Much ado about UKIP

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.

This success lasted a matter of weeks, given two tactical errors that undercut them from day one. The leader of the group, Chris Irvine, a sitting councillor in Peninsula, decided to fight for a seat in Rochester East instead and lost. More devastating was the loss of Mark Reckless as an MP. These two issues immediately destroyed any momentum Medway UKIP had, and others in the party quickly began to fall away. One of their councillors, Mark Joy, declared independence from the party in no time at all, before eventually joining the Tories. A second, Catriona Brown-Reckless, resigned and moved to Wales. Most recently, Cllr Mick Pendergast resigned to sit as an independent, and has since formed his own group to fight the 2019 elections.

Ostensibly, this leaves only Cllr Roy Freshwater as both the leader and the entire membership of the Medway UKIP group.

Where can the party realistically go from here in Medway?

Continue reading “Much ado about UKIP”

The Fortnight in Medway Politics: Children, Chairmen, Conduct

The big stories

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.

Elsewhere in Parliament
Kelly Tolhurst spoke at length on energy generation on the Isle of Grain, while also acknowledging that some will be sad to see the chimney at Kingsnorth power station demolished.

Medway Council

All change
A sudden departure from Medway Council this week for it’s head of children and adult services, Barbara Peacock. Her time at the council can be described as rocky at best.

Curious conduct
A rare outing for Medway Council’s Councillor Conduct Committee this Wednesday. An interesting agenda that focuses on introducing social media guidelines for councillors, while also dealing with a complaint against a councillor. Whatever could it all be about?

Political Parties

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 Liberal Democrats
Want to meet some local Lib Dems, if only to prove they exist? They’ll be in Strood High Street from 10am on Saturday!

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.

Other news

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.

Internal strife within Medway Labour as ex-UKIP councillor Mark Joy tries to join party

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:

Tristan Osborne tweet

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.

Post #MedwayVotes Analysis

General Election

Chatham & Aylesford

Keevil Prediction:
Conservative win. Medium majority. Greens, Lib Dems, TUSC and Christian People’s Alliance to lose their deposits.
Jennings Prediction:
Conservative win. Medium majority. Greens, Lib Dems, TUSC, and Christian People’s Alliance to lose their deposits.

Result
Increased turnout.
Conservative win with a large majority. Increased vote and vote share.
UKIP gains.
Lib Dems reduced vote.
Greens vote increased.
Lib Dems, Greens, CPA and TUSC lost their deposits.

Thoughts
A victory and re-election for Tracey Crouch which wasn’t nearly as close as we thought it would be, a sign of the election overall.
The Labour result was very disappointing for them given it was a target seat.
UKIP result here was significant, considering they changed candidate late on, who only made his presence known late into the campaign.
Liberal Democrats should focus on clarifying their local party system rather then thinking too much about the result.
Some positive news for Medway Greens where their vote increased into four figures.

Gillingham & Rainham

Keevil Prediction:
Conservative win. Large majority. Greens, TUSC and independent candidates to lose their deposits. Naushabah Khan, Councillor, to stand and do better in 2020.
Jennings Prediction:
Conservative win. Large majority. Greens, TUSC, and independent candidates to lose their deposits.

Result
Turnout similar to 2010.
Conservative win with a large majority, up on 2010.
Labour vote share down on 2010.
UKIP gains.
LibDems failed to break 5% of vote.
Greens vote increased.

Thoughts
Will Naushabah, bruised by a by-election and General Election battle in Rochester & Strood stand again? If so, then the recently elected Councillor for Gillingham South should be Labour’s focus in this constituency.
Did we see the rebirth of the SDP, with Mike Waters? (No, we didn’t – Jennings)
Will TUSC and Left Unity build on this result? Or stand separately in future?

Rochester & Strood

Keevil Prediction:
Conservative win. Small majority. Lib Dems and TUSC to lose their deposits
Jennings Prediction:
UKIP win. Small majority. Lib Dems and TUSC to lose their deposits.

Result
Turnout up on 2010 and by-election.
Reckless vote almost the same as the by-election.
Conservative vote almost the same as 2010.
Labour increased result from by-election, but still below 2010 level.
Greens failed to hit 5% but vote stayed above 1500 from by-election.
Lib Dem result in four figures.
Greens, LibDems and TUSC lost deposits.

Thoughts
Will Mark Reckless stand again, as he has a General Election record of 1 win in 4!
Will Clive Gregory stay as Medway Greens coordinator and presumptive candidate?
Can Labour return to being the second party of Rochester & Strood, let alone win the constituency?
Whilst Lib Dems were being massacred nationally, how did they gain 1,000 votes after the by-election?

