Councillor Mick Pendergast resigns from UKIP, leaving party with one councillor in Medway

Peninsula Councillor Mick Pendergast has today resigned from UKIP, according to Medway Elects:

Although there has not yet been an official comment from Cllr Pendergast, it is understood he has already communicated his decision to council officials. His reasons for resigning from UKIP are not yet known.

Cllr Pendergast will see out the rest of his term as an independent councillor.

Analysis: Decline of Medway UKIP

Cllr Pendergast’s resignation is the latest in a series of blows for the local party, which just four years ago held the accolade of being home to one of only two members of parliament to be elected for UKIP.

What started as a fairytale coming top in a nationwide poll and beginning to take seats away from Labour and the Conservatives on Medway Council soon began to crumble and descend into farce, as their vote share disintegrated and attention turned to their increasingly unhealthy obsession with Islam and stories of former party officers suing them for unpaid expenses (including cream crackers).

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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!

The inaccurate reporting of Medway councillors’ allowances

Every year, each local authority is required to collate and publish allowances and expenses claimed by their elected members.

Councillors are entitled to a basic allowance to perform their duties, with additional allowances payable to those who hold special responsibilities (Leader of the Council, Cabinet Portfolio Holder, Mayor, etc.) in recognition of the additional work involved.

All members are also entitled to claim for travel and subsistence, although this usually excludes items such as stationery and phone calls, which are factored in to the basic allowance.

At the end of the council’s financial year, the authority must calculate how much each councillor claimed (if anything) and produce a basic report with a simple breakdown.

Medway Council’s financial year runs from 1 April to 31 March, and allowances are usually published within four months, with the latest being the 2013/2014 report, which was published in August 2014:

Year Date of Publication
2014/15 July 2015
2013/14 August 2014
2012/13 May 2013
2011/12 May 2012

However, given we were now in September and no report had yet been published, last week I submitted an FOI request for the information. On Tuesday, the allowances report appeared on the Council website, albeit looking rushed and possibly incomplete. It wasn’t until I got round to examining it in detail that I realised just how poor a report it actually was.

The most striking detail was that the report had rounded all the figures to the nearest pound. It is, in fact, the first time the Council has not included the pence figures where the amount to be declared was not a whole pound.

Members who served for the whole period were given an allowance of £8,783 exactly, but those who left the Council in May 2015 may not have received £992 exactly. Similarly, those who joined at the same time may not have received £7,815 exactly, and Cllr Kelly Tolhurst, who claims she stopped drawing her allowance “since [her] election to Parliament” may not have received £1,464 exactly.

(As an aside, I have worded the last sentence very carefully, as the fact that Cllr Tolhurst’s basic allowance was markedly different to those of members who left the council at the same time she was elected to Parliament suggests that she had stopped drawing her allowance some time after her election – seemingly to the end of May 2015 – and not “since [her] election”. Whilst there is, of course, nothing wrong with claiming the allowance whilst also an MP (most simply don’t out of principle – or, if they do, donate their allowance to good causes within their ward), her entry in the Parliamentary Register of Members’ Financial Interests could, perhaps, be worded so as not to imply that she stopped claiming her allowance immediately on her election to Parliament and, in fact, stopped on a certain date. But, I digress…)

So, rather than having the exact figures of allowances and expenses claimed by Medway councillors, we have a roughly accurate report which looks something like this:

Allowances

Now, like most people, I am not particularly interested in where Cllr Rupert Turpin went that he needed to claim £5 in travel & subsistence expenses, but I am interested enough to want to know whether the journey cost £4.51, £5.49 or £5 exactly.

Indeed, that no reference is made to the fact that the figures have been rounded means that it is unclear what method of rounding has been used (whether only up, only down or both) and whether the figures have been arrived at by rounding the total for each category or each individual item before addition. After all, if two claims were made for £1.51 and £2.51 respectively, then rounding each individual claim would total £5 (i.e. £2 plus £3), whereas only rounding the total of the two raw figures would produce £4 (i.e. £4.02 rounded down).

