One of our popular features that we used to have on The Political Medway was inFrequently Answered Questions, where we’d send off questions to relevant political figures and hope that we might occasionally get a reply. As we get going on this project again, we’ve decided to start asking some questions of our esteemed councillors once again.
To get us going, we started with an easy one, and sent all 55 Medway councillors the following question:
What should be the minimum attendance percentage of full council meetings for a councillor to retain their position?
We told every councillor that they had a week to respond, and that we would publish their responses entirely unedited. All responses are published below, in the order that they were received by us.
For the fourth time in a little over two years, Medway has again gone to the polls, this time for a surprise General Election.
Polling stations will close at 10pm, and after that we’ll be live tweeting from the count on @MedwayPolitics. We’ll post the results on this post as quickly as we can, but it’ll probably be very late before the Medway results come in, so we won’t hold it against you if you check back in the morning.
Chatham and Aylesford result – Con HOLD
Nicole Bushill (UKIP) – 2,225
Tracey Crouch (Con) – 25,587
John Gibson (CPA) – 260
Bernard Hyde (Green) – 573
Vince Maple (Lab) – 15,129
Thomas Quinton (Lib Dem) – 1,116
Gillingham and Rainham result – Con HOLD
Paul Chaplin (Lib Dem) – 1,372
Rehman Chishti (Con) – 27,091
Martin Cook (UKIP) – 2,097
Clive Gregory (Green) – 520
Roger Peacock (CPA) – 127
Andy Stamp (Lab) – 17,661
Rochester and Strood result – Con HOLD
David Allen (UKIP) – 2,893
Steve Benson (CPA) – 169
Primerose Chiguri (Ind) – 129
Sonia Hyner (Green) – 781
Teresa Murray (Lab) – 19,382
Bart Ricketts (Lib Dem) – 1189
Kelly Tolhurst (Con) – 29,232
Sadly, not the setup to a hilarious joke, but one of the most depressing questions in Medway politics for years now.
The whole sorry saga begins in January 2013, at a full Medway Council meeting where the Labour group put forward a motion in favour of equal marriage, as was topical at the time. When it came time for the vote, Labour Strood South councillor Isaac Igwe got up from his seat, and proceeded to go to the toilet, only returning once the vote was completed.
Inevitably, a number of questions were asked about the behaviour of then councillor Igwe at the time. It’s not entirely unheard of for someone to hold personal views that would make it difficult to support such a motion, yet when challenged on his position, Igwe flatly refused to answer any questions on the subject. This led to an absurd scenario where he was asked, again and again, for months while continuing to refuse, which could have been wholly avoided had he just explained his position at the time.
Igwe lost his seat on Medway Council in May 2015, when he managed to fall from 2nd to 8th place in his Strood South seat. In theory, this should have been the end of the matter. Once out of public office, the questions would stop, leaving us to never truly know where he stood.
At least, it was until a vacancy became available in Strood South, following the resignation of UKIP councillor Catriona Brown-Reckless. A slightly bizarre selection process for Labour began, involving six candidates, some odd infighting, and very few actual members, and the last minute result was Igwe fighting the seat for Labour once again.
Inevitably, this has again thrust his position on equal marriage into the public eye. Questions again began, which were again refused. Questions were put to other Labour councillors, usually champions of equal rights, who again refused to comment. The whole issue has dominated a bizarre campaign, one not helped by the frankly bizarre tweets appearing from Igwe’s Twitter account, clearly not written by the man himself. Much of the wider campaign from Medway Labour has also left itself open to ridicule.
Despite the wall of silence being put up by the Labour councillors, we’ve been hearing more and more discontent from local activists and members within the party over his selection. One member told us that Igwe had told a friend that he considered being gay ‘an affliction’, some complained that he refused to tell them whether he supports equal rights, and others flatly refused to take part in his campaign. The most damning came from one activist who wished to remain anonymous, and we have published their complete comments below:
As a Labour Party member and activist of many years and, more significantly, a member from Strood, I am deeply concerned to see my party put forward Isaac Igwe as it’s candidate in the Strood South by-election.
As a Councillor, Mr Igwe hid in the toilet at the time of a vote – which Labour called – urging the Council to support Equal Marriage. Since then, despite many attempts to ask him to do so, Mr Igwe has never clarified his position publicly.
