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Westlake Legal Group > Canterbury

Anna Firth: We need a plan to regain the university seats, and win over the students who flocked to Corbyn

Anna Firth is a Barrister, and a Councillor on Sevenoaks District Council. She contested Canterbury in the 2019 General Election.

Queues of students in pyjamas waiting to vote before 9am at the university polling station in Canterbury last month were not encouraging. The hope that students might have packed up and taken their vote home for Christmas turned out to be way off the mark. Thankfully, media speculation that another “youthquake” might deny the Conservative a majority proved false. It did, however, cost us a number of university seats, particularly in the south.

Since first getting the vote in 1970, undergraduate student numbers have ballooned from 400,000 in 1970 to 1.8 million in 2017/2018. Together with half a million postgraduates and 400,000 staff, university students and staff now comprise nearly three million voters. That is one of the largest, single voting blocks in the UK – over six per cent of the total UK electorate, almost twice the size of the NHS workforce and vastly more potent being so geographically concentrated.

Historically a low-turnout group, the last two elections have seen the university vote morph into a highly motivated Labour block vote. Some 64 per cent of registered voters in this age group voted in the 2017 UK General Election according to Ipsos MORI, and YouGov estimate a continued significant turnout last month. The remaining red dots across various parts of the country increasingly resemble a map of our university towns and cities.

Canterbury is an obvious case in point – but arguably the same could be said for seats such as Warwick and Leamington, Reading East, Portsmouth South, Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport and Bristol North West, to name but a few.

All these seats swung to Labour in 2017 on the back Corbyn’s offer to scrap tuition fees, a disastrous Liberal Democrat campaign and Momentum-led student activism. All looked set to comfortably return to the fold last October when the election was called. So what went wrong?

Firstly, not surprisingly, the national Brexit message was toxic in university seats, many of which voted strongly Remain. Secondly, despite the Liberal Democrats recovering to 18.2 per cent across the South East, in a number of university towns and cities the Lib Dem vote either failed to recover sufficiently or dropped. Finally, Labour and Momentum ran a far more effective social media campaign targeted at students.

On the positive side, in Canterbury we polled 45.3 per cent of the vote, the highest Conservative vote share for nearly 30 years. Indeed, 27,182 votes would have been enough to win the constituency at every other election in the last 150 years – bar this one!

The seismic transformation in Canterbury was continued high student turnout. On a cold, wet December day, 74 per cent of students turned out to vote at the main campus polling station, up from 55 per cent in 2017, only 17 per cent in 2015 – and compared with 67 per cent nationally. Not surprisingly, we estimated some 85 per cent of these votes were for Labour.

So what is driving such a seismic shift in student turnout and what should be our response as a Party?

Causes of increased student engagement

The EU referendum, austerity, generation rent and student debt are the common explanations for the recent surge in millennial voting. However, a recent student focus group suggested social media remains the big game-changer. As one student put it: “Of course, you are going to vote. You are not going to risk being shamed by your friends on social media”.

Students in Canterbury were swamped by Labour- and Momentum-led Facebook adverts every day in the run up to polling day. And whilst our own Facebook social media campaign was a quantum improvement on 2017, we are still communicating “at” not “with” young people. We also had nothing to counter the tsumami of news videos on “inhumane” Tory cuts to the NHS, austerity cuts to help the rich, Bullingdon Club toffs, etc, etc.

Party response

One response is to say “Who cares – they will never vote for us anyway. Why not focus on winning more seats in the North or on the more resolvable 30 – 39s?” The problem with this approach is that it allows millions of young people to spend three or four of their formative years in hard left/liberal-leaning institutions, risking a generation that will take years to switch away from Labour.

Electoral reform

A practical response would be to ensure that all General Elections take place outside term-time, preferably in September. Elections, however, are rarely entirely within our control even without the Fixed Term Parliament Act, so a fairer solution would be for students to vote only at their permanent home and not at their university address.

This would be very popular with local residents. Over the last few weeks I have received numerous emails from incensed permanent residents furious that their choice of MP has been made by part-time residents who will be gone by the next election, and who have little interest in long-term issues such better roads, schools and healthcare. With postal votes so easily and freely available, fortunately, there is no risk of disenfranchising students studying in far-flung universities.

