If Theresa May’s Brexit were on the ballot paper, I’d have voted Remain

Brexit
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When I left the Conservative Party four years ago and joined UKIP, I always envisaged returning to being a Tory voter (if not a member) after the EU referendum had been delivered – which, let’s face it, is the main reason why people voted for UKIP and why that Party is now on a slippery slope to oblivion.

EU Referendum duly delivered, I left UKIP and began to keep an eye on the direction of Theresa May’s new government to see whether the damage done by David Cameron to the Conservative Party I had joined would be undone. Despite some promising words at the start of her reign, unelected Queen May is now bent on pursuing Brexit at any cost in the hopes of reuniting her party and proving that, whilst a remainer, she is committed to delivering the will of the people – while the wedge between leave and remain voters is gradually creating a deeper divide across the country.

What irks me, irritates me, angers me even, more than anything else this government without a mandate is doing, is the continued insistence on playing political poker with people’s lives. On 23 June 2016, the British people voted for a departure from the EU – but not a destination. The choice voters made was to leave the EU, narrowly outnumbering those who wanted to remain in the EU, but they were not consulted on what that would actually look like. In a referendum campaign filled with so many contradictions and plagued by misdirection, it was impossible to know, from the perspective of either side, what Brexit would look like.

Like 17 million other Brits, I voted Leave on 23 June 2016. Like many (though, admittedly, not all) I did not vote against immigration, as the Britain I want to live in is an open Britain. Like many (though, admittedly, not all) I did not vote against non-Brits, as the Britain I want to live in is a tolerant Britain. Like many (though, admittedly, not all) I did not vote to stick two fingers up to the establishment, as the Britain I want to live in is a united Britain, not one in which an “us v them” mentality defines discourse.

I voted to leave the EU because I have spent the majority of my life campaigning against an organisation which seems bent on subverting nation state democracy in the pursuit of a federal European superstate; an organisation which has almost single-handedly crippled several Mediterranean economies through a failed pan-European currency; and an organisation which seeks to apply a single standard upon a continent of half a billion people of vastly different histories and cultures. I voted to leave the EU because of a lifelong ideological opposition to the EU and, like 17 million other Brits, I voted to leave without knowing what leaving looked like. It was, I admit, a risk, but one I eventually took after much agonising consideration – and, eight months on, here’s the new headline:

If I had known on 23 June that voting “Leave” would result in Theresa May’s vision of Brexit, then, despite my deep and long-held opposition to the EU, I would have voted “Remain”!

Does that mean that I regret voting to leave? No. Categorically not. What I regret is that the terms of our departure are being decided upon by a government with no electoral mandate beyond leaving the EU. And what I regret, perhaps more than anything, is that this unelected government is now playing games with 3 million people’s lives. And yes, that includes the woman who will later this year (on 8 July, in fact) become my wife.

It has often been said that the UK leaving the EU is like a long and unhappy marriage finally coming to a divorce. However, before the divorce can be finalised, the two parties need to decide what their lives will look like after the legal separation – and that involves negotiation and compromise. What angers me is the way the government is so casually placing so much stress and uncertainty on 3 million people who not only did not vote for this government, but also did not get a voted on whether their country of residence would be leaving the EU at all.

The government’s approach to EU citizens living in the UK is not dissimilar to that of a bitter parent arguing over custody of the children, particularly in the context of extracting as much “compromise” from the other party as possible. It makes for a compelling emotional argument but, ultimately, the children become mere pawns in their parents’ violent game of chess while their best interests are continually ignored by the warring parties. In their “love” for their children, those parties end up doing more damage in the long-term.

This government is effectively saying to EU citizens “we care about you so much, but actually not enough to guarantee your right to remain living here”.

As for my family, the situation is complicated enough without Queen May tearing it down the middle before it’s even begun. My bride-to-be is unable to move to the UK until we get married (for reasons I will not go into here) and, like the open-minded optimist I am, I assumed that, as the UK must continue to respect its treaty obligations for free movement of people until the date we actually leave the EU, the government would not be so cold-hearted as to remove the right to live here of anyone who had made the UK their home before that date. Silly me! It seems the government is more concerned with the Faragist scare-tactic that half of eastern Europe will move here in the next two years than with taking a pragmatic (dare I say, human) approach to the workers this country needs to survive.

