Canterbury: the gritty electoral battleground in the Tory heartlands

The resignation of Tim Walker – Canterbury’s Liberal Democrat candidate for the 2019 general election – is just the tip of the iceberg of the complex political battle current raging in this historical city in the heart of the garden of England.

Canterbury voted in favour of remaining in the European Union in 2016. Over 60% of Canterbury’s population voted not to leave the EU and both of it’s Universities, including the University of Kent that boasts the moniker of being the UK’s ‘European university’, openly support remaining in the Union.

While this would appear to be an advantage to Rosie Duffield, who has always vocally supported remaining in the Union, her own party’s neutral position over Brexit could cost her votes. While Tim Walker has stepped down in Canterbury, the Liberal Democrats have told Channel 4 that they still plan to run a candidate in Canterbury, potentially leeching support from the Labour MP. They have  chosen an ex-councilor to run called Claire Malcolmson. Vote shares for Canterbury predict the Liberal Democrats to gain 23% of the City’s vote, giving the Conservatives a comfortable lead of 6% on Labour. However, if just 30% of Canterbury’s remain population voted ‘tactically’ – voting irrespective of party line and focusing on a candidate’s Brexit stance – then the scales could be tipped in favour of a Labour win.

However, understanding the difficult position Rosie Duffield is currently in requires context on Canterbury as a constituency, and what makes Canterbury such a difficult city to predict in the 2019 election.

Before 2017, most election polls predicted a comfortable win for the Conservatives, making Canterbury a certain ‘safe’ seat; one that has been held by a Conservative for almost it’s entire 100-year existence. In 2017, the Tory frontman Sir Julian Brazier was looking to shore up his considerable majority in the city – a majority he had held his entire 25-year career as an MP. In 2015, Sir Brazier won by a 42% majority, beating his nearest competitor by over 9000 votes.  

The Tories were confident, given the constituencies location in the heart of Kent, they were further reassured when Brazier’s opponent was announced: an ex-teaching assistant with no prior Parliamentary experience, Rosie Duffield. Duffield’s prior popularity in the Labour Party was scarce. Her political experience was limited to an unsuccessful run for the council in 2015, as well as her work as a political satire writer.

Labour’s gains in the 2017 election surprised pundits across the political spectrum, and Canterbury was no different. With a majority of just 187 votes, Rosie Duffield beat the incumbent Julien Brazier to become Canterbury’s MP. After conceding defeat, Mr Brazier blamed Canterbury’s invigorated student population for the shock win.

On a national scale, the student vote appeared to factor heavily into Labour’s success, with reports estimating that almost 90% of the student population eligible to vote registered in the election, with a further 55% of students backing Jeremy Corbyn’s Party.

Since 2017, Rosie Duffield has cemented her place in Labour Party politics, becoming the Secretary to the Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and serving on several Parliamentary committees. In 2018, Duffield demonstrated her commitment to staying in the European Union by being one of 6 frontbench MPs to resist a Labour whip to abstain from voting to remain in the EU single market after Brexit, precipitating her exit from the shadow cabinet.

In late 2019, she made further headlines after a speech on her experiences surviving and overcoming domestic abuse during a hearing on Theresa May’s domestic violence bill – a speech which moved the Commons to tears.

Duffield also took a very vocal stance on antisemitism in the party, admitting to reporters in 2018 that Labour did have a ‘problem’ with antisemitism, leading to condemnation from Canterbury Council’s Labour chairman. Ms Duffield has shored up her meteoric rise in leftwing politics and in just two years has made herself into one of the Labour Party’s rising stars.

But her competition this year will be difficult.

Sir Brazier’s favourite was elected his successor to become Canterbury’s Conservative candidate – a veteran of local politics, Anna Firth. Firth is an ex-barrister, Councilor, and ran for the European Parliament in 2017. The avowed Brexiteer gained local infamy in October when she shared a video with Boris Johnson, promising a new hospital was being created in Canterbury, a hospital that, it was later revealed, did not even appear in the government’s plans. Firth’s highly pro-Brexit stance has led to a deep affinity with Boris Johnson and other hardline Conservative Brexiteers – an affinity which may resonate with voters in the traditional Tory heartlands.

Canterbury will serve as an important litmus test for the 2019 general election, with all of the major frontrunning parties fielding hopeful MPs. Whether Canterbury remain supporters are willing to put party allegiance aside and vote strategically to stop Firth’s election, however, is beyond prediction.

Tom Brake interview: “Come a general election, its everything to play for”

The Liberal Democrats have witnessed something of a resurgence since the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum. With a clear policy of opposing Brexit – and now with the election of Jo Swinson – there is a clear feeling that the party is now primed to lead a new liberal movement in the UK.

It’s no wonder that Tom Brake, the Lib Dem Brexit spokesman, is confident that the party could fair well in an upcoming general election, saying that there “is everything to play for” and the idea that “Jo Swinson could be our future prime minister” is a perfectly “rational idea to set out”.

