Why did the councillor hide in the toilet?

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.

The battle for Strood South officially gets underway

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.

josieilesConservatives – 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.

Mike Russell

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.

stevedykeGreen 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.

isaacigweLabour – 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.

isabellecherryLiberal 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.

karlwellerUKIP – 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.

The Week

Return of the Igwe
After leaving their selection for the Strood South by-election to the last possible moment, Medway Labour picked former councillor in the ward, Isaac Igwe to contest the seat. Thanks to the archaic way Labour selects it’s candidates, it was left in the bizarre position of having six candidates, and barely more than that many members making the choice. Igwe is a curious choice though, not supported by the new left of the party, and plenty of others uncomfortable with his views on social issues like equal marriage.

Greens recycle candidate
The Green Party also selected their candidate for the Strood South by-election this week, announcing that local party leader Steve Dyke will fight the battle. The Greens didn’t stand in Strood South in 2015 (Dyke stood in Strood North), so the fact they’re putting forward a candidate indicates some improvement in local organisation.

UKIP? Uwhat?
Proving that Labour aren’t the only party wrapping themselves up in petty infighting, there seems to be a kerfuffle within UKIP locally over their Strood South candidate selection. Karl Weller announced himself as the candidate some time ago, while former local chairman Chris Spalding claimed no selection process had been followed and announced he also wanted to be the candidate. As it stands, Weller remains the candidate, but it seems unlikely the local party divisions will be healed anytime soon.

Regressive alliance
Huge news this week for the structure of Medway politics, as Medway TUSC announced that they will no longer field candidates against Labour. Aside from leaving a question of exactly what the point of a political party that doesn’t field candidates is, one has to wonder how much impact this will have on the upcoming Strood South and Rainham Central by-elections. Given they got a combined vote of about 300 in both seats, it would seem very little is the most likely.

Brace yourself, it’s good news from Kelly Tolhurst
It’s not often we write something positive about Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst, but she’s putting forward a Private Member’s Bill that seems to be doing something genuinely positive. She’ll be moving a bill in Parliament that will enshrine a 12 months ‘breathing space’ window for those in debt to be able to get themselves back on their feet. You can find out more about the bill here.

Audit combo
An interesting story that hasn’t received a large amount of attention about how Medway and Gravesham Council have combined their audit services to save £230,000 between the two councils. This kind of thing is seemingly becoming more common, and when savings of that scale can be made relatively easily, I expect we’ll be covering plenty more such changes in the future.