When it comes to making difficult decisions affecting Medway’s residents, the Conservative Group can always be found uniting behind their leadership.
When it comes to taking flak from a handful of residents because they are not happy about this policy or that proposal, the Conservative Group councillors take it on the chin, and support their leadership.
But that appears to be changing. In part one of my examination, I showed how one councillor made his concerns public – and how the Deputy Leader of the Council responded in kind with a polite, but public, dressing down.
What happens in public and what happens behind closed doors are two different things, you might say, with frequent Group meetings to iron out any issues and vote on Group policy there must surely be some conflict away from the prying eyes of the media and citizen journalists?
That may be so; we all remember when Councillor Craig Mackinlay challenged Councillor Rodney Chambers for the leadership and lost. But that example highlights the supposed strength of the Conservative Group: when all is said and done, if the leadership want a vote to go a certain way in Group meetings, it always goes that way.
In 14 years in office, the leadership has, to the best of my knowledge, never lost a vote.
I have heard, from more than one source, that at the Group meeting before last week’s Full Council, a proposal was put forward by a backbench councillor to alter the council’s policy on affordable housing.
It was not groundbreaking, it was not earth shattering, but it was, at its heart, conservative. It would have meant that some housing developments would have higher quotas of affordable housing and some lower, or none at all. It would create areas desirable to executives Medway should be trying to invite in. It had the support of one of Medway’s MPs, who made the case for the proposal at the meeting, and, most importantly of all, it would have still allowed Medway to sit comfortably within government guidelines on affordable housing.
But the leadership didn’t like it. Cllr Diane Chambers, Chairman of the Planning Committee and wife of the Leader of the Council, was against it. As with all proposals, it was put to the vote, which the leadership expected, as they always do, to win.
Except that’s not what happened. When it came to the crunch, the leadership lost. It may only have been by a small margin (I don’t have the exact figures), but when the votes were counted the proposal was accepted.
Amongst those supporting the policy was at least one member of Cllr Chambers’ cabinet, whose portfolio would be affected by any policy changes with regards to affordable housing.
As with Cllr Turpin’s stance on Rochester Airport, this may not seem like a big deal. But it is. For the first time, Cllr Chambers’ authority has been successfully challenged. And now that it has happened once, members of the Conservative Group will be less hesitant to do the same thing again.
The Conservative administration has done a lot of good things for Medway in the past 14 years, but it has also done things which have annoyed a lot of people, including some of their own councillors. The frequency of the negative decisions seems to be increasing, and support for the administration waning.
It is now, so obviously, an administration that is on its last legs. The current direction can only continue so much longer, or 2015 will become the year the Conservatives lost control of Medway Council.
There is a sea change sweeping across the country and across Medway. Councillors of all sides, but particularly within the Conservative Group, sense what is happening. Opinion of the government, and of the council, is not improving, despite the strengthening economy.
Councillors are desperate not to be on the wrong side of that change, and, as time progresses, they will do whatever is necessary to ensure that they are, once again, on the right side of public opinion.