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Kent general election: The Ashford constituency and the candidates standing

Ashford is traditionally as blue as they come, with the Conservatives holding the constituency for all but three of the 139 years since it was formed.

And for the last 50 just two MPs have been in the hot seat – Keith Speed, who was first elected in 1974, and his successor in 1997, Damian Green, whose name will once again be on the ballot paper on July 4.

Park Mall in Ashford town centre
Park Mall in Ashford town centre

But 68-year-old Mr Green, whose majority increased from 5,345 to more than 24,000 in 2019, is set to face his stiffest challenge yet, with Labour’s Sojan Joseph ahead in the polls.

They’ll face off in a new-look constituency covering far less ground than it used to following a major shake-up. A review by the Boundary Commission for England has led to the county's constituencies being changed to ensure each MP represents roughly the same number of voters.

The single Ashford parliamentary constituency has now been split between two – Ashford and a brand new seat called the Weald of Kent.

The reconfigured Ashford region has an electorate of 73,546 people - compared to 94,054 previously.

As a result, a very different election awaits residents across the borough. Places such as Tenterden, Benenden and Cranbrook will now fall under the umbrella of the Weald of Kent, rather than Ashford.

A map of the new Ashford constituency
A map of the new Ashford constituency


Meanwhile, 24 out of Ashford's 39 borough council wards, plus towns such as Hawkinge on the outskirts of Folkestone, will fall within the new Ashford constituency.

The move has largely urbanised the seat, potentially playing into Labour’s hands. At the very least, Mr Green is under more threat during this election cycle than at any point since his inaugural win 27 years ago.

An attempt last year to become the Tory candidate for the new Weald of Kent seat could also go against him, with the move ultimately blocked by local party members.

He’ll be hoping the fall in the Tory vote at last May’s local elections is not a sign of things to come, as the party relinquished overall control of Ashford Borough Council (ABC). Their loss of four seats meant the local authority had no party holding a majority.

Results did see them remain the largest group though, with 19 seats, trailed by Labour with 11, the Ashford Independents with nine, and the Greens with eight.

A higher turnout is expected in July, when national issues come into play, with housing, healthcare, transport and immigration all hot topics.

Operation Brock in place on the M20 between junctions 8 and 9. Pic: Andy Jones
Operation Brock in place on the M20 between junctions 8 and 9. Pic: Andy Jones

Such issues are likely to be on the minds of Ashfordians - many of whom have voiced their fears over the increasing number of properties being built in the likes of Willesborough, Kennington, Hamstreet and the town centre.

The Conservatives' 2019 pledge to build 300,000 new homes each year across the country by the mid-2020s - including 1,000 a month in Kent - has, ultimately, seen a number of so-called "concrete jungles" given the green light across the constituency.

Budget cuts have also been blamed as patients face long waiting times for both doctor's appointments and to be seen in the A&E department at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.

Further worries surrounding illegal immigration just 20 miles down the road in Dover could also prove a factor, as well as the ongoing uncertainty around Operation Brock and the prospect of three years of the M20 scheme continuing.

Voters will also be keen to hear what candidates have to say about securing the return of Eurostar services to Ashford International.

The Greens, Lib Dems and Reform UK could take votes from the two frontrunners in equal measure, but third place is likely to be the best they can hope for.

Should Ashford declare its results early on results day, a win for Mr Joseph and the Labour Party will almost certainly foreshadow what is likely to be a huge red majority in Westminster.

The candidates for Ashford are:

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