Current council counts Conservative – 36 (+5) Labour – 15 (-2) UKIP – 4 (-) Lib Dem – 0 (-3) TUSC – 0 Green – 0
All seats declared
Chatham Central – Paul Godwin (Lab), Vince Maple (Lab), Julie Shaw (Lab)
Cuxton and Halling – Matt Fearn (Con)
Gillingham North – Pat Cooper (Lab), Adam Price (Lab), Andrew Stamp (Lab)
Gillingham South – Clive Johnson (Lab), Naushabah Khan (Lab), Dan McDonald (Lab)
Hempstead and Wigmore – Diane Chambers (Con), Rodney Chambers (Con)
Lordswood and Capstone – Alan Jarrett (Con), David Wildey (Con)
Luton and Wayfield – Sam Craven (Lab), Michael Franklin (Con), Tristan Osborne (Lab)
Peninsula – Roy Freshwater (UKIP), Phil Filmer (Con), Mick Pendergast (UKIP)
Princes Park – Tashi Bhutia (Con), Gloria Opara (Con)
Rainham Central – Rehman Chishti (Con), Barry Kemp (Con), Mike O’Brien (Con)
Rainham North – David Carr (Con), Martin Potter (Con)
Rainham South – Howard Doe (Con), David Royale (Con), Leslie Wicks (Con)
River – Andrew Mackness (Con), Habib Tejan (Con)
Rochester East – Nick Bowler (Lab), Teresa Murray (Lab)
Rochester South and Horsted – Trevor Clarke (Con), Sylvia Griffin (Con), Rupert Turpin (Con)
Rochester West – Kelly Tolhurst (Con), Stuart Tranter (Con)
Strood North – Jane Chitty (Con), Phil Hall (Con), Steve Iles (Con)
Strood Rural – Gary Etheridge (Con), Peter Hicks (Con), John Williams (Con)
Strood South – John Avey (Con), Catriona Brown-Reckless (UKIP), Mark Joy (UKIP)
Twydall – Anne-Claire Howard (Con), Dorte Gilry (Lab), Glyn Griffiths (Lab)
Walderslade – David Brake (Con), Adrian Gulvin (Con)
Watling – Wendy Purdy (Con), Asha Saroy (Con)
A little over four years ago, I introduced the world to my latest project, Democracy in Practice, with far more fanfare than it probably deserved. It was, essentially, a collection of Medway Council election results and basic councillor details (i.e. their allowances) presented on a primitive site that looked like it belonged in 1997. After the local elections in 2011, I moved away from Medway and started to migrate the format to my new-found home in Birmingham, although I didn’t live there long enough to complete the project and launch. I know that Democracy in Practice had its fans, but I was never happy with the look and feel of the site. I have always been a programmer, never a designer. So when the code started to show flaws, and I got involved in other projects which took up my time, I switched the site off and let the domain name expire. I thought that would be the end of the story. Today, I am launchingMedway Elects. We are 25 days away from the most important, and most unpredictable, general election in my lifetime – and, on the very same day, voters in Medway have a chance to change the makeup of Medway Council. I felt Democracy in Practice could live again, but it needed a major facelift – and a lot of changes under the hood to make it function in exactly the way it should. I got to work building the basic site layout first of all. I modelled it on another website I had built for an Air Cadet project. It’s not flash – just easier to navigate and more pleasing to the eye. I am also working on building a mobile-friendly version. Next, I rewrote the code from scratch – using Democracy in Practice as a strong foundation – and began adding new elements to the website. Medway Elects still contains election results (plus newly-added turnout figures, where available), including the ability to see each candidate’s electoral (and, where they have served on the council, allowances) history. But I am pleased to have been able to add electoral history for Medway’s three parliamentary constituencies (running from 1997). I am also excited to have been able to programme in various graphs to better illustrate party support and how it has changed over time. Clearly, as a party activist, I have never been able to lay claim to being an independent observer (although I have, in the past, had quiet words spoken in my ear for making independent observations on my blog or Twitter), but that is even more true now that I am standing in my first election as a candidate. However, Medway Elects is independent – it contains simply facts and figures, without any spin. Nothing on the site is designed to persuade anyone to vote for any particular candidate, with the only exception being the “Social Media” page, where anybody using the Twitter hashtag #medwayelects can join in the conversation. Perhaps the most exciting part of the Medway Elects which I am launching today is that it is not the finished article. I am continuing to explore additional improvements to the site – although most of these will come after the election, for obvious reasons. Until then, you can explore Medway Elects in all its glorious local political geekiness at www.medwayelects.co.uk. P.S. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the authors of this blog for their valuable advice over the past couple of weeks. Their contribution spurred me on to adding new features and tweaking what I had already created. You too can help make Medway Elects even better by letting me know what you’d like to see added.
or Jennings attempts to counterpoint Keevil’s old posts, but instead has a breakdown about his political positions and gets a few things off his chest.
