Medway’s last UKIP councillor vows not to represent Peninsula residents

UKIP’s last remaining councillor in Medway has vowed not to turn up to any more council meetings, as he was stripped of his committee memberships by the Conservatives and Labour.

Cllr Roy Freshwater, who sat on the Business Support and Children & Young People overview and scrutiny committees, stormed out of this evening’s full council meeting in protest at the council giving the nod to a report recommending that he and the council’s three independent members lose their seats on the council’s committees. He has said he will not turn up to any more council meetings, denying his constituents in Peninsula ward a voice from one of their three councillors.

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Kelly Tolhurst resigns from Medway Council

Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst has resigned her seat on Medway Council.

Tolhurst, who has represented Rochester West since 2011 and been an MP since 2015, made the decision after being appointed as an Assistant Government Whip earlier this week. She said:

While I am extremely honoured to have been asked to join the Prime Minister’s team as a Government Whip, I accept that after discussions with colleagues and residents it is clear I am unable to carry on with my role as a local authority councillor without conflict.

Working solely as the Member of Parliament for Rochester and Strood, I now have the opportunity to represent the whole of the constituency at the highest level.

I believe that this decision is without doubt the best thing for both the constituency and the ward of Rochester West.

The wording of this statement begs two questions:

  1. If she believes that she “now [has] the opportunity to represent the whole of the constituency at the highest level”, was she not representing the whole of her constituency before?
  2. If she has decided holding two national jobs means she can no longer effectively represent her ward constituents, will her parliamentary and former council colleague Rehman Chishti, who also received a promotion this week to one of the Vice Chairmen of the Conservative Party, come to the same decision and also resign from the council?

In a brief statement, Neil Davies, Chief Executive of Medway Council, said:

I have today received, and accepted, the resignation of Cllr Kelly Tolhurst as ward member for Rochester West with immediate effect. We have begun arrangements to fill the vacancy.

The arrangements begin by advertising the vacancy in the ward. If two electors within the ward write to the Chief Executive asking for the vacancy to be filled, a by-election will be called.

And let’s face it, with a probable slate of six candidates for the contest, getting two signatures will not take long.

Frustratingly, before today, I was in the process of writing a lengthy blog post to start the year by taking a look at next year’s full local council elections (trust me, in context it made sense!).

The introduction to that post will now need to be re-written:

In short, I had updated my projections model to try to predict the level of support for each party in each ward, not in an effort to predict the outcome, but rather to see where each party was likely to win and where the key battles would be fought.

I will now postpone publication of that post until after the by-election, as it will likely give me more invaluable data to refine the projection model.

Meanwhile, the people of Rochester West are looking at another election, making it the eighth vote they will have had since May 2014:

  1. EU Parliament election, May 2014
  2. Rochester & Strood by-election, November 2014
  3. General election, May 2015
  4. Council election, May 2015
  5. Police & Crime Commissioner election, May 2016
  6. EU referendum, June 2016
  7. General election, June 2017
  8. Council by-election, TBC

And although at least one election every year between 2014 and 2019 may not necessarily excite voters in Rochester West, for political geeks like me it makes the start of this year very interesting indeed.

And, of course, Medway Elects will be there for the ride!

If Theresa May’s Brexit were on the ballot paper, I’d have voted Remain

When I left the Conservative Party four years ago and joined UKIP, I always envisaged returning to being a Tory voter (if not a member) after the EU referendum had been delivered – which, let’s face it, is the main reason why people voted for UKIP and why that Party is now on a slippery slope to oblivion.

EU Referendum duly delivered, I left UKIP and began to keep an eye on the direction of Theresa May’s new government to see whether the damage done by David Cameron to the Conservative Party I had joined would be undone. Despite some promising words at the start of her reign, unelected Queen May is now bent on pursuing Brexit at any cost in the hopes of reuniting her party and proving that, whilst a remainer, she is committed to delivering the will of the people – while the wedge between leave and remain voters is gradually creating a deeper divide across the country.