Now, I don’t blame Queen May for my family situation but I will squarely and firmly blame her if my wife and I are ever forced to live in separate countries because of her own heartless immigration policy. And if that situation ever occurs then I swear, as long as there is blood pumping through my body, that I will never vote Conservative again. Ever! And, yes, you can quote me on that.

In the meantime, Queen May needs to stop playing politics with people’s lives and provide some certainty to the 3 million people currently worrying whether they will still have a home in two years’ time. As Sarah Ludford, the Lords Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union, said:

EU citizens need to be given clarity on where they stand … It would be shameful if the Government were to leave them in limbo, lining them up as bargaining chips in the forthcoming negotiations.

Until then, I cannot help but wonder whether my decision to vote Leave was perhaps the worst decision I will ever make in my life…

Rainham Central councillor Mike O’Brien loses cancer battle

Mike O'Brien
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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.

I’m supporting Henry Bolton for Kent Police and Crime Commissioner (but my second preference candidate may surprise you)

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The candidates have been announced, the election is underway, and I am today officially endorsing Henry Bolton OBE to be the next Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent. For the first time in any election, I am also endorsing a second preference candidate – and regular readers may be somewhat surprised by where that second “X” will be going.

Henry Bolton OBEHenry Bolton OBE is UKIP’s candidate for the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) election taking place on 5 May – and I would encourage each and every one of you to lend him your vote.

The full list of candidates to appear on the ballot paper has been published, and I have updated the 2016 Kent PCC Election page on Medway Elects with the same. Of those standing, I believe Mr Bolton is the best choice for Kent.

Given the fact that I left UKIP around eight months ago, some readers may be surprised that I am endorsing a UKIP candidate, but, for me, the Police and Crime Commissioner role is not about party politics; it is about electing somebody with the necessary skill and experience to manage Kent Police so that they work in the most effective way for us, the people of Kent.

For all her faults, Ann Barnes had racked up many years on the Kent Police Authority before the PCC superceded that body, and that direct experience with the police stood her in good stead. Despite being a walking PR disaster (especially in the early days), there is no denying her results; for Kent Police to receive the best HMIC rating out of 43 police areas is a remarkable achievement, and must be congratulated.

On paper, the Conservative Party candidate appears to be a career politician. Since studying Public Policy, Government and Management at the University of Birmingham, Matthew Scott has been a local councillor and currently works as a Parliamentary Manager in Westminster. You can read the biography on his website and make up your own mind, but, to me, it seems Mr Scott’s credentials stem from liaising with the police from the outside, rather than any direct experience of the running or day-to-day affairs of the Force. Whilst not wishing to unfairly undermine his own skills and experience (which I am sure are many), if Mr Scott is the most experienced candidate the Conservative Party can put forward for Kent PCC, then one must wonder about the credentials of those who didn’t make the cut.

Steve Uncles is the only 2012 candidate making a return appearance. As the English Democrats’ candidate, Mr Uncles achieved a remarkable 5.3% of the vote, only being beaten into last place by independent Dai Liyanage, who attracted 3.7%. This time round, Mr Uncles is awaiting trial for an alleged election offence dating back to April 2013 – and even (successfully) applied to have his trial postponed until after this election. Whilst I am a firm believer in the principle of being innocent until proven guilty, what must it say of a man when he is more concerned with chasing elected office than clearing his name? I will let readers decide the answer to that question themselves.

David Naghi, the Liberal Democrat candidate, represents East Ward on Maidstone Borough Council. Otherwise, I honestly know very little about his experience or credentials for this role. Indeed, despite being on the Statement of Persons Nominated, at the time of going to pixel, he was not listed on the Lib Dem website’s PCC candidates page. Equally, I’m sorry to say that I know very little about the independent candidate Gurvinder Sandher, besides being the Director of the Kent Equality Cohesion Council.

Of the six candidates on the ballot paper, that leaves Medway Councillor Tris Osborne, who is standing for the Labour Party, and Henry Bolton OBE. Both have frontline policing experience, but, in my opinion, Mr Bolton’s background makes him the best-suited candidate for the job. That said, I am not completely dismissing Tris as a possible PCC, as you will see later on in this article.

For the first time, I am heading into an election without being constrained by membership of a political party, so I am free to publicly support whoever I wish. I have decided to be so open about endorsing the UKIP candidate, despite no longer being a member of that party, partly because of his experience, but also because UKIP’s stated policy is that their PCCs should be answerable to the needs of the people who elect them, and not to a national party whip. That independence is crucial in such a key role.