It’s a bit of an odd situation to be tasked with responding to a set of blog posts that were written four years ago. It’s an even odder one when they begin with a central conceit that I can’t even get my head around: that Conservatives are evil. (The actual conceit is dealing with the fact they aren’t, but nevermind. – Keevil)
I’ve never been a Conservative by any stretch of the imagination. (sometime’s it’s not that much of a stretch – Keevil) But equally, I’ve never had the hatred for them that many a few years older than me seem to. Indeed, many of the politicians I admire tend to come from the Conservative benches. There is no one stronger in the Commons on civil liberties than David Davis. Until he buggered off to UKIP, Douglas Carswell was one of the most forward thinking voices on electoral reform. I even have a grudging respect for Michael Gove. Wait, come back. I have a lot of problems with what Gove has done, but there are few politicians of such conviction amongst the newer intake. (I’d rather a lack of conviction then a repeat of the Gove effect on education – Keevil)
I suspect part of this is my age. At 32, I never really experienced the periods that others seem to be most angry about. By the time I was politically aware, most of the damage was already done. More importantly, starting to engage around the turn of the century, there was a new enemy to fight: the (New) Labour party. The double whammy of the Iraq war and their dismantling of civil liberties entrenched a distrust of them so deep that I still find Labour to be the most off-putting of the major parties.
Of course though, politicians are individuals are the idea of an entire group of them being inherently evil, or all inherently good, is completely absurd. I’ve met remarkably friendly people in all parties. I’ve met people I disagree with but who truly believe they are doing the right thing in all parties. I’ve met arseholes in all parties. I don’t believe it’s helpful to characterise an entire party, positively or negatively, but doing so makes our politics far easier to justify.
I have a dirty little secret: I hate the political compass. (Its really not a secret – Keevil) Sure, it’s fun to answer a bunch of questions and be told where you sit on a scale. Sure, it’s more helpful than a straight left or right scale. But something being twice as useful as something completely useless isn’t necessarily that helpful either. (So we should change the name of the blog? – Keevil)
I had a lengthy Twitter exchange with a friend the other day over what I define myself as politically. I’ve struggled with this a lot over the years. When I first engaged with politics, I was a liberal. Then it turns out that label doesn’t apply to you if you are in favour of a free market. So I became a libertarian. Then it turns out a lot of them are lunatics in favour of no government at all. So I became a classical liberal. Limited government, free markets, individual liberty and all that. The problem is that no one has a clue what a classical liberal is, and it still doesn’t fit perfectly.
Pigeonholing aside, this has a detrimental impact on your political thinking. When taking a position on an issue of the day, everything becomes too knee-jerk. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. In recent months, I took up positions against plain packaging on cigarettes, against a ‘mansion tax’, and against an increase in the higher rate of income tax. Have I spent a lot of time thinking about these positions and looking arguments on either side? Not really. These just feel like the right stands to take. Which means somewhere along the line, without even realising it, truthiness became a real thing.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
This is because in the British electoral system, not every vote is equal. And the three Medway seats were hotly contested as they had a high chance of switching parties. They were, and had been since 1997, held by Labour.
The 2010 General Election saw the Conservatives sweep the parliamentary seats in Medway, when; Tracey Crouch beat Jonathan Shaw for the Chatham and Aylesford seat, former Labour councillor Rehman Chishti, now Conservative PPC, won the Gillingham and Rainham seat from Paul Clark, and Mark Reckless beat Teresa Murray for the Rochester and Strood seat after Bob Marshall-Andrews chose not to defend his seat.
In 2011, all 22 of Medway’s council wards were contested as part of the four yearly cycle of local elections and resulted in the Conservative group maintaining control as they had done since 2003. Things continued uneventfully in a theatrical ‘they said this, they said that’ style of minimal scrutiny and maximum point scoring that the Council leaders expected and accepted. Issues like Rochester airport expansion and the moving of Strood library are endlessly discussed, with little meaningful progress ever really made.
Will the Medway constituencies be visited by national leaders during the 2015 election? At this stage it seems likely, if only because the good folks of Rochester and Strood haven’t suffered enough in recent months.