What irks me, irritates me, angers me even, more than anything else this government without a mandate is doing, is the continued insistence on playing political poker with people’s lives. On 23 June 2016, the British people voted for a departure from the EU – but not a destination. The choice voters made was to leave the EU, narrowly outnumbering those who wanted to remain in the EU, but they were not consulted on what that would actually look like. In a referendum campaign filled with so many contradictions and plagued by misdirection, it was impossible to know, from the perspective of either side, what Brexit would look like.

Like 17 million other Brits, I voted Leave on 23 June 2016. Like many (though, admittedly, not all) I did not vote against immigration, as the Britain I want to live in is an open Britain. Like many (though, admittedly, not all) I did not vote against non-Brits, as the Britain I want to live in is a tolerant Britain. Like many (though, admittedly, not all) I did not vote to stick two fingers up to the establishment, as the Britain I want to live in is a united Britain, not one in which an “us v them” mentality defines discourse.

I voted to leave the EU because I have spent the majority of my life campaigning against an organisation which seems bent on subverting nation state democracy in the pursuit of a federal European superstate; an organisation which has almost single-handedly crippled several Mediterranean economies through a failed pan-European currency; and an organisation which seeks to apply a single standard upon a continent of half a billion people of vastly different histories and cultures. I voted to leave the EU because of a lifelong ideological opposition to the EU and, like 17 million other Brits, I voted to leave without knowing what leaving looked like. It was, I admit, a risk, but one I eventually took after much agonising consideration – and, eight months on, here’s the new headline:

If I had known on 23 June that voting “Leave” would result in Theresa May’s vision of Brexit, then, despite my deep and long-held opposition to the EU, I would have voted “Remain”!

Does that mean that I regret voting to leave? No. Categorically not. What I regret is that the terms of our departure are being decided upon by a government with no electoral mandate beyond leaving the EU. And what I regret, perhaps more than anything, is that this unelected government is now playing games with 3 million people’s lives. And yes, that includes the woman who will later this year (on 8 July, in fact) become my wife.

It has often been said that the UK leaving the EU is like a long and unhappy marriage finally coming to a divorce. However, before the divorce can be finalised, the two parties need to decide what their lives will look like after the legal separation – and that involves negotiation and compromise. What angers me is the way the government is so casually placing so much stress and uncertainty on 3 million people who not only did not vote for this government, but also did not get a voted on whether their country of residence would be leaving the EU at all.

The government’s approach to EU citizens living in the UK is not dissimilar to that of a bitter parent arguing over custody of the children, particularly in the context of extracting as much “compromise” from the other party as possible. It makes for a compelling emotional argument but, ultimately, the children become mere pawns in their parents’ violent game of chess while their best interests are continually ignored by the warring parties. In their “love” for their children, those parties end up doing more damage in the long-term.

This government is effectively saying to EU citizens “we care about you so much, but actually not enough to guarantee your right to remain living here”.

As for my family, the situation is complicated enough without Queen May tearing it down the middle before it’s even begun. My bride-to-be is unable to move to the UK until we get married (for reasons I will not go into here) and, like the open-minded optimist I am, I assumed that, as the UK must continue to respect its treaty obligations for free movement of people until the date we actually leave the EU, the government would not be so cold-hearted as to remove the right to live here of anyone who had made the UK their home before that date. Silly me! It seems the government is more concerned with the Faragist scare-tactic that half of eastern Europe will move here in the next two years than with taking a pragmatic (dare I say, human) approach to the workers this country needs to survive.

Now, I don’t blame Queen May for my family situation but I will squarely and firmly blame her if my wife and I are ever forced to live in separate countries because of her own heartless immigration policy. And if that situation ever occurs then I swear, as long as there is blood pumping through my body, that I will never vote Conservative again. Ever! And, yes, you can quote me on that.

In the meantime, Queen May needs to stop playing politics with people’s lives and provide some certainty to the 3 million people currently worrying whether they will still have a home in two years’ time. As Sarah Ludford, the Lords Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union, said:

EU citizens need to be given clarity on where they stand … It would be shameful if the Government were to leave them in limbo, lining them up as bargaining chips in the forthcoming negotiations.