Aspirational polices focused on the environment, opportunity and home ownership

More importantly, however, we need to welcome the next generation of voters with an aspirational message of freedom, opportunity and progressive social change. Ideas might include:-

The environment – this is the key issue with young people, and potential policies could include

  • Greater use of tax incentives to tackle plastic pollution, wildlife and ocean conservation.
  • Reduced university fees on all degrees that include significant environmental elements;
  • Cosmetics tested on animals being labelled in a similar manner to cigarette labelling;
  • Clothes and other retail items not manufactured with exploited labour being labelled as such and vice-versa.

Tuition fees – given that 60 per cent of student debts are unlikely to be repaid, tuition fees continue to disenfranchise millions of young people for no reason. This and the punitive rate of interest on student loans, currently 5.4 per cent, needs to be looked at again.

Target profession programme – University loans should be waived for students going into the caring professions. This would send a powerful message that Conservatives “care” and would be largely costless given many earnings fall beneath the repayment threshold.

Internship programmes – This is now the main hurdle to high level employment, particularly for those from less advantaged backgrounds. Better access to internship/work experience for post-graduate students would be very popular.

Home ownership – The manifesto proposal for long-term, fixed rate mortgages which slashes the cost of deposits was popular on the doorstep but not real enough to cut through. With three million people in the UK estimated to be trapped in rental accommodation as they can’t save for a deposit this proposal needs to become a reality.

Building on last month’s historic victory depends on winning back university seats. Momentum and Labour have persuaded students that a tired rehash of 1970s socialism is the solution to all our problems. It is not. For the sake of future generations, we need to make the case more powerfully, especially on social media. The prize will not come easily but is huge and available if we are brave enough to take it.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Greig Baker: In Canterbury, our Conservative candidate is already delivering on local issues

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.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Election Battlegrounds 7) South East

In 2015 and 2017, we ran a region-by-region overview of the key seats which could decide the general election. We have revived it for 2019, and these battleground profiles run regularly throughout the campaign.


  • There are 84 parliamentary constituencies in this region. As dissolution 60 were represented by Conservative MPs, 11 by Independents, eight by Labour, 3 by Liberal Democrat MPs, 1 by a Green, and one was the outgoing Speaker, John Bercow.
  • Much like the South West, the Tories’ position here is so dominant that there is only a narrow band of Conservative targets. Three of these were seats taken by Labour at the last election, and the last the unusual phenomenon of a Liberal Democrat-held seat which leans Leave.
  • We have identified half a dozen seats where Labour is competitive on paper, each with a relatively slender Conservative majority. Their current national position is dire, however, and unless the polls change they would probably be pleasantly surprised to pick up even the most marginal.
  • The Liberal Democrats stand a good chance of holding all their current seats – the big 2015 Tory majority in Oxford West lies on the other side of the EU referendum – and with their national campaign shifting to a more realistic footing could pick up a small clutch of seats.
  • Whilst the Greens seem as far away as ever from picking up more representation in the House of Commons, Caroline Lucas will probably represent Brighton Pavilion for as long as she wants to. The Lib Dems standing aside for her as part of ‘Unite to Remain’ won’t hurt either.
  • Finally we have two ex-Conservative MPs running as independents. As we explained in our article on the subject, neither seem likely to hold their seats. Of these Beaconsfield has a better-coordinated ‘Unite to Remain’ effort, whilst Guildford has a stronger Remain lean and weaker Tory position. Either incumbent would be doing very well to hold on.


As in 2015 and 2017, we’ll be taking a region-by-region look at the seats which could change hands. These lists aren’t predictions of gains: rather, they’re just seats which we think could be competitive. They might be official party targets, have a small majority, or be subject to other factors which could leave them open to change.

Amongst the resources we’ll be using to steer us through these murky waters are Electoral CalculusUK Polling ReportNumber Cruncher Politics, and Election Polling, whilst all Leave vote share estimations are from Chris Hanretty’s very helpful constituency-by-constituency charts.

We’re also keeping an eye on the work of many other pollsters, psephologists, and analysts, some of whom our assistant editor has collated onto a Twitter list.

