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.

Farewell Medway, farewell UK

Alan Collins
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I love Medway.

Sure, it’s got its faults, but, having lived in this corner of the UK for 25 years, I can say in all honesty that Medway is a place we can all be proud of.

Indeed, I love Medway so much that I stood for election to Medway Council, wishing to represent the people of Medway when important decisions were being made. The voters of Rochester South and Horsted decided they wanted to stick with the councillors they knew and trusted, and have no fear: in Trevor Clarke, Sylvia Griffin and Rupert Turpin, they have three wonderful local councillors who have always worked hard for their constituents and, no doubt, will continue to do so.

Four years ago, I decided against seeking election because (as was well known) I was moving away from the area just a couple of months afterwards. I stood this time because it was my intention to live in Rochester and work hard for my community. Had I been elected, I wouldn’t have resigned from UKIP and I wouldn’t be writing this post today.

The fact I love Medway so much, the fact most of my family and friends live in Medway, the fact I work (well, used to work) in Medway, the fact I volunteer in Medway and the fact I am a trustee of a Medway charity all made the decision a difficult one. However, it is time to spread my wings (again) and experience a new life further afield.

Today, I am boarding a flight to Barcelona, to start a new life with my (Catalan) fiancée.

The decision to leave my family and friends behind was not easy, and I will miss them greatly. However, thanks to modern technology, they are only a Skype call away, and they know they are more than welcome to benefit from cheap holidays to warmer, more pleasant climes. (My flight this evening only cost £36, although I have obviously paid extra for the benefit of taking two suitcases of most of my important and necessary possessions with me).

The decision to leave my job was not quite so difficult. I will, of course, miss my amazing work colleagues, but the profession I joined, even a short time ago, is not the same today. I will leave to your imagination why that might be, but at 25, I am able to start again in a new career without too much trouble. I have enjoyed my time in law, but I don’t enjoy it any more and I certainly won’t miss it.

What the future holds for me in Barcelona is far from certain. A short period of rest from a hectic 12 months, and a short period of settling, will be welcome, but I do not intend to be sitting on my backside for too long. I may not have enjoyed my job in the end, but that didn’t stop me from working hard, because that is the right thing to do; to work hard to have a life, not to expect other people to pay for you to live on easy street.

So, while it will be sad to watch the green fields of England fade into the distance this evening, I know I have made the right decision. For myself, for my fiancée, and for our future children (don’t worry, there’s no news on that front – and we aren’t planning on it for a while yet, either!): I am confident that living in a warmer, healthier, more tolerant region will provide the best possible future for our family.

The Medway Tory leadership race is on

Politics
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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!

Medway Independents join Labour

Politics
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The two Gillingham North Independent councillors have joined the Labour Group on Medway Council.

In a move which will disappoint residents who voted for them over Labour in 2011, Councillors Pat Cooper and Andy Stamp have crossed the floor and joined the 15-strong Labour Group.

Cllr Stamp, a twice former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, and Cllr Cooper ran together with Dan McDonald in 2011, in Medway’s most fiercely-contested ward. They went head-to-head with Labour and split the ward, with Labour Councillor Adam Price taking the third seat.

The trio attracted votes from across the political spectrum, as they offered a refreshing change from partisan politics and instead focused on local issues important to Gillingham North residents. As a less recognisable figure in the community, despite his work for the Citizens Advice Bureau, Mr McDonald missed out on election by over 100 votes, coming sixth behind the other two Labour candidates Naushabah Khan and Ian Darbyshire.

Although Cllrs Cooper and Stamp appear to be ideologically aligned towards the more moderate Labour wing, their voice in the council chamber did not always match that of the Labour Group.

Now, however, they have decided to cross the floor and join the council’s second-largest party, a decision which has disappointed many people known to this author who voted for the pair precisely because they offered a non-partisan approach to local politics.

Perhaps most ironically, Cllr Stamp has said that one factor in his defection was the reselection of Paul Clark as Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate in Gillingham and Rainham – a politician he attacked when he stood against him in 2005 and 2010.

How the majority in Gillingham North will react to the news will not be known for some time; the next local elections in Medway are not until May 2015.

Until then, residents will be represented by three Labour councillors, whether they like it or not…