If you ask a public question via email, and nobody responds, does it make a sound?

So, what are we to make of Medway Council’s proposal to limit public questions because email is apparently a good alternative when hardly any councillors answer their emails?

As our investigation established, only 14 out of 55 Medway councillors bothered to reply to questions. More damningly, not a single member of the Cabinet – the councillors that currently answer public questions in meetings – responded in any way.

To reiterate, the people that are currently forced to answer questions at meetings are the least likely to answer public questions by choice.

At the previous council meeting, Cllr Mackness, the portfolio holder in charge of this issue, insisted that public questions were not needed because residents can contact him via email.

Cllr Mackness did not respond to our email with questions on the subject.

That is not to say that public questions at Medway Council meetings shouldn’t be reformed in any way. Many councils only allow the public to ask one question and a supplementary at meetings, whereas Medway allows two plus two supplementaries. A number of councils limit any member of the public to only asking questions at two meetings per year, whereas Medway allows the same person to ask questions at every meeting, so four times per year.

A more interesting arrangement is that a number of councils have a smaller number of public questions at full council meetings, but allow 10-15 minutes of public questions at all other meetings, from planning committees to overview and scrutiny committees. This allows questions to be asked, on the record, at more specialist meetings, on relevant topics. If the aim of the proposed changes to stop grandstanding at the (relatively) well attended full council meeting, this would seem like a good solution that still maintains public scrutiny. Indeed, Tony Jeacock, the Medway Liberal Democrat chairman will ask whether or not this is possible at Thursday’s meeting.

It is unlikely that much can be done to stop the proposals. They will go to a vote on Thursday, and the Conservatives have such a stranglehold over the council in Medway, with the councillors terrified of defying the party whip, that it seems all but certain that these changes will happen. With four years until the next elections and an opposition that borders on irrelevant, it’s very likely that after Thursday, proper public scrutiny in Medway will be a thing of the past.

iFAQs: Public Questions

Revised 16 Oct: Included late response from Cllr Vince Maple, and explanation for lack of responses from Cllr Dan McDonald.

Medway Council are planning to curb the number and type of public questions that they need to answer at public meetings. We’ve covered the situation fairly extensively previously.

During the last meeting, the Cllr Mackness, who is the portfolio holder in charge of this matter, stated that public questions weren’t as important as there were various ways to contact a councillor, specifically highlighting email.

As a result of this claim, we decided to email every single councillor in Medway with some questions about, well, public questions. We emailed every councillor on September 6, informing them that they had until September 21, a little over two weeks to respond. We’ll be analysing the full outcome in a future post, but for now, their full answers are presented below:

  • At the October Full council meeting, the Cabinet Member for Corporate services will be making recommendations regarding questions to the council.
    How do you intend to vote on the recommendation which includes the following motions?
    b.      Removal of a facility for second and supplementary questions.
    c.       Limiting any person, organisation or Member to no more than one question at each Council meeting.
    d.      Discontinuation of the practice of allowing substitutes to ask questions if a questioner cannot be present with a written answer to be supplied after the meeting instead.

The first part of your question, I am not at liberty to answer and you may find that the same for most councillors.  This is due to attending a discussion on a subject not pre-disposed, which is against the democratic process (I am aware that political groups have decided how they will vote prior to the meeting through group whips).  The use of Whips is undemocratic in itself as they breach every level of code of conduct going as they are used to persuade there members how to vote, when apparently they represent there constituents..
As an independent, I have the luxury of listening to a debate (and taking part if I can assist) prior to making a vote
Cllr Mark Joy (Ind)

Yes, I do intend to support the Conservative group regarding questions. I understand both sides of the argument but believe this will provide an opportunity for more people to take part.  Frankly it is just one tiny part of the way we listen to residents as everyone who understands the council will know. Anyone can easily contact me directly by phone, email or by letter. I normally respond immediately and I will always meet if that is what they prefer. Personally I think surgery is a bit outdated these days and I prefer to arrange meetings at a time that suits the resident and then give them as much time as they need.
Similarly, if residents prefer than can contact any cabinet member directly or even the leader. Speaking in full council can be very intimidating for most people, and I suspect in some cases it is more likely to attract those who like a big audience and the chance of press coverage.
Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con)

b. Do not agree
c. Do not agree
d. Do not agree
Cllr Roy Freshwater (UKIP)

I am not sure how I will vote yet.
Cllr Anne-Claire Howard (Con)

Voting against all because Labour proposed the motion to stop this in the first place
Cllr Teresa Murray (Lab)

b. Voted against
c. Voted against
d. Voted against
Cllr Tristan Osborne (Lab)

I intend to oppose all the measures which are proposed to limit the rights of Members, and members of the public, to participate in council meetings.  I intend to vote against all these measures.
Cllr Clive Johnson (Lab)

As you know, occasionally the high volume of public questions received for full Council meetings means it is not always possible to deal with them all in the thirty minutes allowed for public questions. It therefore seems wholly reasonable to try and address this democratic shortcoming, despite the criticism it may bring from a vocal minority e.g. opposition councillors and your own organisation.
The public rightly ask questions of councillors at all times, at meetings, via correspondence and on the phone. The opportunity to do so at full council is part of this right but I am sure any right minded person would agree that it is reasonable to ensure such rights have some limitations i.e. questions should not be repeatedly hijacked by a minority, should not unduly impact on the efficient and sensible running of Council business nor cause unnecessary delay and inefficiency.