There is no doubting that the Liberal Democrats have grown dramatically in terms of popularity, compared to the 2017 general election. The party witnessed their London vote share increase by 20% in the 2019 European elections- a clear indicator of their anti-Brexit appeal.

According to Mr Brake, Brexit came at a time when the party faced an “existential threat” and enabled it to “clear the decks” by developing a “clear position” that would appeal to a broad “range of voters.”

When asked about the party’s stance on the EU Referendum itself, Mr Brake made reference to what he dubbed a “deliberate attempts” to exclude certain groups from “participation”, which he believes contributed to the narrow margin of victory for Leave.

As well as expressing doubt at the ability of the new prime minister to renegotiate a deal with the EU, the Brexit Spokesman defended Jo Swinson’s decision not to form a pact with the Labour Party, arguing that Jeremy Corbyn “has always been a Eurosceptic”.

The full interview can be found below:

Local Election Roundup- Brexit hangs heavy over results

The 2019 Local Elections has produced some expected results and equally unexpected results – however, there are evident things that jump out portraying the public and society’s opinion on each of the main political parties.

The governing Conservative Party have, at the time of writing, lost over 900 councillors with more losses predicted to come shortly. Their support is at an all-time low, shown by recent historical lows in Tory polling. The country has lost its confidence in the government and party needs to get it’s act together or they could risk driving themselves into permanent opposition.

The Labour Party were expected to gain councillors in the Local Elections today but despite 9 years in opposition at the time writing this they have lost over 100 councillors.

Labour seems to have been punished for its vague and indecisive policy on Brexit. The leadership need to correct the parties viewpoint and make it clear what they want for the next steps. Members of the cabinet say that they want a second referendum and others publicly say that they would like to carry out and respect the result of the 2016 referendum.

The public is confused – and the party is confused. The party’s stance on Brexit needs to be made unequivocally clear before they move on. I support the Labour Party and they need to make it clear what they want to regain the trust and support of the people.

The Liberal Democrats are rightly happy with their gains in this year’s local election. It was a great night for both them and the Greens. There is clear signs the public have changed their mind on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union. The Liberal Democrats made gains in every region of the country, from Brexit heartlands like Sunderland to liberal heartlands down south. The Lib Dems are making a resurgence in British Politics and should this success carry on – they could become a big player in future elections. The party stance is clear on Brexit and they have won in Leave Councils – is this the evidence people are longing for that the public divide is swinging towards the opinion that we should remain in the European Union?

Liberal Democrats will support no confidence vote if Corbyn calls one

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, told MPs that the Prime Minister has lost all authority and the Lib Dems will support a no confidence vote if Jeremy Corbyn calls one.

This comes after the Prime Minister formally delayed the final vote on her Brexit deal after continued opposition from Tory rebels.

Speaking in the commons this afternoon, Theresa May told MPs it was clear her deal would be rejected “by a significant margin” due to concerns over the Irish backstop. The vote will now be deferred, and no information was given on when the vote would take place.

MPs were due to vote on May’s unpopular Brexit plan tomorrow but after strong opposition, from all corners of the Commons, including up to 100 Tory MPs, May has been forced to postpone.

The Prime Minister will now return to Brussels for talks with the EU to gain assurances over the backstop issue, to the disdain of a packed and rowdy House of Commons.

Rumours had been circulated that May could postpone the vote, but several cabinet ministers denied this and over the weekend number 10 confirmed a vote would take on Tuesday. Reports say the prime minister organised an impromptu phone conference with cabinet colleagues this morning, and finally concluded that she would not be able to push through a vote.

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn gave an impassioned reply to the Prime Minister and reignited calls for her to step down, he said: “This is an extremely serious and unprecedented situation. The government has lost control of events and is in complete disarray.”

This is a huge blow to May as any delay gives her less time to ensure all legislation is implemented before the March deadline. Though, there has been some concern from MPs who do not believe the Prime Minister has the authority to delay a commons vote.

James Duddridge, MP for Southend and Rochford said: “The PM does not get to pull a vote. The House will have to vote to pull a vote. I will oppose. We need to see this deal off once and for all.”

Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, told MPs he is in favour of a vote to decide whether the Prime Minister can delay the meaningful vote.

Liberal Democrat MP resigns Party Whip due to “irreconcilable differences” over Brexit Vote

The Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne and Willingdon, Stephen Lloyd, has announced he is resigning the Party Whip, citing that he has “irreconcilable differences” with the Lib Dems intentions to vote against Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Bill.

The MP for a pro-leave constituency that voted 57% to leave in the 2016 Referendum, Lloyd had previously stated that he “will not be bullied” into voting against the deal, promising to keep his “clear promise” to his constituents that he accepts the Brexit result, a position that is at odds with the Liberal Democrats, who are the most prominent Pro-EU party in the United Kingdom and have openly campaigned for a second referendum.

Mr Lloyd has promised that he will “remain a member” of the Liberal Democrats and support them in Parliament, however he will now sit as an independent. Over 70 Lib Dems, including councillors and activists, openly called for him to have the whip removed should he vote for the deal.