Chrisine Tongue

Thanet: bucking the narrative

Chrisine Tongue

CANDIDATES FOR THANET DISTRICT Council achieved the Labour Party’s best result in the country. Labour went from five to 20 councillors - just six short of being the single biggest party. But, on the day, listening to what the BBC was telling us, this seemed to be an impossible result.

Just four years ago Thanet was targeted by Nigel Farage, had a UKIP council, elected an MP who is a leading Brexiteer and voted heavily for Brexit. Going by the media, all this would surely guarantee that Labour (along with the Tories) was in for a hammering at the expense of the smaller parties and independents.

But, no, Labour did fantastically well. The Tories won an extra three seats. UKIP was totally wiped out. A so-called ‘independent’ group of breakaway Kippers lost big time and only one proper non-Kipper, independent candidate got elected. The Lib Dems came nowhere.

The only party here which went with the media’s narrative were the Greens who went from nothing to three.

So what explains this exceptional result? Well, maybe it isn’t so exceptional. Maybe the media just got their narrative wrong.

Local factors are always more difficult for London-centred journalists to deal with – and are easy to turn a blind eye to. I believe the two local factors behind Labour’s success here were the NHS and UKIP.

The NHS: Labour is still seen as the party of the NHS. Our local hospital stroke unit is under threat of closure and our Save Our NHS in Kent group has been campaigning hard to keep it open. Significantly five of our new councillors have been in the front line in the campaign.

The Kippers: People who voted for UKIP in 2015 have become disillusioned after seeing them in action – or, more accurately, inaction. The Kippers couldn’t do what they promised to do – mainly open our closed airport – or anything else. Now austerity and cuts have brought many UKIP voters back to Labour.

What’s most remarkable is that Thanet Labour has achieved its success despite two problems inflicted on us from outside.

One was the expulsion of Jackie Walker, formerly our vice-chair. The other was the refusal of the NEC to endorse our parliamentary candidate, Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt. Despite this, Rebecca’s campaigning undoubtedly contributed to our success. Just think what we might have done if we hadn’t had these terrible and unnecessary blows.

Thanet South Labour Party