The Labour Party is the champion of equality and I am ashamed to see my party stand by a man who appears to be both a bigot and a coward. If Mr Igwe opposes equal marriage then he should say so and the party should not accept him as it’s candidate. If he support equal marriage then he should say so. What I find most alarming is his – and the party’s – public silence on the matter.
For some time now, I, amongst others, have sought to confront Mr Igwe about his views. He has publicly failed to do so. However, I was enlightened in a recent private discussion with him to find that he ‘was happy to spend time with gay people through work and in his personal life’ but that he ‘was not entirely comfortable’ with equal marriage. My suspicions of Mr Igwe being a bigot were confirmed and his failure to declare his position publicly confirms him to be a coward as well. That the Labour Party would chose to endorse a candidate with such views is abhorrent. I am in no doubt that other figures within the party as aware of Mr Igwe’s views but I am appalled by the failure of figures to respond to questions about Mr Igwe’s views. The wall of silence is appalling but should not be surprising. Cllr Vince Maple, Cllr Teresa Murray and Cllr Tristan Osborne appear comfortable in ‘ignoring’ the matter and I am aware that they have encouraged activists to do so. I am disgusted in the behaviour of my party and it’s local leaders. What are we if we are not the party of equality? I will not be supporting Mr Igwe in this by-election because I refuse to support a bigoted coward. I would urge all other members, activists and voters to examine their consciences before they do.
It seems baffling that Labour would select a candidate that would be so controversial even within it’s own party, and it’s even more baffling because it’s so unnecessary. Igwe should have come clear long before now to set the record straight on where he stands on this issue, so both his party and the electorate can make an informed decision about him and his views.
Many councillors voted against the Labour motion in favour of equal marriage in 2013, and several abstained. The difference with Igwe is the manner in which he did so. If you don’t want to vote on something, then don’t vote on something. Just don’t run off and hide in the toilet in the hope that no one will notice.
Whether or not we’ll ever get an answer on where Igwe stands is questionable. If he loses the by-election on Thursday, this won’t come up again, unless he seeks public office again in the future. If by some miracle he wins though, we fear this sorry saga will drag on and on and on.
The Medway Labour group have formally written to Medway Council’s Monitoring Officer to complain about the actions of Conservative councillor for River ward, Andrew Mackness, alleging a breach of the council’s rules regarding conflicts of interest.
Cllr Mackness and the Hook Meadow redevelopment
Cllr Mackness is part of the governing cabinet of Medway Council, as the portfolio holder for Children’s Services. As such, any decisions the council needs to take about redeveloping or selling off council assets would be a decision for him and the other nine cabinet members.
On 12 February 2016, Cllr Mackness added a new role to his register of interests: ‘Consultant Hook Meadow Library Site Redevelopment’. This in itself may have raised a few eyebrows as at the time there were no known council plans to redevelop the Hook Meadow site, but there’s nothing problematic about this appointment in itself.
Things took a bit of a turn on 7 June, when an item appeared on the cabinet agenda that involved the disposal and redevelopment on a number of council sites, including Hook Meadow. According to the minutes of the meeting, no disclosable conflicts of interest were recorded:
As per the council’s code of conduct (set out below), Cllr Mackness should have removed himself from the discussion the disposal of the Hook Meadow site, but he remained in the room, and voted for the disposal and redevelopment of the site.
Following the council’s processes, the Medway Labour group ‘called in’ the disposal of Hook Meadow and another community centre, claiming they were being carried out without proper consultation. As such, on 9 August, the issue once again returned to cabinet for discussion. Once again, the minutes again show no declaration of interest from Cllr Mackness, despite another cabinet member declaring a similar interest and removing themselves from the room:
Once again, Cllr Mackness took part in the discussion on the proposals for Hook Meadow, and once again voted for the disposal of the site:
The Medway Council Code of Conduct sets out the rights and responsibilities of all councillors when it comes to declaring interests outside of their council role:
You must act solely in the public interest and should never improperly confer an advantage or disadvantage on any person or act to gain financial or other material benefits for yourself, your family, a friend or close associate.
