With the 2019 general election right on our doorstep, attention has turned to the historic city of Canterbury, one of the “marginal seats” which in 2017 narrowly elected its first Labour MP in almost a century. Labour’s Rosie Duffield won by just 187 votes, unseating Conservative MP Sir Julian Brazier who had held the seat since 1987. Rosie received media attention in October 2019, when her powerful speech to parliament about her experience of domestic violence helped to ensure that gender-based violence was firmly kept on parliament’s agenda.
Many of the students located in Canterbury, where I also live and study, are still confused about the election, and unconvinced that their vote will have an impact on the result. With influencers like Stormzy adding their endorsement for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and local leaders such as Sasha Langeveldt, the Student Union president of the University of Kent urging students to cast their vote, it seems that Rosie has the youth backing in her constituency. Leading up to the registration deadline, Sasha and her fellow Kent Union members made posters, paraded around campus, and even spray-painted “Register to vote” onto the paths on campus. We should remain optimistic that this proactive campaigning will point Canterbury towards the right path.
I spoke with a few University of Kent students to get a sense of the atmosphere on campus around the election. Julian (19), from Bermuda, told he understands that this election is important but feels that his voice doesn’t matter. “I’m going back home before the election, but if I were to vote I would vote Labour,” says Julian. He continues: “I don’t have an emotional attachment to the election, but honestly I’m very ignorant of what’s going on in the UK.” I completely understood why he was ignorant of the election and events currently taking place in the UK. After a while, it becomes overwhelming and draining hearing the latest on anything politics related, especially while being a university student. We have our own deadlines to make as assessments, exams, and assignments fill our world with stress and sleepless nights.
The only time politics and my time at university crossed paths was when I encountered Anne Firth of the Conservative party on campus one evening. She attended a basketball game a week before the registration deadline and her presence was awkward. After asking around and learning who she was I then knew she was only here to gain votes towards her campaign. I think that this move is smart as it shows she is interacting with the university population, but everyone who was there could tell you that she did nothing but hover around the gym having a photographer take pictures. My friend Shalom, a basketball player who was in attendance of the game felt the same way: “I like the fact that she came all the way to ‘see’ our game, but at the same time it’s just a strategy for votes.” Shalom did acknowledge that Anne was the only candidate to reach out and bothered to attend, adding that this may have given her a one up on the other candidates, but her vote would still go to Labour.
Another factor is that there was an abundance of BAME students watching the game. I feel as though Anne knew this was a smart move to show that she cares about our opinions, but I think it was a weak attempt. As a black voter, as well as a university student, no one paid her any mind while she attended the game as it didn’t feel genuine. Everyone was more worried about winning the game than a political candidate walking around the gym. I feel that her plan backfired due to the fact that students attend games or social events to get away from our work or anything that may cause us stress. In other words, we appreciate the attempt, but no thank you.
On my way into Canterbury from Medway, there were various campaign posters showing Anne Firth’s face promoting the Conservative party. This lead to my assumption that some Canterbury residents want to remove Labour’s seat in their prosperous city. Arriving in the city center, I head straight into the Christmas market, surrounded by all of the stalls of locals selling festive goods. In a small booth Linda Gatusch, 51, exclaims that Canterbury in 2017 wasn’t the city it is now. She has been a resident of Wincheap, a south-west suburb of Canterbury, for 32 years. Linda believes that the election in 2017 was a “real good shake-up for the town”. She concludes that Labour taking the seat for Canterbury was a job well done by the university students that voted.
I ask Linda what she thinks might happen if the Conservative party were to take Rosie’s seat back. She says that she believes the “emphasis would go away from the local people and it would be much more focused on running everything as businesses”. She explains that currently, the council has been outsourcing jobs such as bin collection and other local public services. She believes that this does not supply better service to people and that the delivery of “local stuff for local people” is lacking on the council's part. Linda believes that the “eye has gone off the ball on providing social housing” and sees this first hand as she works in the department. Linda goes on to state that there should be "a massive focus on social housing and I think it has to be from the government. I deem we should review the letting [renting] market". She expressed her concern about landlords owning many properties: "Why should some people own a bunch of houses and some can't even buy one?"
Linda alluded to the topic that has frequently occurred in my research: homelessness. Homelessness has been a social issue that England has been facing for an extended period but faced an increase between 2009 and 2017 where statutory homelessness increased from the low point of 42,000 to around 58,000 households (UK Statistics Authority). In 2017, Canterbury reportedly had the fifth-highest rate of deaths of homeless individuals as expressed by Kent Online.The numbers, presented by the Office for National Statistics, show that this equates to 6.8 deaths per 100,00 of the total population.
I then met David Weaks who has been a Canterbury resident since 2001. During the 2017 election, David didn’t know who to vote for as he “wasn’t initially a Tory [Conservative] or Labour voter” so he planned on voting Lib-Dem. In that time, he felt, in the political climate two years ago, Rosie Duffield was such a “good” candidate he switched his vote to Labour.
If a Conservative MP were to be elected into Canterbury, David thinks it would be a "big shame" because he doesn't think the Conservatives "represent the views of people in Canterbury as a whole, specifically in regards to Brexit." He, similarly, acknowledges homelessness in Canterbury just as Linda did. He feels as if homeless individuals would not receive the support they need as "Conservative policies contribute to state affairs and I believe that there are more homeless individuals on the street because of these policies." Overall, David feels that a Conservative MP would not hold the same views as the "majority of Canterbury shares.”
David hopes that the new candidate, whether or not they are Labour or Conservative, will “do a good job of representing local businesses.” Linda and David are both concerned for the people in their communities as these are the individuals who contribute to the local economy and overall attitude of the city. This concern seems to come from a genuine place of care and driven mindset. These types of attitudes are needed during this election season as the 12 December draws near.
After speaking with Linda and David, it is clear that Canterbury has the potential to continue with a Labour MP. Though there are many problems within the city of Canterbury, the locals seem optimistic for the near future and seek development within their communities.
There are a few social issues Canterbury needs to fix for the city to continue to be the haven it strives to be. Canterbury’s election past has proven the city will take a stand, voting on what they think is right for the community. The residents of Canterbury, whether they are university students or city natives, will vote for who they think will represent their city and views well. The election is underway and includes many uncertainties like the student voter turnout which could transform Canterbury's election future.