I have considered the proposed changes carefully. The fact that 30 minutes for public questioning (as is the case at present) will be maintained under the proposed changes and that anyone who has not received a response within the time limits will receive a full written reply after the full council meeting, means that I would support these proposals as things stand.
I am very keen to ensure public questions are opened to a greater number and wider variety of local residents and the changes proposed appear to be an effective way of achieving this.
Cllr Phil Hall (Con)

b. AGAINST
c. AGAINST
d. AGAINST
Cllr Nick Bowler (Lab)

As all Councillors should I will listen to the debate and vote as I think best.
Cllr David Wildey (Con)

I WOULD NEED TO SEE THE ACTUAL AGENDA WORDING FIRST HOWEVER ASSUMING THAT IT FOLLOWS WHAT IS WRITTEN HERE, I WOULD BE VOTING:
b. IN PRINCIPLE FOR
c. IN PRINCIPLE FOR (A QUESTION ABOUT INTERPRETATION OF AN “ORGANISATION” THOUGH?)
d. IN PRINCIPLE FOR
Cllr Trevor Clarke (Con)

For
Cllr Asha Saroy (Con)

We received responses to this question from 12 out of 55 councillors.
Apologies for not responding due to personal reasons were received from Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab).
We received no response within the time frame from Cllr John Avey (Con), Cllr Tashi Bhutia (Con), Cllr David Brake (Con), Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless (UKIP), Cllr David Carr (Con), Cllr Diane Chambers (Con), Cllr Rodney Chambers (Con), Cllr Rehman Chishti (Con), Cllr Jane Chitty (Con), Cllr Pat Cooper (Lab), Cllr Sam Craven (Lab), Cllr Howard Doe (Con), Cllr Gary Etheridge (Con), Cllr Matt Fearn (Con), Cllr Phil Filmer (Con), Cllr Michael Franklin (Con), Cllr Dorte Gilry (Lab), Cllr Paul Godwin (Lab), Cllr Sylvia Griffin (Con), Cllr Glyn Griffiths (Lab), Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con), Cllr Peter Hicks (Con), Cllr Steve Iles (Con), Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), Cllr Barry Kemp (Con), Cllr Naushabah Khan (Lab), Cllr Andrew Mackness (Con), Cllr Vince Maple (Lab), Cllr Mike O’Brien (Con), Cllr Gloria Opera (Con), Cllr Mick Pendergast (UKIP), Cllr Martin Potter (Con), Cllr Adam Price (Lab), Cllr Wendy Purdy (Con), Cllr David Royale (Con), Cllr Julie Shaw (Lab), Cllr Andy Stamp (Lab), Cllr Habib Tejan (Con), Cllr Kelly Tolhurst (Con), Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con), Cllr Les Wicks (Con), Cllr John Williams (Con).

We received the following response from after the deadline had passed, but before this article was published:

My position on this is well documented – our full position will be clear on the evening of the 15th
Cllr Vince Maple (Lab)

  • It has been suggested that these changes will not affect the democratic process because Councillors are available for surgeries and via email.
    Can you confirm your surgery details, as taken from the council website, are accurate?
    [ individual details inserted ]
    Can you confirm, through reply, that your email address, as taken from the council website, is valid?
    [ individual details inserted ]

I can confirm that I do hold surgeries every Wednesday between 10am and 12 noon at St Francis of Assisi church as per council website.
Cllr John Avey (Con)

I have now set up ward surgeries at Strood Community Hub on the second Saturday of the month starting this Saturday 10.00am to 12.00pm.  My email address is correct.
Cllr Mark Joy (Ind)

Yes my contact details on the web site are correct, but I think the picture was taken when I was much older!
Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con)

yes
Cllr Roy Freshwater (UKIP)

Yes, these are the accurate surgery details and my email is correct.
Cllr Anne-Claire Howard (Con)

We no longer have the Maidstone Road surgery as it was unpopular,the Delce is correct we also do street by street surgeries where residents are notified in advance that we are coming and asked to display a “stop here” leaflet in their window on the day if they don’t want to just look out for us.
Cllr Teresa Murray (Lab)

These were accurate. I am currently liaising with Chatham Central colleagues on new dates due to the opening shortly of the All Saints Project. Once dates are confirmed here a new set of dates will be released for Luton Library.
Cllr Tristan Osborne (Lab)

Many Thanks for your email, especially in relation to the council website and my surgery details. I will get this updated asap. However, as you do point out my email address is on the web site and my details are also published in Medway Matters, so my constituents can contact me if they so wish.
Cllr Gary Etheridge (Con)

I will update the website and surgery details if needed ASAP.
I can confirm my email is correct.
Cllr John Williams (Con)

Gillingham councillors hold a street surgery in Gillingham High Street on the first Saturday of each month.
The email address you have is the correct one.
Cllr Clive Johnson (Lab)

With regard to your list of questions about my contact details, these are correctly listed on the Medway Council web site.
Cllr Phil Hall (Con)

NO LONGER  TAKES PLACE
Cllr Nick Bowler (Lab)

CORRECT
CORRECT
Cllr Trevor Clarke (Con)

Surgery details are in the process of being updated on the website. They should be up in the next few days.
Correct
Cllr Asha Saroy (Con)

