A Canterbury Tale

Jonathan Calder reports that the local Lib Dems have been told to halt the selection of their Parliamentary Candidate amid speculation that Central Command may be holding back certain selections awaiting high profile arrivals into the Party.

But he ends his piece, “You have to be an optimist to see Canterbury as a Lib Dem candidate target. But politics is in such  flux at the moment, who knows?”

I am an optimist in these matters and took up the challenge to make a case for our team in Canterbury.

It is inconceivable that Lib Dems can be strong contenders in such unlikely seats if we look at them through the lens of the 2017 results .  

But there are certain criteria that need to be appreciated.  These dark horses will have a strong LD vote in 2010 – the last time the Party fought elections at a similar rating in national opinion polls.

They will have evidence of a latent significant UKIP and Brexit Party (BP) level of support and a chunky Labour vote with plenty of remainers in it.

The voting across the constituency in the 2019 Euros will show strong support for the Party and for the BP.

And there will be a couple of knowledgeable campaigners steeped in community campaigning with a handful or more of councillors or former councillors.

Let’s look at the unlikely Canterbury where in 2017 Labour made a surprising gain – polling 25572 votes to beat the Tory 25385.   Note, here was no UKIP candidate and of course the election pre-dated the formation of the BP.

Evidence for UKIP/BP strength however comes in the 2015 result when UKIP polled 7289 (13.6%) and the Tories 22918 with Labour at ‘just’ 13120.

So what of the 2010 result when the LDs were at similar levels of support to today?   Con 22050 44%, LDs 16002 (32%) and Lab 7940 (16%).

Allow a moments speculation providing this background:  at the time of the next General Election the UK has not left the EU.  BP and Tories have not done a deal and Farage is in full campaigning mode.  The Labour position on Brexit articulated by Corbyn falls apart.  The population have had enough of this Brexit malarkey and just want to get on with life.

Finally, let’s have a look at the Euro 2019 results for the constituency:

BP 37%

LDs 25.7%

Grn 14%

Lab 8.5%

UKIP     2%

I rest my case for Canterbury and a host of similar seats.

Finally I ask the doubters to see what happened in 1906 when the Liberals had nearly been wiped out in the previous election but because they were on the right side of a major issue, free trade in that case, and their opponents were on the wrong side, a landslide ensued.

Proceed to Conference with hope in your hearts and whatever you do enjoy it.

These moments come a century apart.

* Bill le Breton is a former Chair and President of ALDC and a member of the 1997 and 2001 General Election teams

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  • “speculation that Central Command may be holding back certain selections awaiting high profile arrivals into the Party.”

    So called ‘high profile’ candidates should, as my Dad used to say, “earn their stripes and, get their knees brown first” in a party with any pretence to believe in local democracy rather than a chumocracy ?

  • Andrew McCaig 12th Sep '19 - 1:15pm

    It would be nice to be nearly wiped out with 183 seats in Parliament, and to be able to win a General Election this year with a swing of 5.4%, as in 1906.

    The question is though, if you are correct and Canterbury is in play, what do we do about it? What do we do with our scarce mobile resources and organisational skills?

    At the moment I am still being asked to go to Sheffield Hallam while finding little or no information about key targets the same distance away such as Cheadle and Hazel Grove, let alone seats demographically comparable to Canterbury like the Yorks. I would rate the chances of a by-election in Hallam now as very small, and the chances of a General Election before Christmas pretty high, so the Party needs to decide what the priorities are – surely not to pour all the mobile resources in the North and Midlands into one seat…

  • David Becket 12th Sep '19 - 1:17pm

    @David Raw
    I am not concerned how these high profile arrivals voted in the past. We have a Leader and Deputy Leader who voted for Tuition Fees and other nasties.

    What I am concerned about are their views now. Will they sign up to our preamble, are their attitudes Liberal.

    We have always had some Tories and Labour members who could broadly be described as liberals, though at times they will have followed the party line. They are now losing their home, we should welcome them.

