"I believe in socialist values. Some political opponents throw it around like it's some hand grenade of fear"
What Steven asked Vince Maple, the new leader of Medway Council
Vince Maple was re-elected during the 2023 local elections, but this time his role extends further than representing Chatham Central & Brompton or acting as Medway Labour Leader. As it became clear on the night that Labour were on the path to victory, it was inevitable that Cllr Maple was also set to become the new Leader of Medway Council. We arranged to sit down with the incoming Medway Council Leader to discuss transparent democracy and the challenges facing a new council administration.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had other ideas though, summoning Cllr Maple to party HQ, so we ended up speaking via a difficult internet connection instead.
Why didn’t Medway Labour do better during the local election?
I think we did an amazing job in the local election, with a majority on the Council for the first time since it existed. I'm really proud of the amazing team of councillors and activists we've got from across Medway, who will now be bringing the change that people have voted. People have heard me say repeatedly the election was about choosing change and choosing Labour and people have done just that. We had great support from our regional party, great support from the front bench, from Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner all the way through dozens of members of the parliamentary party volunteering their time coming. It's a pretty exciting time.
What are your thoughts on voter turnout for the local elections?
I think it's always difficult and frustrating when you look at turnouts anywhere in local government, not just here in Medway but across the place. Actually, I think we were just under 29%, that's not dissimilar to other elections up and down the country. Some of our wards had in the region of nearly 40% turnout, some lower than that. There will be a range of factors for that, I'm waiting to hear how much voter ID had an impact on that. I believe now we might be getting some statistics, after the cross-party support for the last motion of the previous council’s administration which I was pleased to bring forward. So we will look at that information, but actually, we know that there were people who voted on Thursday for the first time who had never voted before.
So, what was your feeling for why the voter turnout in your (Chatham Central and Brompton) ward was so low (21%)?
Well, I think historically there are some wards in Medway where the turnout hasn't been higher than 23-24%. I think I saw one or two unsuccessful candidates blaming the electorate for not voting as the reason that they lost. People will vote for the parties they choose to vote for and not voting is sometimes an option as well for them. Of course, you know we don't have mandatory voting, unlike some other countries. In some wards, we had a higher turnout than we've had in previous elections. I think at least one of the Rochester wards had a slightly higher turnout. So would I always want to see a mandate of 70, 80, 90%? Of course, I'm a democrat. But I do recognise that however important the future of Medway Council is, people have got loads of other stuff going on in their lives.
Would you have still won the local election on the old boundaries and number of councillors?
I think so. I heard an interesting number of theories. ‘It’s the maps what done it.’ I think obviously by the nature of it, we would have had different focuses, different targets, but I think with the relentless targeting in campaigning and the support we've had from the national party, I think we would have got over the line. For some political parties to just say it was the maps, they are wrong in my view. People wanted change.
Medway was visited by many Labour MPs supporting Medway Labour’s local election bid. As Kent’s only Labour MP, why wasn’t Rosie Duffield one of them?
Rosie Duffield and I have known each other for years. She's a friend of mine. I've known her since before she was an MP. She was given a warm welcome the last time she visited the Gillingham Labour Club. In this year's elections, she has campaigned throughout the county. She's always welcome in Medway. We know that the campaign in Canterbury was successful because the council leader himself lost his seat.
What does the local election result tell us ahead of the next General Election?
Well, we know statistically that if the vote that was held on Thursday was to happen again in October/November 2024, we would have two Labour MPs in Gillingham & Rainham and Rochester & Strood. So, it says to me absolutely people are fed up with national parliament, people are fed up with the chaos, particularly under Liz Truss and they're not feeling much better under Rishi Sunak. We also know, and I saw reactions first-hand myself when Keir was out knocking on doors, people are pleased and see him as a Prime Minister in waiting.
Would you support your predecessor as Leader (Alan Jarrett) receiving an OBE for services to local government?
That’s a matter for other places. I've said on record what I think of his service on local government. If those who deal with honours want to give them out to the former leader, that's a matter for them. It's not really my bag. I thank him for his service, and particularly his advocacy for unitary authorities. On a national stage, Alan Jarrett was a champion for that and I will absolutely continue to send that message. Unitary authority is the best form of local government there is.
What will you miss most about being in opposition?
It is utterly the most frustrating job in politics. Some say it is the hardest job. I think I'm just about to start the hardest job in politics with a massive budget hole and all the rest of it but certainly one of the most frustrating jobs is being in opposition because you’ve got lots of good ideas and you have no power to deliver them. I won't miss that at all. But you know the ability to have that chance to be your party's representative, to be the alternative voice for an administration which in my case I disagreed fundamentally with lots and lots of what they were bringing forward. Good governance needs good accountability.
What was the best achievement of the previous council administration?
Well, I think there's a couple of things really. I would say their ability to get through covid. I think Alan recognised at the final cabinet meeting that we worked cross-party probably in a way that we didn't as much as we could have done on all sides throughout certainly my time and his time, so I think we've done well on that. I think the other thing as well is absolutely making sure that we don't have and have never had an estuary airport here again, something that was supported on a cross-party basis.
Are you a socialist?
I am a socialist. I believe in socialist values. Some political opponents throw it around like it's some hand grenade of fear. Actually, in one sense, if you've ever used the NHS, you're a socialist. That is a socialist model. Everyone pays in what they can through their taxation and everyone gets the service they need. A very basic concept.
As leader of the council, can we still expect to see you standing on picket lines and supporting strikes?
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