This week we are interrupting our regular schedule to bring you an examination of how each local political party appears to be preparing for the May 2019 elections. Today we are looking at Medway UKIP.
The four years since the 2015 local elections have not been kind to Medway UKIP. Riding high on Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless’ defection to the party and subsequent by-election victory, the omens looked fairly good heading into the last set of elections. Yet, despite the results not being as strong as some faces within the party were expecting, they won a solid four seats on the council, immediately placing themselves as the third party in local politics.
One of our popular features that we used to have on The Political Medway was inFrequently Answered Questions, where we’d send off questions to relevant political figures and hope that we might occasionally get a reply. As we get going on this project again, we’ve decided to start asking some questions of our esteemed councillors once again.
To get us going, we started with an easy one, and sent all 55 Medway councillors the following question:
What should be the minimum attendance percentage of full council meetings for a councillor to retain their position?
We told every councillor that they had a week to respond, and that we would publish their responses entirely unedited. All responses are published below, in the order that they were received by us.
Medway Council is set for it’s first by-election in several years, following the resignation of Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless.
Cllr Brown-Reckless was elected to represent Strood South as a UKIP councillor last year, and was deputy leader of the UKIP group on the council.
As such, a by-election will now need to be held to fill the vacancy in the ward, on a date to be decided in the near future.
It also means that the UKIP group on Medway Council has now been reduced from 4 to 2 since their election last year, with Cllr Brown-Reckless’ resignation following Cllr Joy’s decision to sit as an independent.
Strood South has been a split ward for some time now, with Conservative, Labour, and UKIP councillors all representing the ward in recent years, so a fierce by-election battle looks likely for the vacant seat.
Internal strife within Medway Labour as ex-UKIP councillor Mark Joy tries to join party – full story In which the Medway Labour leadership cause an almighty row by trying to bring a former UKIP councillor into the fold.
Sunday Trading This week, MPs voted on whether or not to extend Sunday trading hours, as it still seems strange that someone can’t do their shopping at 5pm on a Sunday in 2016. In a rare outbreak of good sense, all three Medway MPs – Rehman Chishti, Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch, and Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst – all voted for the changes, but alas, the vote was lost overall. So no shopping at 9am on a Sunday for you.
This week, Medway Council’s ruling cabinet met. Amongst their decisions were to formally endorse the Southern Western variation of the Lower Thames Crossing proposals, and to rescind current arrangements for Business Rates Relief for next year. Both decisions will likely not be particularly popular. You can read the full minutes from the meeting here.
Medway Liberal Democrats The Medway Lib Dems went on the attack this week, with a scathing statement from new chairman John Castle attacking the Tories, calling out the opposition parties on the council, and demanding a change to the scrutiny system. The fact they have no councillors to really do anything was sadly missed out.
Did you hear the one about the Conservative activist turned UKIP councillor, who went independent, tried to rejoin the Tories, failed to do, tried to join Labour instead, and was turned down but still kind of managed to join anyway?
Allow us to introduce you to Strood South councillor, Mark Joy.
Mark Joy rose to prominence in Medway politics when he was part of Medway’s own gang of four, defecting to UKIP from the Conservatives in 2014 along with Mark Reckless, Chris Irvine, and Paul Monck. Medway UKIP was riding high at the time, winning by-elections for both parliament and the local council, but the good times came to a crashing halt on May 7 2015. Mark Reckless lost the Rochester & Strood constituency, while Chris Irvine lost his council seat, and Paul Monck failed to gain his. In the middle of this though, Mark Joy just about won a council seat in Strood South.
All of which left Joy in a slightly strange position. His ties always seemed closer to Reckless and Irvine personally rather than to the UKIP party, and now he sat with the three other untested UKIP councillors in the chamber. Within a month, Joy resigned from the UKIP group, choosing to sit as an independent in the chamber.
In the time since, he’s proved to be an interesting voice in the chamber. He often inserts himself into debates, sometimes to raise small issues, sometimes to ask questions. His voting record, untethered from party whips, sees him voting both with and against the ruling Conservative administration in roughly equal measure.
In the time since becoming an independent, Joy approached the Conservative group about the potential of rejoining their ranks, and was told in no uncertain terms that it would not be happening. Which meant the only options to Joy were to remain as an independent, or attempt to join the Labour group. Given Joy won his seat from a sitting Labour councillor, this would surely be impossible. At least it seemed so until this week, when Labour councillor Tristan Osborne tweeted the following:
The accompanying picture (as seen at the top of this article) shows Joy out campaigning for London Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan with both Osborne and Medway Labour Deputy Leader Teresa Murray. Given how critical Medway Labour Leader Vince Maple was of Joy following his resignation from UKIP, the sudden about turn is all the more curious.
Requesting comment from Joy, he told us that he “decided to help with London Mayor elections, as I think that Sadiq Khan is the best candidate”, but declined to offer any further comment.
Our own investigation discovered that Joy approached Maple to join the party, but was turned down on the basis that no one can join who has stood against the party within the last 12 months. That period is up in June, which means there will be nothing to stop him joining the party then. Sources within the party told us of ferocious opposition to this, with more than one councillor threatening to quit the group if that happens.
By way of a compromise, Joy has since been told that he can campaign with Labour, and attend local meetings, but will not be able to become to officially join the party for now. As one angry activist put it to us though, “he’s joined without a card”.
Other activists have raised serious concerns about Joy within the party, arguing that there is “massive opposition to any move for him to join”. Some have cited his past views, his closeness to Mark Reckless et al, and how it would make the group “a laughing stock”. Others have raised questions over his opportunistic jumping between parties, and his conduct in parish council meetings. Despite this, Maple and Murray seem to be actively encouraging him to join the party, against the will of their own group.
The Political Medway asked Medway Labour group leader Vince Maple, but made it clear he had no comment to make on the issue.
The Subliminal Adverts of Fergus Wilson – full story A bit of fun this week as Keevil decided to analyse the increasingly bizarre campaign adverts of Kent Police and Crime Commissioner candidate Fergus Wilson to see if anything was lurking between the lines.
Benefit cuts This weeks, MPs continued their battle with the House of Lords over cuts to disability benefit. The Lords have requested that the government carry out an impact assessment before making any changes, which you’d think would be normal anyway. MPs voted to ignore this suggestion, and push on with the cuts anyway. Both Rehman Chishti and Kelly Tolhurst voted in favour of the cuts.
On Tuesday, the Cabinet will meet, where the main attraction will be deciding where the council stands on the Lower Thames Crossing, with the west variant of the proposed plan likely to be endorsed. On Wednesday, the Planning Committee will meet to decide various applications, including turning The Railway pub in Rainham into a Wetherspoons, and the redevelopment of Canal Road in Strood.
Both meetings are held at Gun Wharf, and are open to members of the public.
Medway Labour The Medway Labour website was hacked over a week ago. We helpfully pointed this out to them when we spotted it. They didn’t acknowledge that and have done nothing about it, potentially opening up visitors to their website to malicious activity.
In a curious turn of events, ConservativeUKIP Independent councillor Mark Joy was out campaigning with Labour this weekend. There’s likely lots more to come on this development.
In actual policy news, they’ve finally come out kinda-sorta in favour of the Lower Thames Crossing.
Missing, presumably because speaking at last week’s budget meeting tired them all out.