I’ll start by saying this: I stood for the Lib Dems and lost to Labour. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it was a fair fight and I’ve got a lot of time and respect for the candidates against whom I stood.
What frustrates me isn’t that I lost. It’s that Canterbury missed the best opportunity to kick out the Tories for a generation. Who knows when the political landscape will be once again as promising.
And I’m putting the blame firmly at Labour’s feet.
- Wildlife group’s conservation work halts decline of stunning butterfly
- Couple win £35k leisure home in prize draw
Let me explain why. The city of Canterbury returns 11 councillors. The remaining 28 come from Whitstable, Herne Bay and the villages.
Labour and the Lib Dems both went into the election with four councillors a piece. Both wanted to increase their numbers.
Canterbury city is dead ground for the Tories. Historically, Northgate has been Labour, and the others largely Lib Dem. In 2015 the Tories had a good showing and took three seats in Barton, and both seats in St Stephens. This time the Tories were lucky to hold onto one seat in St Stephens, and that’s only due to the incumbent’s large personal following.
The Tories were always going to lose in the city. They knew it and didn’t even try to fight it. However, along the coast and in the villages it’s a different story.
The travesty of this election is that nobody tried to stop them. With the exception of Gorrell ward in Whitstable, where Labour’s hard work paid off and they claimed all three seats, the remaining Tories coasted to victory with barely an effort.
All the parties have target wards. These are the wards in which they concentrate their efforts and resources to try and secure victories. Non-target wards might get a leaflet or two but are unlikely to be the focus of sustained campaigning.
Neither the Lib Dems nor Labour seriously targeted the coastal seats. The Lib Dems don’t have the manpower we once did, so for us it was too much of a stretch. However, Labour’s membership since Rosie Duffield took office has swelled significantly. Despite having the supporters and the funds, they chose to take on the Lib Dems in Canterbury rather than fight the Tories on the beaches and in the villages.
Now I’m not naïve. I realise that persuading Lib Dem voters to switch to Labour is an easier prospect than converting Tories. But what was this election about? Was it about winning the most seats or was it about kicking out the Tory administration. The former is an exercise in vanity. The latter would have been far more meaningful.
And importantly, those ‘safe’ Tory seats were all winnable. Tankerton came within four votes of falling. In Nailbourne, sustained campaigning by Lib Dem Mike Sole kicked out the Tory leader by a huge majority. Labour’s victory in Whitstable further proves that the Tories are only still there because nobody tried to stop them.
For Labour the priority was winning more seats not kicking out the Tories. Had they focused their energy in Herne Bay and Chartham, they might have won a couple fewer seats overall, but the Tories would still have lost to the Lib Dems in Canterbury, and all that was needed was for five more Conservative councillors to lose their seats and they would have lost control of the council.
I’m sure some of my readers will see this as a dig at my left-leaning political friends, but I know there were a number of people wearing red rosettes last week that were spitting feathers for the same reason.
Politics in this country is broken. It’s time for all of us to look past the colour of the rosette and start working together.