The Medway Tory leadership race is on

The Medway Conservative Group are now looking for a new leader after Cllr Rodney Chambers announced he is to step aside.

As the Conservatives have an overall majority, following last Thursday’s election, the victor will also ascend to Leader of the Council on 27 May, when Cllr Chambers will officially step down after 15 years in charge of Medway Council.

Cllr Chambers said:

I am enormously proud to have been the leader of Medway Council for the past 15 years. In this time the council has delivered many successful outcomes, which have positively changed Medway, benefitting the place and the people – our residents and businesses.

Much has been achieved that I am so proud of, and Medway undoubtedly has a very bright future. I am confident my successor will build on the record of the last 15 years and take Medway on to new heights.

I will continue to serve the people of Medway as a councillor following full council and I will offer my support to the new leader and look forward to seeing more success for Medway in the next few years.

The decision sparks a short leadership race which, almost undoubtedly, will take place behind closed doors. However, the reality is that there are few likely winners amongst the current ranks (one potential contender left last week to fight an election campaign in East Kent) and whoever wins will need to ensure the constituency splits which sadly occurred from time to time are kept to an acceptable minimum, although the debate has already started:

Tweet1

Tweet2

Tweet3

The new leader will also need to bear in mind that, whilst the number of Conservative councillors rose again last Thursday, the average share of the vote per candidate1 dropped to its lowest level since they first took overall control of the council in 2003, as the graph from Medway Elects shows (below).

Average Vote Share

The new leader will be wise to accept that, whilst a(n increased) majority remains, the electorate should not be taken for granted. On average, 66% of voters did not want a Tory councillor2 – and a change of leader is the perfect opportunity for a change of direction to win over the voters who did not receive their support.

I congratulate Cllr Chambers on his long period of dedicated public service, and hope that his successor is able to bring about a positive change for the Tories and for Medway.

Whoever it is, and whatever path they carry Medway along, rest assured that I will be scrutinising them just as closely as ever!

Notes:

1. I calculate vote share as an average of the number of votes received by each candidate. This is, I believe, the most accurate reflection of both the fact that many people may not have been able to vote for their preferred party, and that all but one of the council’s 22 wards are multi-member, allowing multiple and often split votes and making it impossible to see how many people actually support a party in each ward.

2. Do not mistake my mention of a majority voting against the Tories for advocacy for proportional representation at a council level. Whilst I support PR for parliamentary elections (and always have done), at a local level, councillors really are, first and foremost, their constituents’ representatives – and that strong personal link between councillor and constituent must be maintained. The national PR argument is another argument for another day!

Conservative veterans are dumped – but mystery surrounds why

Cllr Ted Baker

Cllr Ted Baker – refused permission to stand for reselection

In the week in which Prime Minister David Cameron ruthlessly swung an axe through his cabinet, culling his closest friends and colleagues, it is, perhaps, fitting that the public is now allowed to know what has happened here in Medway.

Rochester and Strood Conservatives have selected their candidates for next May’s election to Medway Council, in which list two well-known (and well-loved) councillors are surprisingly absent. Have they, in their senior years, decided that the time is now right to stand down and make way for the next generation of Conservative councillors?

In a word, no. In fact, good people of Medway, they were unceremoniously shafted before even party members in their wards could decide whether they should seek re-election by their constituents – by a behind-closed-doors selection panel. Democracy in action, eh?

I have made no secret of my admiration for Councillor Ted Baker, who has served the Towns with great dedication for many years (two of which were as Mayor), and it is with great sadness that I report that he will no longer grace the council chamber with his presence come next May. Such is his humility, he has decided to accept the decision of the Association, however it was arrived at, although he did admit to the Medway Messenger that he “wasn’t happy when I was turned down”.

Association Chairman Cllr Andrew Mackness’ original claim that the pair were retiring was blown out of the water by a disgruntled Cllr Tom Mason, who said that he would have no qualms about standing against his former colleagues, saying “I shall be standing again but I don’t think I’ll be standing as a Conservative”. Another former Mayor of Medway, Cllr Mason told the Messenger that he was not happy either, adding “I’m quite upset really. It’s an unfortunate internal matter. I don’t know what their idea is. It’s entirely up to them. They seem to think they know better.”

Cllr Craig Mackinlay

Cllr Craig Mackinlay – off to fight general election in Thanet South

Another intriguing turn of events has seen Matt Fearn, a former Conservative councillor in Rainham Central until he resigned from the party in disgust over their treatment of ward colleague – and friend – Paul Foster, return to stand in Cuxton and Halling (in place of Deputy Mayor Cllr Ray Maisey). Matt Fearn stood in the 2007 local elections as an independent, where he polled over 1,000 votes, alongside another former (and now current) Conservative, Peter Rodberg (a Strood Rural councillor since 2011, but not standing in 2015 – keeping up?).

Far be it for me to comment on the internal workings of an association I was, until 18 months ago, closely involved with, but it seems to me as though there have been many strange goings on within the Rochester and Strood Conservatives in recent months – and it is difficult for this external observer to argue that many of the changes are for the better. Whilst this is not intended to be a poor reflection on any individual, it may be worthwhile for interested parties to keep a close eye on the Association into May 2015 and beyond. I believe this is one story which is, most definitely, developing.

How they line up

Cuxton and Halling
Candidates: Matt Fearn
Out: Cllr Ray Maisey

Peninsula
Candidates: Michael Dale, Cllr Phil Filmer, Harold Ogunfemi
Out: Cllr Chris Irvine (standing in Rochester East), Cllr Tony Watson

River
Candidates: Cllr Andrew Mackness, 1 to be chosen
Out: Cllr Craig Mackinlay (resigning to fight general election in Thanet South)

Rochester East
Candidates: Rizvi Rawoff, Sean Varnham

Rochester South and Horsted
Candidates: Cllr Trevor Clarke, Cllr Sylvia Griffin, Cllr Rupert Turpin

Rochester West
Candidates: Chris Irvine, Cllr Kelly Tolhurst
Out: Cllr Ted Baker

Strood North
Candidates: Cllr Jane Chitty, Steve Iles, Paul Monck
Out: Cllr Jane Etheridge

Strood Rural
Candidates: Gary Etheridge, Cllr Peter Hicks, John Williams
Out: Cllr Tom Mason, Cllr Peter Rodberg

Strood South
Candidates: Cllr John Avey, Cllr Josie Iles, Mark Joy