In which Alan Collins from Medway Elects takes a look at what the General Election what might bring for Gillingham and Rainham..
They say that a week is a long time in politics, and in the time since my analysis for Chatham and Aylesford was published, the Brexit party have announced that they will not be standing in any seat won by the Conservatives in 2017. That means their three candidates in Medway have been stood down (whether they like it or not).
This not only impacts on the projection which has already been published, but also on the remaining projections. The question is, how does one divide the projected vote share for the Brexit Party between the remaining parties? Contrary to prevailing belief, the Brexit party were not likely to just be a vote drain on the Conservatives.
In 2015, UKIP, although only winning one seat in parliament for themselves, helped the Conservatives to a majority by taking enough votes away from Labour and other parties in key seats. Locally, the Conservatives’ vote share across Medway’s three constituencies held steady at 47.2% in both 2010 and in 2015, whilst Labour fell from 29.4% in 2010 to 22.9% in 2015 and UKIP shot from 2% to 23.7%.
Of course, given the disparity between the UKIP rise and Labour fall in 2015, one cannot simply re-allocated all the Brexit Party votes to Labour. There were, clearly, other reasons why the Conservatives held firm, and some UKIP voters were, indeed, Conservative voters in 2010. As such, allocating the projected Brexit Party vote share requires a complex calculation which, at this late stage, I do not have time to build into the projection. Thanks, Nigel! Instead, I am using a simplified calculation, which will, naturally, affect the margin of error. However, if the projection for Chatham and Aylesford is anything to go by, talk of margin of error may be purely academic when it comes to considering the likely victor.
Today, I am looking at my home constituency of Gillingham and Rainham, which has been represented by Rehman Chishti since 2010. The Conservatives stormed the 2017 general election in Gillingham and Rainham with 55.4% of the vote and a majority just short of 20%. Whilst Labour took two seats off of the Conservatives here in May, was the shift in votes enough to suggest Mr Chishti’s position is looking vulnerable?
Starting in my home ward of Gillingham North, and Labour will take heart in gaining a dramatic swing in their favour, shooting from 34.3% in 2015 to 52.5% in 2019. While the TUSC decided not to field a candidate, losses were felt by the Conservatives, who saw their vote share drop by 6.9%, and Ukip, who fell by 8.9%. The Green party climbed slightly from 9.1% to 10.6%, while the Liberal Democrats held steady on 6.1%. Overall, the ward is a promising start for one of its councillors, Andy Stamp, who is Labour’s candidate in Gillingham and Rainham.
Things are looking even more promising for Labour in Gillingham South, where their vote share rocketed from 28.3% in 2015 to 50.9% in 2019. The Conservatives have historically struggled in urban Gillingham, and their vote share fell in its southern half by 4.8%. Ukip lost 5.2% of their vote, while the Green party and TUSC decided against restanding. Again the Liberal Democrats held fairly firm, only losing 0.3% of the 12.4% share of the vote they secured in 2015.
But if Gillingham and Twydall are Labour’s heartlands, then Rainham and Hempstead are surely solid ground for the Conservatives. Discounting defections between elections, they have won each of the ten seats in these four wards in every election since 2007. Nowhere is their strength clearer, though, than Hempstead and Wigmore, where they romped home in 2015 with an eye-watering 77.4% of the vote. Admittedly, voters in the ward were not spoilt for choice, as when Ukip and the Liberal Democrats entered the field in 2019, the Conservatives saw their vote share slide by 10.1%, although they still commanded two-thirds of the votes. Not only did Labour lose 7.9% of their vote share in 2019, but they also came in behind Ukip on 13.3% and the Liberal Democrats on 9.8%.
In Rainham Central, held until 2019 by Mr Chishti himself, the Conservatives saw a sharp drop in their vote share from 61.1% in 2015 to 39.9% in 2019. In fact, Labour and Ukip also saw their vote share drop 2.4% and 2.7% respectively. The Green party enjoyed a significant increase in support of 10.9%, but the primary benefactor of the Conservatives’ misfortunes here were the independents, taking 21.8% of the votes. Whilst such a sharp drop in support would ordinarily be concerning, the Tories can take heart in the knowledge that it was not to the benefit of their primary challengers.
If the Conservatives are concerned by their drop in support in Rainham Central, they will find solace in Rainham North. They took 46.3% of the votes here in 2015 but enjoyed a surge in support in 2019 to 64%, primarily at the expense of UKIP, whose share of the vote fell by 11.8%. Labour also saw their vote share increase, by 5%, while the Liberal Democrats and Green party both decided against standing candidates here in 2019, where they had polled a combined 10.8% in 2015.
Rainham South is another ward where the Conservatives and Labour both lost ground, going from 49.2% and 20.2% respectively in 2015 to 39.9% and 15.5% respectively in 2019. UKIP also lost 7.4% of their vote here, while the Liberal Democrats and Christian Peoples Alliance both stood candidates for the first time and independents gained a considerably greater following.
Back into Labour territory and Twydall, where in 2015 the Conservatives won a seat for the first time since Medway council was formed. While winning the seat back in 2019 was no doubt a cause for celebration for Labour, they have little to cheer in terms of shifting voting patterns. The presence of UKIP and independents on the ballot paper in May meant Labour’s vote share fell by 10.7%, only marginally less than the Conservative’s drop of 14.1%. The Green party increased their share of the vote by 0.7%, while the Liberal Democrats lost 1% of their support. Overall, though, this is another example of the two biggest parties losing support to smaller challengers.
We end our tour of Gillingham and Rainham in Watling, a ward I know well (*coughs*). This was one of Labour’s biggest successes of May’s local election, winning a seat in what was once a Conservative-Liberal Democrat marginal and increasing their share of the vote by 9.7%. Not only did they lose one of their seats, but the Conservatives’ vote share fell from 42.4% in 2015 to 31.5% in 2019. Ukip did not stand here in 2015, but gained 12.3% of the vote in May, while the Green party saw their share of the vote increase by 0.8%. The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, continued their decline in the ward, with their vote dropping by 8.5% in a seat in which they once commanded the support of over half of voters.
For residents of Gillingham and Rainham, their member of parliament is a familiar face. After all, he doesn’t seem to be able to go anywhere without taking a photographer along. But is there any danger that the next trip his photographer will be accompanying him on will be to the job centre? Well, in two words, probably not.
In 2017, the Conservatives and Labour achieved a combined vote share of 91.5% and whilst the Tories look likely to lose some ground, so too do Labour as smaller parties make gains. The Brexit Party’s decision not to stand will dampen the impact of the decline, and the Conservatives could still end up around, or even exceeding, 50% of the votes. The Liberal Democrats should come a respectable third, retaining their deposit for the first time since 2010, while on a good day the Green Party could also hold onto their £500, depending on the presence of, and support received by, any other candidates.
Two constituencies down and two likely holds for the Conservatives. But is the data suggesting a clean sweep and a Conservative hold in Rochester and Strood? Check back here soon to find out!
Alan Collins is the creator of Medway Elects, which is committed to building a complete electoral history for Medway.