John's Jottings for February 2002

John Ward

Please note: these Jottings are purely personal comment, and do not necessarily or directly represent the policy of either the Conservative Party or the Conservative Group on Medway Council.

The Political Scene in Medway — Part Two

Well, this is the Jottings that I have been dreading having to write. It is difficult to write about one's political opponents kindly, which is what I wish to do, while at the same time sweeping nothing under the carpet. The situation here in Medway has become far too serious in recent years for me to pull punches in many cases, especially in respect of where an eighth of a billion pounds of our money has gone.

If you have lived in the Medway area for a number of years, you will no doubt recall the minimal (non-existant?) Council Tax that was charged here for some time. This was because the Council's reserves were so high (nearly £150 million) that the interest from this money paid for Council services.

Then there was a change of administration and it all changed.

Over the years, the Council's reserves declined and the Council Tax went up. Even now it is the lowest in Kent, but it shouldn't be anywhere near its present level and we shouldn't have the pressures on us that we do have.

The current level of reserves is now barely twenty million pounds; so a good 125 millions (an eighth of a billion, no less) have been frittered away on—what? Is there anything in the Medway Towns to show where this money was spent to the benefit of the community? I have failed to discover a single thing, despite asking many people who have lived here for more years than I. Meanwhile we have headed toward bankruptcy, a trend thankfully halted in May 2000 when the Conservatives took over the control of Medway Council.

I asked one person, "Was the Black Lion Centre paid for from this money?" to which the answer came, "No: that's been here much longer than that."

Another person: "How about the Pentagon Centre?" "Nah, that was opened years before the change of administration at the Council."

I might have missed something, but the big message I am getting is that this huge sum of money has effectively vanished—one might almost say stolen from the people of Medway. I have made moves to ensure that the full details of what happened during those bleak years of Socialist control of the Council of the time will become available to the public.

The lesson is clear: Never again, under any circumstances, entrust your money to Labour control.

Since my group took over the administration of Medway Council our work has been hampered by the concerted efforts of the Labour group, who have used lies, Labour-friendly local media and their Unionised friends to pervert the truth and its perception within our community. We have risen above all of this; but it has been an eye-opening experience for many in the Conservative group on the Council.

I am fortunate in having spent more than 22 years in central government, and have seen it all before; so I was (by and large!) well prepared for all that happened during, for example, the Care Homes saga. The things we discovered during the months that this issue raged around Medway would be ample grounds for disciplinary and (possibly) legal actions; but such processes would only cause more anguish to those already conned into states of fright and concern, so I doubt that we'd go down that road.

Thankfully, the residents of Horsted have already seen enough in such issues as the Rochester Airport business to have become wise to what certain groups have been doing and the contempt in which they hold the views of our people. This, after all, is what persuaded me (admittedly at first reluctantly) to stand for the seat of local Councillor, much to my surprise (and an even greater surprise to my family). Anyone who knows me well already knows that I would not have done so without the strongest, most compelling reasons.

Now, all of the above difficulties were created by the Labour group, but (again as followers of the Rochester Airport issue will already be aware) they were supported by the Liberal Democrats. Now there's a group with potential: indeed I was a member of that party for several years elsewhere—but I could not possibly support them here as things stand. They have allied themselves to Labour far too much, and the unstated but de facto Lib/Lab pact that operates in this area is proof enough that they too cannot be trusted. I honestly hope that situation will change, and that they really do listen to and heed the views of the residents, something that one of their councillors professes to do but who failed by public-stated challenge to do so in the Council Chamber last April.

Overall, I honestly believe that the only party one can trust around here is the Conservatives. Now there's something that only three years ago I could never have imagined myself believing. It only goes to show that we are always learning new truths, and preconceptions are often worthless in the real world in which we have to live.

Next time: The Cabinet system—how is it working?