You must not place yourself under a financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence you in the performance of your official duties.
When carrying out your public duties you must make all choices, such as making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards or benefits, on merit.
You must declare any Disclosable Pecuniary Interests as required by law.
You must, when using or authorising the use by others of the resources of your authority, ensure that such resources are not use improperly for political purposes (including party political purposes) and you must have regard to any applicable Local Authority Code of Publicity made under the Local Government Act 1986.
The Code of Conduct goes on to state that all entries to the register of interests must be complete and up to date, and states the following regarding the participation in relevant meetings:
Unless dispensation has been granted, you may not participate in any discussion of or vote onto any matter in which you have a DPI.
Failure, without reasonable excuse, to comply with the above provisions as to notification and disclosure of DPIs and participation in a matter in which you have a DPI is a criminal offence in accordance with section 34 of the Localism Act 2011.
Unless dispensation has been granted, you must leave the room during any discussion of or vote on any matter in which you have a DPI.
Following all of this, Cllr Vince Maple, leader of the Medway Labour group, has written to Perry Holmes, the Monitoring Officer of the council, to ask whether the actions of Cllr Mackness have been appropriate.
Cllr Maple suggests that Cllr Mackness has not met the seven principles of councillors – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. He goes on to ask further questions, the answers of which are all in the public interest:
All Councillors are given access to Council officers. Consultants for developers are not. Has Councillor Mackness received access to Council officers in his capacity as a ‘Consultant’ that he would not have received were he not a Councillor?
Do you believe that it was appropriate for a Councillor to be voting, in his capacity as a Cabinet member, on a decision on which he clearly has a vested interest?
Do you believe that it is right for the Leader of the Council to keep Councillor Mackness in post knowing that he would be voting on a decision which would directly influence him in his role as a ‘Consultant’?
Clearly, these are all questions that need answering. That Cllr Mackness chose to both declare his interest in the redevelopment and participate in meetings where decisions on it would be taken is questionable at best. That the leader of the council allowed this to go on without question shows anything from poor judgment to outright arrogance.
It’s unclear exactly what will happen from here. The council’s internal procedures for dealing with complaints are notoriously toothles, the system being so perverse that a panel made up primarily of his colleagues would assess the issue. At the very least though, it allows the Medway Labour group to make some noise about such things, as they will tomorrow (13 October) when Cllr Griffiths asks the following slightly awkward question at full council:
It may well be that, despite all of the above, Cllr Mackness hasn’t done anything that formally breaks the code of conduct. But if that is indeed the case – and that a paid ‘consultant’ on a redevelopment is allowed to vote on the very same redevelopment – it does raise very serious questions about the rules that are currently in place.
Update 14 October: The matter has now been referred to the police. More details here.
Yeah yeah, it’s been a while. We’re also trying a new format as the old one was a pain in the arse.
Shopmobility services provide a vital way of disabled people getting around town centres. However, that hasn’t stopped Medway Council spectacularly changing theirs with next to no consultation. On Thursday 25th August, it announced that the existing provision in Chatham would be closing, replaced by a new service on 1st September. The new service is located at the opposite end of Pentagon Shopping Centre to the disabled car park, and charges have been introduced, making it far more difficult for disabled people to make use of the service. Disability campaigners, Medway Labour, and Conservative Chatham & Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch are unhappy about the changes, but we don’t expect much to be done to make this right.
Rochester Riverside plans The regeneration scheme for Rochester Riverside has been dragging on for roughly 238 years now, but things might finally be getting moving. After appointing Countryside and Hyde to proceed with the project last year, Medway Council will be showing off the plans in a generous three hour window this Tuesday. The project is set to include 1,300 homes, school, hotel, bar, restaurant, offices, retail units, and a new riverside walk. What isn’t mentioned is transport infrastructure, which given the existing congestion on Corporation Street, is conspicuous by it’s absence. If you’re interested in taking a look at the plans for yourself, they will be on display at the Corn Exchange in Rochester on Tuesday 6th September, between 5pm and 8pm
Medway Council’s ruling cabinet will meet on Tuesday to discuss business rates, and, er, not much else. Being the good little citizen journalists we are, we’d like to be there, but alas they hold these supposedly ‘public’ meetings in the middle of the working day. We’ve looked and struggled to find other councils that make their democratic processes this inaccessible (most hold such meetings around 7pm), and we’ll be doing so in more depth going forwards.
