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.

Rehman Chishti MP calls for inquiry over The Sun’s Gillingham FC hospitality claims

The Sun is reporting today that Gillingham & Rainham MP Rehman Chishti could be in trouble for failing to declare his visits to Gillingham FC on time.

Mr Chishti, who also represents Rainham Central Ward on Medway Council, declared seven free tickets to the MEMS Priestfield Stadium between February and December 2015, donated by Gillingham Football Club and worth a total of £900.

The Sun claim that failing to log all of these visits until 1 March 2016 was a breach of the Parliamentary Rules.

Although he did not comment to The Sun, Mr Chishti did tell KentOnline that:

I am a proud and passionate supporter of my local team and try to attend home matches when I can to cheer on the team.

I had declared all information to the House of Commons Register of Members’ Interests in relation to my attendance at matches and hospitality received by the club in the last year.

The Sun newspaper has raised a point with regards to the timing in making these declarations on the Register of Interests.

I have asked the Parliamentary Registrar of Members’ Financial Interests to look into this and clarify this as an urgent matter.

On 1 March, Mr Chishti declared that he had received hospitality for the following matches:

Gillingham v Sheffield United
7 February 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

Gillingham v Notts County
3 May 2015 – though logged in the Register as 2 May 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

Gillingham v Wigan Athletic
22 August 2015
Two director’s box tickets with hospitality, total value £200

Gillingham v Doncaster Rovers
5 September 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

Gillingham v Blackpool
12 September 2015
Two director’s box tickets with hospitality, total value £200

Gillingham v Bury
14 November 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

Gillingham v Burton Albion
12 December 2015
Director’s box ticket with hospitality, total value £100

It is well known that I have not always seen eye-to-eye with Mr Chishti and on matters of policy, but I must point out that he has done nothing wrong in accepting this hospitality, and I fully commend the club for making the local Member of Parliament welcome at the stadium.

However, the question mark arises over the timing of the declaration. The Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members states that:

The House requires new Members, within one month of their election, to register all their current financial interests, and any registrable benefits (other than earnings) received in the 12 months before their election. After that, Members are required to register within 28 days any change in those registrable interests. Such a change includes both the acquisition of a new interest and the ceasing of any registered interest, for example because an employment has ceased or because a holding has reduced in value or been sold.

Chapter 1 Paragraph 2

In terms of hospitality:

Members must register, subject to the paragraphs below, any gifts, benefits or hospitality with a value of over £300 which they receive from a UK source. They must also register multiple benefits from the same source if these have a value of more than £300 in a calendar year.

Chapter 1 Paragraph 22

On a literal interpretation of the rules, it appears as though Mr Chishti has fallen foul of the requirement to declare the hospitality when the value exceeded £300 (such deadline appearing to be 18 September 2015 for the initial declaration, with 8 January 2016 appearing to be the deadline for the final update).

Having now laid out the facts, though, my question is just how much time do the journalists at The Sun have to trawl through the Register to uncover what is (essentially) a minor discrepancy? And, in the long run, does it really matter to anyone in the constituency if this declaration was a little late?

The strict anti-corruption rules are established to stop a (hypothetical) Member of Parliament from receiving a (hypothetical) sum of, say, £5,000.00 from a (hypothetical) green energy company and then voting to block a (hypothetical) coal-powered generator being built. They are not, to my knowledge, in force to prevent a Member of Parliament watching his local football club play on a Saturday afternoon, even if such a ticket is provided free-of-charge by that club.

For interest, I trawled through Hansard from 7 February 2015 to date, and could only find two references to Gillingham Football Club amongst Mr Chishti’s many contributions, being:

Will the Minister welcome the initiative that has been set up in my constituency with support from DWP and the local Gillingham football club, along with Medway Watersports, to provide young people with skills and positive experiences to assist them in securing employment or further training?

9 March 2015

And:

Will the Minister welcome the new apprentice teaching sports assistants coach programme put on by Gillingham football club in my constituency, which is working with primary schools to get more sports coaches into primary schools?

15 June 2015

All very complementary, but not really a material benefit to my beloved Gillingham FC – and certainly not worth £900 of free tickets (says I tongue-in-cheek and certainly not suggesting that Mr Chishti in any way accepted free tickets for any corrupt or otherwise inappropriate reason).

In summary, Mr Chishti does appear to have fallen foul of the rules (as I read them) – although it is worth reiterating that he has written to the Registrar for urgent clarification – and may, indeed, deserve a slight slap on the wrist for doing so.

However, once the matter has been clarified, and any such slap-on-the-wrist has been administered, Mr Chishti must be left to enjoy his (correctly-declared) football at the greatest team in Kent in peace, while commentators can go back to focusing on more important matters, such as discovering where he stands in the EU Referendum debate or supporting his Bills to improve services for people with a mental illness.