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General Election 2019: On Canterbury campaign trail with Labour's Rosie Duffield and Conservative Anna Firth

In this election, it's not just a chilly reception on the doorstep that canvassers fear - but plummeting temperatures too. KentOnline's Jack Dyson joined the Labour and Conservative candidates braving the cold as they fight for every last vote...

As the pale blue November sky begins to darken, a smiling Rosie Duffield is stood on a voter’s doorstep in Canterbury, clasping her hands for warmth.

Rosie Duffield says she is "cautiously optimistic" ahead of the poll
Rosie Duffield says she is "cautiously optimistic" ahead of the poll

The incumbent Labour MP for Canterbury weaves her charm – chatting, joking and laughing with the woman.

Rosie has another vote secured; a former Lib Dem with a fierce dislike for Boris Johnson says she will be voting Labour.

Wrapped in a thick grey scarf and her mother’s duvet coat, the candidate is canvassing in St Augustine’s Road, which appears to be home territory for the 48-year-old.

The leafy street is lined with towering red-brick homes, several of which have Labour and Remain signs hammered into their lawns or stuck on their windows.

About an hour earlier, I had met the canvassers at the junction between Pilgrims Road and Spring Lane. I was greeted by city councillor Dave Wilson, former head teacher Sheena MacDonald and education consultant Huw Kyffin.

Sheena MacDonald, Dave Wilson and Huw Kyffin
Sheena MacDonald, Dave Wilson and Huw Kyffin

Having campaigned earlier that day, their spirits were high.

“Rosie’s a great asset,” Huw, 72, said keenly.

“There are quite a lot of people who may not necessarily be natural Labour voters, but her likeability is enormous.

“Particularly with the things she’s said about domestic violence, there’s been a real response to that.”

Huw, Sheena and an activist from Thanet later peeled off from the rest of us to doorstep voters in Spring Lane.

Sticking with us are Rosie’s aide, Suzanne Bold, and outspoken Cllr Wilson. The latter, clad in a heavy raincoat and thick black jumper with a red rosette pinned to his chest, is stood studying a purple clipboard.

“We get these sheets off the electoral roll,” the 63-year-old explains with his finger hovering over the pile of papers.

“The people on it are filtered by past canvasses that we’ve gone on, so we know if they’re Labour or not.

“They’re also filtered by an algorithm that says they’re likely to be in the category of people who might vote for us.”

Suzanne Bold, Dave Wilson and Rosie Duffield deciding where to canvas next
Suzanne Bold, Dave Wilson and Rosie Duffield deciding where to canvas next

He reels off the numbers of two potential Labour-voting households to Suzanne.

They rush over to the properties and knock on the doors as Rosie waits at the end of the driveways.

“They might not want to see me,” she explains.

“If someone says, ‘I don’t wanna talk to politicians’, I don’t want to be in their face.

“But other times I may just knock on the door myself, it just depends. People are genuinely really nice in Canterbury – you don’t get abuse here. Everything has shown that we should be cautiously optimistic and we’re getting great feedback.

“People are being lovely, but it’s a horrible time of year to go out and vote; you can’t just assume it’s going to be okay on election day…”

Her words drift off as she sees Suzanne is waving her over to an open door.

Stood inside are Malcolm Andrews and Kristin Wade.

Labour supporters Malcolm Andrews and Kristin Wade
Labour supporters Malcolm Andrews and Kristin Wade

The pair, aged 77 and 70, proclaim: “We want Labour here and we want it nationally. We’ve got quite a lot of Labour supporters on this road.”

But their voices become tinged with concern when they mention the throngs of students expected to leave Canterbury for an early Christmas.

“They’ll still be around,” Rosie insists. “A lot of them will be voting through the post. We just need to make sure they’re all registered.”

By now, my chin is tucked into my coat and my hands are rooted to the bottom of my pockets as I try to avoid the biting cold.

'People are being lovely, but it’s a horrible time of year to go out and vote; you can’t just assume it’s going to be okay on election day' - Rosie Duffield

With my nose running and teeth chattering, I follow Dave up to another door. It opens before he has the chance to ring its bell.

“Are you with Labour?” asks a voice through the aperture. “You’ve got two votes here.”

After an hour of canvassing, the campaigners have predominantly knocked on the doors of empty houses and spoken to a paltry number of residents.

And as they reach New Dover Road, the trio decide to call it a day.

Before Rosie is whisked away to a photo opportunity, she asks Suzanne if I could join them for another canvassing session in a less secure area.

