John's Jottings for May 2003

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.

How did it turn out?

The results of the local election in Medway on 1st May 2003 were not unexpected: the Conservatives achieved overall control (30 of the 55 seats) and ejected several Labour and Liberal Democrat sitting Councillors in the process, including some long-serving members of the Council.

The election was fought within the new ward boundaries—22 instead of the 35 previous wards—and for just 55 seats this time, rather than 80 as before. This meant that most candidates had a much greater area to cover for canvassing and leafleting and this included some new territory for that ward. For example, in my own ward (Rochester South and Horsted) we have "acquired" parts of what had previously been Hook Meadow, Warren Wood and Town wards.

The dividing-up of communities into different wards has not been done well, but the overriding aim of the government's Electoral Commission was to allocate near-enough the same number of residents to each Councillor. This seems back-to-front to me—keeping communities together politically is more important than the neatness of the warding figures.

Anyway, the election results were interesting in that the LibDem vote largely collapsed (as I surmised it would as they weren't treating this election with the respect it deserves—see last month's Jottings) and they polled under 20% of the vote, overall. Indeed, in several wards their members came last, getting even fewer votes than the solitary UKIP candidate in each ward. In the end, the LibDems were lucky to keep just six of their sitting Councillors—and none of the new candidates—in just three wards, and one of those was a small majority in a single seat in a split ward (Watling) with a Conservative taking the other seat there.

Labour also fared badly, but managed to win 17 seats, including a few new candidates. However they too lost several sitting members, including some long-established Councillors.

So, what caused all this to happen?

Well, it's largely what I call "the Horsted Lesson", which the opposition parties had consistently failed to learn. Our old favourite topic (well, mine anyway!) of Rochester Airport finally became the crucible in which the truth was forced out about who does and who does not represent Medway residents' wishes—in this case, the overwhelming majority view. Whatever one's interest in the airport, if any, the message has been clear all along: only the Conservatives have supported local residents' wishes to keep this site a green open space, ideally with the airport still fully functioning.

Despite all the opportunities the other parties were given to alter their hostile stance toward the airport and the site's future (aided by warnings of their folly from me in the Council Chamber) and ignoring all the clues that came their way that they were not acting in the way local people desired, they continued to press—and vote—for the airport's closure and built development to proceed on the site.

This attitude removed blinkers from many Medway people's eyes (as some have admitted in letters to the local Press and other communications) especially in the Horsted area close to the airport, and from then on those people were unlikely ever to be taken in by those political parties' claims and statements on all sorts of issues, not just the airport. The assumption by Labour and LibDem members of Medway Council that the local folk are so gullible as to continue to be fooled has proven to be hugely in error. People here are sharper than that, and not just in and around Horsted.

The Horsted Lesson has directly impacted several former Councillors who spoke and wrote in favour of closing the airport—John Booth and Roger Shade (both LibDem) and Derek Munton (Labour) as they all lost their seats on the Council this week. They have no-one but themselves to blame.

It will now probably take at least a full generation before there is any realistic chance of either of the opposition parties again achieving real influence within Medway Council. As became very clear on the doorstep during the election campaign, people don't quickly forget or forgive such behaviour. The contents of the ballot box have demonstrated this beyond any doubt.

Next time: What comes next?