Last night history was made in Canterbury, as Labour MP Rosie Duffield won the seat with 25,572 votes, ending over one hundred years of Tory rule in the constituency and the 30 year sitting of Julian Brazier. I was in our local Labour Club as the result was announced at 3am this morning and the cheers went up, followed by rounds of hugs and more than a few tears of joy. She is the first female MP in Canterbury and is going to be a marvellous one. Up until last week Canterbury was considered a 'safe' Tory seat, however as the election drew closer the news from You Gov and other polling sites suggested there may be hope for a Labour win here (against all the odds).
I have been a member of the Labour Party since 2015 and this is my first active election campaign, so I do not claim to be any kind of expert on the matter, however I wanted to share here a little of my experience as a new campaigner. Many people are wondering what is it that caused the massive nearly 10% swing to Labour in Canterbury? I think there are many factors including higher voter turnout and registration as well as a swing to Labour from the Tories and the other parties.
Being out on the streets, knocking on doors and hearing peoples stories, it became clear that for many people the last seven years has seen them suffering. I spoke with veterans who had always voted Tory and yet were left uncared for after serving their country. I spoke with the disabled and elderly, who were seeing their hard earned livelihoods stripped away and the threat of more cuts and the loss of their homes , terrifying them. I spoke with young families struggling to make ends meet whilst working really hard to keep their heads above water. Women sidelined at pension time, left struggling to find work and reinvent themselves in a job market harsh to the more experienced. The pressure on our local hospital is huge and was a talking point for many, there is a continued risk of closure and our local Labour party have been really active in bringing this issue to peoples awareness.
Rosie is a great candidate and I am sure will be a brilliant MP, what she might lack in experience, she makes up for in passion and enthusiasm for our NHS and Social Care, Schools and Young People as well as a good deal on Brexit. The significance of Labour taking this seat in a former Tory stronghold is huge, and is testament I believe also to the perserverance, activism and positivity with which Labour volunteers have gone out and campaigned in this short election period. We knew what we had to do and we did it, talking to people, listening and sharing our hopes and fears for the future. Each of us for our own reasons inspired to give our time and energy in the hope of seeing a different Canterbury and ultimately a different more inclusive country.
One initiative set up by a local resident and campaigner was to get boards and posters out stating our voting intentions across the borough. With the media assumption at the beginning of the election run up that a Tory landslide was a foregone conclusion, for people to see these boards countered the lie that Labour were unelectable here.
Speaking with veteran Labour campaigners, it was clear that there had never been as many volunteers for canvassing and leafletting. These volunteers were people from all walks of life and social background, as well as the fantastic young Labour and students at UKC and CCCU.
Also on the doorstep people were starting to warm to Jeremy Corbyn, impressed with his natural style and ease at answering questions, easily contrasted with the scripted Tories. I think the passion and enthusiasm which most Labour campaigners felt for the well written and mostly costed manifesto meant that talking to people was easy, we were inspired by a positive and practical vision for our countries future, backed by economists and offering real hope and an alternative to austerity.
In Canterbury it has been a city of contrasts with the former Tory MP backing Brexit when most voters in Canterbury and Whitstable were for Remain. Also our former MP was pro-foxhunting, anti gay marriage and reproductive rights for women, as well as for the death penalty. In a progressive city and coastline, full of creative business people, students, young and older families, artists, grafters and hardworkers these view points seem less and less relevant. The topics people cared about on the doorstep were education, the NHS and pensions.
It has been a huge honour to play a little part in making history in Canterbury and I am so proud to call Rosie Duffield my MP. I hope that other progressive Labour campaigners in other constituencies see that with hardwork, determination, community, listening, positivity and perseverance they can make a change too. Regardless of Labour not winning a majority, we did far better than expected, we returned over 40% of the vote share across the country, this is incredible. I am proud to be part of it. The work has only just begun, I was expecting to feel tired today, instead I am inspired.
Seeing our red constituency in the sea of blue tells me if we can do it so can you.