  • Canterbury is unlike anywhere else in Kent in that it has two universities, and the city is usually awash with disproportionately young Europeans. However, parts of Canterbury and areas around it are very much like the rest of Kent, in that they are filled with rather xenophobic working-class Tories, though not as fervently so as in other parts of England. I believe that in 1971 Labour swept the board on the City Council. There is quite a strong Labour tradition (the remains of a former slag heap is visible from Dane John Mount). I cannot imagine that parachuting in a high-profile defector would be a very sensible idea. However, I am aware that Rosie Duffield has issues with the local Labour Party.

  • nigel hunter 12th Sep '19 - 2:23pm

    Yes, putting all our resources into one seat whilst others are available could be an error .Sheffield Hallam,s MP is still Labour orientated ,he has not quit. By staying in the seat he keeps our resources from exploiting other areas. Give our PPC some resources but not all. She will win.

  • Bill le Breton 12th Sep '19 - 2:26pm

    A commenter been in touch asking what happened to the Tory vote in Canterbury for the Euros. No, it wasn’t vanishingly small, but it was only 7.9%.

    Andrew, I used Jonathan Calder’s piece on Canterbury to point out that in a certain scenario it is possible to see how a seat like Canterbury could fall to the Liberal Democrats … and scores more .

    For example a seat like Wimbledon looks on the face of it (ie projecting today’s opinion poll ratings on a uniform swing across the country) like Tories 34, LDs 27, but factoring in the Euro and last three GE results it becomes a LD win 40 to 26. HT Giles Wilkes.

    On this process alone we are in the 80 to 100 seat range.

    The significance of the 1906 election was that it was fought against a background of the Conservatives fighting on tarifs and the LDs fighting on free trade. It was a binary election where two sides of the argument (as opposed to distinct Parties) might indeed poll within 5% of each other.

    However there are five Parties competing across the range of views on the main issue.
    And so individual seats my be decided on very small majorities with any of up to four Parties winning vying for victory.

    In such elections you have to take a careful view of where to concentrate your resources to maximise your seat wins.

    Some will we ‘safe’ and resources directed here will be wasted. Others can probably win on their own – with central support delivered through social media.

    In others of which Canterbury might be an example you have to see whether there is a small nucleus that could raise the flag, direct and localise some of the incoming social media and ensure that if DURING the campaign our prospects improve even further our potential is not given away.

    The only experience we have of these types of election happen to be in local government, but the lessons are the same for national elections. There is a political frontier along which we win or lose seats by 500 votes. That is where mobile resources have to go. But if we are to win 200+ seats most constituencies will be much on their own and relying on one or two people who know how to mount a campaign with some central support from social media.

  • Bobby Copper 12th Sep '19 - 2:59pm

    Is it possible that HQ are minded to stand aside in Canterbury and support Labour’s Rosie Duffield? She’s not the worst Labour MP by a long chalk but she’s a Bercow fan which casts doubt on her judgment.

  • Paul Weaver 12th Sep '19 - 4:12pm

    I’ve been leafleting in Northwich for our great PPC there, but it’s difficult – If I have a 2 hour gap, it’s a 30 minute drive there and 30 minutes drive back, really impacts the time available, and that’s a PPC who’s part of my local party!

    In Nantwich and the southern part of Eddisbury it’s easy to get to – 10 minutes to an area, meaning I get nearly twice as many deliveries in a given slot.

    None of these are target seats, and in 2017 I did have an evening in London and spent a couple of hours in Richmond Park helping out, but I’m not going to travel for 90 minutes each way to go to a constituency I don’t know to campaign to people who may well ask me local questions I haven’t got a clue about.

    If we don’t run a campaign locally to new members, we’ll lose their interest. Target seats can get the federal resources, but if local newbies have nothing to do, we’ll simply give up and go home.

