Greig Baker runs a political intelligence agency and lives in Canterbury
In 2003, I was sat in a local pub watching England play Australia in the Rugby World Cup Final. England had gone into the competition as hot favourites and duly ended up in the final, with lots of people expecting them to win easily. But in that pub, during the final stages of the match, everyone was on tenterhooks. Fans were watching through their fingers as it went right down to the wire, then at the very last moment, one last push set up a dream drop goal that sailed through the posts and delivered victory.
You know where this analogy is going. There might be a shortage of cauliflower ears on the campaign trail, but the general election in Canterbury – and beyond – reminds me a lot of that world cup final. The Conservatives went into these play-offs as hot favourites, and are still in contention in the final stages, but most people are watching through their fingers as the most important electoral contest in decades goes right down to the wire.
A long time ago, I worked as a pollster, and I really don’t think they’ve got things right this time – or if they have, it’ll be down to luck rather than judgement. On the doorstep here, things are close. Extraordinarily close.
I’d like to share three bits of news from the local patch that help explain why…
First, we are in contention in Canterbury because we’ve got a truly terrific candidate fighting a decent campaign. I know everyone says that, but Anna Firth really is the bee’s knees, and she’s got more done for local residents since being selected a couple of months ago than Rosie Duffield has achieved in a couple of years of being the somewhat vacant MP. I have never seen anyone work as hard or as effectively for local people as Anna does – she has already banded with Kent’s Police Commissioner to get more coppers in Whitstable, she has had the Rail Minister down to sort the trains, and she has even collared the PM (and anyone else who comes within arm’s reach) about getting a new hospital in Canterbury.
Which leads me onto the second point: the hospital. Our local area’s population literally doubles from 40,000 to 80,000 people during term time and, as a result, Kent & Canterbury hospital here needs a massive upgrade to continue to serve its function. We need a new A&E. We need maternity services. And we need a new building. Amazingly, working with local campaigners, Conservatives here (and in next door constituencies like Faversham – kudos to the excellent Helen Whately) have already got a plan worked up for that new hospital – and they’ve also convinced a local business to build our new NHS hospital for free!
Now you’d think everyone would be cock-a-hoop about that – and you would almost be right. In fact, the only person who seems to have a downer on the plan is Rosie Duffield. Our illustrious Labour MP has been taking potshots at the plans for a new hospital in Canterbury because she has an ideological aversion to a local business building it for free for us. In my view, that’s worth saying again: the Labour MP doesn’t want a new NHS hospital in her patch because a local business has offered to build it for free. Bonkers.
And worryingly, it’s that kind of ideological fervour that has kept the Labour Party here in the running. For example, I’ve been dumbfounded to notice more Labour signs going up outside big houses since the Chief Rabbi set out his concerns about the crisis of anti-Semitism in Corbyn’s Labour, when any half-decent ‘moderate’ Labour supporter would surely be sheepishly taking them down. And you really don’t want to see the stuff our local Momentum charmers come out with on social media…
The third thing to mention is that, partly as a cover for those more extreme Corbyn fans down here, the Labour candidate is going around telling anyone who will listen that there’s no chance of Corbyn winning. And that if he does, he won’t be around for that long. Or if he is, he won’t be as bad as normal people think. In short, she’s trying to get voters to ignore the simple truth that in Canterbury, just like everywhere else, a vote for Labour is a vote for Jeremy Corbyn.
Now, to say that a vote for Labour isn’t a vote for Corbyn requires a candidate to either be a bit slow on the uptake, not paying attention, or lying through their teeth – or perhaps all three. Either way, it needs to be called out so that the vast majority of normal people who shudder at the thought of Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10 know that they don’t have a free vote on Brexit (or anything else) in places like Canterbury. If you want to stop Corbyn, you’ve got to back Boris.
The last General Election would have had a different outcome if just 533 people across the whole country had voted Conservative rather than for another party. Here in Canterbury, we need to find 94 of those votes to regain the seat and stop the rot of this incompetent and intolerant Labour lot spreading through the rest of the South East. So if you’ve got a free half hour, contact me on Twitter and please come down to the beautiful Kent coast this Saturday to help us in the final weekend of campaigning.
I can promise you a fun day out, the chance to do something incredibly important, and with a bit of luck, we can finally kick Labour into touch. I’d love to see you here.