Medway Council Cabinet member uses anonymous account to push political points
Plus Strood Civic Centre site progress, (the real) Question Time comes to Medway, and more
Editor’s note: Should a Cabinet member use anonymous social media posts to push political talking points to local residents? That’s our main story today after a Medway councillor was caught doing just that. Further down, we have news on the Civic Centre development in Strood finally moving forward, news about Question Time (the real BBC one, not ours) coming to Medway and more.
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Medway Council Cabinet member uses anonymous social media posts to push political points
Medway Council Cabinet member Cllr Tristan Osborne has had a colourful history of social media usage over the years. A decade ago he was being told off by the council for his blogging at the time, and as anyone who has ever encountered him on social media will know, he doesn’t back down from a fight with both political opponents and residents alike.
This week it came to light that the Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Enforcement has been posting anonymously in local Facebook groups to push political talking points, while not declaring his interest or position. This kind of activity could be in breach of Medway Council’s code of conduct for councillors.
Cllr Osborne has for some time used social media under a different spelling of his own name, which he uses to offer some privacy protection as he works in education. This is entirely understandable and not the focus of our story here. Those posts are still quite easy to identify as being from him, and he includes a photo of himself alongside them.
The questionable activity here comes from entering various local Facebook groups and posting political content as either ‘Anonymous participant’ or ‘Anonymous member’. These posts were discovered following Cllr Osborne posting the exact same wording on a post from his own account as the anonymous ones.
None of the content is necessarily objectionable in its own right. His posts this week have focused on Michael Gove’s interventions in Medway and the council pushing back against housing targets. While this is perhaps inadvisable during the formation process of the Local Plan, it is the lack of transparency from Cllr Osborne in these posts that raises questions.
Medway Council’s Code of Conduct for councillors is based around (among other things) integrity, accountability, openness, and transparency, and it is difficult to see how Cllr Osborne posting political content without declaring who he is can align with those principles.
Indeed, section 7.2 of the Code of Conduct states:
You should be aware that members of the public may perceive you to be acting as a Councillor or co-opted Member even when you are acting in your personal capacity. This includes everything you publish on social media. It is your responsibility to make it clear in any posts/tweets, etc. whether you are acting in your personal capacity or as a Councillor or co-opted Member.
We reached out to Cllr Osborne about his social media posts, who responded with the following statement:
I do use social media to solicit views on political issues and because of my job in education on particular groups I will post anonymously to ensure my constant details can’t be accessed by those in education.
This is the recommended approach by the department for education in social media guidance that teachers engaging on socials do not do so using their names.
All views expressed are in alignment with Medway Labour policy where necessary.
It seems strange that Cllr Osborne can post with an identifiable variation of his real name and photo in some groups, but feels the need to remain completely anonymous in others.
While people do have the right to privacy online, it is somewhat eyebrow-raising that someone with a prominent public position like Cllr Osborne should be leading political discussions with residents without identifying himself or disclosing his role at the same time. Indeed, politicians in other parts of the country have been forced to resign over similar activity.
The Medway Labour administration declined to comment when we presented our findings to them earlier in the week.
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Strood Civic Centre site finally gets moving
After sitting empty for over 13 years, work might finally be progressing on the former Strood Civic Centre site next to Rochester Bridge.
Medway Development Company are proposing a fairly uninspiring but serviceable scheme for the site, with 185 new homes being proposed, as well as a single cafe and some green space. This feels like a slight waste of a prime town centre waterfront location, but given the time it has taken to get this far and the housing need in Medway, it should still be welcomed.
The company is aiming to submit a formal planning application for the site in the coming months and is seeking feedback on the initial plans. You can respond to that consultation here.
Question Time (the real one) comes to Medway
Long-running BBC political argument show Question Time is coming to Medway in a couple of weeks, and most excitingly of all, they are seeking people to be in the audience.
The episode is set to be filmed on Thursday 25 January at an undisclosed location in Gillingham, which is presumably MidKent College. There is no word yet on panellists, but you can expect the usual mix of politicians, commentators, and maybe a random celebrity thrown in.
You can apply for your place in the audience via the Cast It Reach website, where you’ll need to give some details about yourself. You’ll also need to come up with two potential questions and be willing to ask them at the recording.
Labour does have a PCC candidate after all
In our piece earlier this week, we talked about the impending Kent Police and Crime Commissioner election and how opposition parties haven’t even bothered selecting candidates.
Since then, representatives of the Labour Party have been in touch to point out that they do in fact have a candidate for the role. The party is putting forward Lenny Rolles from Gravesham for the role.
It’s fair to ask how we missed Rolles’ candidacy, and our defence would be that the only place he’s bothered to tell anyone is on X/Twitter. Rolles has no campaign website, no Facebook presence, and even Googling his name doesn’t turn up much related to his PCC campaign.
We’re happy to correct the record and acknowledge the candidacy of Rolles, but if a candidate only declines on an alt-right platform, can people be expected to hear it?
🍰 Cheran’s Bakery in Rochester closed suddenly this week. The Kent-based chain had grown rapidly in recent years, even launching a successful £300,000 crowdfunding campaign just three months ago, which somehow wasn’t enough to stop all but one store shutting.
🎨 Sun Pier House is seeking to purchase its building to make the venue more sustainable going forward. They are currently seeking views from those who use the space to help them make the case when applying for a grant to do so.
❄️ It snowed a bit this week. The inevitable happened when drivers tried to go up and down hills.
🏪 The former Wilko unit in Strood is now available for rent. The price is currently unknown but if you ever wanted to share a space with Asda, this is your chance.
🛒 On a related note, KentLive went to survey Strood residents on what they’d like to replace Wilko. The fairly uninspiring opinions given include another B&M, round the corner from the existing one.
🏘️ Medway Council is considering investing £42m from borrowing to purchase properties for use as temporary accommodation. The proposal follows a surge in the need for places for homeless people in the towns.
🍺 The Ship Inn in Gillingham is facing a licence review. Police requested the review of the regular live music venue following an incident where officers were assaulted on the premises, footage of customers pouring their own drinks emerged, and noise complaints.
Events this week
🎸 Queer and political punk bands Be Nice, Disco Drug Store, and Tape It Shut! all play tomorrow night (Sat 13 Jan) at Poco Loco in Chatham. £5, tickets here.
🚜 The latest Wigmore Lecture takes place next week (Wed 17 Jan) with a look at Aveling & Porter, a British agricultural engine and steamroller manufacturer that is probably most known in Medway for their stunning building in Strood that was demolished several years ago. £4.50, tickets here.
Can you help us?
💩 We’re looking into sewage being dumped into the water around Medway. If you know anything about this or related issues, please get in touch.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help out with the above either on or off the record, or if you have any stories that might interest our readers.
Our paid supporters receive extra editions of Local Authority every week. This week, we published our guide to the big events, issues and challenges facing Medway this year. Some might be good, some might not, but we’re looking at changes regardless. Elsewhere, Steven interviewed artist and poet Zara Carpenter about performing poetry, attacking Polaroids with hammers, and the difficulties of having a relationship with a working artist.
Music that soundtracked the creation of this newsletter: Now That You Are A Dancer by Kid Canaveral, The Papas by Spoonboy, and The Peculiar Smell of the Inevitable by Chemtrails.