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A chaotic week for our three MPs
Plus Tom Cruise is in town, a hot mic catches out a councillor, and who is the Rainham bin fairy?
For the first time in my life, I’m starting to think there might actually be too much politics going on. I’d like to ignore the national issues here and only focus on the local, but sadly there’s a lot of news regarding our MPs out of parliament this week, so let’s start there..
Our MPs have had Quite A Week
It’s been quite a week in parliament, and our three MPs have had a very busy week. This newsletter would be incredibly long if I covered everything here, so here’s the brief rundown of what our MPs have been up to as the government collapsed.
Monday was the quietest day of the week, with Gillingham and Rainham MP popping up in Gillingham High Street to hold a “street surgery” with residents to raise, er, “national local matters” on their behalf, whatever that means.
Now, MP surgeries are usually announced in advance so any residents with issues can attend and raise matters with their MP. Rehman takes a more avant-garde approach to this concept, only announcing these surgeries after the event with a photo shoot on Twitter. A cynic might suggest he pops down onto the High Street (coincidentally right outside of the Conservative Club) for a few minutes to grab some pictures and appear active, before quickly retreating before any hostile locals can have a word.
On Tuesday, MPs pushed through the horrific Public Order Bill, but there was one positive tucked inside. A cross-party amendment voted for creating buffer zones around abortion clinics to protect those using their services from abuse and harassment. This was a free vote and saw Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch and Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst voting to create the buffer zones, while our dear Rehman opposed it. Interesting demographic differences there. Of course, Rehman has form on this sort of thing, having previously voted to block residents of Northern Ireland from accessing safe and legal abortion services.
Wednesday brought the infamous parliamentary vote on fracking in the House of Commons that ultimately led to the resignation of Prime Minister Liz Truss. The government pitched the vote as one of confidence in the government, effectively forcing Conservative MPs to vote against their own 2019 manifesto commitment against fracking. Always the slightly more principled of our three MPs, Tracey Crouch decided that she would not accept this, and decided not to support the government, even if it meant losing the Conservative whip, as had been suggested earlier on in the day.
In an entirely unsurprising move, both Rehman Chishti and Kelly Tolhurst chose to support the government, presumably because they are excited to start fracking within Medway as soon as possible. This was the vote that led to allegations of bullying, harassment, and even physical assault within the voting lobbies, and seemingly included another Conservative MP laying into Kelly Tolhurst over the government’s position:
It was on Thursday that the wheels finally came fully off of the bus. It was clear early in the morning that things were going badly for the Prime Minister, when even Rehman Chishti launched a thinly veiled attack on her leadership. Hours later, she was gone. Lose Rehman, lose Downing Street as the old saying goes.
Now, in the flurry of activity following the Prime Minister’s resignation, local residents are understandably curious about exactly who their MP will be supporting to take over. This led to some truly incredible scenes on the Keeping Borstal Connected Facebook group, where one poster dared to ask who Kelly Tolhurst might be supporting, only for her sister to accuse the poster of “MP bashing”.
Imagine, wanting to know who your elected representative is backing to be Prime Minister. Still, it’s hardly surprising her family is eager to clamp down on any such discussions given she appears to be back on board the Boris bus.
This brings us to Friday, where we finally got to find out whether Rehman Chishti would throw his hat into the ring following his delightfully disastrous campaign the last time around. Sadly it was not to be this time around, with Rehman throwing his weight behind former chancellor Rishi Sunak.
There’s still no word on who Tracey Crouch might support in the contest, but given we still don’t know where she stands on Brexit, we probably shouldn’t be holding our breath to find out.
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Covid in numbers
Cases: There are still no specific data, but 3.3% of the population in the south east are estimated to test positive for coronavirus this week, up from 2.6% last week. Once again, it’s probably a good idea to assume everyone has it, and get boosted.
Hospitalisations: There are currently 66 patients being treated for covid in Medway Hospital, with 2 of them on a ventilator. This is down 3% compared to last week.
Deaths: 1 new death was recorded this week, taking Medway to 978 covid deaths in total.
Vaccinations: 81% of the 12+ population in Medway have now had at least one vaccine dose, 77% have had two doses, and 60% have received a booster dose.
79% of those eligible for a spring booster received one.
10% of those under 12 have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
37% of those aged 50+ have so far had their autumn booster.
It’s been a while since we had a big film shooting at Chatham Dockyard, but that all changed this week with news that Tom Cruise was in town, parking his helicopter on the lawn of Gun Wharf on at least two days this week.
It’s unclear what film Tom is in town shooting, though it seems likely to be another Mission: Impossible given he barely does anything else these days. There’s no word on whether he has any strong views on Medway’s Local Plan process, or whether he intends to see more of the towns while he’s here. Given he’s been flying in and out in a helicopter each day suggests he perhaps isn’t going to be spotted down Rochester High Street like Russell Crowe was during the filming of Les Miserables, leading to a breakfast being named after him in The Quills.
Saying the quiet part on a hot mic
It’s no secret that the local elections next year will be challenging for the Conservatives. Despite having run Medway for two decades, the chances of them holding on next year were already looking more remote thanks to the new boundaries the election will be fought on, and the past few weeks certainly won’t have increased their chances.
During this week’s planning committee, the curse of the live microphone struck again, as the live stream picked up a conversation between Cllrs Chris Buckwell and Adrian Gulvin, who presumably didn’t realise their mics were still broadcasting. They complained about the quality of the screens, the lights, and the sound in the St. George’s Centre, leading Cllr Gulvin to seemingly suggest Medway Council was looking at holding the meetings elsewhere before Cllr Buckwell offers an assessment that “we might not be running the council by then”. He then seems to realise the mic is on and quickly switches it off.
You can hear the full exchange by clicking play on the video below and whacking your speaker volume all of the way up:
Fair enough. Cllr Buckwell is known for being one of the more sensible members on the Conservative benches, so it’s hardly a surprise that he’s more realistic about the situation his party finds itself in.
Speaking of the local elections, we’re compiling our big spreadsheet of candidates across Medway, so if you have any news on selections, hear from a candidate on your doorstep or receive a leaflet, please hit reply and let us know, or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org - thanks!
Maybe they found the magic money tree after all
Last week I reported how Medway Development Company, a company owned by Medway Council, was trying to get out of its financial commitments to Medway Council. After pleading poverty and claiming that they couldn’t pay the £645,000 they promised for local facilities in exchange for building new housing. Instead, they were offering a token sum of £70,000 instead.
The matter was due to be discussed at planning committee this week, but instead, the issue was removed from the agenda at the last minute. Maybe they’ve decided they can come up with the money after all, particularly after the same committee blocked Peel from pulling the same trick a few weeks earlier.
Who is the Rainham bin fairy?
Strange story here from deepest, darkest Rainham, where it appears a phantom bin fairy has deposited two new bins on Rainham Recreation Ground.
Those involved with the park don’t know where they’ve come from, and Medway Council and Medway Norse seem to be unaware too.
Tomorrow night sees another excellent gig from Careful Now Promotions at The Oast Community Centre in Rainham. This time around they have the brilliant indiepop noise band adults headlining, as well as support from Seattle’s Red Ribbon, and local upstarts Sheena. Tickets will be available on the door.
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If you hear about any Medway news that might be of interest, let me know! Hit reply to message me directly, DM me on Twitter, or leave a comment below.
Music that soundtracked the creation of this newsletter: Let Them Eat Chaos by Kae Tempest, Brutalism by Idles, and Fatty Cakes and the Puff Pastries by Fatty Cakes and the Puff Pastries.