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!

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.

Continue reading

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

Battlefield Medway 2015: Too Close To Call

In the run-up to the 2010 General Election, I developed a computer model to project the vote share among the four main parties in Medway, which was largely accurate.

On the eve of polling day, I published my final projection results via Twitter, then sat through the count watching with interest to see how accurate my computer model had been.

The results were impressive:
 

Chatham & Aylesford
Party Candidate Projection Result Margin
Conservative Tracey Crouch 46% 46% 0
Labour Jonathan Shaw 36% 32% -4
Liberal Democrats John McClintock 15% 13% -2
UK Independence Party Steve Newton 4% 3% -1

 

Gillingham & Rainham
Party Candidate Projection Result Margin
Conservative Rehman Chishti 47% 46% -1
Labour Paul Clark 29% 28% -1
Liberal Democrats Andy Stamp 19% 18% -1
UK Independence Party Robert Oakley 5% 3% -2

 

Rochester & Strood
Party Candidate Projection Result Margin
Conservative Mark Reckless 50% 49% -1
Labour Teresa Murray 35% 29% -6
Liberal Democrats Geoff Juby 14% 16% +2
UK Independence Party Did not stand

The model, which combined local and national polling to provide a local picture, was, in most cases, correct within a reasonable margin of error. The only exception was in Rochester & Strood, were UKIP’s decision not to field a candidate against Mark Reckless made projecting the vote share there a little more complicated.

Over the weekend, Liberal Democrat blogger Chris Sams released his predictions for Battlefield Medway 2015. His analysis is quite detailed, and I would urge readers to take a look for themselves, but in essence he claims Rochester & Strood will be a Conservative hold, Gillingham & Rainham will be a Labour gain and Chatham & Ayelsford could go either way.

I thought this a little optimistic, and couldn’t see Chatham & Ayelsford being too closest to call, so I resurrected my computer model and updated the figures to calculate projections on where the votes currently lie:
 

Chatham & Aylesford
Party Candidate Projection Margin
Conservative Tracey Crouch 41% 38% – 44%
Labour Tristan Osborne 42% 39% – 45%
Liberal Democrats To be confirmed 4% 1% – 7%
UK Independence Party To be confirmed 11% 8% – 14%
Projected Result Labour Gain

 

Gillingham & Rainham
Party Candidate Projection Margin
Conservative Rehman Chishti 41% 38% – 44%
Labour Paul Clark 43% 40% – 46%
Liberal Democrats To be confirmed 4% 1% – 7%
UK Independence Party To be confirmed 9% 6% – 12%
Projected Result Labour Gain

 

Rochester & Strood
Party Candidate Projection Margin
Conservative Mark Reckless 42% 39% – 45%
Labour To be confirmed 40% 37% – 43%
Liberal Democrats To be confirmed 10% 7% – 11%
UK Independence Party To be confirmed 5% 2% – 8%
Projected Result Conservative Hold

The results speak for themselves. Rochester & Strood is projected to be a Conservative hold, Gillingham & Rainham a Labour gain and Chatham & Aylesford closest to call. Mr Sams, I eat my words!

The projection shows that the Liberal Democrat vote has virtually collapsed in Chatham & Aylesford and Gillingham & Rainham (as evidenced in both the national opinion polls and the 2011 local election), but has been largely resilient in Rochester & Strood. Conversely, UKIP has surged in Chatham & Aylesford and Gillingham & Rainham, but remained static in Rochester & Strood (they achieved only 4% of the vote in 2005) – perhaps largely due to the anti-EU nature of the incumbent Tory.

Of course, these projections are based, partly, upon mid-term opinion polling, and the political landscape may change dramatically between now and 2015. However, when you consider the figures involved, and particularly the margins of error included in the tables for information, one thing is clear:

At the moment, Battlefield Medway 2015 is too close to call!

Labour members in Medway preferred David to Ed in the Battle of the Brothers

In the much-publicised Labour Leadership contest, members of the Labour Party from Medway’s three constituencies decided that they preferred David Miliband to his victorious younger brother Ed.

An analysis of first preference votes by Medway Conservative blogger Alan W Collins has shown that, in total, 43% of Labour Party members voted initially for David, whilst just 29% voted for Ed. Ed Balls polled 12%, Andy Burnham 10% and Diane Abbott 6%, with 1 spoilt ballot.

In Chatham and Aylesford, 61 members voted for David Miliband, whilst 39 voted for Ed Miliband (43% and 27% respectively), whilst in Gillingham and Rainham David Miliband reached a majority with 68 votes against just 28 for Ed Miliband (52% to 23%).

Only in Rochester and Strood did the two brothers poll equally, with 58 votes (36%) each. Total turnout for Medway was 71%.

Commenting on the controversial result, where David Miliband won the support of Labour MPs, MEPs and party members, but where Ed Miliband was elected leader on the strength of union members’ votes, Alan W Collins said: “Many people who should know better have declared that Labour have voted themselves into opposition for another five years.

“Ed Miliband may seem like an unfortunate choice for Labour, but he must not be underestimated. He has, after all, been elected on the strength of votes from ordinary working people.

“However, the results in Medway, where Ed Miliband barely managed to get two-thirds the number of votes the former favorite David Miliband polled, are representative of the national picture.

“The Labour Party voted, and said that they wanted David Miliband. The unions voted, and said that they wanted Ed Miliband. In the end, it was the unions who won.

“If the Labour Party do lose the next election, then they need not worry – it wasn’t their fault. If the Labour Party lose the next election, it will have been the unions who lost it for them.”