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Friday, 23rd March 2018

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How students in Canterbury ended over 100 years of Tory rule

At Thursday’s General Election, in seats across the country, students and young people mobilised to oust right wing politicians and secure gains for the Labour Party. One of the most spectacular successes was in Canterbury, where students mobilised in force to win the seat for Labour for the first time ever. University of Kent student activist Douglas Carr was central to the campaign on campus and explains what happened.

Douglas Carr

By Douglas Carr
Ethics Officer for Kent Union, President of UKC Student Assembly Against Austerity and Disabilities Officer for Kent Labour Students 2016/17

In a night full of many shocks and celebration, one of the most surprising results of the 2017 General Election took place in the seat of Canterbury. It held the world record for the constituency governed by the same party for the longest period of time – but not anymore. On June 8, Canterbury was taken by Labour off the Conservatives, and now, this quaint, posh, historical city, is now a socialist hotbed. The people of Canterbury and Whitstable have embraced the ideas of Corbyn and McDonnell – renationalisation of our public services, free tuition, and higher corporation tax. For 30 years, the seat was held by Julian Brazier – a man so right wing that UKIP decided not to stand because their own beliefs were so similar. Brazier, despite representing a university seat, had no concern for poorer students unable to afford to live in his city, no care for the amount of debt students have to put themselves in so that they can study, and has consistently voted against pro-LGBT measures in Parliament. Not only that, but Brazier supported Bills that would have severely limited women’s ability to have abortions. Furthermore, on 14 different occasions, Brazier consistently voted to make it harder for those unable to work due to illness or disability to claim benefits. Rosie Duffield’s victory in Canterbury is a stunning win for equal rights, the disabled, and free education, and it would not have been possible if not for the dedication the Kent and Canterbury Christ Church student campaigns, and Jeremy Corbyn’s overwhelmingly popular policies.

I voted for Labour in my first election at the age of 18 in 2015, but nowhere near with the same amount of enthusiasm as I did on Thursday. Corbyn has given me and a record number of students a reason to have hope – making education free and accessible to all, raising the minimum wage, and capping rents. In Canterbury, student accommodation prices have skyrocketed, being the second most expensive outside of London. At the University of Kent, we were the first institution to raise our fees to £9,250. The pundits and the establishment were wrong – students are not lazy and complacent. Instead, we turned out in droves to kick the Conservatives, who have hurt students for so long, out of our constituency. I, along with my university Labour club, went round the accommodation blocks around campus to encourage people to register to vote. It was because of this that Canterbury had the sixth highest new voter registration in the country. When the deadline passed, myself, with a number of diverse students, some having never voted Labour before, knocked on every door on campus, and every door in the city.

Kent Labour students

Never in my life had I seen young people so engaged and enthusiastic about politics, and even older constituents believed that it was time for a change. The main motivating factor for this is that the only hospital in Canterbury is being shut down. This is not a class issue. When you’re in a medical emergency, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor – you better hope the ambulance can get you to the hospital almost an hour away outside of town in time. For the elderly, much like Theresa May’s dementia tax, this was the last straw, and not only did Labour win the seat, they gained the council ward by-election seat as well. The fact that Labour’s majority in Canterbury is less than 200, and the queues seen at the university’s polling station, shows the significance of the student vote in gaining the seat.

Turnout for those aged 18-24 was 72%. This is an extremely high percentage and it shows that the young are not willingly disengaged from politics. Instead, if a party is offering genuine change and solutions for the problems that we face, we will fight for it tooth and nail. Jeremy Corbyn and his policies are responsible for this increase in young votes. With the momentum that the Labour party now has and with students fired up and ready to overthrow the establishment that locks us in debt, I can definitely see victory for us in the next election. However, it can only happen if we are mobilised and ready to take to the streets and campaign. It is how students won Canterbury, and it’s how we can win 10 Downing Street.

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