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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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

The End of Post-ideological Times: The Centre Cannot Hold

Dr David Bates is Principal Lecturer and Director of Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University. His research and expertise focus on contemporary and radical political thought, Marxism, Hardt and Negri, Occupy, Arts and Politics, New Social Movements.

Until recently, political scientists often claimed that British politics had ceased to be ideological – by which they meant that it was no longer divided so clearly between left and right. The concomitant claim was that election battles were to be fought on the ‘centre ground’. As a social and political theorist, I have always found these claims to be deeply problematic.

First, we might note that those issues which typically underpinned left-right distinctions (that is, issues of economic distribution, of wealth and power) have continued to shape British politics.

Second, the centre ground as typically understood is a fiction. The idea of the centre ground is, in the minds of most people, associated with moderation, a middle way between ‘extremes’ – an Aristotelian mean.   But as one writer has maintained, since the 1970s the fictitious centre is ideologically an extreme one. Put another way, extreme free market policies have come to be dressed in the clothes of pragmatic ‘common sense’. As the philosopher Slavoj Zizek has maintained, ‘post-ideological times’ are in fact the most ideological of times.

We have seen left-populist attempts to articulate a different common sense in Greece and Spain. In the last election, Ed Miliband spoke of the need to move the ‘centre to the left’. But he failed to articulate this within an effective left-populist discourse.  Jeremy Corbyn – aided by an innovative social media campaign – has achieved this. The Labour campaign was based on the articulation of a form of friend-enemy distinction which the political philosopher Ernesto Laclau has argued is essential to all forms of populism. Corbyn claimed to represent ‘the many’ (the people), against ‘the few’ (financial elites, Tories, media barons, et al). This was a rhetoric of mobilisation. And his mobilisation of young people (the turnout figure for 18-24 year olds is estimated to be over 70%) has been one of the big stories of this election.

In the Canterbury and Whitstable constituency, it is clear that the mobilisation of young people was a key factor. Another factor has undoubtedly been the palpable lack of popularity of the long-serving MP Sir Julian Brazier. Throughout the campaign, social media has focused on how his free market and socially conservative beliefs have conflicted with the economic interests and beliefs of his constituents. Indeed Sir Julian was considered by many to have taken the electorate for granted.  All his opponents were able to capitalise on this, but Rosie Duffield for Labour won through with the votes. It is difficult to imagine someone further away ideologically from Sir Julian (a man who has held his seat since 1987) than the new Labour MP for Canterbury and Whitstable.

As Bob Dylan would no doubt put it: ‘The Times They Are A Changin!’

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:

GE2017 candidates for Canterbury and Whitstable debate at CCCU

On Friday, 26 May, the Politics and International Relations Programme at Canterbury Christ Church University co-hosted a hustings with the candidates for the Canterbury and Whitstable constituency. In front of a packed audience, the four candidates debated diverse range of issues, including Brexit, healthcare, immigration, environmental protection and traffic policy, with many questions having been submitted previously by interested citizens.

All those who missed the event (or attended and want to relive it) can now watch a recording on Youtube:

The UK general election will be held on 8 June 2017. Watch this space for analysis and commentary from our expert staff. Check out our CCCU Election Experts Hub and see what expertise we have to offer.