Voice of the Opposition: March

Once a month we will be offering the Leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition the opportunity to talk unedited about.. well, Medway politics. Today we hear from Vince Maple, leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition on Medway Council.

I write this Saturday evening after one of the most challenging weeks in modern history. 

Our community of Medway, our country and our planet are dealing with a pandemic which is having huge and lasting impacts.

Yesterday, Friday 19th March, saw the tragic announcement of the first death in Medway related to Coronavirus or CoVid19 – my thoughts are with his friends and family at this most difficult time for them.

The regrettable reality is that it is unlikely to be the only loss we see here in Medway and every single individual lost to this virus will be felt by the whole community – the community which has shown such tremendous examples of compassion for others in these early stages of this public health challenge.

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone on the front line who is playing their part, from hard working council staff to those in the charities and voluntary sector, from individuals checking on their vulnerable neighbour to those teachers who will continue to do all they can for young people at this time, care workers to mental health professionals and of course everyone within our greatest institution the NHS who day in, day out will always go above & beyond and right now are working at a phenomenal and unimaginable level.

Of course, there are many individuals across Medway who are currently in self-isolation and that is such an important thing to do at this time.  The public health experts have shown clearly that the combination of self-isolation and social distancing will have a great impact in ensuring that as few people as possible are impacted by CoVid19 so please heed the advice, only go out if it is absolutely necessary and always be conscious at this time of social distancing if you do need to go out for supplies.

If you are going out for supplies, don’t be an idiot.  Nobody needs 30 pints of milk, or 60 rolls of toilet paper – if you have panic bought excessive amounts consider donating some to the Medway Foodbank to ensure those who are at the point of absolute desperation can access help at this time. 

I’m pleased that many Labour councillors were able to give some of their ward improvement funds toward the foodbank which is helping individuals and families across Medway right now.  If you are in a position to give them some support at this time you can do so here.

As this pandemic is bigger than party politics I wrote to the Leader of the Council earlier this week with a wide range of concerns, seeking to work on a cross party basis.  I was grateful for his early meeting with me and the subsequent initial meeting of the cross party CoVid19 group which both Teresa Murray and I attended for the Labour & Co-operative Group. 

The cross party group will meet on a weekly basis for the foreseeable future.  Some issues raised in my letter are still awaiting further progress including the setting up of a hardship fund for those in most need in Medway and ensuring that vulnerable residents are protected as far as possible from scammers attempting to take advantage at this challenging time.  Other points raised have been dealt with quickly which is important including the cancellation of activities & festivals to the end of June ensuring there is clarity for all involved.

Labour & Co-operative councillors will also be calling on the government to do all they can to ensure society can continue to function as much as practicably possible in these unique times. Some parts of the community have had protections starting to be put in place, but there are some such as those who are self employed or on zero hours contracts and those who rent who still haven’t got the level of protections they need at this difficult time.  Whoever wins the Labour Leadership election on April 4th will have to make sure they amplify those concerns very quickly in the new role.

We as the opposition group on the council will continue to do all we can to help Medway get through this public health challenge so I’ll finish this month’s column with my top five tips on what all Political Medway readers can do to play their part:

1 – Wash Your Hands: this is one of the most powerful tools in tackling this virus and something which everyone can (and must) do for 20 seconds.

2 – Stay Indoors: if you don’t have to go outside, then don’t. If you do have a reason to be out then remember the social distancing rules. If you are in one of the high-risk groups because of your age or health then please stay in for the timescales that Public Health England recommend.

3 – Stay informed: Medway Council will have the very latest up to date information at www.medway.gov.uk/coronavirus – you can also get news from local trusted sources like KMTV, BBC Radio Kent & BBC South East, ITV Meridian and the Medway Messenger. Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook & Twitter as sadly there is unhelpful fake news out there.

4 – Look after your mental health: this is a unique and very challenging time for all of us. The Mental Health Foundation have provided some excellent advice on how to look after your mental health which you can find here Looking after your mental health during the Coronavirus outbreak.

5 – Be Kind: this will be an incredibly challenging time for many out there – those smallest acts of kindness, compassion and generosity really can make all the difference to others right now. 

Medway is a kind, generous, compassionate, caring community – together we can, and will, beat this virus.

Stay Safe

Vince Maple is the leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition party on Medway Council, and a councillor for Chatham Central.

Leave a Reply