Total Medway Vote Share by Party
Conservative: 47.2%
UKIP: 23.7%
Labour: 22.9%
Lib Dems: 3%
Greens: 2.6%

Predictions Result
Keevil 3 for 3
Jennings 2 for 3

See you in 2020.

Nothing to report: A UKIP Report

Farage RochesterPhoto by Alan Collins

Turning up at a UKIP event leaves one with a strange feeling. The vitriol directed toward the party is so strong that you’re left with a nagging feeling of “what if someone sees me here and gets the wrong idea?”

This blog was invited in an independent capacity to a UKIP event with Nigel Farage and Mark Reckless at Rochester’s Corn Exchange last night to see how these things work on the inside. Not that there was much time to worry about perception. As I arrived at the venue, Nigel Farage was making his way in following a visit from a tea shop across the road, being pursued closely by camera crews and a young protestor repeatedly yelling “BOO!” as loud as he could. So there’s probably a clip of me awkwardly getting out of the way during all this doing the rounds on Sky News or something.

It’s worth noting that while UKIP never proclaimed this as being a public event, it was stressed that the audience was made up primarily of undecided voters. I don’t know how these people were invited to the event, as your name had to be on a list to get in, as one local with an interest in politics soon discovered:

Surveying the crowd, I was somewhat surprised to find a wider demographic than the standard old angry white men one might expect at these events. There were some women and even some younger people too! Some of the younger people, particularly the ones sitting behind me, even seemed weirdly enthusiastic about the whole thing.

The leader of the Medway UKIP group, Chris Irvine, opened the proceedings with a pitch for UKIP taking more seats on Medway Council on May 7, before introducing “the man who beat both Labour and the Tories”, Mark Reckless. Reckless strode in to polite applause, and immediately got off to a bold start with the audience by opening with a bit about how nice the weather has been.

Reckless has never been the strongest performer when it comes to public events, but he moved deftly from policy to policy. Some of this was fairly agreeable, like reform of hospital car parking charges, or only building on brownfield land, and some of it was less so, like slicing a mere £11bn out of the aid budget. Not that it mattered much to this audience: for a group of undecided voters, they applauded just about everything.

I suspect much of the crowd was there just to see Farage. Indeed, toward the end of Reckless’ speech, some of the people at the back of the room were beginning to murmur. This led to a feeling of being at a gig where a support band has been told they have 20 minutes, but decide to play their whole album anyway. Still, Reckless brought things to a close with a robust defence of the personal attacks launched on him by the Tories, which was always a silly tactic, before introducing Farage, who entered to the loudest applause of the evening.

Farage in the room is exactly the same as the one you see on TV. He was typically rabble-rousing, describing the UKIP surge as a “purple rash”, swiftly jumping from issue to issue, with well practiced lines on each of the big issues. He even managed to throw some red meat to the locals too, promising to restore Rochester’s city status. He never explained how he’d do this, but it obviously went over well.

He proceeded to spend a reasonable amount of time attacking the SNP, suggesting the way the other parties deal with them as approaching “appeasement”. Fiery stuff, and comments that will definitely put the Scottish National Party in Rochester & Strood on the back foot. After that, it was a quick dash through a potential EU referendum (one held by the Tories would be a “stitch up”), and suggesting poll numbers are underestimating UKIP. I find that to be fairly unlikely, but it’s the way of keeping the dream alive.

The final section of the evening was dedicated to “public questions” that were already prepared and none were taken from the floor. Some interesting topic came up, from cutting the BBC “to the bone”, and the electoral reform policies that UKIP are actually pretty strong on, before it was all over and Farage left to a standing ovation from most of the crowd.

You may have noticed that a lot of this is off of the beaten UKIP track. The EU only came up periodically with the usual spiel, and immigration was barely mentioned, outside of one or two smaller references. This represents a change in tack for UKIP, an attempt to be a fully formed political party, with a range of party policies beyond the usual fare. How successful this will be is another matter, but Farage seems confident, predicting that Reckless will not only hold onto Rochester & Strood, but will increase his majority. Does anyone really fancy taking that bet?

We got through the entire night without it happening, but on the way out I finally heard my first “I’m not racist, but..” from one of the supporters. I guess it had to happen at some point.

Outside the venue, the lone protestor who had been shouting at Nigel Farage before the event was still waiting. Farage himself snuck out of another door, leaving it to security to break the news to the stubborn young man:

Security: He’s already gone mate.
Protestor: I don’t care.

He’s possibly still standing there today.

Jennings

Would the real UKIP candidate please stand up?

On Monday the 23rd of February, while Nigel Farage was in town announcing UKIP health policy, a funny thing happened. Mark Reckless introduced the audience to Mark Hanson, UKIP’s newly selected parliamentary candidate for Gillingham & Rainham.