Targets by party:

(NB These are our own suggestions of potential attack seats for each party – including those officially designated as targets and others where the incumbent has a relatively small majority, or local factors are at play which may open the seat to change.)


Canterbury: Prior to 2017, this seat had returned a Conservative (or allied) MP at every election since 1874. Labour only previously came really close to taking it in 2001, at the height of New Labour, but apparently overspill from London is shifting the demographics in seats like this away from the Tories. Nonetheless Labour’s majority here is just 187, and absent a particularly strong Remain lean or an anti-Conservative pact the Party ought to retake this comfortably next month.

Eastbourne: This seat has an interesting history: picked up by the Liberal Democrats in a 1990 by-election; lost back to the Tories in 1992; regained in 2010; lost in 2015; and then regained in 2017 by Stephen Lloyd, who then resigned from the Lib Dems to honour a pledge to his constituents to back a Brexit deal. He’s now freed from that promise and is standing again on Jo Swinson’s full-blooded FBPE agenda, which could hurt him in a seat which went almost 58 per cent for Leave. Electoral Calculus tip him to hold on, thanks to the Brexit Party splitting the vote.

Portsmouth South: Lib Dem from 1997 until 2015, then Conservative until 2017, and now Labour. The incumbent is sitting on a majority of only 1,554 so unless he can buck Labour’s national trend the Conservatives ought to be strongly placed to regain this seat. It is pretty evenly split on Brexit (unlike its pro-Leave counterpart) but if it is close the smaller parties could make an impact, with the Brexit Party chipping away at Tory support and the Lib Dems eating into the Labour vote.

Reading East: Before 2017 this seat had been Conservative since 2005, and in both 2010 and 2015 the Party secured comfortable majorities north of 6,000 votes. Labour put on a very impressive 16 points to win it last time, and their majority now stands at a respectable but not-insurmountable 3,749. One thing which might hurt the Tories here is that it is a quite strongly Remain constituency, but that could yet be a boon if a Lib Dem revival erodes the Labour lead. Electoral Calculus have the Opposition ahead in a close fight.


Crawley: The Conservatives have held this seat since 2010 and came within a whisker of picking it up in 2005, but last election saw Henry Smith’s majority cut by over 4,000 to just 2,459. Were Labour in a position to make advances this would need to be close to the top of their list. However, it is Leave-y seat and the Brexit Party standing aside will be a boon to the Tories, given that UKIP took almost 7,000 votes here in 2015.

Hastings & Rye: One of the most marginal seats in the country, and prior to Amber Rudd’s departure from front-line politics one of their best hopes for a major scalp. Even in the absence of a cabinet minister this remains a top Labour target, and with a Tory majority of just 346 the switch to a new candidate could make a difference in a close race. Close enough that with sufficient resources Labour could possibly buck even a poor national trend here, but right now it seems unlikely.

Milton Keynes North: Here the key question is whether 2017 was a blip or not. Mark Lancaster won this by comfortable majorities of almost or over 9,000 votes in both 2010 and 2015 before seeing his majority slashed to under 2,000 last time out. The Conservatives also lost ground here at the local elections earlier this year, dropping five seats whilst Labour picked up three. But again, with Labour’s national position so dire they seem more likely to go backwards here.

Milton Keynes South: A similar story to its northern counterpart: comfortable Tory majorities in 2010 and 2015 (although not quite as comfy in this more urban seat), then a dramatic narrowing of the race in 2017. Both Milton Keynes seats were evenly split in the referendum but the withdrawal of the Brexit Party will probably help, as UKIP too over 7,800 votes here in 2015. Seems likely to share a fate with its northern neighbour, which in this election will probably see a solid Conservative hold.

Reading West: Alok Sharma won this seat with majorities of over 6,000 in both 2010 and 2015. In 2017 it fell below 3,000. This seat does have a Labour history – it backed Tony Blair three times – and would certainly be in contention in a good year. But this is more Leave-y than its eastern neighbour, the Brexit Party is standing aside, and Labour’s national position is dire. Absent a Tory collapse, Sharma is probably fine.

