Canterbury candidates to debate on University of Kent campus

Kent Union is to hold a debate prior to next month’s general election featuring local parliamentary candidates, InQuire can reveal.

The students’ union is to hold a hustings with all of the parliamentary candidates for Canterbury, Whitstable and Surrounding villages on 5 December.

The debate will be held in Sibson Lecture Theatre, starting at 6pm.

Last week, Labour looked to have been given an electoral lifeline in Canterbury by the Liberal Democrats after their candidate unexpectedly withdrew their ticket at next month’s General Election.

Tim Walker, the party’s prospective parliamentary hopeful, announced the news in an article for the Guardian saying that he wanted to give Rosie Duffield, the incumbent Labour and Co-operative MP, the best chance of winning the seat.

The former Telegraph journalist said that he was sceptical of his candidacy as it may risk splitting and “dividing the Remainers”, granting Conservative candidate and Brexiteer Anna Firth victory in the process.

Now a freelance reporter for the pro-EU newspaper The New European, Walker was worried at the prospect of Firth, a former Vote Leave staffer, taking Duffield’s seat in the House of Commons – calling it a “nightmare” scenario.

He added: “I don’t trust Corbyn on Brexit, but I share with many members of my party locally a visceral dread of the Commons being filled with people like Firth. Trying to stop that happening is now more important than ever, given Nigel Farage’s unholy alliance with Johnson.

“I’ve therefore asked that my local party withdraws my nomination papers to stand for Canterbury. Politics does not always have to be grubby and small-minded; sometimes it’s possible to acknowledge there’s something at stake that’s more important than party politics and do something that seems right.”

“The nightmare that kept me awake was standing awkwardly at the count beside a vanquished Duffield as the Tory Brexiter raised her hands in triumph. I wanted no part in that.”

However, during the eleventh hour of the candidacy delegation deadline, the party parachuted a replacement candidate in – Claire Malcomson, a district councillor in Dorking, Surrey.

The last-minute delegation has caused a rift among local party ranks. Local activists are rumoured to be uninterested in volunteering during the campaign trail.

One Lib Dem source admitted: “I think most activists would campaign in other seats rather than Canterbury. The poor unfortunate who is imposed will not find themselves in a very happy position. They will be met with, at best, ambivalence, at worst outright negativity.”

The party, along with Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, have announced an electoral pact, called the ‘Remain Alliance’. The three groups have agreed not to stand against each other in 60 seats in England and Wales, including Canterbury.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has declined to take part in any pacts, while the Lib Dem leader, Jo Swinson, has been fervidly critical of the Islington North MP, saying she could not back him as prime minister.

The Garden of England is one of a number of marginal Labour-held constituencies. Ms Duffield, an ex-teaching assistant and mother-of-two, is currently defending a tiny majority of 187 in a seat she sensationally snatched from Sir Julian Brazier two years ago.

The 49-year-old has been a vocal critic of Brexit and has been urging her party’s executives to endorse a ‘People’s Vote’ on Britain’s membership of the European Union since taking office.

The constituency voted 51% in favour of leaving the EU in the Brexit referendum in 2016. However, a survey conducted by polling company Survation last year found that the city would vote to remain if there was a second referendum, with only 46% of respondents saying they would vote to leave the second time around.

On Monday, Nigel Farage, the Brexit Party leader, announced that he will be pulling candidates out of Kent constituencies won by the Tories at the last General Election amid growing pressure from Brexiteers. Mr Farage said there was a risk that in standing in every seat in the country it could lead to a hung Parliament.

Canterbury was to be the only battleground where the Brexit Party would be on the ballot paper – with Owen Prew as their candidate – as Farage, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the South-East of England, told delegates in Hartlepool: "We will concentrate our efforts into every seat held by Labour and the rest of the remainer parties.”

However, Prew, a management consultant from Thanet, unexpectedly withdrew his nomination because he wanted to thwart 'Marxist' Jeremy Corbyn and couldn’t risk remaining inside the European Union, an open letter revealed. He also told voters to “go out on the streets and campaign in this election” and to vote for the party he duly left.

Many supporters have branded Farage a “traitor” for not giving voters the option of a clean-break ‘no-deal’ Brexit, as the party is beginning to show signs of disunification.

Ed Hall, who was to stand in Dover and Deal, said: "It makes strategic sense but that does not make it any less disappointing for passionate supporters in Dover and Deal that a clean-break Brexit option won’t now be on the ballot paper."