Until then, I cannot help but wonder whether my decision to vote Leave was perhaps the worst decision I will ever make in my life…

Rainham Central councillor Mike O’Brien loses cancer battle

Sad news coming from Medway Council this morning, as it has been confirmed that Rainham Central Councillor Mike O’Brien last night lost his battle with cancer.

Cllr O’Brien, who was also the Cabinet Portfolio Holder responsible for Children’s Services, had been battling with the disease for some months. His ward colleague, and Gillingham and Rainham MP, Rehman Chishti has pledged to run next year’s London Marathon in aid of Cancer Research UK following Cllr O’Brien’s diagnosis.

First elected to Medway Council in 2007, Cllr O’Brien was given the Community Safety brief after Cllr Chishti’s election to Parliament in 2010. However, he has long been a champion for young people and was subsequently appointed as the Lead Member for Children’s Services following the sacking of Cllr Les Wicks in 2013.

Cllr O’Brien has not attended a meeting of the full Council since 25 February, while his last committee meeting was the Audit Committee on 10 March. However, he has been continuing his Cabinet role and having regular meetings at home in between treatment sessions.

The Leader of the Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said:

He was a wonderful friend to all and an outstanding and dedicated councillor and cabinet member, who I and fellow councillors thoroughly enjoyed working with. Our thoughts are with Sheila, Martin and the rest of his family at this difficult time.

Mike was incredibly committed to his children’s services portfolio and despite his illness over recent months he continued to work. I enjoyed visiting him at his home to update him on council business and to catch up with a good friend.

Over the years Mike achieved many things, but his biggest passion was by far his family – his wife Sheila, two children and six grandchildren.

Medway Labour Group Leader, Cllr Vince Maple, added:

The council chamber will be a lesser place without Mike’s wit and strong debating style. He will be missed by all who knew him personally. The thoughts of the whole of the Labour Group are with Mike’s family and friends at this difficult time.

On a personal note, I will always remember Mike as a kind and caring man, occasionally offering words of encouragement while I was studying and wise advice about the dangers of smoking (reminding me on a few occasions that I should quit!).

Medway Council has lost one of the nicest men in politics and he will be sorely missed by his family and friends.

You can support Rehman Chishti’s fundraising efforts for Cancer Research UK via his JustGiving page.

A by-election will be held in Rainham Central in due course, meaning a second round of voting in Medway following this week’s resignation of councillor Catriona Brown-Reckless. Residents in Strood South will go to the polls on 20 October.

Photo: Mike O’Brien (right) in discussion with Rehman Chishti earlier this year. Credit: Facebook/Councillor Mike O’Brien.

I’m supporting Henry Bolton for Kent Police and Crime Commissioner (but my second preference candidate may surprise you)

The candidates have been announced, the election is underway, and I am today officially endorsing Henry Bolton OBE to be the next Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent. For the first time in any election, I am also endorsing a second preference candidate – and regular readers may be somewhat surprised by where that second “X” will be going.

Henry Bolton OBEHenry Bolton OBE is UKIP’s candidate for the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) election taking place on 5 May – and I would encourage each and every one of you to lend him your vote.

The full list of candidates to appear on the ballot paper has been published, and I have updated the 2016 Kent PCC Election page on Medway Elects with the same. Of those standing, I believe Mr Bolton is the best choice for Kent.

Given the fact that I left UKIP around eight months ago, some readers may be surprised that I am endorsing a UKIP candidate, but, for me, the Police and Crime Commissioner role is not about party politics; it is about electing somebody with the necessary skill and experience to manage Kent Police so that they work in the most effective way for us, the people of Kent.

For all her faults, Ann Barnes had racked up many years on the Kent Police Authority before the PCC superceded that body, and that direct experience with the police stood her in good stead. Despite being a walking PR disaster (especially in the early days), there is no denying her results; for Kent Police to receive the best HMIC rating out of 43 police areas is a remarkable achievement, and must be congratulated.