Southampton Itchen: Even more marginal than Hastings, Royston Smith held on by just 31 votes last time – no surprise that he was one of the most vocally pleased when Nigel Farage withdrew his forces from Conservative-held seats. Combine that with a strong 2016 Leave share, Labour’s dire national position, and the absence of any sort of anti-Tory arrangement and Electoral Calculus is probably right to predict the Opposition going backwards here next month.

Liberal Democrat:

Eastleigh: This has been the subject of some controversy in Tory circles over the allegation that Mims Davies, the incumbent, is doing a ‘chicken run’ to safer seat. It was held by the Liberal Democrats from a 1994 by-election until 2015, but despite that it isn’t obvious on paper what she’s supposed to be scared of: Eastleigh voted Leave, albeit not by a huge margin; Davies increased her majority in 2017 to a very comfortable 14,000; there is no anti-Conservative pact; and the Brexit Party are standing aside. The Lib Dems do maintain a stranglehold on the local council, but that hasn’t carried the day before.

Lewes: Another seat the party held from 1997 until 2015, although here the Tories ran them close in 2010 and it wasn’t the shocking loss of some of the others. Maria Caulfield’s majority is a respectable but not impregnable 5,508, and the Lib Dems may take heart from the fact that the Conservatives lost control of the council here earlier this year. However Lewes is pretty evenly split on Brexit, there’s no sign of a Remain pact, and the Brexit Party standing aside will bolster the Tory defence. The Lib Dems would need to squeeze nearly all of Labour’s 2017 vote to get close.

Guildford: The Lib Dems only ever held this seat once, in 2001, but three things suggest that this could be the site of an upset. First, it is quite Remain-y (59 per cent on the Hanretty figures). Second, their vote might be split by Anne Milton, the incumbent, who is running as an independent. Third, the Conservatives absolutely haemorrhaged councillors here earlier this year, losing 25. But as we noted at the time, whilst the Lib Dems did pick up eight councillors here considerably more went to two localist outfits, R4GV and the Guildford Greenbelt Group. It certainly isn’t beyond the wit of the Lib Dems to play the nimby card and harness those voters, but if they can’t a fractured anti-Tory vote can’t do the damage in a winner-takes-all election that it can on the council.

Winchester: Flagged by the Daily Telegraph as a potential Tory loss due to its status as one of ‘the 17 Conservative-held seats with 2017 majorities of under 20 per cent, and 2016 Remain votes of over 60 per cent’. Mark Oaten did used to hold this for the Lib Dems from 1997 until 2010, the party overtook the Tories to take control of the council earlier this year, and the absence of a Green candidate suggests a pact. Yet it may be a long shot: Steve Brine’s majority is 9,999, he’ll benefit from the Brexit Party’s absence, and elsewhere the Lib Dems have struggled to convert local government strength into Westminster gains.


Brighton Pavilion: Perhaps a canary in the mine when it comes to the effect of London overspill on commuter-belt seats, this was once rock-solidly Conservative before falling to Blair in 1997. Caroline Lucas captured it in 2010 and whilst her party still seems no closer to picking up a second seat her hold here seems assured. The Greens picked up eight seats on the council earlier this year, including a clean sweep of three in a previously Tory ward in this constituency. With the Lib Dems having stood aside as part of the ‘Unite to Remain’ deal, expect a (very) comfortable retention.


Beaconsfield: Dominic Grieve’s bid to hold this seat for Remain seems forlorn. Unlike David Gauke he did manage to secure endorsement from the ‘Unite to Remain’ ticket, meaning that he has the backing of the local Lib Dems (although the Greens have chosen to run). Yet as discussed in our article on the rebels this is simply not an ardently pro-EU seat, and his successor as Conservative candidate inherits a notional majority over 24,500. A long shot.

Guildford: Actually considerably more Remainy than Beaconsfield, but Anne Milton has not secured any ‘Unite to Remain’ endorsement and faces the daunting task of overturning a Conservative majority of over 17,000. But… there could be one straw in the wind: at this year’s local elections the Tories lost a “shocking” 25 seats, ending up with just nine. Has Milton been endorsed by R4GV? The Lib Dems may be more likely to benefit, but you never know.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The campaign, week two. “Small earthquake in Chile. Not many dead.”

