Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District

How ‘Ms Or­di­nary’ among the hottest

- By Alex Clar­idge aclar­idge@thek­m­ @clar­idgealex

Vot­ers turn­ing out in St Stephen’s ward dur­ing the Can­ter­bury City Coun­cil elec­tions two years ago would have seen the name of a lit­tle-known woman on the bal­lot paper.

The 1,006 votes this Labour Party can­di­date polled were not enough to win a seat on the coun­cil.

Typ­i­cally, such a per­son would fade into anonymity per­haps only resur­fac­ing four years later to fight an­other doomed elec­tion in a ward or­di­nar­ily won by Con­ser­va­tives.

But th­ese are not or­di­nary times. And the woman in ques­tion has not just made his­tory by be­com­ing the first Labour MP in Can­ter­bury and Whit­stable, the earth­quake she wrought has ut­terly re­formed the con­stituency’s po­lit­i­cal topol­ogy – per­haps forever. Her name is Rosie Duffield. Just 32 hours af­ter her 187-vote gen­eral elec­tion vic­tory over the for­mer Con­ser­va­tive MP Sir Ju­lian Bra­zier, the 45-year-old writer climbed on to the band­stand in Dane John Gar­dens ready to ad­dress the throng stand­ing in the wa­tery sun­shine at the Can­ter­bury Pride event.

She had to wait un­til they had stopped chant­ing her name.

“That was amaz­ing,” she says. “I could hardly move around the Dane John as peo­ple were just stop­ping me all the time. I was be­ing mobbed. I ac­tu­ally had to hide at one point, even though ev­ery­one was be­ing so lovely.”

She ar­rives for our meet­ing at a cof­fee shop in the High Street wear­ing a blue pat­terned dress be­fit­ting the mod­ern fe­male politi­cian. But as if to re­in­force her rock star sta­tus she is also wear­ing a pair of snazzy shades.

Ms Duffield, who is chap­er­oned by her cam­paign co-or­di­na­tor Mike Bland, ad­mits that some­thing as sim­ple as walk­ing up the High Street is now very dif­fi­cult.

The ques­tions worth ask­ing are who is she and how did we get here?

Rose­mary Clare Duffield was born in Nor­wich in 1971 be­fore she moved to south-east Lon­don.

Aged 12, she turned veg­e­tar­ian and at 16 she left school be­cause “I wanted to get into work and the real world” and be­came an ad­min ap­pren­tice on a YTS scheme dur­ing Margaret Thatcher’s pre­mier­ship.

She worked at Guy’s Hos­pi­tal and then went to col­lege to com­plete her ed­u­ca­tion. One of her cour­ses was in govern­ment and pol­i­tics and she re­calls be­ing hugely in­flu­enced by her tu­tor.

Dur­ing this time she also be­came in­volved in union ac­tiv­ity and felt acutely aware of so­cial prob­lems, all of which helped pro­pel her left­wards po­lit­i­cally. She first voted Labour at the 1992 elec­tion.

An­other wrin­kle in her back story is the fact that in the mid90s she worked in the City of Lon­don and lived with a man who worked in bank­ing, ex­pos­ing her to the profit-driven cor­po­rate world.

“It felt then as it does now – that there was a di­vide be­tween the haves and the have nots,” Ms Duffield tells me. “I had been mov­ing in cir­cles with th­ese bankers who seemed dis­con­nected from real world prob­lems.”

Ms Duffield ended her re­la­tion­ship with the banker and moved to Can­ter­bury in 1998. Her sis­ter was here study­ing to be­come a teacher.

She soon fell preg­nant her with her first son, Toby, who is now 18 and cur­rently do­ing his A-lev­els. She had her sec­ond son Jasper four years later.

She and Toby voted to­gether at St Peter’s Methodist Church, where elec­tion staff re­ported a huge turnout – later con­firmed as 72.7%.

Ms Duffield be­lieves there are a slew of rea­sons why Can­ter­bury and Whit­stable voted her in.

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