On paper, the Conservative Party candidate appears to be a career politician. Since studying Public Policy, Government and Management at the University of Birmingham, Matthew Scott has been a local councillor and currently works as a Parliamentary Manager in Westminster. You can read the biography on his website and make up your own mind, but, to me, it seems Mr Scott’s credentials stem from liaising with the police from the outside, rather than any direct experience of the running or day-to-day affairs of the Force. Whilst not wishing to unfairly undermine his own skills and experience (which I am sure are many), if Mr Scott is the most experienced candidate the Conservative Party can put forward for Kent PCC, then one must wonder about the credentials of those who didn’t make the cut.

Steve Uncles is the only 2012 candidate making a return appearance. As the English Democrats’ candidate, Mr Uncles achieved a remarkable 5.3% of the vote, only being beaten into last place by independent Dai Liyanage, who attracted 3.7%. This time round, Mr Uncles is awaiting trial for an alleged election offence dating back to April 2013 – and even (successfully) applied to have his trial postponed until after this election. Whilst I am a firm believer in the principle of being innocent until proven guilty, what must it say of a man when he is more concerned with chasing elected office than clearing his name? I will let readers decide the answer to that question themselves.

David Naghi, the Liberal Democrat candidate, represents East Ward on Maidstone Borough Council. Otherwise, I honestly know very little about his experience or credentials for this role. Indeed, despite being on the Statement of Persons Nominated, at the time of going to pixel, he was not listed on the Lib Dem website’s PCC candidates page. Equally, I’m sorry to say that I know very little about the independent candidate Gurvinder Sandher, besides being the Director of the Kent Equality Cohesion Council.

Of the six candidates on the ballot paper, that leaves Medway Councillor Tris Osborne, who is standing for the Labour Party, and Henry Bolton OBE. Both have frontline policing experience, but, in my opinion, Mr Bolton’s background makes him the best-suited candidate for the job. That said, I am not completely dismissing Tris as a possible PCC, as you will see later on in this article.

For the first time, I am heading into an election without being constrained by membership of a political party, so I am free to publicly support whoever I wish. I have decided to be so open about endorsing the UKIP candidate, despite no longer being a member of that party, partly because of his experience, but also because UKIP’s stated policy is that their PCCs should be answerable to the needs of the people who elect them, and not to a national party whip. That independence is crucial in such a key role.

Henry Bolton has spent 21 years in the military, as an infantry and intelligence officer with the British Army. Upon leaving the Army, Mr Bolton spent six years as a civilian police officer with Thames Valley Police, before being seconded to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office by the European Union as Security and Defence Planner for Georgia, Libya, Ukraine, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

You can read Mr Bolton’s full biography for yourselves (if you can forgive the website looking like something from the early 2000s – no one is perfect, after all!), but of particular note are his work as the Head of the International Police in Croatia, leading “a number of international diplomatic missions to help various governments to reform their police, border guard and other security services” and assisting “governments in building cross-governmental, multi-agency coordination and strategies to enhance national security and the rule of law”. He was awarded the OBE in 2013 for “Services to International Security”.

If ever there were a candidate for whom the role of PCC was created, it must surely be Henry Bolton. If the voters of Kent wish to repeat the 2012 result and elect a candidate on the strength of their skills and experience, rather than their party, then, on 5 May, they should mark one of their crosses next to Henry Bolton and ensure that their next Police and Crime Commissioner is a man with the experience to get the job done, and get it done right.

Don’t lose your second vote

Don’t forget that you have two votes in the PCC election and can support a first- and a second-choice candidate. If no candidate has more than 50% of the vote after all first-choice votes have been counted, then all but the two highest-polling candidates are eliminated and any second-choice votes from those ballot papers will be added to the remaining two candidates. In the 2012 election, Ann Barnes, the ultimate victor, attained 46.8% of first-choice votes and won thanks to favourable second-choice votes.

Tris OsborneI will be casting my second vote for the Labour Party candidate Tris Osborne. Again, this is not because I have suddenly started supporting Labour (far from it), but because he is local (to Medway) and also has front-line experience in policing as a former Special Constable. He is very approachable and I believe he would be a strong voice for both Kent residents and Kent Police.