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-11-15-at-07.53.35 The campaign, week two. “Small earthquake in Chile. Not many dead.” ToryDiary Sajid Javid MP Polling Opinion Pollster Nigel Farage MEP Lord Ashcroft Labour Highlights General Election Dudley North Conservatives Claud Cockburn Canterbury Brexit Party Boris Johnson MP   As the end of week Two’s campaigning approaches, we repeat what we wrote at the end of Week One’s.  Which party has a good or a bad campaign, let alone a good or a bad week, doesn’t usually seem to make much difference to the result.

The Conservative Manifesto and campaigning calamity in 2017 is a striking exception to this rule, and in an election that follows a hung Parliament, and may itself produce one, small developments could admittedly make a big difference.

The largest one this week has undoubtedly been Nigel Farage’s decision to withdraw Brexit Party candidates from constituencies that the Tories won in 2017.  One take on it is that it won’t make much impact on the result, because that party will still contest Labour-held marginals, where it is likely to take more votes from the Conservatives.

That view may make plausible psephology, but it is very poor psychology.  By deploring the possibility of a hung Parliament, placing his faith in Boris Johnson’s latest commitment on transition, and standing down a mass of candidates, Farage has signalled that it is acceptable for pro-Brexit voters to support the Tories.

If that logic applies in “safe” Conservative constituencies, it also does so in marginal Labour ones – and for all his criticism of the Tories yesterday, the Brexit Party leader has not renounced his decision.  Its candidates in Canterbury and Dudley North, two prominent marginal seats, have taken the point and stood down.  Anyone following the election closely will have noticed.

Of course, it may be that campaign disaster lightning will strike the Tories twice; or that the polls are nowhere near what the election result will be, or that the distribution of the vote will be unfavourable to the Conservatives – who, as last time round, will pile up votes in seats they already hold.

All that said, Labour has not led in a single UK-wide poll since late July – when Boris Johnson was elected Tory leader.  (And it has been found ahead in only one survey since: on November 4 by YouGov in Wales by a single statistically insignificant point.)

Politico’s tracker finds the Conservatives ten points ahead.  Lord Ashcroft’s new dashboard finds a blue triple slam: Johnson beats Jeremy Corbyn as best Prime Minister; forced to choose between the two main parties, voters plump for the Tories; Johnson and Sajid Javid are more trusted on the economy than their Labour counterparts.

Punch those figures into Electoral Calculus’s calculator, and you will get a Conservative majority of 110.  Of course, that’s a very crude measure, which doesn’t take seat distribution into account.  And the polls may be wide of where we end up.  And lightning really could strike twice.

None the less, the likelihood is that all that polling is meaningful; that the Farage intervention has been net helpful to Johnson, and that everything else this week – the seperate-but-linked Scottish campaign, all policy announcements, flooding, and even Javid’s attack on Labour’s spending plans, let alone the relative trivia of candidate selections, stunts and gaffes, have made no difference to anything meaningful.

If so, it will suit Johnson to keep it that way through the manifesto launch, beyond into the leaders’ TV debates, and onward until polling day – with the exception of a Wobbly Wednesday or Tremulous Tuesday or Meltdown Monday in that last week, in order to downplay expections and thus frighten Tory voters into turning out.  The Prime Minister is a bracing campaigner but it is in his interest for this to be a snoozeathon campaign.

Claud Cockburn and his Time colleagues once ran a regular competition to get the dullest possible headline they could imagine into the paper.  (Journalists are fond of these subsersive practices.)  According to legend, Cockburn only ever won once – his entry being “Small Earthquake in Chile, Not many dead”.  There are not many electoral dead after this small earthquake of a campaigning week.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The four finalists for the Canterbury Conservative candidate selection

While the selection in Grantham and Stamford tonight is in a (technically) Tory-held seat, the evening’s other selection meeting takes place in a key marginal. Having voted Conservative for decades, Canterbury fell to Labour in 2017 by the extremely slim margin of 187 votes.

Angela Richardson: Originally from New Zealand, Richardson is the Deputy Chairman Political of Guildford Conservatives and the Vice Chairman of Cranleigh Parish Council. Her professional background is in investment banking operations, and she worked in the City of London at Schroders and Axa Investment Managers. In addition to Conservative activism and campaigning, she fundraises for local charities. Her past ConservativeHome articles can be read here.