Mark Hanson isn’t without history in the party – he was originally selected as the UKIP candidate for Rochester & Strood before Mark Reckless defected, which obviously disrupted his campaign somewhat.

All of this may be something of a surprise to one Martin Cook, who was previously selected by the local party to contest the Gillingham & Rainham seat. As little as last month, he was out campaigning in the constituency.

Still, we’re sure the other Medway UKIP candidate in that photo – Steve Newton, the candidate for Chatham & Aylesford – isn’t having any problems either, right? Oh, wait, he’s been removed from his position in recent months as well, and the seat is currently waiting for a new candidate to be selected.

A member of Medway UKIP wouldn’t offer any comment on the situation.

The Rochester and Strood by-election: A Reckless Legacy

Rochester sweets

Wandering along Rochester High Street one Saturday afternoon last year, someone stopped me in the street and asked “had I heard about Mark Reckless?”. This kind of question isn’t wholly unusual, as years of tweeting council meetings and tackling evasive politicians tends to lead to this kind of thing. Still, in this case, I hadn’t heard anything, and was told that the Rochester and Strood had MP had just defected to UKIP. I scrambled to my phone for more details, and found he’d appeared at the UKIP conference and announced his intention to fight a by-election, in the same way Douglas Carswell had recently done.

In retrospect, perhaps this shouldn’t have been a surprise. Reckless had always been in the awkward end of his party, and a Eurosceptic so staunch that UKIP wouldn’t even stand against him in 2010. The writing was likely on the wall once Carswell made his decision. Both were always close with each other, allies on a number of issues. Where one led, the other was likely to follow. Constitutionally, there was no requirement for Reckless to trigger a by-election – he would have been well within his rights to defect to UKIP and remain in office until May 2015. Whether or not triggering a costly by-election is the right thing to do is up for debate, but it gives his choice more of a democratic mandate.

So began a fraught by-election campaign for Rochester and Strood. Of the 2010 candidates, only Reckless and Lib Dem Geoff (or Goeff) Juby stood again. Labour selected Naushabah Khan, who works in public affairs, from the Progress wing of the party. The Green Party put forward one of their rare Medway members not named Marchant, and the Conservatives went with Kelly Tolhurst, a Rochester councillor with a local portfolio in improving educational standards (spoiler alert: she didn’t).

Then, as is natural for a by-election, the side show of minor candidates were rolled out. The Monster Raving Loony Party rolled into town, offering perhaps a more credible alternative than many of the major parties. Independent sex workers stood, and then more worryingly, Britain First stood.

Standing on a platform of opposing a mosque two constituencies away, Britain First attempted to hold two marches in Rochester before the election, which they were perfectly entitled to do. Thankfully though, the usual apathy of the masses was washed away as local residents blocked their path, and refused to let them through. They just had to settle with getting some photos with UKIP activists instead.

The election quickly settled into being a two-horse race between UKIP and the Conservatives, giving voters a choice between right and righter. Quite how this happened is slightly baffling as Labour held the seat until 2010, but didn’t seem particularly interested in trying to win it back this time around. In the end, UKIP managed to win it, albeit with a less than expected margin, but what was the state of each party following the campaign:

UKIP

Mark Reckless won the seat for UKIP with 42% of the vote. This was lower than the 49% he achieved as a Conservative in 2010, but still a respectable number for a seat they hadn’t even competed in in that election. There was some basis for this – UKIP did win Medway in the European elections earlier on this year – but this was their first parliamentary success in the area.

Conservatives

The Conservatives ended on 35% of the vote, higher than predicted by the polling in the run up to the election. Some of this number was likely made up of people who aren’t traditionally Conservative voters lending them their vote purely to keep UKIP out. Which means the party are still in a very difficult position for the repeat in May: If they can’t win when throwing every resource available to them at it, what more can they do while also fighting 631 other seats at the same time? In the meantime, they’ve decided to launch legal action against Mark Reckless, which definitely won’t backfire at all.

Labour

In the early days of the campaign, it felt like Labour might actually have a serious attempt at the seat. Ed Miliband even turned up and talked really awkwardly about immigration. After that, everything seemed to fall away. The party seemed to decline pouring resources in, which for a seat they held until 2010, seems like quite a strange choice. As such, they fell back to a final result of 17%, making the seat almost impossible for them to win in the coming elections.

Green Party

Other than UKIP, the Greens were the only party to increase their share of the vote from 2010. They nearly tripled their share of the vote to 4%, which doesn’t sound like much, but is their best electoral result in Medway. Their candidate, Clive Gregory, came across well whenever he got the opportunity to speak, and leaves the party well placed to pick up more of the traditional left vote as Labour back away from the seat.

