It is said that elections are won on the doorstep, and that may well be true. Being armchair activists, it’s difficult to check up on that. Twitter and blogs however are part of our social media present and future, and if the election was decided there, how would each of the wards be looking?
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.
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.
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.
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.
This isn’t about preferences which would have shown Medway sending a rainbow coalition of Green, Lib Dems and TUSC to Gun Wharf (again, no it wouldn’t – Ed), but rather based on our misunderstanding of numbers and how vote swings work. Also we understand that every party is working to win every seat, and every seat is(nt) a target. Also, anything is possible. But..
The first thing you discover when you look at the numbers is how many of the wards are held with relatively large majorities, large enough so as to make you question wether the wards are even in contest. Some contests there are though, and between a potential drop in Conservative and Lib Dem vote as well as an increase in Labour and UKIP vote means there are predicted changes. This will lead to the council being under No Overall Control, which I think will be a good thing for Medway after years of single party cabinet control and a lack of scrutiny. The two main groups will have an almost similar number of wards meaning co-operation is essential.
Wards Cuxton and Halling: Whilst I am predicting a Conservative hold, Monck, who is a parish councillor for UKIP is a big question mark. One to watch for 2019! Gillingham North: Whilst I think this will be an easy hold for Labour, the interest is an alternate universe where in 2011 Stamp and Cooper stood and won as Labour, rather then Independents before changing. In this universe Khan stood in Gillingham South in 2011 and won, leading to a different Labour candidate in the Rochester By-Election and a different 2015 campaign. Gillingham South: Back in this Universe 2 of the 3 current councillors are not standing for reelection. A busy polling card, will see Lib Dems reduced to one councillor, and I wouldn’t put money on that being Goeff Juby! 2 Labour Councillors, 1 of which you would expect to be Khan. A telling ward for the development of the smaller parties. Luton and Wayfield: This could have been a Labour seat loss but I think Osborne will gain a #GE2015 recognition bounce which will see him through to 2019. Peninsula: I was preparing to predict 2 UKIP councillors returned by the Penisula word, but with Irvine not standing in the ward, I think it is a big ask for two new UKIP candidates. Princes Park: Seems a site for an actual contest. Current Councillor Pat Gulvin not standing for the seat currently held, adds to the interest in this ward and a seat changing to Labour. Rainham North: Hewett’s choice to join UKIP is an interesting one, especially as it’s not with support of the seemingly better organised Rochester & Strood UKIP. Will it lead to UKIP taking the ward? Or Labour taking the seat? No. River: With Mackinley standing in South Thanet and Mackness, who had the smaller majority in 2011, busy deselecting Conservative councillors in Rochester & Strood, Labour must feel River is for the taking. With better candidates it might have been. UKIP to do well, but not well enough. Rochester East: To turn half purple! This is based on no rational look at the numbers. Only that the UKIP group leader has given up the Penisula seat he won with a healthy majority for a strong Labour ward. There MUST be something we don’t know otherwise the UKIP group are in serious trouble. Rochester West: I am going to predict a labour seat gain here, but I think Tolhurst will win a #GE2015 bounce which will keep her safe until 2019. Strood North: The two councillors contesting their seats, leaving a battle for the third seat. I’m going to say the UKIP surge won’t get them a seat, and Labour will win it. Strood Rural: UKIP are working well in Rochester & Strood and this will lead to seats being held here, and if Mason does hold his seat that will be embarrassing for the Conservatives who deselected him. Strood South: Had a low turnout in 2011, an increased turnout from the General Election, and a UKIP surge mixed with a Reckless bounce, means I am predicting a three way split of seats. Walderslade: Had a large poll card in 2011, and this isn’t the case in 2015 which will change the outcome to a Labour seat gain. Watling: This will be a very close battle, Smith will see her majority reduced by the collapse of the Medway Liberal Democrat vote, but will hold on. Chaplin will have a #GE2015 bounce but not enough to min a council seat. The battle for the second seat will see a Labour win.