We received responses to this question from 14 out of 55 councillors.
Apologies for not responding due to personal reasons were received from Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab).
We received no response within the time frame from Cllr Tashi Bhutia (Con), Cllr David Brake (Con), Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless (UKIP), Cllr David Carr (Con), Cllr Diane Chambers (Con), Cllr Rodney Chambers (Con), Cllr Rehman Chishti (Con), Cllr Jane Chitty (Con), Cllr Pat Cooper (Lab), Cllr Sam Craven (Lab), Cllr Howard Doe (Con), Cllr Matt Fearn (Con), Cllr Phil Filmer (Con), Cllr Michael Franklin (Con), Cllr Dorte Gilry (Lab), Cllr Paul Godwin (Lab), Cllr Sylvia Griffin (Con), Cllr Glyn Griffiths (Lab), Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con)Cllr Peter Hicks (Con), Cllr Steve Iles (Con), Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), Cllr Barry Kemp (Con), Cllr Naushabah Khan (Lab), Cllr Andrew Mackness (Con), Cllr Vince Maple (Lab), Cllr Mike O’Brien (Con), Cllr Gloria Opera (Con), Cllr Mick Pendergast (UKIP), Cllr Martin Potter (Con), Cllr Adam Price (Lab), Cllr Wendy Purdy (Con), Cllr David Royale (Con), Cllr Julie Shaw (Lab), Cllr Andy Stamp (Lab), Cllr Habib Tejan (Con), Cllr Kelly Tolhurst (Con), Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con), Cllr Les Wicks (Con), Cllr David Wildey (Con).

We received the following response from after the deadline had passed, but before this article was published:

That is correct although it will be changing very shortly to move to a new venue of the Magpie Centre and will be held on a Saturday Morning.  Roving Surgeries will continue.
Correct
Cllr Vince Maple (Lab)

  • What is an acceptable turn around time for a resident to wait for a response to an email?

it is dependent on the question, some can be turned around in a few days, most by 10 days, some a little longer. You also have to take into account whether the councillor  works or not.
Cllr Mark Joy (Ind).

I respond immediately – sometimes within the hour but normally in a day or 2. I have no admin support, so if away it might take longer. I have email with me all the time. I dealt with this enquiry in less than 4 hours.
Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con)

7 days
Cllr Roy Freshwater (UKIP)

I try to respond to all resident emails within 5 to 7 days which I believe is reasonable
Cllr Anne-Claire Howard (Con)

I try to respond within 3 days to emails and will arrange face to face to meetings according to urgency, mainly when constituents need to show me documents or require more emotional support. These take place at Gun Wharf or the LP office depending on convenience for residents.
Cllr Teresa Murray (Lab)

One working day for holding email or response
Cllr Tristan Osborne (Lab)

Personally, I send an acknowledge on receipt of an email as soon as I see it, this evening both I and my fellow ward councillor had a face to face meeting within hours of being help being requested and I always copy in my ward colleagues so that they are fully aware of anything that I’m dealing with so that they can assist or take over in my absence.
Cllr Gary Etheridge (Con)

I personally acknowledge my emails soon as I see them, face to face meetings are arranged at a time convenient to both myself and the resident.
Cllr John Williams (Con)

I respond to all emails that require a response as soon as I have read them, this is not always on the same day as receipt owing to the fact I am currently unable to check my account every day but it is usually within two or three days at most. Since first being elected four months ago I have responded to dozens of emails and general correspondence, met with a number of constituents who have requested meetings face to face, undertaken site visits and have not yet had any occasion where I have been deemed “unavailable”.
Cllr Phil Hall (Con)

3 DAYS
Cllr Nick Bowler (Lab)

Your other questions all depends on the reasons residents get in touch.
Cllr David Wildey (Con)

SAME / FOLLOWING DAY FOR ACKNOWLEDGEMENT / HOLDING REPLY (UNLESS AWAY / COUNCILLOR ATTENDING EVENING MEETINGS ON A COUNCILLOR’S DAY JOB DAY), SUBSTANTIVE REPLY WILL DEPEND ON WHERE INFORMATION HAS TO BE GATHERED FROM AND RESPONSE TIME OF OFFICERS TO THOSE REQUESTS
Cllr Trevor Clarke (Con)

1-3 days
Cllr Asha Saroy (Con)

We received responses to this question from 13 out of 55 councillors.
Apologies for not responding due to personal reasons were received from Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab).
We received no response within the time frame from Cllr John Avey (Con)Cllr Tashi Bhutia (Con), Cllr David Brake (Con), Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless (UKIP), Cllr David Carr (Con), Cllr Diane Chambers (Con), Cllr Rodney Chambers (Con), Cllr Rehman Chishti (Con), Cllr Jane Chitty (Con), Cllr Pat Cooper (Lab), Cllr Sam Craven (Lab), Cllr Howard Doe (Con), Cllr Matt Fearn (Con), Cllr Phil Filmer (Con), Cllr Michael Franklin (Con), Cllr Dorte Gilry (Lab), Cllr Paul Godwin (Lab), Cllr Sylvia Griffin (Con), Cllr Glyn Griffiths (Lab), Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con), Cllr Peter Hicks (Con), Cllr Steve Iles (Con), Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), Cllr Clive Johnson (Lab)Cllr Barry Kemp (Con), Cllr Naushabah Khan (Lab), Cllr Andrew Mackness (Con), Cllr Vince Maple (Lab)Cllr Mike O’Brien (Con), Cllr Gloria Opera (Con), Cllr Mick Pendergast (UKIP), Cllr Martin Potter (Con), Cllr Adam Price (Lab), Cllr Wendy Purdy (Con), Cllr David Royale (Con), Cllr Julie Shaw (Lab), Cllr Andy Stamp (Lab), Cllr Habib Tejan (Con), Cllr Kelly Tolhurst (Con), Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con), Cllr Les Wicks (Con).

