So why DID Labour win Canterbury?

On 5 October, 2017, the Politics and IR programme at Canterbury Christ Church University held its first Making Politics Matter event of the academic year, looking at one of the most surprising and interesting outcomes of the June 2017 UK General Election: The Labour victory in Canterbury. To find an answer to the question why Labour won Canterbury, we invited a panel of experts, featuring first and foremost the newly elected Rosie Duffield, MP for Canterbury and Whitstable. She was joined by Paul Francis (political editor Kent Online), Clare Connerton (Canterbury Not Conservative) and Ben Hickman (Momentum). Dr Ben Worthy (Birkbeck, University of London), expert on British politics and Canterbury resident, chaired the discussion.

Our panel and organisers (from left to right): Dr Demetris Tillyris (CCCU), Dr Ben Worthy (Birkbeck), Paul Francis (Kent Online), Dr Mark Bennister (CCCU), Rosie Duffield MP, Ben Hickman (Momentum), Clare Connerton (Canterbury Not Conservative).

As pointed out by Max Stafford in his blog post introducing the puzzle of Labour’s victory as well as by others, multiple factors can be put forward to explain this remarkable election result. Our panel discussion and Q&A with an audience of students, Labour (and non-Labour) supporters and the Canterbury and Whitstable public corroborated some of these but also provided interesting additional points:

  1. Politics is personal. In the GE 2017 battle of Canterbury, newcomer Rosie Duffield outfought her more experienced rival, Julian Brazier, who appeared to take the constituency for granted. In fact, we learnt from the audience that Brazier had ignored advice to step down in advance of the election. Duffield on the other hand was popular and visible, and presented herself as a distinctly different type of candidate from Brazier. By stressing LGBT rights, student finance, her pro-European stance and local healthcare needs she placed herself more in tune with a socially more diverse and demographically changed constituency.
  2. No one saw it coming. In an act of mea culpa, Paul Francis admitted the media did not see the result coming and had assumed Canterbury would remain solidly Conservative. Yet as Clare Connerton highlighted, there were signs and evidence on social media of a progressive stirring across the constituency – something was certainly going on at grassroots level. Labour may have noticed this as Emily Thornberry visited the constituency just before the election. Much of this may have been sparked by the preelection Yougov poll that showed a Labour surge in Canterbury and made it clear where the anti-Brazier vote should go.
  3. Boots on the ground. Labour, led by the local organising power of Momentum, campaigned vigorously and in areas such as the villages that previously received little or no Labour attention. Rosie was visible and active in the campaign, while Julian Brazier was largely absent and often deployed elsewhere in the region.
  4. Local is national. Focusing on healthcare and local issues hit a nerve in Canterbury and the national solutions in the Labour manifesto were utilised locally. In a wide range of policy areas, there was a very clear difference between the leading candidates, e.g. on LGBT issues, Brexit, student finance, education, housing, etc etc. This presented voters with a clear choice at local as well as at national level.
  5. Vote swapping. A successful progressive anti Conservative and anti-Brazier mobilisation played to Labour’s strengths. Hereby, social media appeared crucial in filtering information and networking from outside established party mechanisms.
  6. Brexit. Canterbury and Whitstable had a strong remain vote in the referendum. The choice was between a Remainer and a hard Brexiteer. UKIP not running a candidate to support Brazier actually harmed the Conservatives, rather than benefitted the local party, as it is likely to have driven Remainer Tories to the younger and more dynamic Remain candidate Rosie Duffield. With the Remain-supporting Liberal Democrats out of the picture, one clear Remain candidate could lead the charge in the constituency.
  7. A perfect storm. All of the above combined got Labour over the line, even though the total Tory vote went up the constituency. Turnout at 72 per cent was high by national and local standards and can certainly be attributed to the higher student vote. Yet as the debate showed, there were a range of other factors beyond the increased student vote led by a strong voter registration campaign and a favourable election date – during term time. The student vote alone cannot explain the 20 per cent jump in the Labour vote.

As always, we therefore have multiple factors in explaining a political phenomenon. But are there lessons we can learn from this result? Although Rosie Duffield has become a sought-after speaker for Labour groups across the country, the Canterbury story may not be easily replicated elsewhere, particularly in Kent as the Medway towns and Dover have strong Leave supporters to be wooed. Canterbury shows that well-organised and targeted local campaigns can be decisive. Voters are less attached to partisan loyalties and more volatile – likely to switch and swap votes. The Labour victory in Canterbury provided one of the defining moments of the June 2017 general election, demonstrating the highly unpredictable nature of our politics at present.