Her adviser meets the suggestion with a disapproving glance as she hurriedly says: “We’ll see.”


The next day, Jack joined Conservative candidate Anna Firth on the campaign trail...

Anna Firth and canvassers at the start of their rounds
Anna Firth and canvassers at the start of their rounds

All is quiet in Bridge. The cold slices against my skin as I stand in the centre of a street encircled by identical houses.

Suddenly, former city council leader Simon Cook scurries off around a corner.

He is followed by four other Conservative activists. The sound of their shoes clapping against the pavement is punctuated by knocking on doors, clattering of letterboxes and a series of hellos.

Seconds earlier, they had received their instructions from mop-haired organiser Ed Parsons.

Conservative campaign manager Ed Parsons
Conservative campaign manager Ed Parsons

The 27-year-old, wearing a blue hi-vis jacket and a dazzling miner’s lamp strapped to his forehead, had studied his clipboard before coolly reeling off a list of house numbers.

Stood next to me, parliamentary candidate Anna Firth looks on as the campaigners return to report their voting intentions.

As we walk further, the pattern is repeated; Ed reads out the door numbers of potential Tory voters and the campaigners march towards the houses.

This time I follow Anna through a metal gate towards an empty-looking property. After her taps against the door fail to rouse activity inside, she pulls a pen from her pocket and starts scribbling on a campaign flier.

“What I do is write a little note to them,” the former investment banker says.

“I just put, ‘I’m really sorry to miss you’ and give a personal signature. I think it’s nice for people to know I really do want to talk them.”

Among the Conservative canvassers is 75-year-old David Cockburn: “Like the port wine – but not my family, unfortunately,” he says.

Canvasser David Cockburn
Canvasser David Cockburn

Wearing a flat cap, gloves and a blue waterproof coat, the former pharmaceutical worker tells me plainly that he is campaigning in order to scotch Jeremy Corbyn’s hopes of entering 10 Downing Street.

“If he does, I shall have to go to Canada,” he adds.

“It’s the sensible thing to do. I’m old enough to remember the 70s and how bad it was then.

“I met Boris [Johnson] once and got the impression of a shy man who compensates by being a joker. He’s manifestly no fool.”

We reach the end of narrow Riverside Close.

An elderly woman emerges from one of the tentatively opened doors.

Anna, dressed head to toe in blue, cries: “Hello, good evening to you. I’m Anna Firth.”

Instead of being surprised by the visit, 82-year-old Marilyn O’Donnell beckons us in and introduces us to her partner Gerrard, 89.

Marilyn and Gerrard O’Donnell
Marilyn and Gerrard O’Donnell

Taking her shoes off at the entrance to the couple’s living room, Anna continues: “I really want to be your MP.”

“We’d like you to be our MP, too,” Marilyn nods.

As Anna mentions her campaign pledge to build a new hospital in Canterbury, Marilyn says: “We are elderly. We need to go to the Ashford hospital. I’ve given up my driving licence.

“What happens then? How the hell are we meant to get to them?”

Back out in the High Street, the village is now blanketed in darkness.

David, brimming with annoyance, bustles past me and whispers in a prickly tone to Ed: “I was just told by that house, ‘there’s no ******* way I’ll be voting Conservative’.”

Anna excitedly points to a house with two fliers emblazoned with pictures of her stuck to the inside of a bay window.

Inside is burly bricklayer Tim Lampert and his boisterous three-legged cat, Ronnie. He voted for the Brexit Party in this year’s European elections, but now wants a larger poster to fix to the front of his house.

Bricklayer Tim Lampert
Bricklayer Tim Lampert

“I haven’t heard anyone on building sites who wouldn’t vote Conservative,” the 42-year-old says.

“I think Labour has gone so far to the left and the Conservatives are still sensible.

“A Labour government isn’t going to do anything for the housing market or the construction industry; it’ll cripple it.”

Part of the Nailbourne city council ward, Bridge was the scene of one of the most dramatic results during the local elections in May.

Mr Cook, who had held the seat since 2011, was ousted by Lib Dem Mike Sole.

Despite expecting to see the canvassers encounter opposition from Remainers, I can only recall seeing just one pro-EU voter as we say our goodbyes.

“This is going to be one of the seats that will determine whether or not we’ve got a majority,” Anna insists.

“I don’t ever like to count any chickens before they hatch, but I feel encouraged by the conversations I’m having on the doorstep.”

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