We received the following response from after the deadline had passed, but before this article was published:

It varies issue to issue, some issues are very straight forward and can be answered immediately – others more complex and can take longer.
Cllr Vince Maple (Lab)

  • What is an acceptable response time to arrange a face to face meeting?

not sure on this still learning.  But been advised not to meet people one to one alone.
Cllr Mark Joy (Ind)

Again, the first date available to both parties. Normally less than a week. If urgent, quicker. I have been known to meet up within 30 minutes.
Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con)

7days unless urgent
Cllr Roy Freshwater (UKIP)

I try and arrange face to face meetings within 2 weeks of a request
Cllr Anne-Claire Howard (Con)

I try to respond within 3 days to emails and will arrange face to face to meetings according to urgency, mainly when constituents need to show me documents or require more emotional support. These take place at Gun Wharf or the LP office depending on convenience for residents
Cllr Teresa Murray (Lab)

Depending on availability of member no more than two working weeks.
Cllr Tristan Osborne (Lab)

Personally, I send an acknowledge on receipt of an email as soon as I see it, this evening both I and my fellow ward councillor had a face to face meeting within hours of being help being requested and I always copy in my ward colleagues so that they are fully aware of anything that I’m dealing with so that they can assist or take over in my absence.
Cllr Gary Etheridge (Con)

I personally acknowledge my emails soon as I see them, face to face meetings are arranged at a time convenient to both myself and the resident. I always copy in my ward  colleagues so they are aware of the work I am dealing with so they can help or take over if I am not available.
Cllr John Williams (Con)

Since first being elected four months ago I have responded to dozens of emails and general correspondence, met with a number of constituents who have requested meetings face to face, undertaken site visits and have not yet had any occasion where I have been deemed “unavailable”.
Cllr Phil Hall (Con)

As and when needed. I regualarly meet with  residents and will meet with them in their homes if convenient for the resident. We can also meet at Rochester and Strood CLP headquarters at 73 Maidstone Road, Rochester or in the Labour Group room at Gun Wharf
Cllr Nick Bowler (Lab)

Your other questions all depends on the reasons residents get in touch.

Cllr David Wildey (Con)

SAME / FOLLOWING DAY TO ACKNOWLEDGE / ARRANGE (UNLESS FALLS AS NOTED ABOVE) AND A FEW DAYS FOR ACTUAL MEETING TO HAPPEN AS DEPENDENT ON WHEN CONTACTED (IE IF ON A DAY WHEN COUNCILLOR IS AT THEIR DAY JOB)
Cllr Trevor Clarke (Con)

ASAP if convenient. If not, 5 days to a week of request.
Cllr Asha Saroy (Con)

We received responses to this question from 13 out of 55 councillors.
Apologies for not responding due to personal reasons were received from Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab).
We received no response within the time frame from Cllr John Avey (Con)Cllr Tashi Bhutia (Con), Cllr David Brake (Con), Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless (UKIP), Cllr David Carr (Con), Cllr Diane Chambers (Con), Cllr Rodney Chambers (Con), Cllr Rehman Chishti (Con), Cllr Jane Chitty (Con), Cllr Pat Cooper (Lab), Cllr Sam Craven (Lab), Cllr Howard Doe (Con), Cllr Matt Fearn (Con), Cllr Phil Filmer (Con), Cllr Michael Franklin (Con), Cllr Dorte Gilry (Lab), Cllr Paul Godwin (Lab), Cllr Sylvia Griffin (Con), Cllr Glyn Griffiths (Lab), Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con), Cllr Peter Hicks (Con), Cllr Steve Iles (Con), Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), Cllr Clive Johnson (Lab)Cllr Barry Kemp (Con), Cllr Naushabah Khan (Lab), Cllr Andrew Mackness (Con), Cllr Vince Maple (Lab), Cllr Mike O’Brien (Con), Cllr Gloria Opera (Con), Cllr Mick Pendergast (UKIP), Cllr Martin Potter (Con), Cllr Adam Price (Lab), Cllr Wendy Purdy (Con), Cllr David Royale (Con), Cllr Julie Shaw (Lab), Cllr Andy Stamp (Lab), Cllr Habib Tejan (Con), Cllr Kelly Tolhurst (Con), Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con), Cllr Les Wicks (Con).

We received the following response from after the deadline had passed, but before this article was published:

Sometimes diaries can be very busy through no-one’s fault but I always try and see a resident if they ask for a face to face meeting no more than two weeks after contact, and most of the time a lot sooner.  As I live in the ward, sometimes people will just knock on my door to raise an issue or concern.
Cllr Vince Maple (Lab)

  • If you are unavailable who would you recommend a resident speaks to?

I will always try and direct a resident to the relevant council department or officer.
Cllr Mark Joy (Ind)

Kelly Tolhurst, who is also a councillor in Rochester West, or, if appropriate, a cabinet member. Of course, they can also contact council officers direct.  If anyone was having difficulty getting hold of their councillor try contacting Democratic Services.
Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con)

I would personally recommend person to speak to who can take matter forward
Cllr Roy Freshwater (UKIP)

If I am unavailable, I recommend residents address:
– other Ward Councillors
– Chairman or Vice Chair of the relevant Committee
Cllr Anne-Claire Howard (Con)
If I’m not available my ward colleague is the first port of call,for some topics I will ask the MP eg immigration.
Cllr Teresa Murray (Lab)
I would offer a meeting with my fellow ward Councillors’ Sam Craven and Mike Franklin should I not be available but this is extremely rare. If the issue is related to non-council related business; welfare assessment, immigration appeals, I would refer to MPs office.
Cllr Tristan Osborne (Lab)
Personally, I send an acknowledge on receipt of an email as soon as I see it, this evening both I and my fellow ward councillor had a face to face meeting within hours of being help being requested and I always copy in my ward colleagues so that they are fully aware of anything that I’m dealing with so that they can assist or take over in my absence.
Cllr Gary Etheridge (Con)

