again Mike Russell is standing for the party. 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.
Green Party – Steve Dyke Steve Dyke is the current leader of the Medway Green Party, and unsuccessfully stood for election in Strood North in 2015. Steve has lived in Strood for 50 years, and intends to run on a platform based around sustainable housing, transport improvements, and the environment. You can follow him on Twitter.
Labour – Isaac Igwe The second former Strood South councillor trying to win his seat back is Isaac Igwe, who represented the ward between 2011 and 2015. Despite coming 2nd in the ward in 2011, he dropped to 8th in 2015. Given Labour only selected him at the last possible minute, it’s unclear what he intends to campaign on. Notably, in 2013, Isaac once fled a council meeting and hid in a toilet to avoid having to cast a vote in favour of equal marriage. You can follow him on Twitter.
Liberal Democrats – Isabelle Cherry By far the youngest candidate in the by-election, the Lib Dems have put forward Isabelle Cherry. Isabelle has lived in Medway all of her life, and is currently studying for her A-levels. Isabelle intends to run a campaign based around improving schools and public transport, and reducing litter. You can follow her on Twitter.
UKIP – Karl Weller Despite currently holding the seat, UKIP have put forward an unfamiliar face in Karl Weller. Karl has lived in the ward for 18 years, and beyond that, we know pretty much nothing about him. You can follow him on Twitter.
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.
Last year I demonstrated how little I knew about the Labour Party when I wrote the article ‘The French Radicals’. I said that “Jeremy Corbyn will win the first round of the Labour leadership but I don’t expect him to win the leadership.” Which much like our predictions for the general and local elections in 2015, showed how bad we are at this. This time I expect Corbyn to win the leadership election by a considerable margin, I expect the PLP to react even less graciously then they did last time, and I expect positioning for Labour Leadership elections in 2017. Go #DavidMilli2020.
Last year’s piece postulated, via a clip from The West Wing that members of the Labour movement only stood against not winning. The current Leadership contest is a magnification of this, with those opposed to Corbyn’s leadership terrorising that Corbyn will cause Labour to be in opposition for a generation and that anybody speaks out against Owen Smith either wants May as PM, and or should enjoy the May premiership. Very little is given in the way to explain how Owen Smith will win a General Election, except Corbyn definitely won’t.
To be clear, neither Jennings or Keevil are endorsing either Labour candidates, readers will be happy/sad/apathetic to hear.
Having been wrong about Labour last year, I wanted to double down and be wrong again this year when discussing an ongoing situation within Medway, specifically Gillingham and Rainham CLP. When it came time for different CLPs to hold leadership nomination contests; Chatham and Aylesford CLP agreed not to nominate, Rochester and Strood nominated Corbyn, and Gillingham and Rainham decided – well, the exec committee decided – not to hold any nomination discussion at all.
I was informed I was wrong to question this, as they have never nominated a leadership contender. A tradition that goes way back to the origins of the Gillingham and Rainham CLP in 2010. Somebody else who vocally questioned the executive committee’s decision was Labour and Medway Momentum member Alan Higgins. Meanwhile, former MP and technically current Labour PPC for Gillingham and Rainham Paul Clark, didn’t join the Labour PPCs for Chatham & Aylesford and Rochester and Strood in signing a letter.
Meanwhile during #LabourLeadership2016 a series of events called #LabourPurge2 has occurred. In brief, members who are felt not to upheld the aims and values of the Labour Party have been informed they will not be allowed to vote for the leader. We at The Political Medway are concerned for members of Gillingham and Rainham CLP:
Firstly, former MP and current PPC Paul Clark, representing a candidate when his CLP exec does not, has had a complaint made against him to the Regional Director of the Party by member Alan Higgins, for behaviour during CLP meetings. No action has been taken on this complaint at this time.
Also Presumably, current Gillingham North councillor and former Liberal Democrat PPC for Gillingham and Rainham Andy Stamp will be allowed a vote, despite his previous allegiance.
We have been reassured however that 2015 Green Party PPC for Gillingham and Rainham, Neil Williams, seen here with Medway Labour group Leader Vince Maple joining Medway Labour, has been allowed to vote in the contest.
Meanwhile, Alan Higgins, a member of the Labour Party for 45 years, and a Labour candidate for Princes Park in 2015, previously mentioned as the member who criticised Gillingham and Rainham executive committees failure to hold an all members meeting to nominate a leadership candidate, contacted Vince Maple regarding his lack of election ballot.
Since then, Alan – who put his name forward to be the Labour candidate in the forthcoming Strood South by-election, a move The Political Medway believes was supported by Medway Momentum – has been suspended from the Labour Party for comments he made on a Medway Momentum Facebook group. Those comments were supposedly criticising the Gillingham and Rainham executive committee over their decision not to hold a vote on endorsing leadership candidates, but we have been unable to see the exact comments ourselves. Unsurprisingly, Medway Momentum have not taken this news well.
Of the party members mentioned, with all of their various allegiances, only one has had action against them, which to this uninformed observer seems questionable at least.
We’re saddened to hear that Councillor Mike O’Brien has passed away. Mike was always a thoroughly decent man, and his presence on the council will be missed.
Mark Templeton, the former Senior Press Officer at Medway Council, shares his memories of his friend:
Mike O’Brien was a truly wonderful man. Yes, that’s the sort of thing you always hear at these sad and difficult times but he really was.
On my first day at work at Medway Council he made a bee-line for me – and hardly a day went past in the two years I was there that we didn’t talk.
Mike loved his work with the media and he always believed he should be held to account being in such a high-profile role. He never wanted to hide or dodge the tough questions, in fact he wanted to face those difficult times head-on because he knew being a politician meant taking the rough with the smooth.
He thrived on his cabinet education post. He wanted to make a difference to the young people of Medway and he did. Many children will have seen him at their school. When we used to go to schools for media interviews he would always spend time – away from the media glare – talking to pupils about their hopes and aspirations.
Whatever subject we were talking about he always turned it back to his family. He was a proud family man, forever talking to me about wife Sheila, his children and, more than anything else, his grandchildren who he doted on.
There was nothing unusual about Mike texting me at all hours of the day if he had something on his mind. 5.30 in the morning ahead of a live radio interview would be his favourite time to text – I once made the mistake of telling him I got up early and from then on I was fair game to him.
One Sunday afternoon, a text message alert flashed up from Mike. My first thought was what’s the problem? It read: “That was a fantastic goal by Rooney”. From then on in, hardly a match passed when we didn’t comment on it either by text or through social media, which he also loved.
Mike stood out for me as a politician with his integrity and desire to be completely transparent and the fact he truly had young people at his heart. He wanted them to do well and was always telling them how important education was to their future. But it was as a family man I admired him most because of that smile he had every time he talked about them.
I last saw him six months ago at my leaving do when he came with wife Sheila. I would have thought there was something wrong if he had not asked me for that selfie which he put up on social media. We kept in touch after I left and although I’ve lost friends through this awful illness before, he’s the one that never once lost that smile.
Myself and a colleague had a nickname for him. We called him Granddad Mike. That was because he wasn’t just a work colleague to us, he felt like a member of our family.
I never told him that nickname. I wish I had now. He’d have loved it.