Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District
How ‘Ms Ordinary’ among the hottest
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.