Lib Dems

Recording the worst result for the Lib Dems in pretty much forever, the party received less than 1% of the vote. To put that into more pure numbers, they received 349 of the more than 40,000 votes cast. Showing that the Lib Dems are retreating back to their limited Gillingham heartlands in Medway, they didn’t seem to bother campaigning at all in this. In short, they put less effort into their campaign than I put into this paragraph.

The 2015 rerun

This year will see almost an exact repeat of the by-election, with UKIP, the Conservatives, Labour, and the Greens all fielding the same candidates. With the more limited resources of a general election, it’s likely the result won’t be all that different. Isn’t democracy grand?

Jennings

Cleaning Up Their Pledges

In politics, making a pledge to help you get elected is a fairly standard thing. Particularly for the challenging upstart trying to separate themselves from the tired incumbent. Some are fairly minor, some are fairly major, others (if you’re Liberal Democrat Independent Labour councillors) are made to be broken.

Going into the 2010 General Election, distrust in politicians was rife following the expenses scandal. This offered those candidates vying to become new MPs a great opportunity to make themselves seem like better, more open candidates. So it was, that all three Medway Conservative candidates signed up to Tracey Crouch’s Clean Campaign Pledge. Much of this was centred around fighting a good, clean campaign, but it also included a whole section on what all three (Crouch, along with Rehman Chishti and Mark Reckless) would do if elected to make themselves more transparent.

Well, all three were elected, so let’s see how they have done.

Pledge 1

To publish online details of all of personal expenses incurred as a Member of Parliament.

Pledge 2

To publish online details of all office expenses incurred as a Member of Parliament.

These should be the easiest ones for any candidate to comply with – all each of them had to do was publish their expenses. Not one of the candidates has managed to do this is in full. Tracey Crouch comes the closest, having an ‘Expenses’ page on her website, with some information on things she has claimed, along with her full expenses for the current financial year. It’s unfortunate that the data for the previous years isn’t also listed, but it’s better than nothing.

Nothing being exactly what we get from Rehman Chishti and Mark Reckless. Indeed, when you search for the word ‘expenses’ on Chishti’s website, this is what happens:

Chishti expenses

Now, if we could play devil’s advocate for a moment, the full expenses of all three MPs are available via IPSA – but that’s a bit of a pain in the balls, and not exactly meeting the pledge to publish their expenses online.

Pledge 3

To publish online details of all donations in line with Electoral Commission rules.

None of the three have seemingly met this particular target, at least not in terms of publishing the data themselves. Again, most like the expenses pledge above, the information is online, as the data is taken from the Register of Member’s Interests where they are published, and placed online by websites like They Work For You. These websites do a great job, but we’d suggest the average constituent probably wouldn’t know where to look to find this data, and would struggle to understand parts of it even if they found it.

Still, the data for each MP is here, so feel free to try and make what you can of it: Tracey Crouch / Rehman Chishti / Mark Reckless

Pledge 4

To appoint a local firm of auditors to approve expenses accounts at the end of every financial year.

Pledge 5

To open up the unedited expenses claims to local newspapers at the end of every financial year.

We have no idea if these pledges have been met or not. We couldn’t find any references to these local auditors on the websites for any of the MPs, nor anywhere else. The pledge regarding opening up expenses claims to local newspapers may or may not have been done, but those newspapers should have the sense to throughly trawl from the IPSA records regardless, so it doesn’t really matter.

Pledge 6

Never to claim for food, furniture or household goods.

This pledge has been absolutely met by Tracey Crouch – she has never claimed for any of these things during her nearly five years in office. Rehman Chishti and Mark Reckless haven’t claimed for furniture or households goods, but they have claimed for food, albeit to feed their interns. Which given they seem to be unpaid (Chishti for one advertises this fact), it seems fairly hard to begrudge.

Pledge 7

To meet all tax liabilities – such as stamp duty – without claiming them from the taxpayer.

This pledge has been met in full by Tracey Crouch and Rehman Chishti – neither of them have ever claimed  any kind of tax liability from the taxpayer.

The same can’t be said of Mark Reckless though, who has claimed £4,799.89 in council tax in his time in Parliament. Now, to be clear, he is perfectly entitled to do so, but it’s fairly difficult to square this with the above pledge.

Overall, none of our current MPs have done exceptionally well with their pledges – Tracey Crouch is definitely the closest, and if she had the full five years on her website, we’d basically be there. Rehman Chishti and Mark Reckless have come out of this less well. True, most of the information they promised to publish is publicly available in some way, but only if you know how to find it – they certainly haven’t made it easy for their constituents to find the information.

Jennings