I think it’s generally accepted now that Medway Council will be under No Overall Control following this election, it’s just the exact make-up that is up for debate. My numbers are perhaps more pessimistic for the establishment parties, with the Conservatives losing 8 seats, but Labour only being able to pick up 3. This does lead to UKIP being the main beneficiaries. While their poll numbers have slipped in recent days, they have built a good infrastructure in Medway, and relatively easily topped the Euro elections in May and the Rochester by-election in November. The problem is exactly where these predictions leave us. It’s difficult to imagine either the Conservatives or Labour working with UKIP in Medway, meaning the only viable route to a council that can get anything done is a ‘grand coalition’ of the Conservatives and Labour. If the parties do decide to go down this route, there will certainly be interesting times ahead.
Wards Cuxton and Halling: This is a tough one to call, but a combination of the incumbent Conservative councillor standing down, along with the local popularity of UKIP candidate Paul Monck means that I think he can just about pull it off. Gillingham South: Labour are throwing the kitchen sink at Gillingham South, as it’s a ward they need to even come close to taking control of the council. They almost managed it in 2011, but if the Lib Dems are ruthless enough in their campaigning, Juby’s name recognition should be enough to help him hang on, but I definitely wouldn’t put any money on it. Peninsula: Peninsula appears to be very fertile ground for UKIP, with them handily winning the by-election there in November. That said, their most recognisable candidate, Chris Irvine, is attempting to move wards, so they face a slightly tougher battle here, but they should at least be able to defeat the two new Conservative faces. Princes Park: A curious ward where both sitting councillors are standing down, with both Conservatives and Labour putting forward serious candidates. I’d be inclined to say Labour can take both seats, but the Conservatives are putting forward respected former councillor Tashi Bhutia, a split ward appears to be looming. Rainham North: The wildcard here is Vaughan Hewett’s defection to UKIP. Traditionally a safe Conservative ward, the question is whether his name alone will be able to see him through. I think it will, but it’s not entirely out of the question that the ward will turn completely blue again. Rochester East: The most baffling thing about this ward is the decision for Medway UKIP group leader Chris Irvine to stand here. This ward has been safely held by Labour for some time, so to give up a reasonably safe position in Peninsula to stand here is one hell of a gamble. Still, these things aren’t done lightly, so UKIP must be confident that they can win here. If not, the Medway UKIP group could well be thrown into chaos post-election. Rochester West: The Conservatives, Labour, and the Greens are all putting forward strong candidates here. Under normal conditions, this ward may well have been a strong contender to go red, but Kelly Tolhurst’s status as PPC, along with the Green’s Clive Gregory taking votes away from Labour, should be enough to see her home here. Strood Rural: The only ward that I’m predicting to go completely UKIP, almost wholly on the name recognition of sitting councillors Mason and Rodberg. They’ll face a tough fight, but they should be able to pull off the clean seat sweep. Strood South: An interesting one that the Conservatives, Labour, and UKIP are all fighting. The national winds should see Labour pick up a second seat here, and there’s a chance UKIP will come through and snag the third. The question though is which candidate will be able to pull it off? Walderslade: If Labour hadn’t spectacularly screwed up their candidate selection here, they might have been able to pull it off. But as they selected two candidates, both of which pulled out, leaving two late selections, they face an uphill battle here. Watling: I was originally going to predict the Lib Dems winning both seats here as a result of UKIP taking from the Conservative vote. UKIP have decided not to run here though, making the battle tougher for the Lib Dems. Sitting councillor Diana Smith is incredibly popular though, and combined with the name recognition of Gillingham PPC Paul Chaplin, if they are ruthless enough in their campaigning, they should just be able to pull it off.
Chatham Central (current: 3Labour) Keevil Prediction: 3 Labour
Jennings Prediction: 3 Labour