Rosie-tinted look at Labour’s most unexpected victory
Canterbury’s political landscape was turned on its head following Rosie Duffield’s shock election win in June. A debate on Friday night examined the reasons for her win. Alex Claridge reports…
The last time Labour’s Rosie Duffield walked into Canterbury Christ Church University’s Michael Berry lecture theatre in the dying days of May, she stood before the audience as a candidate many thought would run the Conservatives close, but not win.
At the dais in the well of the room last Thursday evening, she stood as a landmark atop a new political landscape, a maker of history no less.
Four months on from the June 8 general election victory in Canterbury and Whitstable, Ms Duffield was at the university to discuss exactly that at an event called Why Labour Won.
It was supposed to start at 5pm, but apparently our MP was running a little late and there was no warm-up act. Would a Bernard Manning-like stand-up have gone down well in a room like this?
I doubt it. As we waited I scanned the room for signs of anyone whom I believed might not be of the left.
I spied the Conservative Joe Egerton, the only blue to be defeated at the KCC elections in Canterbury in May.
Moments later Ms Duffield walked down the stairs into the room. We got our first clue as to the composition of the audience as her arrival was greeted by cheers and a burst of applause.
After an introduction from Dr Mark Bennister, a reader in politics at the university, we were away.
Ms Duffield told the audience that she wasn’t going to give any of her secrets away, but pointed to the “changing demographic” in Canterbury and mentioned the NHS.
With the Kent and Canterbury Hospital in crisis and its fate uncertain, a thousand local Con- servatives must have in unison yelled “nooooo!” when the Prime Minister announced she was calling a snap election.
To her credit, Ms Duffield was not unaware that her victory came in part from Greens and Lib Dems whom she acknowledged had “lent me your votes”.
After her initial remarks, she was joined for a discussion by a trio of panellists, including KM Group political editor Paul Francis.
He agreed that the data showed that many on the non-labour left had rallied around Miss Duffield’s cause with a view to unseating Conservative Sir Julian Brazier, who had represented the constituency for the previous three decades.
But he admitted that he had not seen Ms Duffield’s victory coming.
Ben Hickman, a poetry lecturer at the University of Kent and the Canterbury secretary of grass roots left-wing movement Momentum, was up next.
He pinned the victory on the support of Canterbury’s students, the fact that people on housing estates came out for Labour, as did villages such as Littlebourne and Chartham.
Dr Hickman also raised the national party’s “radical princi- ples” and its young (Ms Duffield is 46) candidate as key factors.
Next at the microphone was Clare Connerton, who organised the social media campaign Canterburynotconservative. She endorsed Dr Hickman’s remarks to the letter, adding that her group’s efforts had succeeded in mobilising support against Sir Julian.
As the evening drew to a close, I felt there was an element missing from the narrative.
He was in fact sitting in the audience and Ms Duffield made a cursory nod in his direction at the start of her speech.
Outside of Labour circles, his name is not that well known, but it should be.
For Mike Bland was the campaign’s co-ordinator and ought to be regarded as nothing less than the organisational genius who masterminded Labour’s triumph.
Indeed if you phrased the evening’s title as a question Why did Labour win? I’d be tempted to answer, Mike Bland.
Given that Christ Church’s series of talks is called Making Politics Matter, then I don’t think it’s unfair to conclude that Rosie Duffield’s victory should be called Making Politics Interesting.
Rosie Duffield and Mike Bland, Labour campaign co-ordinator, celebrate her momentous election victory in June