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.