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You can read tweets from the event via the hashtag #CCCUGE17

You can view a recording of the event’s livestream via our Facebook page and YouTube channel (see below):

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Canterbury 2017: Why Labour Won

Max Stafford, PhD candidate in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University, sets the scene of Labour’s success in Canterbury in the 2017 general elections. For further discussion and analysis, come to our exciting public event featuring new MP Rosie Duffield and a panel of experts tomorrow, 5 October 2017, 5-7pm.

In the snap election of June 2017, there were a number of notable results which attracted considerable media attention. From Kensington to Mansfield, many of the results were as unexpected as the election itself. Perhaps, however, the most anomalous and surprising result was Labour’s win in Canterbury. New MP Rosie Duffield’s majority may be extremely slim (at just 187 votes) but this made the outcome no less notable.

In the months since, many commentators, politicians and academics have speculated as to precisely how this outcome was reached. From even a quite cursory review of these debates, one can pick out a range of alleged reasons and triggers.

Continue reading “Canterbury 2017: Why Labour Won”

Exciting politics events at Canterbury Christ Church University in autumn 2017

The Politics and International Relations Programme is excited to invite you to three events with exciting and distinguished speakers coming to Canterbury Christ Church University this autumn. All events are open to the public and free to attend (N.B.: booking is required for the lectures by Professor A.C. Grayling and The Rt Hon John Bercow).

If you cannot make it, both the lecture by Professor A.C. Grayling and the event with Rosie Duffield MP will be live-streamed via our Facebook Page facebook.com/PoliticsandIRatCCCU/ and later made available on our YouTube channel. You can also follow us for updates on Twitter @CCCUPoliticsIR and @CCCUCEFEUS.

A student view on the GE2017 result: Canterbury and Whitstable constituency, thank you.

One week after the 2017 UK General Election, our student Liz Bailey offers a commentary on the result in Canterbury and Whitstable from a student’s perspective

Credits: Adam Scotti (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The UK’s First-Past-The-Post system has always made politics seem like a losing battle in Canterbury. This seat is a Conservative safe seat of over 160 years, with the 2015 election producing a 10,000 vote majority to ex-MP and arch-conservative Sir Julian Brazier. From the start of the snap election it seemed like business as usual for non-Conservative voters, put up a fair fight but have a graceful defeat to the Tories. However, this was no ordinary general election. This time it was personal.

Students from all over Canterbury have always had the ability to oust Brazier, but have never had a big enough push to do so. Students would vote in home constituencies or not vote at all. The EU referendum was the first spark in this almighty fire that has led to Brazier’s fall from grace. Young people turned out in record numbers to show their support for the EU nationwide but were brushed aside when the results came out. The Conservatives continued to undermine young people, increasing tuition fees and slashing funds for things we all hold dear like the NHS. Brazier, in particular, being so pro hard Brexit, homophobic and generally an outdated relic began to creep into Canterbury residents’ crosshairs.

Polls had suggested that Canterbury could be a swing seat, but it was too good to be true, right? Never trust the polls, they were wrong about the last election and the referendum. It’s a safe seat, they’re the unsinkable ships that harbour thousands of loyal Tories. But like the RMS Titanic this safe seat had an iceberg. Rosie Duffield. A new Labour candidate who is passionately dedicated to local issues like the Kent & Canterbury Hospital. A fresh-faced, young and energetic politician who rallied support with the young, the old and everyone in-between.

Election day gave way for an uneasy feeling, hope. Hope that just maybe the residents of Canterbury and Whitstable had come together in order to elect a real representative of this constituency. Someone who will listen to people, young and old, rich and poor. Someone who is with the times and supports everyone regardless of sexuality, religion or race. Someone who understands the residents of Canterbury and who will truly and to the best of their ability fight for this city. Nationwide Labour stole seats left and right, and although Labour didn’t win this election (in terms of getting 326 seats) they certainly did not lose it either.

May called this election in the hope that young people would remain complacent in politics. She, without a second thought, disregarded the importance of young people. The Conservatives lost and hope has won. Any result except a Tory landslide would have been a victory for me, but I could have never anticipated the result in Canterbury. I always thought of safe seats as a large dominating force and I was right. What I was wrong about was the ability of progressive people to come together to form an even bigger force and decimate a 10,000 vote majority. For this reason, I thank you, to all of those who voted Labour (either by preference or tactically). I thank those who dedicated hours to campaigning. I thank the young people who said enough is enough. I thank Rosie Duffield for being an amazing candidate. I thank Canterbury and Whitstable constituency for breaking the mould. But above all, I thank Theresa May, who without her disregard for progressive people she would have never called this election. Without her complacency we would have never have had the push we needed to oust Brazier, or see the true impact that we can have on politics.