NIMBYism in action
Once again, the Medway NIMBY brigade are out in force, this time objecting to a planning application for a new bar and restaurant on New Road in Chatham. For our money, the application seems to be put together pretty well, with continuous staffing of inside and outside areas, CCTV coverage, and a fairly strict licence request. That hasn’t stopped the locals being outraged at the idea though, claiming it’ll lead to anti-social behaviour and, weirdly, diners being beaten up. The giant boarded up shop that’s currently in it’s place is, of course, absolutely fine.
Back in February, the Medway Labour website was hacked, with someone sticking some malicious content into it’s code. Remarkably, the website still remains in this state, with Medway Labour having done nothing to fix the issue, take the site down, or even warn users that visiting the site puts them at risk. This whole sorry ordeal has been going for over six months now, meaning the Medway Labour website has been hacked for a longer time than Tim Peake spent on the International Space Station.
“The only thing that cunt wants is a bullet between the eyes”
Interesting times at the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, which has been locked in huge infighting between it’s members. Police have been called to meetings that threatened to get out of hand, and a new report details some remarkable tales of bullying and intimidation (such as the quote above) that took place within the organisation. What does this have to do with Medway, we hear you ask? The former chair of the BASC, who resigned in June, is none other than Alan Jarrett, the leader of Medway Council.
Car-aoke challenge As part of the September campaign for local charity Danny’s Angels, the Medway Labour group have taken part in a car-aoke challenge. We’ll be curious to see whether the other political groups in Medway take up the challenge, and The Political Medway has offered a generous donation if representatives of all five local political parties – Conservative, Labour, UKIP, Lib Dem, Green – all take part in a joint singalong. Will they accept the challenge?
Did you hear the one about the Conservative activist turned UKIP councillor, who went independent, tried to rejoin the Tories, failed to do, tried to join Labour instead, and was turned down but still kind of managed to join anyway?
Allow us to introduce you to Strood South councillor, Mark Joy.
Mark Joy rose to prominence in Medway politics when he was part of Medway’s own gang of four, defecting to UKIP from the Conservatives in 2014 along with Mark Reckless, Chris Irvine, and Paul Monck. Medway UKIP was riding high at the time, winning by-elections for both parliament and the local council, but the good times came to a crashing halt on May 7 2015. Mark Reckless lost the Rochester & Strood constituency, while Chris Irvine lost his council seat, and Paul Monck failed to gain his. In the middle of this though, Mark Joy just about won a council seat in Strood South.
All of which left Joy in a slightly strange position. His ties always seemed closer to Reckless and Irvine personally rather than to the UKIP party, and now he sat with the three other untested UKIP councillors in the chamber. Within a month, Joy resigned from the UKIP group, choosing to sit as an independent in the chamber.
In the time since, he’s proved to be an interesting voice in the chamber. He often inserts himself into debates, sometimes to raise small issues, sometimes to ask questions. His voting record, untethered from party whips, sees him voting both with and against the ruling Conservative administration in roughly equal measure.
In the time since becoming an independent, Joy approached the Conservative group about the potential of rejoining their ranks, and was told in no uncertain terms that it would not be happening. Which meant the only options to Joy were to remain as an independent, or attempt to join the Labour group. Given Joy won his seat from a sitting Labour councillor, this would surely be impossible. At least it seemed so until this week, when Labour councillor Tristan Osborne tweeted the following:
The accompanying picture (as seen at the top of this article) shows Joy out campaigning for London Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan with both Osborne and Medway Labour Deputy Leader Teresa Murray. Given how critical Medway Labour Leader Vince Maple was of Joy following his resignation from UKIP, the sudden about turn is all the more curious.
Requesting comment from Joy, he told us that he “decided to help with London Mayor elections, as I think that Sadiq Khan is the best candidate”, but declined to offer any further comment.
Our own investigation discovered that Joy approached Maple to join the party, but was turned down on the basis that no one can join who has stood against the party within the last 12 months. That period is up in June, which means there will be nothing to stop him joining the party then. Sources within the party told us of ferocious opposition to this, with more than one councillor threatening to quit the group if that happens.