  • Richard Underhill 12th Sep '19 - 5:34pm

    Greg Clark MP’s local weekly paper The Times of Tunbridge Wells carries a story that he hopes that the Conservative whip will be restored and firmly states that he has no intention of joining the Liberal Democrats. He has voted for Article 50 and opposed No Deal.
    The Daily Torygraph reports that figures inside the Tory tent want the whip restored to at least some of the 21/22 ‘rebels’ if they promise to bow the knee next time.
    A Faragist member on BBC tv Politics Live 12/9/19 reported on what he is hearing on doorsteps. He may not know that he cannot serve as an MEP and become an MP at the same time.

  • @ Bill le Breton “The significance of the 1906 election was that it was fought against a background of the Conservatives fighting on tarifs (Sp) and the LDs fighting on free trade.”

    The LDs fighting on free trade ? Well fancy that. I never knew David Steel was a mate of old Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and that young Squiff feller.

  • It is of course possible, that the selection of the PPC in Canterbury is held aback awaiting a high profile arrival into the Liberal Democrats.

    However, there is another possible reason. If I have understood correctly, Liberal Democrats are planning a “Unite to Remain” co-operation with other parties such as The Greens, Plaid Cymru, The Independent Group for Change as well as some independents. That would mean, that in many Lib Dem target constituencies the other parties would stand aside in support of the Lib Dem candidate. However, that means that reciprocally the Lib Dems would need to stand aside in some constituencies. Maybe Canterbury is one of them?

  • Mick Taylor 12th Sep '19 - 8:44pm

    The real test of the party at the GE when it comes will be persuading sympathisers to get involved as volunteers, not just as leaflet deliverers but as organisers and campaigners. The party is looking seriously at how to do this but time is short.

  • Michael Berridge 13th Sep '19 - 11:30am

    This week an old friend, a Canterbury resident who had always voted Lib Dem until 2017, told me he would vote for Rosie Duffield again. My old friends in the local party will hate me for saying this but I get the drift from comments above (David Becket, Patrick) that tuition fees is still an issue and a Green candidate might Unite to Remain better than a Liberal Democrat.

  • Not much to argue with here.

    Rosie Duffield MP Brexit Speech – YouTube
    Rosie Duffield MP speaks in the House of Commons on Brexit; explains why she will not vote for the Prime Minister’s deal.

  • @Alison Willott – I’ve just been re-reading Chris Rennard’s memoirs and your comments about the ’92 election are strikingly similar to what he says about that final week. The increased talk about PR and the sense we were shifting towards doing some kind of deal with Labour costs us a lot of votes from wavering Tories.

  • Bill le Breton 14th Sep '19 - 9:03am

    Thank you Alison – and good luck in Monmouth.
    Yes, yes, yes, as you say.

  • A very moving and impressive speech on domestic violence in the House by Rosie Duffield MP today. It puts in perspective the ‘my party right or wrong’ stuff.

  • Richard Underhill. 13th Oct '19 - 5:29pm

    David Raw 3rd Oct ’19 – 4:15pm
    The entire speech was repeated on Radio 4’s PM programme.
    At the Tory conference their candidate for Canterbury was spotted by their current leader. She wants a new hospital in Canterbury and he seems to have offered her one, except that the NHS deny that it is in the 40 (for which there is some initial funding).

  • Richard Underhill. 13th Oct '19 - 5:35pm

    12th Sep ’19 – 5:34pm Olive branches from Boris to the 21 are not obvious or evident.

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Oct '19 - 5:57pm

    @John Bicknell
    “Things seem to have gone quiet regarding Luciana Berger. Even with a personal vote, Liverpool Wavertree would seem difficult to retain as a Lib Dem, but I’ve seen nothing further concerning the hints of a London seat being offered”

    Luciana Berger will be standing in Finchley & Golders Green – that was announced in late September.

  • I’ve voted LD / Liberal in Canterbury at every election since 1970s, but in 2019 I shall vote Labour for first time to re-elect the brave, principled and staunchly pro-Remain Rosie Duffield. LDs may gift the seat to Cons, but either way by putting up a candidate against Rosie LDs can only discredit themselves. If Tim Walker thinks he can win, he’s deluded.

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