On 8 June 2017, Canterbury was hit by a political thunderbolt. For years the city had been as safe a Tory seat as anywhere, having belonged to the Conservative Party since its inception.
But underneath the ground, the incumbent MP and die-hard Brexit acolyte, Julian Brazier, had failed to heed the tremors. Canterbury and Whitstable had voted to remain in the EU referendum, and Brazier’s resistance to equality and gay rights had turned from his strength to his weakness.
Canterbury’s Tories had become complacent. Julian Brazier even left the constituency to campaign elsewhere in Kent, so sure was he of victory. But Canterbury’s residents were fed up and the rest is history.
Labour seized the seat by the slenderest of slender majorities, setting up the battleground for the 2019 election. An election which could decide, not just the outcome locally, but the outcome for the entire country. It could even decide whether we finally leave the EU.
So, with the stakes as high as they could possibly be, let’s sum up what’s happened so far.
Out of the blocks, Labour’s Rosie Duffield, the Greens’ Henry Stanton, Brexit Party newbie Owen Prew and Sevenoaks Tory councillor Anna Firth joined the race. The Lib Dems took weeks, but finally announced New European journalist Tim Walker as their candidate.
So far, so normal, but then things started to happen. First Tim Walker pulled out of the race, citing a desire not to split the remain vote between the Lib Dems and long-time remainer Rosie Duffield. He was closely followed by the Greens and the Brexit Party. However, after a spat between the local and national Lib Dems, Claire Malcolmson was parachuted in at the last minute, leaving the Lib Dems, the Tories, Labour, and previously unknown independent Michael Gould alone in the race.
Despite her charm and affability, Claire Malcolmson remains an outsider – at least according to the bookies who are offering around 33/1 to see the Lib Dem candidate elected.
In contrast punters couldn’t get a cigarette paper between Labour and the Tories, each on 5/6.
Thus, to an outsider the election in Canterbury has all the ingredients for one of the most closely fought, exciting battles for a marginal in the country.
Granted, both the Tories and Labour have brought their fair share of big hitters to the city, hoping to douse their candidate in starlight. Anna Firth has collared Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Health Minister Ed Argar, MEP Danniel Hannan, and retiring Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
Duffield in turn has roped in Gina Miller, Lord Oakeshott, Sandy Toksvig, and Owen Jones.
In the polls, Labour’s fortunes have been climbing at the expense of the Tories. A Labour majority is out of the question, but in marginal constituencies like Canterbury, a few percentage points might be all it takes to alter the balance of local power.
A poll of 100,000 UK voters conducted for The Times has Rosie retaining the seat.
In contrast to 2017, the Tories have been fighting hard on social media, whereas the Labour social media campaign has been somewhat lacklustre. However, the Tories might be on the cusp of an important lesson. A series of gaffs may have led to the Conservatives social media campaign costing them a lot more than they bargained for.
In an outstanding display of mendacity, the Tory social media campaign attempted to woo voters concerned about the NHS by taking credit for the hospital’s new CT scanner, and posted leaflets claimed Anna Firth had supported the campaign for a new hospital for two years. Both were quickly called out as untrue.
Boris Johnson added fuel to the fire by falsely promising delegates at the Tory Party conference that Canterbury would get funding for a new hospital. This was also dispelled as fabrication, hours after the local party plastered it over Facebook.
In a campaign tainted by dishonesty and misinformation, the local Tory Party enjoyed their crowning moment this week, when former party chairman Greig Baker entrapped shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth by secretly recording him admitting Labour is likely to lose the election in a private telephone conversation between the two former friends.
Jon Ashworth certainly looked foolish, and Baker successfully moved the national conversation away from Boris’ hospital blunder the previous day. But at what cost? Will the voters of Canterbury overlook Baker betraying the friend he spent three weeks travelling the States with?
Ultimately, Baker’s treachery won’t help the Tory campaign, but it might not be its coup-de-grace. The nail in the coffin may be that ultimately Anna Firth’s campaign just ran out of steam.
Firth’s big hitters were impressive, but the names Duffield brought to Canterbury were just glitzier. At the multiple hustings, Duffield owned the room, whereas Anna Firth found her back to the wall and looked out of her depth and uncomfortable. Labour supporters were everywhere, but the Tory city councillors were curiously absent.
Across the district Labour stakeboards have sprung up everywhere, but Tory stakeboards are so few and far between it’s hard to even notice them.
On a national level, it appears as though Boris Johnson will win a majority and take the UK out of the EU on 31 January. Polling appears to universally support this outcome, although a hung parliament is within the margin of error, and tactical voting along with the unpredictability of a Christmas election, could still leave Johnson short of the outright win he so desperately craves.
Labour’s chance of winning a majority is effectively zero, and a minority government propped up by the SNP is too problematic and complicated to be taken seriously by most political pundits. It seems likely that Corbyn will resign on Friday and be replaced by John McDonnell who will act as caretaker leader until a replacement palatable to Momentum can be found. Rebecca Long-Bailey seems an obvious candidate.
Locally, the smart money is on a win for Labour’s Rosie Duffield. With the Lib Dems focusing their campaigning in other constituencies and the Greens standing down, the path has been cleared for the Remainer’s victory. Anna Firth’s campaign appears to have lacked the support it needed and as result has floundered.
The Canterbury Journal predicts a win for Rosie Duffield with an increased majority.