Cllr Sally-Ann Hart. Brought up in the North East of England, Cllr Hart has lived for some years in East Sussex, after starting her career in London. She holds a seat on Rother District Council, where she was first elected in 2015, and for the last three years has served as a member of the council’s cabinet with responsibility for Culture and Tourism. In addition to her council work, she is also a magistrate. Cllr HArt contested North West Durham against Labour’s Laura Pidcock in the 2017 election. Her past ConservativeHome articles can be read here.

Cllr Anna Firth: Cllr Firth is Cabinet member for Legal and Democratic Services on Sevenoaks District Council, and a former barrister. She contested the Erith and Thamesmead constituency in the 2015 General Election, stood in the South East region in the 2019 European election, was Co-Chair of Vote Leave’s Women for Britain, and is currently Chairman of Sevenoaks Conservative Association. Her charitable work includes serving as a trustee of West Kent Mind, a mental health charity. She was a finalist in the South Cambridgeshire selection earlier this month. Her past ConservativeHome articles can be found here.

Kirsty Finlayson: A solicitor by profession, Finlayson contested East Ham for the Conservative Party at the 2017 General Election, stood in Tower Hamlets in the 2018 local elections, and was a candidate in London in the 2019 European election. She also previously worked in Parliament for Anne Milton, and is a former member of the European Youth Parliament. In her spare time, Finlayson is a Samaritans volunteer and is actively involved in the 50:50 Parliament campaign for gender equality at Westminster.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Dean Godson: There are plenty of ideas on the centre-right. Here’s how it can create a new, decent, patriotric consensus.

Dean Godson is Director of Policy Exchange.

Where next? For the last two years, British politics has been stuck in paralysis. There has been a lot of noise and clamour, but no side seems capable of creating consensus and winning broad support. That is not to say that this is a dull time in our national debate – a deep ideological contest is under way for the future of our country. It will reverberate long after Brexit, in whatever form, is complete.

It is often said today that all the intellectual energy is on the Left. But is this true? There are no leaders of the quality of Clement Attlee on the Labour benches. There are no economists or thinkers of the ilk of Anthony Crosland. Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we have people aspiring to power in this country who are proud to call themselves Marxists – including the Shadow Chancellor.

The problem is not that there is an absence of ideas on the centre-right. It is that they have yet to coalesce into a coherent vision of national renewal. Policy Exchange, for example, identified the plight of the “just about managing” classes in our country – the JAMs – in 2015. So many in the country would put themselves in this camp. But has enough really been done for them in the four years since? Do they think the state is on their side, or that the political class is fighting for them?

The election of a new Conservative Party leader is the moment – perhaps the last chance – to get this right. One of the greatest mistakes that the Tories could make is to play the only game that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is capable of – sectional, identity politics that sets different groups of voters against each other.

Last year, Policy Exchange organised a Conservative conference event with the title ‘Can the Conservatives win in Canterbury and in Middlesbrough at the same time?’ But you could ask the same question of Labour. As it stands, the UK risks being treated as if it exists in balkanised sub-electorates, each with niche interests and obsessions. The only way to electoral victory in this model is with temporarily cobbled together coalitions of rival groups.

Yet despite polarisation on Brexit and other issues, there is more agreement – and more consensus – among voters than often appears, and therefore more cause for optimism. This is not a jingoistic nation. Instead, there is a deep tissue of patriotism in the best sense of the word – a fidelity to constitution, citizenship and community – that has too often been dismissed out of hand. Policy Exchange’s polling on the Union revealed that a clear majority of people in the UK say their support for it has remained constant or has risen in recent years – 78 per cent in England, 60 per cent in Scotland, 69 per cent in Wales, 70 per cent in Northern Ireland.

There is also, among immigrant communities in the UK, a complete rejection of the gatekeeper politics that sees putatively “national” representative organisations claim to speak on behalf of millions without their consent, in the most damaging form of identity politics. Only 20 per cent of British Muslims, for example, saw themselves as represented by such organisations. Fifty-five per cent of British Muslims felt ‘very strongly’ that they belonged to Britain and 38 per cent ‘fairly strongly’ that they belonged to Britain; only seven per cent did not feel a strong sense of belonging to the UK.

