It’s not over till the Queen’s speech (and maybe not even then)

Dr Mark Bennister, Reader in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University and a specialist in political leadership, appeared on the latest edition of the podcast “Discussions in Tunbridge Wells” which is produced by the university’s Applied Psychology programme. This time, the panel talked about the 2017 General Election: called by the Prime Minister in the hope of winning a large majority, but offering a far less clear result. Mark Bennister talks about the campaign, analyses the leaders’ performances and assesses the current situation with a hung Parliament. Furthermore, the podcasts covers how psychological theories may shed some light on how people voted. Last, it discusses populism, rationality, the strong feelings raised on all sides and whether any politician can get elected if they tell us we’ll lose out.

The best way follow the podcast is to subscribe to their feed. You can do this by looking up Discussions in Tunbridge Wells in iTunes, SoundCloud or wherever else you get your podcasts from.

You can also follow the Applied Psychology programme on Twitter @CCCUApppsy and on Facebook facebook.com/cccuappsy

You can follow Angela on Twitter @cyberwhispers, Rachel @rterrypsy and Mark @MarkBennister.

 

Links to things talked about on this show:

Mark is the co-editor of The Leadership Capital Index: A New Approach to Political Leadership

Here is Mark’s piece on Theresa May ‘leaking’ leadership capital.

Links to more material on the CCCU Applied Psychology blog: Discursive of Tunbridge Wells

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.

May’s failure: Blackadder & the UK General Election 2017

Dr Demetris Tillyris is Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University. He specialises in Contemporary Political Philosophy and the History of Political Thought. He also serves as the Director of Making Politics Matter.

To say that the 2017 General Election results are surprising would be an understatement.  When Theresa May called the election, most opinion polls suggested that we should, at the very least, expect a healthy Conservative majority, if not a landslide. This much was also reflected in the betting odds set by various bookmakers. Yet, opinion polls and bookmakers proved almost as bad at gauging public opinion as Theresa May.

What the election result makes clear is that May’s gamble has not paid off. In fact, her failure can hardly be exaggerated. May hoped that, in holding a snap general election, she could capitalise on the weakness of, and bitter ideological squabbles within, the Labour Party, secure a landslide Conservative majority, and get a mandate that would purportedly strengthen her bargaining power in the Brexit negotiations. She has achieved the exact opposite: she has managed to throw away the narrow majority the Conservatives had in the last parliament, and to lose ‘safe Conservative seats’ to Labour – seats like Canterbury, which has been a Conservative stronghold since 1918, and which previously had a 10,000 majority.

The result of the General Election, however, is not just striking because of May’s unanticipated and epic political failure, but also, and more importantly perhaps, because it crystallises what became quite apparent during her disastrous, hubris-ridden political campaign: her failure of sound political judgement. Blinded, or perhaps misled, by the polls which suggested that the Tories were 20 per cent ahead of Labour, she took the electorate for granted. In stark contrast to Jeremy Corbyn, May appeared to be completely detached from political reality – the concrete injustices which plague our politics and society, and the plethora of insecurities and fears which now constitute a constant ingredient of our lives (see her ‘there’s no magic money tree’ response to the underpaid and struggling nurse during BBC Question Time election special). Her detachment from reality and profound failure of political judgement are, perhaps, epitomised in the way in which she (and Lynton Crosby) conducted her political campaign.

Theresa May’s campaign brings to mind a rather amusing scene from Blackadder III (which is worth watching or re-watching), where Edmund Blackadder, Prince George’s cunning, devious, and conniving butler – in an attempt to enhance the Prince’s political power and influence – instructs Baldrick – the hopelessly naïve, and innocent servant – to stand as an MP for Dunny-on-the-Wold: a ‘rotten borough’ which consists of ‘half an acre of sodden marshland in the Suffolk Fens, with an empty town hall on it … three rather mangy cows, a dachshund named `Colin’, and a small hen in its late forties’. In an interview before the election, Blackadder captures an important insight which May and Crosby have, at their peril, failed to entertain:

Blackadder: We in the Adder Party are going to fight this campaign on issues, not personalities.

Interviewer: Why is that?

Blackadder: Because our candidate doesn’t have a personality.

Blackadder’s point is clear and straightforward: if your candidate does not have a personality, do not turn your campaign into a personality contest. May’s and Crosby’s strategy was heavily, and erroneously focused on her being a robust and tough, one-trick pony, who could  be relied on to deliver Brexit. But May’s lack of personality and charisma deemed her promise of ‘strong and stable leadership’ implausible. Indeed, the narrative of ‘strength and stability’ was even further undermined by her unwillingness to take part in head-to-head debates, her social care U-turn – four days after the launch of the Tory manifesto, and amid much fanfare about a fair Britain –, and the fact that the Tory Manifesto and campaign were, at best, rich in soundbites but profoundly thin on substance.

In her victory-defeat speech in Maidenhead, May has declared, in a crackling voice, her intention to marshal on. Her more recent statement confirms this much: the Tories will form a regressive alliance/minority government with the DUP. But whilst May is still emphasising the importance of stability and certainty, her position has been immensely weakened, and not only with her own party. As a number of EU officials have emphasised, her authority to conduct the Brexit negotiations has been severely undermined. And, without the 12 unanticipated Tory gains from the SNP in Scotland – gains which owe little to May -, her position would be even worse.