I always copy in my ward  colleagues so they are aware of the work I am dealing with so they can help or take over if I am not available.
Cllr John Williams (Con)

Since first being elected four months ago I have responded to dozens of emails and general correspondence, met with a number of constituents who have requested meetings face to face, undertaken site visits and have not yet had any occasion where I have been deemed “unavailable”.
Cllr Phil Hall (Con)

Cllr Teresa Murray, my ward colleague
Cllr Nick Bowler (Lab)

Your other questions all depends on the reasons residents get in touch.

Cllr David Wildey (Con)

FELLOW WARD COLLEAGUES, THEIR CONTACT INFORMATION INCLUDED IN MY EMAIL SIGNATURE BLOCK
Cllr Trevor Clarke (Con)

Wendy Purdy
Cllr Asha Saroy (Con)

We received responses to this question from 13 out of 55 councillors.
Apologies for not responding due to personal reasons were received from Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab).
We received no response within the time frame from Cllr John Avey (Con)Cllr Tashi Bhutia (Con), Cllr David Brake (Con), Cllr Catriona Brown-Reckless (UKIP), Cllr David Carr (Con), Cllr Diane Chambers (Con), Cllr Rodney Chambers (Con), Cllr Rehman Chishti (Con), Cllr Jane Chitty (Con), Cllr Pat Cooper (Lab), Cllr Sam Craven (Lab), Cllr Howard Doe (Con), Cllr Matt Fearn (Con), Cllr Phil Filmer (Con), Cllr Michael Franklin (Con), Cllr Dorte Gilry (Lab), Cllr Paul Godwin (Lab), Cllr Sylvia Griffin (Con), Cllr Glyn Griffiths (Lab), Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con), Cllr Peter Hicks (Con), Cllr Steve Iles (Con), Cllr Alan Jarrett (Con), Cllr Clive Johnson (Lab)Cllr Barry Kemp (Con), Cllr Naushabah Khan (Lab), Cllr Andrew Mackness (Con), Cllr Vince Maple (Lab), Cllr Mike O’Brien (Con), Cllr Gloria Opera (Con), Cllr Mick Pendergast (UKIP), Cllr Martin Potter (Con), Cllr Adam Price (Lab), Cllr Wendy Purdy (Con), Cllr David Royale (Con), Cllr Julie Shaw (Lab), Cllr Andy Stamp (Lab), Cllr Habib Tejan (Con), Cllr Kelly Tolhurst (Con), Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con), Cllr Les Wicks (Con).

We received the following response from after the deadline had passed, but before this article was published:

If it is an issue in Chatham Central then my two colleagues Paul Godiwn or Julie Shaw, if someone is contacting me as Labour Leader then either Teresa in her role as Deputy Leader or the relevant Labour Spokesperson.
Cllr Vince Maple (Lab)

We received answers from, on average, less than a quarter of councillors to each questions, and even some that did reply barely answered the questions asked. We’ll be analysing the answers we did receive, along with those that we didn’t, in a second post tomorrow.

So, farewell then..

So, farewell then to no less than 20 Medway councillors.

Between councillors losing their seats, retirements, and deselections, over a third of councillors who were in office two weeks ago no longer are. I thought it’d be nice to take a look at those who will no longer be gracing the council chamber. Consider this like the ‘in memoriam’ section at the Oscars, just without the glitz, glamour, and likeable personalities.

The Stand Downs

This is the group that didn’t even try to fight their seat. Some quietly slipped into retirement, either through their own volition, or their party deciding for them. Others went on to better things.

Ted Baker (Rochester West, Con) – One of the longest serving members of the council, it’s been clear for some time that his reign has been coming to an end. He was giving a nice send off at his final council meeting, and will be awarded an honorary title on the council in recognition of his service.

Matt Bright (Princes Park, Con) – Cllr Bright not fighting his seat was a curious one. One of the younger members of the Conservative group, in a relatively safe seat, who never rebelled against his party in the chamber, he should have been a rising star. Alas, it was not to be.

David Colman (Gillingham South, Lab) – The Man Who Never Planned To Be A Councillor. The legend goes that at the last elections, Cllr Colman was merely a paper candidate, who was never supposed to win, but the collapse of the Lib Dem vote in Gillingham South saw him home. He served out his term, but seem to do very little during this time, and his replacements should be far more effective for the party.

Jane Etheridge (Strood North, Con) – Cllr Etheridge was widely liked but not necessarily the most forceful voice in the chamber. That all changed at her final council meeting though, where she made it adamantly clear to the discomfort of her colleagues that she was not stepping down of her own accord, and her party had deselected her.

Paul Harriott (Twydall, Lab) – Cllr Harriott has been a councillor in Medway for a couple more decades than I’ve been alive. After 52 years, he decided to call it a day, and he remained a force in the chamber right up to the end. Like Cllr Baker, he will be given an honorary title from the council to salute his remarkable council career.

Craig Mackinley (River, Con) – Left Medway, went to stand for Parliament in South Thanet, and became the almighty Farage slayer. (What’s a South Thanet? – Keevil)

Ray Maisey (Cuxton & Halling, Con) – I genuinely don’t think I know anything about Cllr Maisey. He rarely seemed to speak, and when he did, it was fairly unremarkable. (I never even heard him speak. – Keevil)

Tony Watson (Peninsula, Con) – One of the younger, more thoughtful members of the Conservative group. It’s unclear exactly why he didn’t stand again, but it’s worth noting that he was the only Conservative Councillor to vote against his group, standing up in favour of equal marriage, in a vote in the chamber some time back. Rebellions are so rare his is the only one I can remember during the past few years, and now he isn’t a Councillor. Not that I’m suggesting there’s a connection or anything. (Well done for clarifying that. – Keevil)

The Losers

Slightly harsh perhaps (accurate – Keevil), but these are the Councillors that tried to maintain a seat, but couldn’t manage it. Some were unexpected, some less so. Interestingly, every Councillor who recently switched parties, or tried to change the seats they stood in, lost. So if you become a Councillor, you should never, ever take any risks apparently.

Christine Godwin (Luton & Wayfield, Lab, lost by 70 votes) – One of the upsets of the night, as the Tories managed to take a seat in Luton & Wayfield, nearly taking down parliamentary candidate Tristan Osborne at the same time. Instead though, Cllr Godwin ended up as the casualty, after only one term on the council.

Patricia Gulvin (Princes Park, tried to fight Chatham Central, Con) – It seems that Gulvin intended to stand down regardless, as she moved from the relatively safe seat of Princes Park to the Socialist Republic of Maple. She did fairly well in that seat, but still didn’t really trouble the counting agents.

Vaughan Hewett (Rainham North, UKIP, lost by 765 votes) – An unfortunate tactical error for Cllr Hewett, who after leaving the Conservative group last year, decided to throw his lot in with UKIP. I suspect that isn’t where his allegiances truly lay, and he didn’t get the support he needed, so he lost by a large margin. A shame as he was one of the more reasonable voices on the council.

Stephen Hubbard (Strood North, Lab, lost by 297 votes) – A decent local Councillor taken out by the rising Conservative tide. Hanging on in a split ward is always a challenge, and Cllr Hubbard bore the brunt of the national swings.

Isaac Igwe (Strood South, Lab, lost by 627 votes) – The man who famously hid in the toilet purely to avoid having to vote on equal marriage lost his seat. No tears will be shed.

Josie Iles (Strood South, Con, lost by 118 votes) – The UKIP march on Strood meant that while the Conservatives were able to win one seat in Strood South, they couldn’t win them all. Unfortunately for Cllr Iles, her record has a local councillor wasn’t strong enough to see her hang on.

Chris Irvine (Peninsula, tried to fight Rochester East, UKIP) – One of the more baffling decisions of the election was that of UKIP group leader Cllr Irvine to give up a safe seat in Peninsula to fight Rochester East. He attests that this was the right thing to do as it’s the ward he actually lives in, and that’s very noble, but it does mean the likely collapse of the UKIP group on the council, and a valuable, if antagonistic, voice being lost from the chamber.

Geoff Juby (Gillingham South, Lib Dem, lost by 1006 votes) – A crushing defeat for long time Lib Dem group leader Cllr Juby, who saw his party pushed into fourth place in the ward. While his meandering style in the chamber wasn’t the most exciting, it’s a shame to see all representation of the Lib Dems being lost from Medway Council.

Sheila Kearney (Gillingham South, tried to fight Twydall, Lib Dem) – Cllr Kearney has been in poor health for some time now, and it was clear to all observers that her candidacy in Twydall was purely to make up the (small) Lib Dem numbers.

Tom Mason (Strood Rural, UKIP, lost by 262 votes) – Another UKIP defector that almost hung on, but was pulled down by the Conservative surge. Mason only seemed to go UKIP after his Conservative association deselected him, and while he almost hung on, the Conservative surge pulled him down.

Peter Rodberg (Strood Rural, UKIP, lost by 443 votes) – See Tom Mason.

Diana Smith (Watling, Lib Dem, lost by 452 votes) – It’s previously been joked that Cllr Smith could stand under any party banner and easily win, such is her local popularity. While that did see her through previous elections, and she was still the best performing Medway Lib Dem by some margin, it wasn’t enough for her to hang on. Her abstaining on important issues will be sorely missed.

20 councillors gone means 20 new councillors in their place. What will they bring us? We’ll be finding out soon enough..

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman?

Part 1 of a 2 posts looking at gender equality in Medway politics. This part looks at the council and it’s candidate, the second will look at those standing for Parliament.

It’s not necessarily helpful to get too bogged down in demographics or representation, so we’re going to spend an entire post doing just that. Specifically, we’re going to look at the gender divide for councillors and council candidates.

To begin, here is an infographic showing the current composition of the council by gender:

Council ratio

This chart shows that 16 of the 55 current councillors are women. While this is by no means equal, such is the will of the electorate and all that. So long as a roughly equal number of candidates are put forward, we shouldn’t quibble too much about the outcome, should we?

So, how’s that equality in candidates going? About this well:
Candidates

Oh.

In pure numbers, there are a nice round 200 candidates for council seats in Medway. Of those, only 57 are being contested by women.

Now, this article isn’t being written to assign blame to anyone in particular. All parties struggle to find enough candidates to fight council seats (indeed, only Labour and the Conservatives found 55 in Medway), and if women aren’t putting themselves forward, there isn’t a great deal an individual local party can do about it. That said, with our love of graphics, let’s take a look at how well each party has done:

The Conservatives have 13 female candidates out of a full slate of 55, or 24%.

