Pulling off one of the most remarkable election wins of recent history has placed Canterbury’s new MP Rosie Duffield firmly in the spotlight. In an exclusive interview, INDEX talks to the area’s first-ever Labour representative on championing some of the city’s most pressing issues
Delivering a seismic shock in June’s snap General Election, a century of unbroken Conservative dominance was dramatically brought to a close in the city of Canterbury.
With its incumbent MP Sir Julian Brazier having only recently been knighted earlier this year, few had predicted his seat was anything other than safe.
However, the city’s Labour candidate Rosie Duffield fought a well-focused campaign supported by a large percentage of its sizeable student population. Though they turned out in force to back her, there were many factors for her election – including many who had offered major concerns over Brexit at the referendum.
There was also a notable issue of changing demographics as well, with younger voters recently moved to the area after being priced out of London’s housing market being judged to have found Labour’s policies of social support more appealing than a Conservative campaign fixated on leaving the EU, and a perceived need to continue austerity measures.
As a result of her historic win, the 46-year-old single parent found herself in the national media spotlight as her party polled far better than the vast majority of analysts, including Labour’s pollsters, had dared predict.
“It was a complete shock to have won. People like me don’t often get to be in parliament – from being a single parent teaching assistant one minute, to sitting opposite Theresa May the next,” enthused Rosie modestly on her achievement that was just one of a number of results ensuring the slim Conservative majority in parliament was eclipsed, with a Tory minority only able to hold on to its grasp on government through an alliance with Northern Ireland’s DUP party.
Recalling her unexpected moment of triumph, which overturned a Conservative majority of nearly 10,000 votes, Rosie added: “On the night, we thought we might be able to dent the Conservative majority a little. But when it came to the counting and we realised there were a few hundred votes in it, and that we might have won, it was just such a shock – it still is.”
The city’s new MP conceded that her party “hadn’t seen the election coming” and she had initially planned to use it as a learning curve for her fledgling political experiences.
As she admits, despite having chaired Canterbury Labour Party for the past four years and campaigned on environmental and social issues, her one previous experience standing for office on the city council back in 2015 was unsuccessful.
“We are still looking at the data around the election, but it’s true that students did help us win the campaign and helped other young people register, but that didn’t account for the full swing towards us.
“There were a lot of people who had previously voted Conservative who were concerned about Brexit and didn’t want a government stuck on a ‘hard Brexit’.
“There were also Green Party voters who believed that we were going in the right direction with our environmental issues who also got behind us.
“While traditionally Canterbury is seen as a well-off constituency, I think people have a social conscience and can see that some people in the area are suffering, which affected the vote,”
The newly-elected MP says the process of being in parliament is “still all very new” in her first month in office. While she admits there’s a fairly steep learning curve, she is quickly acquainting herself with its particular quirks.
Though under no illusion of the array of challenging tasks ahead, the opportunity for her to play her part in politics on a national stage is something she has long sought.
“I’d wanted to be in parliament since I was a child and it’s something I thought I would always love to do. But living in Canterbury, it’s not something I thought would ever happen, and that it was just a daydream.
“You see some people here with property portfolios – but I have had trouble buying a place of my own in my own constituency, so it’s a real culture shock,” adds the MP.
In terms of life away from politics, she says that her two teenage sons, Jasper, 14, and Toby, 18, have been particularly proud of her achievement, but being typical teenagers they’ve plenty of their own pre-occupations to focus on.
“With my boys being in their teens, childcare is not so much of an issue, but if I had young children, even though there is now a creche in Parliament, I think it would be a hard thing to manage.”
However, a third of Parliament is now made up of women, so things are changing.
“I have had contact with the 50:50 Parliamentary group, which is working towards an equal amount of women represented in the House of Commons – with 50% of the population being women.”
As for her immediate priorities, she says there are a number of vital matters she intends to take up.
“Hospital services are one of the main things that people have been in contact with me about – especially as we don’t have an ambulance service that stops at Kent and Canterbury hospital, so things are tough. I am also concerned about the impact Brexit will have on our economy, which is a huge worry, and there are a lot of people who are suffering out there over PIP (personal independence payments) assessments, as well as receiving a lot of letters about mental health concerns, which are all issues of national importance,” adds London-born Rosie, who has lived in the Canterbury area for the past 20 years and says it has been a fantastic place for her family.
“There are so many good things about being in Canterbury, there are the area’s fantastic beaches and villages, it’s a very caring kind of place.
“Everyone knows it for its historic centre and people have a good lifestyle here,” enthuses the Labour MP, who says she has plenty of causes to campaign for within the course of this Parliament – however long or short it turns out to be with many observers predicting yet another general election looming in the near future.