Consensus can be found elsewhere. Our work on lawfare – the unfair hounding of British troops through the courts – has had huge cut-through with the British public, whose outcry on the issue has forced our political and legal establishment to wake up.

The same goes for housing, where our research was based on the simple proposition that the way to overcome opposition to building more homes – so-called Nimbyism – is to make sure they are designed in a way that fits the tastes of local communities and makes our country more beautiful. This is a vision with massive support.  Traditional terraces with tree-lined streets, for instance, are by far the most popular option for the design and style of new homes. They may be unfashionable among “starchitects” but they are supported by 48 per cent of the public, with some of the strongest support among working-class Ds and Es. And how many want housing developments or estates in a modern style? Just 28 per cent.  Our polling shows a clear majority favour traditional design over modern developments. In housing and more, the first job of the new Prime Minister is to come up with a coherent national narrative that restores our sense of direction as a country.

There is the chance for a new Unionism, not just making sure that the individual countries of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland breathe comfortably within the shared home of the United Kingdom, but also that the Union itself is to an extent reconceptualised – so that we build a union between young and old and address the challenge of generational justice. A union between newer arrivals in Britain and long-established communities, so that suspicions and enmities can be overcome. A union between those whose faith means so much for them, and others for whom faith is vestigial and whose values increasingly shape the public space.  In short, we need a new social contract for post-Brexit Britain.

Social care is one concrete policy example. It is increasingly plain to those involved in the care sector that the state should cover almost all of the costs of long-term complex social care, which can involve ruinous costs for individuals and families, particularly for those suffering from dementia in old age. It can lead to the forced sales of family homes and wipe out a lifetime of saving and hard work. This idea – effectively the completion of the Welfare State – was proposed in a recent Policy Exchange research paper and embraced, perhaps surprisingly for someone on the right of the Conservative Party, by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who argued in the foreword that “It is far better to pool risk and for the taxpayer, where appropriate, to step in and help those who would face ruinous costs on their own, making social care largely free at the point of use.” He is surely right.

Where else could the next Prime Minister discover a quiet majority? On the environment, perhaps, where there are strong arguments to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 – with support especially high among the young. On investment in R & D and industry, especially in the North East, which could become a leader in the high-value, green economy. Certainly, on protecting British troops from pernicious forms of lawfare, which has high levels of support because of the obvious injustices involved. On education, too, where our polling revealed that poor pupil behaviour is driving teachers from the profession and undermining children’s education – 72 per cent of teachers know a colleague who has “left the teaching profession because of bad behaviour”. On countering extremism online, 74 per cent think that the big internet companies should be more proactive in locating and deleting extremist content, with 66 per cent of people believing that the internet should be a regulated space.

There is more thinking to be done across all policy areas – People, Prosperity, Place and Patriotism, as Policy Exchange’s work is organised – as a new Prime Minister is chosen. With that in mind, we will be publishing a series of proposals under these themes in the forthcoming weeks, which will seek to answer the question: what do we want from the next Prime Minister? We will also be hosting a series of events, including one in partnership with ConservativeHome, on electoral politics, housing, the economy, education, energy and the environment, lawfare and the rise of China. Only by hunting out areas of existing consensus will the next Prime Minister be able to start bringing the country together and healing the divides of last few years.

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Citizens of nowhere? Or citizens of somewhere? Who should the Conservatives be targetting? Our joint event with Policy Exchange.

“It is increasingly clear that the most significant social divisions in most Western societies today run along identity faultlines.” – Trevor Phillips, ConservativeHome, June 6 2019.

– – –

Perhaps the Conservatives are sometimes polling at under 20 per cent is because they didn’t know who their voters were in the first place.

Who can and should the next Tory leader appeal to? “Citizens of somewhere?”  “Citizens of nowhere?” Both?  Or doesn’t that work?  Or are these categories wrong in the first place?

Or to ask the question another way: where should the Conservatives campaign?

Are they best off pitching to voters in southern seats that they traditionally hold – like Canterbury, which was lost at the last election?