Henry Bolton has spent 21 years in the military, as an infantry and intelligence officer with the British Army. Upon leaving the Army, Mr Bolton spent six years as a civilian police officer with Thames Valley Police, before being seconded to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office by the European Union as Security and Defence Planner for Georgia, Libya, Ukraine, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

You can read Mr Bolton’s full biography for yourselves (if you can forgive the website looking like something from the early 2000s – no one is perfect, after all!), but of particular note are his work as the Head of the International Police in Croatia, leading “a number of international diplomatic missions to help various governments to reform their police, border guard and other security services” and assisting “governments in building cross-governmental, multi-agency coordination and strategies to enhance national security and the rule of law”. He was awarded the OBE in 2013 for “Services to International Security”.

If ever there were a candidate for whom the role of PCC was created, it must surely be Henry Bolton. If the voters of Kent wish to repeat the 2012 result and elect a candidate on the strength of their skills and experience, rather than their party, then, on 5 May, they should mark one of their crosses next to Henry Bolton and ensure that their next Police and Crime Commissioner is a man with the experience to get the job done, and get it done right.

Don’t lose your second vote

Don’t forget that you have two votes in the PCC election and can support a first- and a second-choice candidate. If no candidate has more than 50% of the vote after all first-choice votes have been counted, then all but the two highest-polling candidates are eliminated and any second-choice votes from those ballot papers will be added to the remaining two candidates. In the 2012 election, Ann Barnes, the ultimate victor, attained 46.8% of first-choice votes and won thanks to favourable second-choice votes.

Tris OsborneI will be casting my second vote for the Labour Party candidate Tris Osborne. Again, this is not because I have suddenly started supporting Labour (far from it), but because he is local (to Medway) and also has front-line experience in policing as a former Special Constable. He is very approachable and I believe he would be a strong voice for both Kent residents and Kent Police.

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

ScallyChishtiGills
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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.

The Medway Tory leadership race is on

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The Medway Conservative Group are now looking for a new leader after Cllr Rodney Chambers announced he is to step aside.

As the Conservatives have an overall majority, following last Thursday’s election, the victor will also ascend to Leader of the Council on 27 May, when Cllr Chambers will officially step down after 15 years in charge of Medway Council.

Cllr Chambers said:

I am enormously proud to have been the leader of Medway Council for the past 15 years. In this time the council has delivered many successful outcomes, which have positively changed Medway, benefitting the place and the people – our residents and businesses.

Much has been achieved that I am so proud of, and Medway undoubtedly has a very bright future. I am confident my successor will build on the record of the last 15 years and take Medway on to new heights.

I will continue to serve the people of Medway as a councillor following full council and I will offer my support to the new leader and look forward to seeing more success for Medway in the next few years.

The decision sparks a short leadership race which, almost undoubtedly, will take place behind closed doors. However, the reality is that there are few likely winners amongst the current ranks (one potential contender left last week to fight an election campaign in East Kent) and whoever wins will need to ensure the constituency splits which sadly occurred from time to time are kept to an acceptable minimum, although the debate has already started:

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The new leader will also need to bear in mind that, whilst the number of Conservative councillors rose again last Thursday, the average share of the vote per candidate1 dropped to its lowest level since they first took overall control of the council in 2003, as the graph from Medway Elects shows (below).

Average Vote Share

The new leader will be wise to accept that, whilst a(n increased) majority remains, the electorate should not be taken for granted. On average, 66% of voters did not want a Tory councillor2 – and a change of leader is the perfect opportunity for a change of direction to win over the voters who did not receive their support.

I congratulate Cllr Chambers on his long period of dedicated public service, and hope that his successor is able to bring about a positive change for the Tories and for Medway.

Whoever it is, and whatever path they carry Medway along, rest assured that I will be scrutinising them just as closely as ever!

Notes:

1. I calculate vote share as an average of the number of votes received by each candidate. This is, I believe, the most accurate reflection of both the fact that many people may not have been able to vote for their preferred party, and that all but one of the council’s 22 wards are multi-member, allowing multiple and often split votes and making it impossible to see how many people actually support a party in each ward.

2. Do not mistake my mention of a majority voting against the Tories for advocacy for proportional representation at a council level. Whilst I support PR for parliamentary elections (and always have done), at a local level, councillors really are, first and foremost, their constituents’ representatives – and that strong personal link between councillor and constituent must be maintained. The national PR argument is another argument for another day!