 

Canterbury: The Hustings Come Home to Roost

Dr Amelia Hadfield, Jean Monnet Chair and Director of the Centre for European Studies (CEFEUS) at Canterbury Christ Church University, stayed up the whole night to analyse and discuss the GE2017 election results live on BBC Radio Kent. Below she summarises the factors that shaped the election result in Canterbury and other Kent constituencies.

What a night. The swing-o-meters didn’t know which way to point. Labour swings to Tory. Tory swings back to Labour. Rock-solid majorities passing away, improbable gains slowly but surely made, and all the while the spectre a hung parliament slowly took shape in the wee hours of the morning.

In elections, you search for sureties. That’s why polls are so helpful. Or used to be. They are supposed to point to general trends, and whether they’re coming or going. But what polls can’t predict are local upsets. Not even the fabled exit poll – still the most reliable predictor  – can give analysts a ground-level indication of where an upset will take place. Like Kent.

Kent is true blue Tory country, with its sure-footed 17 Conservatives, rooted in the county in 2010. Some less firmly rooted than others – 5 incumbents held a majority of less than 10,000. But three major trends have begun to upset this picture.

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First, the complete collapse of the UKIP vote. Labour and Conservative effectively harvested the UKIP rump between them in each of the seats that fronted a UKIP candidate. In other locations – like Canterbury – UKIP didn’t even put a candidate forward.

Second, the increased Labour vote share in virtually every seat. And not just a small increase, but doubling the share of the 2015 election. Examples: Ashford which confirmed Tory Damian Green, but saw Labour’s Sally Gathern produce 17,000 votes up from Brendan Chilton’s results of 10, 580 in 2015. Or Faversham and Mid-Kent which safely returned Tory Helen Whately with an increased majority, but saw a Labour groundswell from 7,403 in 2015 to the heady heights of 12,977 under Michael Desmond. Folkestone and Hythe, same story: UKIP’s 12, 526 votes in 2015 decimated to 2, 565 this year under Stephen Priestley, while Labour jumped from 7,939 in 2015 to 16,000+ under Laura Davison, despite returning Tory Damian Collins with 32, 197.

Against this, the third factor – that of a genuine upset in Canterbury, one which demonstrated that local issues are every bit as vital as national visibility. This is important because in comparison to other counties, Kent MPs are particularly well-positioned in terms of their Parliamentary and Ministerial responsibilities. From Sir Michael Fallon of Sevenoaks (Secretary of Defence), to Greg Clark of Tunbridge Wells (Secretary of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), to Damian Green of Ashford (Secretary for Work and Pensions) to Tracey Crouch of Chatham and Aylesford (Minister for Sport, Heritage and Tourism), Kent ‘represents’. Charlie Elphicke of Dover was a former government whip, while Helen Whately of Faversham and Mid-Kent chairs the All Party Parliamentary Groups for Fruit and Vegetable Farming, and for Mental Health. And so on. Not bad for one county.

But hang on. For the most part, these high-level Westminster-based positions echo the government’s own structure, and are vehicles for its own national policy. So while it’s a coup to be granted such a position, MPs need to ensure that they don’t subsequently erode their local base by disregarding constituency issues, however far removed they make be from their ministerial duties. Indeed, even if they are only former ministers, with no current portfolio to speak of, failing to remain alive to the changing needs of one’s constituency spells disaster locally. Amber Rudd walked that fine line last night, with multiple recounts granting her a wafer thin margin in Hastings. Here in Kent, in Canterbury, Sir Julian Brazier fell afoul of that same requirement; and in a stunning upset, Labour newcomer, Rosie Duffield, was the winner.

Those who attended the various hustings around the county – including the one here at CCCU on 26th May, probably felt the wind beginning to change. At first – given the sheer strength of the Tories in Kent, as well as the longevity of Sir Julian as MP Canterbury (an impressive 30 years) – they might not have believed it. There have always been undercurrents of course, witness the motley makeup of Canterbury City Council, and the sterling efforts in the past 5 years by Lib Dem candidate (both local and parliamentary) James Flanagan.

While Flanagan has proved a courageous catalyst in dislodging the automatic assumptions of a Tory walkover, it was Rosie Duffield who was buoyed by Labour’s demonstrable lift elsewhere in the county (and the country), and ultimately carried the day with her detailed knowledge of local issues.

In the CCCU Hustings, Duffield made clear that the bedroom tax, homelessness, air pollution, tuition fees and NHS cuts were proving increasingly impossible for Canterbury to bear. She towed the anti-austerity Labour line, but she didn’t present herself as a typical Corbyn-ista. A solid grasp of old issues (grammar schools) and emerging problems (the potential closure of Kent and Canterbury Hospital) contrasted starkly with the less clear vision of the other candidates. And it proved more than a match for the very real insouciance exhibited by Sir Julian in even identifying these issues as problems, quite apart from seeing himself as responsible for solving them. Nonchalance begets disinterest, and then detachment. Once that happens at the local level, you’ve had it.

Just enough of Canterbury decided that they’d had just enough of Sir Julian. Not a lot, I grant you. But it doesn’t need to take a lot to create a much bigger change. Rosie rounded on, and completed her bid for ownership of Canterbury’s positives, and its challenges. She won by 187 with a 45% share of the vote. Slim? Yes? Local? Definitively. Historical? Defiantly – she’s overturned a century and a half of solid Tory representation. Rosie the closer.

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You can listen to a recording of the BBC Radio Kent broadcast with Dr Amelia Hadfield here: