Not why Labour won, but who won it for Labour

Rosie Duffield with her supporters on the campaign trail

In September of last year, Canterbury Christ Church University’s Making Politics Matter programme hosted an event called Why Labour Won.

It was a more than reasonable question to ask given that Canterbury had just elected its first ever Labour MP in what would prove one of the landmark results of the 2017 general election.

Indeed, the Christ Church evening might well have been called Why Rosie Duffield Won so important is the candidate herself in explaining the victory.

Ms Duffield, naturally, turned out for the discussion alongside an academic from the University of London. Their attendance is not a surprise at such occasions.

Far more interesting were the two other attendees. One was a scruffily dressed University of Kent poetry lecturer with patchy facial hair who is a member of the local branch of Momentum, the grass roots movement from which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn derives so much of his support. A more apt walking, talking Corbynista cliche it would be difficult to find.

Alan Baldock, left, with MP Rosie Duffield and Cllrs Jean Butcher and Bernadette Fisher

The fourth speaker was yet more interesting still: an attractive, fashionably dressed thirtysomething woman who co-ordinated an anti-Conservative campaign – an individual our American friends refer to as a “soccer mom”.

It is my argument that these two are the face of an increasingly potent and decisive force in Canterbury and Whitstable’s political landscape.

First, however, when explaining the result of June 8, 2017, it is impossible ignore Ms Duffield herself.

Despite having virtually no political experience, she revealed herself to be skilled at engaging with anyone she met. Her obvious nervousness at a pre-election hustings, also at Christ Church, made her seem not weak and ineffectual, but genuine.

She was affable, charming, down to earth and possessed of a sharp sense of humour.

Over the course of the election battle, this was underpinned by a highly organised campaigning machine overseen by co-ordinator Mike Bland.

Allied to all this was the lacklustre and complacent campaign mounted by the Conservatives who believed Sir Julian Brazier would add another few years to the 30 he had already sat as MP.

There was indeed good reason for thinking Sir Julian would coast to victory: namely Ukip, whose candidate jolly Jim Gascoyne had polled 7,289 in 2015, would not stand against an ardent Brexiteer and thus risk splitting the pro-Leave vote.

Sir Julian Brazier was Canterbury and Whitstable MP between 1987 and 2017

Sir Julian, many including me believed, would hoover up the Ukip votes. Ms Duffield, in an interview with the Canterbury Journal last month, conceded as much.

Indeed, it must be said that Sir Julian’s 187-vote defeat to Ms Duffield cannot be met with the argument that he is out of touch with his constituents, only a portion of them.

Last year’s election in fact saw Sir Julian increase the Conservative tally to 25,385 from 22,918 in 2015. He also increased the Conservatives’ share of the vote from 42.9 to 44.7.

Statistically speaking, two things conspired to hand victory to Ms Duffield: an additional 3,300 voters on the total cast for all parties from 2015 and the fall away of the Lib Dem and Green votes.

It is telling that had, say, 200 people voted Green or Lib Dem instead of Labour Sir Julian would still be MP.

But to properly understand Ms Duffield’s victory it is necessary to see where the Labour votes came from.

Nationally, the party remains an imperfect stew of metropolitan social democrats, pugnacious trade unionists, radical intellectuals and even the odd perpetually aggrieved revolutionary wedded – like shadow chancellor John McDonnell – to the idea of bringing down capitalism.

Where Labour might rely on its diehard working class support in the north of England or parts of industrial Scotland and Wales, the picture is very different in the south.

Houses in some of Canterbury’s most salubrious neighbourhoods in the south of the city were festooned with Labour posters during the election. In St Augustine’s Road, one of the most expensive streets in the city, a procession of properties were marked with red, yellow and green “Anything but Tory” posters.

For it is in roads such as this that reside the leftist academics, the public service elite and the impeccably liberal metropolitans who have gravitated here from London or even abroad.

Moreover, their numbers are growing. Naturally drawn to the left, they find the Labour Party a comfortable political habitat for a variety of psychological reasons.

The reality is that Canterbury is changing from a provincial and socially conservative small city to a diverse and increasingly cosmopolitan Kentish answer to Sussex’s Brighton.

These are the people whose votes most mattered in bringing us the constituency’s first Labour MP.

Local Conservatives may soon have to understand that what they saw as the aberration of a Labour victory in 2017 could well become the norm.

This is the second of the Canterbury Journal’s analyses of last year’s historic general election victory on June 8, 2017. The first piece by Journal columnist Dave Wilson can be found here.


  1. I suspect the “left leaning academics” who voted Labour have always been here voting Labour, or perhaps in the past Lib-Dem. The big difference this time was that the election took place during term time at the Universities and the students were here to vote instead of voting at their family homes.

    For many years I was involved in elections at UKC, sitting at a desk whilst a few students straggled in and out because most of them had finished their exams and left for home; this year was different, I wasn’t there but I am reliably informed they were queuing out of the door to get in and vote, a situation never witnessed before.

    I suspect that it is Jeremy Corbyn’s maverick nature that is motivating many young people, after all the Labour and Conservative Parties have become almost indistinguishable since the Blair/Cameron days, PR is all and conviction politics has been dumped, look at Theresa May’s negotiations over Europe, whatever happened to “out means out” and “no deal is better than a bad deal”?


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