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.

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!’

Labour’s Brexit Strategy: Cut-&-Paste of Theresa May’s old promises?

This week, Labour revealed its Brexit strategy – Jack Brooks takes a closer look.

In the 10 months after the 23rd of June, the Labour party’s position on Brexit and what should happen next has been a bit… ‘undefined’ to say the least. They have been in an incredibly tough position of simultaneously wanting to appeal to the 63% of its voters that voted remain and not start any rebellions within the 218 out of 232 MPs that publicly supported remain, while also wanting to appeal to the 37% of its voters, 161 Labour held constituencies that voted leave and not hemorrhage any more of its working class support, a demographic that predominantly voted leave.

Having considered the above, it appears that Labour party HQ decided that their best course of action was to a) keep their head down, b) meekly try to appeal to both sides, while not really saying anything concrete, but c) mainly just oppose the government by saying. Of course, Labour was dealt a tough hand and this is a solid electoral strategy that, on the issue of the financial crash, saw the Liberal democrats sweep to 23% of the popular vote in 2010.

But then, like a renowned bandit brazenly slamming open the shutter doors to a sleepy Mid-western Saloon, Theresa May called a snap General election. The music stopped playing, everyone went silent and slowly turned their heads to the Sheriff who loudly gulped and realised it was his turn to say something… Sherriff Jeremy Corbyn was taken slightly aback and thus came out with a strategy that, with a few key differences, is basically the same plan the Conservative Government had in November.

First, let me know the few key differences:

  • Labour will not focus on new markets, instead focus on securing the UK’s existing trade ties, especially those with the EU
  • Labour will adopt a much more conciliatory tone with the EU27 in exit talks
  • Labour resolutely supports staying in: Erasmus, Euratom, the European Medical Agency, Europol & Eurojust
  • Labour promises to unilaterally protect EU citizens’ right to remain in the UK
  • Labour commits to not let the UK “lag behind EU in workplace protections or environmental standards in future”

These are a couple of added giveaways to Remainers that will certainly sweeten the Brexit blow for them, but in terms of the “real meat” of the last 10 months debate so far – ‘Hard Brexit versus Soft Brexit versus No Brexit – their position is the now infamous “having the cake and eat it too”-Brexit.

This is illustrated by statements by Keir Starmer in the same press conference on Tuesday:

  • He wants to rip up the Government White Paper and go for a “tariff-free trade with the EU, no new non-tariff barriers on trade, regulatory alignment and continued competitiveness in goods and services.”
  • However, he still rules out continued free movement, membership of the European Free trade area and Single market membership.

As Theresa May discovered to her dismay in January, these two things are incompatible as far as the European Union is concerned. When she proposed it as her plan, the EU27 said for all intent and purposes “We won’t agree with that and you will crash out with no deal”. An eventuality that Starmer said would be the “worst possible deal”.

Electorally, the Labour Brexit plan might make sense. Labour continues to (try to) appeal to both sides and win the election. Corbyn and his party will only need to deal with untangling the contradictory manifesto commitments after they have won.  Also why look a gift horse in the mouth? The blessing of being the opposition with staggeringly bad polling is that you don’t have to live in the bounds of reality (which is quite a lot of effort in any case). Nevertheless, if we do experience the largest polling mistake in modern history and Labour wins a majority, we need to expect a lot of back-paddling.

Jack Brooks is a 2016 Politics and International Relations Honours Graduate of Canterbury Christ Church University and graduate coordinator at the Centre for European Studies (CEFEUS) at CCCU.