Or should they now push their case in other parts of the country, where they have usually been much weaker – in constituencies like North East Deryshire, gained by the Party against the electoral tide in 2017?

ConservativeHome and Policy Exchange will be exploring these questions at a joint event on Tuesday June 18.

Our panel of four will address the question: can the Conservatives win in Canterbury and Middlesbrough at the same time?

They will be: Lynton Crosby, formerly the Conservative Party’s campaign director. Andrew Feldman, the former Conservative Party Chairman.  Ben Houchen, Mayor of Teesside.  And Amber Rudd, Work and Pensions Secretary.

The event will be livestreamed via the Policy Exchange website and this one on Tuesday June 18 from 13.00 to 14.00.

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Greig Baker: Why Conservatives in Canterbury have lost faith in May

Greig Baker is the Chairman of the Canterbury Conservatives Association.

At a Special General Meeting on Wednesday night, the Canterbury Conservatives passed a series of important motions regarding our aspirations for our party.

We have decided to act now for three reasons.

First, we have brilliant candidates standing in our local elections next week who offer experience from charities, local businesses, the public sector, special forces, the local student body, and more besides. They do not deserve to suffer because of public anger with national politics. While Westminster chases its own tail, our local candidates are working to balance the Council’s books, clean our beaches, and build a new hospital in Canterbury.

Second, we believe that true Conservative values are more important – and more popular – than ever before. People just want to hear about them. We are determined to keep setting out our stall and find the Conservative supporters in every part of our community (knocking one myth on the head, we have four Canterbury undergraduate students standing for us next week). We don’t just want to be members of the Conservative Party – we want to be proud of it.

And third, we want to help restore trust in politics. It is taking a right bashing at the moment so we will make a stand. If people are to keep faith in our political system, politicians need to honour democratic decisions and the promises they make.

So, three reasons to act and three goals: support great Conservative candidates; promote Conservative values; and restore trust. At our Special General Meeting we agreed a motion to help achieve each of these.

The first motion states:

“The Association will publish our statement of principles. The Canterbury Conservative Party declares that:

    • We will help those who need help most, first;
    • We will promote opportunity;
    • We will encourage responsibility;
    • We will protect freedom;
    • We will defend democracy.”

What do these principles mean in practise? We know that true Conservative values are the best way to help the people who need help most. The rich and the powerful can look after themselves, so we want to focus on everyone else.

We will always try to reduce the burden of the state so people can spend their time and effort on helping their families, communities, and country. We support laws that hold people responsible for anti-social behaviour and crimes that damage community life. As long as no-one is being hurt, we will also challenge the state’s right to tell people what to do, what to say, and what to think. And we will demand that politicians always honour democratic decisions – and that includes delivering Brexit.

The second motion states:

“The Association will open our parliamentary candidate selection immediately to choose a candidate who is, or will be, on the Conservatives’ Approved Candidates List.”

We need a parliamentary candidate. If we are going to work our socks off to get them elected – and we will – local members must have a say over who it is.

We appreciate that, in recent years, this process has been announced by CCHQ. We also understand that, in the unlikely event that proposed boundary reforms go through, the constituency would be affected. We want to work with the national party to get the best person for the job and we want to start the process now.

The third motion states:

“The Association endorses the Chair’s position regarding a no-confidence motion in Theresa May at a meeting of the National Convention.”

This position is taken somberly and as a necessary measure to restore trust in our national politics.

All three of these motions were carried by an overwhelming majority. Being a member of the party is about more than delivering leaflets – our local Conservative party is taking the initiative, standing up for true Conservative values and looking to the future.

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The list of Conservative Associations which passed the pro-Brexit AGM motion

Here is a list of the Conservative Associations which have passed the National Convention’s pro-Brexit motion at their Annual General Meetings:


Birmingham Hall Green


Chingford and Woodford Green

Clwyd South

Corby and East Northamptonshire

East Ham

Esher and Walton



Hertford and Stortford

Mid Bedfordshire

North East Somerset

North Tyneside




Rayleigh and Wickford

Rochester and Strood

South East Cornwall


Torridge and West Devon


In addition, tweaked versions of the motion have been passed in:



Tunbridge Wells

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