We know this election has been astoundingly dirty and dishonest nationally but how have candidates conducted themselves on the Faversham and Mid Kent campaign trail? Have they followed the examples, good or bad, of their national party leadership?
In Helen Whately’s case, the answer is a resounding yes. Helen wins the prize for the single most cynical ploy for her phoney “Save The Magna Carta” petition. After our Lib Dem town councillors had patiently explained to every newspaper in the land that they have absolutely no intention of selling the Magna Carta. Helen quickly got up an online petition to ‘save’ the document from the non-existent threat in a bid to capitalise on the non-story. Appalled constituents who took to Facebook to condemn the tactic found their comments rapidly deleted from Helen’s Facebook page and calls for her to apologise ignored.
Helen has form on the fake news front. Early in the election campaign she was busted on air by the BBC’s live fact checker for spouting made-up figures in a TV interview. Politics Live presenter Jo Coburn accused our MP of “spreading fake news” by claiming that the Labour Party’s spending pledges would cost the UK £1.2 trillion before the party had even published a manifesto.
Just a few days before Conservative ex-chair Sayeeda Warsi said her own party is ‘institutionally racist’ and had “failed to tackle racism at any level”, who should join Helen under her smart official campaign gazebo in Faversham’s Market Place but Andrew “Tommy Robinson” Bowles, the disgraced former Tory leader of Swale Borough Council. Bowles achieved national notoriety earlier this year when he retweeted support for Stephen Yaxley-Lennon — alias Islamophobic hate-slinger “Tommy Robinson” — and was subsequently booted out by voters in local elections. Yaxley-Lennon has since endorsed Boris Johnson.
But sadly, the Conservatives aren’t the only party guilty of questionable judgement. Unlike Labour and the Conservatives, who both wisely suspended campaigning for the morning, the Lib Dems decided to employ a photographer to take publicity shots of MEP Antony Hook and candidate Hannah Perkin during the Faversham Remembrance Parade. Turning the event into a party photo-op cost the Lib Dems considerable respect locally. They will soon find out if it has cost them votes.
Lib Dems also drew criticism for their election pamphlets misrepresenting the contest here as a two-horse race with a tactical vote for them the only way to avoid Brexit. But even a cursory glance at previous general election results reveals the odds of a Lib Dem win here in the Faversham constituency are about the same as those of a Lib Dem government: in other words, about as likely as a speed boat made of cheese. In the last two general elections Lib Dems claimed just six percent of the vote, while Labour’s share rose from 16 percent in 2015 to 26 percent in 2017.
Yet their campaign kicked off with leaflets proclaiming “It’s Remain with Lib Dems or Brexit here” and featuring graphs predicting a Lib Dem vote share of 22.6 percent with the Brexit Party on 44.6 percent. These projections were made by University of London professor Chris Hanretty using figures from May’s European elections. But there’s a problem: Prof Hanretty himself admitted the figures “tell us almost nothing about future general elections” because “European Parliament elections are different from Westminster elections in many ways”.
Furthermore, there is no Brexit Party candidate standing in Faversham and Mid Kent. After none other than Donald Trump instructed Nigel Farage to “work with Boris” live on the Brexit Party leader’s LBC radio show, Farage pulled his candidates from Tory majority constituencies to avoid splitting the Leave vote. They included local Brexit Party hopeful Graeme Jenkins – a fleet manager for a Japanese car manufacturer – who was ordered to stand down, leaving Faversham’s hard Brexiteers with Johnson’s flaccid offering as their only voting option. It’s not known if Nigel ever refunded Graeme’s £100 entry fee.
By far the most disturbing aspect of the local election campaign so far is the anonymous and cowardly intimidation of Lib Dem candidate Hannah Perkin and her young family. Remain supporter Hannah received a threat to burn down her house, written on a campaign leaflet, soon after she was subject to abusive Tweets from a far-right political group. It echoed a similarly repellant incident in the run up to May’s local elections when a Lib Dem member’s car was vandalised with swastika graffiti.
A Green Hustings event in a packed Guildhall organised by Swale Friends of the Earth gave the town’s voters a chance to grill candidates on the environment. Four out of five of them anyway. The fifth name on the ballot, ex-National Front activist Gary Butler from Maidstone stayed away. Presumably the only environment Gary cares about is a Hostile Environment.
With the Conservative’s track record on environmental issues, not to mention her own voting record, this was never going to be an easy evening for Helen Whately and she appeared visibly uncomfortable. When her unintentionally hilarious assertion that “Boris is genuinely committed to buses” brought the house down, the campaign smiles dropped momentarily, betraying a flash of anger.
First time parliamentary candidates Lib Dem Hannah Perkin and Labour’s Jenny Reeves both gave good accounts of themselves and their parties. But the Greens’ Hannah Temple stole the show. Even allowing for an already sympathetic audience, Hannah showed herself to be a compelling speaker with a sharp mind who had clearly done her homework, notably on her Conservative opponent’s fossil fuel industry links.