Readers may think that I am being pedantic, but I would simply ask this question: how is this report “full and complete” if the Council have employed rounding and created ambiguity as to the exact figures involved?

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Proposed Medway Constituency boundary changes published

The Boundary Commission’s proposals for new parliamentary constituencies, which will be put before MPs in 2018, have been published – and the changes for Medway are largely underwhelming.

In fact, if you live within one of Medway’s 22 wards, the chances of the constituency you live in changing is less than five per cent, with only Lordswood & Capstone moving. However, all three constituencies covering the Medway Towns could see changes, with only Gillingham & Rainham containing exclusively Medway constituents.

Under the Boundary Commission proposals published today, Lordswood & Capstone ward would cease to be a part of Chatham & Aylesford, and instead be represented by Gillingham & Rainham.

Gillingham & Rainham constituency would then consist of nine council wards, rather than the present eight, including Gillingham North, Gillingham South, Hempstead & Wigmore, Lordswood & Capstone, Rainham Central, Rainham North, Rainham South, Twydall and Watling.

The Boundary Commission also propose increasing the size of Rochester & Strood, by adding the Gravesham Borough Council ward of Higham to the present constituency. The Medway Council wards comprising Rochester & Strood are Cuxton & Halling, Peninsula, River, Rochester East, Rochester South & Horsted, Rochester West, Strood North, Strood Rural and Strood South.

The biggest change, though, is reserved for Chatham & Aylesford. Although the only change for Medway residents is the loss of Lordswood & Capstone to Gillingham & Rainham, the constituency has gained four wards from Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council.

The new constituency of Chatham & The Mallings would then include Chatham Central, Luton & Wayfield, Princes Park and Walderslade wards from Medway, and Aylesford North & Walderslade, Aylesford South, Burham & Wouldham, Ditton, East Malling, Kings Hill, Larkfield North, Larkfield South, Snodland East & Ham Hill, Snodland West & Holborough Lakes, Wateringbury and West Malling & Leybourne from Tonbridge & Malling.

Parliamentary constituencies are being redrawn under the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, with the independent Boundary Commission for England tasked with reducing the number of constituencies in England from 533 to 501. Overall, the number of Members of Parliament in the UK is being reduced from 650 to 600 as a way of cutting the salary, pension, staffing and expenses costs of the House of Commons, while the number of voters in each constituency is being averaged out to 74,769 plus or minus five per cent.

A previous review was carried out under the coalition government, but was vetoed by the Liberal Democrats despite earlier pledging their support in exchange for a referendum on changing the voting system.

At present, the proposals are in the very early stages, and will now open up for consultation with local residents. The Boundary Commission will be holding a public hearing over the proposals at Maidstone’s KCC Council Chambers on 3 and 4 November.

What will be the electoral effect?

All three Medway constituencies were won quite comfortably by the Conservatives in May 2015, so would these changes have made any difference to the results? To find out, I created a projection model for each constituency, which uses both the general and local election results from 2015, to produce comparisons.

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Medway UKIP’s Deputy Leader resigns from Council

The Deputy Leader of the UKIP Group on Medway Council, Catriona Brown-Reckless, has resigned.

In perhaps the most unsurprising political news of the year (so far), the former Strood South councillor has stepped aside, prompting a by-election later this year.

Brown-Reckless is the wife of former Rochester & Strood MP Mark Reckless, who was elected to the Welsh Assembly in May, and local commentators have been speculating over the timing of her impending departure.

The resignation leaves the total number of UKIP councillors in Medway at 2. Brown-Reckless’ ward colleague Mark Joy resigned the UKIP whip shortly after his election last year and now sits as an independent.

Until last May, Strood South had been closely fought between Labour and the Conservatives. Two Conservative and one Labour councillor were elected in 2003, with the Tories winning the third seat in 2007. Labour regained a seat in 2011, before both they and the Conservatives lost a seat to UKIP in 2015.

A by-election looks likely to be held on 10 November, which could be a close contest between UKIP, the Conservatives and Labour. Candidates will be announced closer to the date.

Candidates and results will appear on Medway Elects as they are announced.