In which Alan Collins from Medway Elects looks at Gillingham and Rainham, and ponders how easily the Conservative hold on the constituency could be broken..
Ah, 2015, the year Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger sold for $179.3m, a new species of early human called Homo naledi was discovered and Lithuania became the nineteenth member of the Eurozone.
It was also the last time any of Medway’s parliamentary constituencies changed hands.
In recognition of this unbroken run of Conservative representation in parliament, Messrs Jennings and Keevil have asked me to look at what has changed between the three most recent general elections. So, for my latest three-part mini-series I’ll be looking at the results for each of Medway’s three constituencies in turn.
In 2015, Gillingham and Rainham re-elected the Conservative member of parliament Rehman Chishti with 48% of the vote. His predecessor Paul Clark took second place for Labour on 25.6%, while Ukip were a strong third on 19.5%. The Liberal Democrats polled 3.6%, losing their deposit and falling into single-digits in Gillingham for the first time since Godfrey Payne won a meagre 8.7% of the vote in 1966, while the Green party took 2.4% of the vote. The other candidates scraped 0.8% between them.
Two years later, in the snap general election of 2017, Chishti won over half of the votes for the first time, increasing his share of the vote by 7.4 percentage points and polling 55.4%. His new Labour challenger, the Liberal Democrat-turned-Independent-turned-Labour (like I can talk) councillor for Gillingham North, Andy Stamp, saw a greater increase in his party’s share of the vote, climbing 10.5 percentage points to 36.1%. Although they held on to third place, Ukip’s vote collapsed by 15.2 percentage points to 4.3%, making 2015 the only time they have ever held their deposit in Gillingham. The Liberal Democrats achieved their worst-ever result in Gillingham with just 2.8%, while the Green party took 1.1% and the other candidate a mere 0.3%.
As with Chatham and Aylesford, the result in the 2019 general election was without modern precedent. Chishti’s vote share increased by 5.9 percentage points to 61.3%, while Stamp saw his party’s vote share fall by 7.7 points to 28.4%. However, this was the lowest slump for Labour across Medway’s constituencies, and the highest vote share for the party. The Liberal Democrats held their deposit for the first time since 2010, almost doubling their share of the vote to 5.4%. The Green party also doubled their vote share, achieving 2.3%, while Ukip took 1.8% of the vote, less than half their tally from 2017.
Whilst Chishti had achieved his and his party’s best-ever result in Gillingham and Rainham, looking back to its predecessor constituency of Gillingham, it was also the best result for any member of parliament in the borough since Robert Gower was elected with 65.1% of the vote in 1935, and only the fourth time a candidate received over 60% of the vote since the Gillingham constituency was created in 1918.
So where does that leave the prospects for the constituency in 2024? As with Chatham and Aylesford, it is almost unimaginable that the Conservatives could lost the seat. For Labour to take the seat at the next general election, they would need to secure a swing of at least 16.5%. Whilst they achieved a swing of 16.3% in the landslide of 1997, it would take an exceptional local candidate standing under an exceptional party leader running an exceptional election campaign to replicate such a large swing. Whether such an exceptional leader is hiding among any of the current leadership candidates is for others to decide.Gillingham and Rainham, then, also looks likely to remain safe Conservative territory for the foreseeable future (subject to any intervening boundary review). But what of Medway’s final constituency? Well, in the last part of this series I will be reviewing Rochester and Strood. You don’t want to miss it!
Alan Collins is the creator of Medway Elects, which is committed to building a complete electoral history for Medway.