Liz Bailey is second year undergraduate student in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University. She currently works as communication manager for the Centre for European Studies (CEFEUS) and as a research assistant for the politics team at CCCU.
She tweets @LizzieBailey96

May limps to power

Connor Dobbs, BA Politics graduate and prospective MSc student at Canterbury Christ Church University, recounts the vote count in Canterbury and examines the consequences of the electoral result for Theresa May and the Conservative party.

Looking back at an astounding electoral night, it is still hard to believe the events which unfolded. The Conservatives, after what can only be describe as a disastrous election campaign, struggled to just 318 seats, with 42% of the vote share. On the 18th April, the snap election was called with the Conservatives sitting on huge poll leads, some predicting majorities north of 100 seats for May. As we all know however, since 2015 (or maybe even before?), polls cannot always be trusted. This was proven at 10pm on 8th June when the exit poll predicted a hung parliament.

Being present at the local count in Westgate Hall, it was clear to see the shock at the exit poll. With so much expectation being on a huge Conservative majority, gasps were heard from Conservatives around the hall, with cheers from opposing party supporters. The feeling really set in that the campaign was bust, and we were about to see some big name MP’s lose their seats.

As results were being called throughout the night, huge names throughout British politics were falling. Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond both fell with Conservatives gaining ground in Scotland. Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg lost his seat in Sheffield Hallam and Sir Julian Brazier, a long time Conservative MP, lost his seat of Canterbury to Labour, with Amber Rudd and Tim Farron both going to a recount, however just making it.

Labour will understandably be buoyed by the results overnight. Although having a smaller share of the vote, the Labour party picked up 29 seats in comparison to 2015, with the Conservatives losing 12 overall. This increase in popularity for a Corbyn government saw the Labour party eat into conservative heartlands up and down the country, as well as fighting back in Scotland, when it was originally predicted that they would be wiped out completely.

With the election now some days behind us, the reaction from the Conservative camp has been made clear. May, still attempting to stand strong, ceremoniously axed her two Chiefs of Staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hall. At the end of the day someone was going to have to take the blame, and it was never going to be May herself.

It is however understandable why she would be unwilling to concede that fault lay with herself. The Crosby-run campaign and image that was being portrayed of Theresa May left the public with some sort of Ice Queen appearance, one which she seemed increasingly uncomfortable with as the campaign ran on.

What happens next?

It’s now down to the nitty gritty side of politics how the Conservatives will  form a government. Their preferred (and seemingly only) line to go down is to rely, in some capacity, on the DUP.

The potential link with the DUP, a party from Northern Ireland with an incredibly sketchy record on same sex marriage and abortion, has left a number of Tory MP’s expressing their disdain for the deal. Leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, Ruth Davidson has spoken to Mrs May regarding assurances on LGBT rights, which May subsequently provided.

As we move further away from the election, a confidence and supply arrangement between the parties seems the more likely; however, it still leaves a number of people worrying whether this is still giving the DUP too much access to key government policy. Tory MP Sarah Wollaston has been quick to defend the deal, while stating that it must not influence social policy. Wollaston has been quoted saying “I will always support the right for women to choose & access safe termination of pregnancy and will oppose any change to the legislation. I will never agree to any dilution of LGBT rights. If any of that is a condition of the confidence and supply it simply won’t work”. Outspoken MPs such as Sarah Wollaston are likely to make the PM wary in regards to the conditions. Considering her slim lead over Labour, the last thing May needs is a backbench revolt.

Although a Conservative minority government is seeming more likely now, the Labour party are still yet to concede. The Queen’s speech, which is due to take place next week, is key – more key than ever. We should expect to see an attempt by Labour, SNP and the Lib Dems as well as other parties to block the Queen’s speech in parliament, which would open up a route for Corbyn to become PM. If this was to become a reality, and it must be made clear that there is a reasonable chance it will, it would surely see the removal of Mrs May as Tory leader and a complete redesign of the party as a whole.

All that is clear for now, however, is that Theresa May is pushing on as normal, with the next week in Westminster looking like an interesting one, and one that is key to the future of Mrs May and the Conservative party.