Labour have done slightly better, managing 16 candidates out of 55, a stunning 29%.

The UKIP “vote for change” bus rolls on, with 6 of their 32 candidates not being men, or 19%.

TUSC are the only party to achieve equality in their candidates selections, with 55%, or 12 of their 22 candidates being women.

The Lib Dems are doing okay in this regard, but they only have 18 candidates overall. Of those though, 7, or 39%, are female.

The Green Party have the least gender equal slate of candidates in Medway, with only 2 of their 13 candidates, or 15%, being women.

So where does all this leave you as a voter on the ground in Medway? Well, unless you’re in Twydall or Watling, the only two wards where half the candidates are women, you’re left with a lot of men. This is especially true if you live in Cuxton & Halling or Lordswood & Capstone, where there are precisely no women on the ballot paper. There’s a number of wards where there is only one or two as well, so there’s still a long way to go in the battle for council equality.

Of course, equality in candidates is pretty redundant unless more female selections take place in winnable wards. Using the predictions this blog made for council seats, we calculated how many women are likely to be sitting on Medway council in two weeks time. In the “best case scenario”, we estimate 16 women will be on the council, which is how many are currently there. At the lowest end, we estimate only 9 could take seats. In reality, it’s likely be somewhere in the middle, meaning the next council will be even less equal than the current one, which is quite an achievement.

Jennings

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

(Delayed) Reaction ‘Return to Rochester & Strood’

Sunday Politics South East: 1st March

In the studio is Mark Reckless (former Conservative councillor and then MP, then UKIP MP, now UKIP PPC), Craig Mackinley (former UKIP Leader, then Conservative councillor, now Conservative PPC) and Naushabah Khan (former Labour PPC, now Labour PPC). The presence of Mackinley is fine – he is after all a councillor in Rochester’s River ward, but he is a PPC for South Thanet, not Rochester like the other two PPCs, which is what the main segment is about. It does raise the unasked question of where is Kelly Tolhurst (Conservative councillor and former Conservative PPC, now Conservative councillor and PPC).

Another unasked question is if Farage – rhymes with garage – loses South Thanet and thus the UKIP leadership, are Reckless and Mackinley potential future UKIP leaders? (No. No, they aren’t. – Jennings)

Following the discussion of the UKIP conference piece, I would make a joke about Khan feeling the need to make a point about being from an immigrant background, and feeling uncomfortable about watching a UKIP documentary, despite continuing to watch it, but as the show points out she is an amateur boxer, I just want to say: well said Naushabah, well said.

Head to 11 mins and 43 secs for the ‘Return to Rochester and Strood’ and for what it’s worth, I hate that opening and the rubbish random horror gag.

Is a majority of over 2,500 really an only just victory? How many thousand would tip it into comfortable win? Is there a scale?

We are taken into a long drawn out could it be UKIP or Tory, only to get a ‘we just don’t know’. I really dislike the music and voice over.

There follows a series of mini interviews:

Kelly Tolhurst: At the time there was the Conservative website leak that the constituency was a non-target. It was promptly visited by Mr and Mrs Cameron, on separate occasions. So is it a target? Or is it a target in the Labour sense of everywhere is a target?
Strong words from Tolhurst ‘I know the people, I know the place.’ Tolhurst disappoints however: She has yet to be seen, despite her words, with her sleeves rolled up.

Clive Gregory: Strong opening, ‘I’m not here because I want to become an MP..’ that’ll get you a vote for MP every time. There is a valid idea that the best way to actually put pressure on the government is to become an MP.

Goeff Juby: SPSE starts off by spelling it Geoff which is awkward, though not nearly as awkward as interviewing him after the disastrous by-election result, or that he is no longer the candidate.
And then it gets awkward(er) when he sets the Lib Dems the target of returning to over 7,000 votes, but I suppose that’s fine when its up to somebody else to do.
They cut to a wide shot, but cut back before Juby has a chance to point out some potholes.

Rochester & Strood is described as part of the new battleground. I can see that in the by-election, but the general election?

Back in the studio, where we discover that Tolhurst was invited but is too busy, and thus why Mackinley is stepping in.

Khan is asked ‘Ed is your biggest handicap’ that actually isn’t a question, but I think that’s my poor note taking. This was all before ‘hell yes, I’m tough enough’.
Khan’s then asked what she is going to do differently, and the answer she gives is to do everything the same. Which presumably includes coming third.
Khan does however hold her own, talking of pounding doors, amidst disbelief of any effect.

Mackinley is asked if he would have won the by-election.
‘Who knows’ comes the response, which isn’t a ringing endorsement of himself or Tolhurst. It could be argued he was being honest, but in the run up to an election you perhaps want a ‘Kelly did the best all considered and will do better in May’.
Not ‘I wasn’t in the pool’.

Reckless then takes everybody by surprise by ignoring this is an election and trying to talk positively about issues. Khan is particularly aghast when he says Labour were right on the NHS.
Which as he pointed out was in his blood.
When reproached on his voting record by Mackinley, he states he believed Ministers, but they were wrong and he is free of that now.
So did Chisthi and Crouch also vote based on wrong information from ministers?

Reckless is then cut off from speaking further, which is surely a sign of the media’s obligatory anti-UKIP bias.

 Keevil

 

State of the Unitary

What is a Unitary Authority?

