Fighting for South Thanet
THANET IS THE EASTERNMOST part of Kent. Surrounded by sea on three sides, opportunities are limited. Poverty is entrenched, and more than 50,000 people (around 40% of the population) live in the most deprived conditions in the country.
The grammar school system persists in the Garden of England, branding children a success or failure at the age of eleven. Secondary schools serving estates are undersubscribed and deemed to be failing, in large part due to government insistence on academic performance indicators at the expense of vocational training vital to coastal communities. What little work exists is often low paid and seasonal. There is inadequate social housing, forcing people into poor quality, precarious accommodation in the private rented sector.
Thanet is split into two constituencies, both of which are presided over by Conservatives. To the north is Sir Roger Gale, who has held the seat since 1983. To the south is Craig Mackinlay, former deputy leader of UKIP, parachuted in to stand for the Tories against Nigel Farage in 2015.
Despite being a chartered accountant and justice of the peace, Mackinlay has found himself on the wrong side of an election expense fraud case that will return to court on 14th May. Even more reprehensively, Mackinlay has voted consistently against the interests of his most deprived constituents, supporting reductions in welfare benefits no fewer than 23 times and blocking a recent Labour Party motion to provide free school meals to the children of all universal credit recipients regardless of income. A significant proportion of his parliamentary energies have been used to campaign for a new lottery to fund a £120m royal yacht!
Having reached political maturity during the New Labour years, I situated myself to the left of the Labour Party, scrutinising policy and legislation and protesting against neo-liberalism, austerity and illegal wars. When Ed Miliband made his leadership bid, I was living in Cuba, writing a book about the social and cultural gains of the revolution. In July 2015, I became a registered supporter of the Labour Party with the specific purpose of helping to elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader. At the end of the same year, I applied successfully for a post as researcher to Lord Howarth of Newport, a Labour peer and former MP.
When the South Thanet selection process was announced, I was persuaded by trusted friends that my perspective - that of the unaffiliated left which flooded into the party to support Corbyn - was not represented by others on the likely shortlist. National Momentum had endorsed a candidate months before I decided to stand, and Momentum Thanet decided against endorsing anyone for fear of splitting the left. However, several local members took it upon themselves to set up a Momentum for Rebeccca Facebook page.
A genuinely non-hierarchical team soon coalesced around the campaign, including some people who had worked together to see off Farage and some who had never met. Our team spanned both Thanet CLPs. Our core strengths were campaigning, policy, publicity and social media. My role was to speak to as many members as possible during the three weeks in which we had access to membership lists - a membership that had swollen five-fold since the last open selection.
What won it for us was that we embody the new kind of politics advocated by Jeremy Corbyn. We reject personality politics in favour of a movement, and we believe that people should be involved in the decisions that affect their lives. We are committed to applying the Labour Party manifesto to our local situation and going beyond it where necessary.
We plan to continue developing a local economic plan, instigated by John McDonnell when he visited Thanet in 2015, so that we are well placed to argue for a proportionate share of the National Investment Fund. We want to conduct a Thanet-wide survey of housing need and affordability, so that we can ensure that this need is met in a genuinely affordable way. Having been at the forefront of demands to protect vital services at our local hospital, we will continue to fight for a world class health and social care service. This will require even greater investment than the manifesto suggests and the plugging of PFI gaps.
We are committed to education and culture as routes out of poverty, and we believe that everyone should have access to creativity for the sake of their health and wellbeing. We have our work cut out with a Tory majority of 6,387 to overturn but we have mobilised an amazing group of members and supporters that will win South Thanet for Labour.