By way of a compromise, Joy has since been told that he can campaign with Labour, and attend local meetings, but will not be able to become to officially join the party for now. As one angry activist put it to us though, “he’s joined without a card”.
Other activists have raised serious concerns about Joy within the party, arguing that there is “massive opposition to any move for him to join”. Some have cited his past views, his closeness to Mark Reckless et al, and how it would make the group “a laughing stock”. Others have raised questions over his opportunistic jumping between parties, and his conduct in parish council meetings. Despite this, Maple and Murray seem to be actively encouraging him to join the party, against the will of their own group.
The Political Medway asked Medway Labour group leader Vince Maple, but made it clear he had no comment to make on the issue.
Last night, Medway Council held it’s annual budget meeting, which aims to set out the council’s spending for the coming year. Not usually the most exciting affair, this year’s meeting managed to feature a lot of anger about bulky waste, an official investigation possibly being triggered by one of our blog posts, and an interesting revelation about the Leader of Medway Council and Sandra Bullock.
If you missed the full excitement of the meeting, you can catch up via this handy Storify collection:
The Medway TUSC group took legal advice and discussed the situation with the National Agent Clive Heenskirk, who researched electoral law and advised that the legal position was a matter of private law and not going to change the result, even if it raises concerns about the whole count.
Paul and four other residents were all willing to sign a legal affidavit and this would have to go through the High Court, which would require the hiring of a QC, which would have significant costs.
Medway TUSC insist that they did question the result on the night, but no recount was called. Medway Labour’s Vince Maple recognises that this is an issue caused by a long count and Rainham North being the 21st of 22 results, and that electoral law does little to support if nothing is done on the night.
Whilst the Medway Greens Gillingham Candidate told us;
“As a newcomer to politics and the election process, the 7th May 2015 was an eye-opener for me. Especially the archaic vote-counting process at Medway Park. I expected a long night but to be there until 8.30 the next morning was a bit of a shock.
Therefore it is no real surprise to me to learn that something could go wrong in the process. However, for the unfortunate TUSC local election candidate for Rainham North, Paul Dennis, not to register a single vote did seem unfathomable to me. Had he forgotten to vote for himself or spoilt his ballot paper? What about his friends, family, supporters….?
It is very important to investigate every issue that is raised to keep that image whiter than white and for Medway Council to be fully supportive and transparent when questions are raised.”
Neil Williams Medway Green Party
“I can confirm that having double-checked our records, the paperwork confirms a zero return for TUSC in Rainham North. Whilst I accept this is unusual, now that the result has been declared, I am afraid there is nothing else we can do to investigate the matter further as we are bound by the rules of election law.”
Neil Davies, Acting Returning Officer
Medway TUSC are now relying on a public support, to lead to a public enquiry rather than a recount.
“The legitimacy of the result has been called into question, the system is a shambles, there were people under enormous pressure with small resources.”
Chas Berry, Medway TUSC
And then things became more complex in Rainham North:
We reveal today that at least one candidate in Rainham North was invalid as same person nominated three. Winners should resign now #tusc
“Regarding the nominations process in Rainham North, there was no agent query and questions to be asked. I have spoken with senior officers and am awaiting a response.”
Vince Maple, Leader Medway Labour
Medway Council have made the following statement, as if the previous concern’s regarding the Rainham North vote hadn’t occured.
“Rainham North is a two-member ward which was contested in our elections on 7 May 2015.
“It has been brought to our attention by TUSC that one particular individual has signed more than the maximum number of nomination papers for the ward.
“Having looked into this, the individual concerned has signed nomination papers for three candidates in the election, which should have meant the last nomination paper submitted would have been invalid.
“If it had been invalidated, there was time for the affected candidate to have completed and submitted a new nomination paper. The affected candidate was not either of the two successful candidates in the election for the ward.
“Whilst this is clearly a matter of concern, the outcome of the election in the ward is not in doubt.
“We are conducting an in-depth review of our systems and procedures to ensure that this will not occur again.
“This clearly should not have happened, and we are very sorry it did. We have advised the Electoral Commission of the situation.”
Neil Davies. Returning Officer