 

 “A Unitary Authority (UA) is a local government structure which combines the functions of the two tiers of County and District/Borough Councils.
Medway became a UA following the decision to amalgamate Rochester Upon Medway and Gillingham Councils with the relevant part of Kent County Council.”
Cllr Vince Maple, leader of the Medway Labour group

 “Usually, you have two tiers of Local Government, the County Council which deals with strategic and major issues such as organising elections, working with schools and emergency services for example. They work parallel to the District Council, which is responsible for a much smaller area. So you would expect many district councils to operate in the same area as one county council. District Councils are responsible for issues such as housing, car parking and environmental health.

The concept of a unitary, is to for a specific area merge those powers under one authority. Therefore, in the case of Medway, all decisions be they working with emergency services or with social housing are taken by the one council.”
Cllr Mike O’Brien, Conservative councillor for Rainham Central

“Obvious answer is that it is a single tier of local government covering a specified geographic area to reduce costs, as opposed to wider areas which may comprise of district and county councils.
Medway does still have Parish Councils which some argue represent another tier of local government. I am generally supportive of Parish Councils as they tend to be made up of representatives from distinct villages who may be better placed to consider and address hyper-local matters, though at a cost in the form of a Parish precept.”
Cllr Chris Irvine, leader of the Medway UKIP group

“A top tier local governing body that administers an area but is separate to the local council”
Chris Sams, Liberal Democrat council candidate for Gillingham South Ward

“Unitary authorities of England are local authorities that are responsible for all local government services within a district.
So says Wikipedia anyway.”
Jacqui Berry, TUSC PPC Gillingham and Rainham

 

 Why isn’t Medway part of Kent?

 

“The majority of KCC administers rural areas and Medway being the largest urban area was not being represented so broke away possibly? But before my time!”
Chris Sams, Liberal Democrat council candidate for Gillingham South Ward

“Because it is a unitary authority. Seemples.
I’m not sure however that many people get the nuance and it is largely subjective as to whether someone in Medway considers themselves to be in Kent.
I think it’s nice to be both.”
Cllr Chris Irvine, leader of the Medway UKIP group

 “Medway is part of the historic county of Kent through basis of our geography and for many other services is recognised as such.
In local political terms it is distinct; Medway Unitary Authority was formed in 1998 when the City of Rochester-upon-Medway amalgamated with Gillingham Borough Council and part of Kent County Council to form Medway Council, a unitary authority independent of Kent County Council”
Cllr Tristan Osborne. Labour PPC for Chatham and Aylesford

 “It is in Kent, but it’s a bit big to be a borough of Kent County Council. Plus, with the dockyard it’s always been a bit separate.”
Jacqui Berry, TUSC PPC for Gillingham and Rainham

“The individual towns in Medway are classed as Kent as far as what ceremonial or geographical county they belong to. Therefore the Lord Lieutenant of Kent is responsible for the Medway towns as much as he would be Maidstone. The Medway Towns however are not under the prerogative of Kent County Council as they are a Unitary Council, though as you would expect there is much scope for joint working between the two.”
Cllr Mike O’Brien, Conservative councillor for Rainham Central

Why is Medway a unitary authority?

 

“Very good question.
Many in my ward of Peninsula feel no affinity whatsoever to Chatham, Rainham and Gillingham, and some are even calling for independence from Medway Council, particularly following the council’s decision to concrete over Lodge Hill.
Unitary authorities are, in my opinion, a reasonable proposal but we need a representative democracy on the council which we simply don’t have under the current Leader and Cabinet model which UKIP will scrap.”
Cllr Chris Irvine, leader of the Medway UKIP group

 “There is a massive population in one of the largest conurbations  in the south.
Makes sense it is self governed.”
Chris Sams, Liberal Democrat council candidate for Gillingham South

“At the time it was recognised by the government that Medway being a major urban centres has major strategic and political challenges best managed at a Medway-level. The Labour-led Borough Authorities at the time supported the move towards a single-layer of local government.
The creation of the UA led to the lowest Council Tax in England and a single layer of political representation and accountability.”
Cllr Tristan Osborne, Labour PPC for Chatham and Aylesford

“The formation of Medway Unitary Council goes back to 1998, when John Gummer as Environmental Secretary rolled out plans for Unitary Councils. Representatives of various councils met with Mr Gummer and it was felt that the towns would benefit from being a Unitary.”
Cllr Mike OBrien, Conservative councillor for Rainham Central

“I’ll be honest, I don’t know if anyone really cares.”
Jacqui Berry, TUSC PPC for Gillingham and Rainham

Two more Medway councillors defect to UKIP

As Medway UKIP have been promising for a while now, two more former Conservative councillors have defected to the party. One of these – Tom Mason – is not surprising in the slightest. The other – Vaughan Hewett – is rather more out of the blue.

Tom Mason is currently a Conservative councillor for Strood Rural, and had recently been unceremoniously deselected from the Conservative party for the upcoming election. After being a local councillor for 45 years, he didn’t take this too well, and made no secret of his outrage over the matter. After a few months of flirting with UKIP but not going public, he’s today revealed he’ll be standing for the party in the coming elections.

The case of Vaughan Hewett is rather more strange. Until last year, he was a Conservative councillor for Rainham North, and actually one of the more reasonable ones. He resigned from the party following a falling out with his fellow ward councillor David Carr. This was because Cllr Carr had made unpleasant comments about travellers that Cllr Hewett described as “something akin to the BNP”. After a year of sitting as an Independent Conservative, Cllr Hewett has now joined UKIP, and will also fight his seat in the coming elections.

Is this the last of the UKIP defections in Medway, or do the party have one or two more surprises up their sleeves?

Jennings

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