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Veterans to clash over Dover and Deal seat after Conservatives choose former military man

The Conservatives have chosen a former soldier and teacher as their prospective party candidate in Dover to replace Natalie Elphicke who defected to Labour in a shock move.

Stephen James, the chairman of the Folkestone and Hythe constituency association, was selected at a meeting last night from a shortlist of three.

Former teacher Stephen James will contest general election as Conservative candidate in Dover
Former teacher Stephen James will contest general election as Conservative candidate in Dover

James served as a soldier in Afghanistan, saw two spells of active service and was accepted into the Intelligence Corps.

Ironically this military path was also taken by his Labour challenger for the same seat Mike Tapp.

He left and trained to be a teacher and worked in a primary school in Sandgate for eight years – winning an award as Kent Teacher of the Year during that time. He left teaching in 2020 to form his own social media marketing agency, saying it gave him the flexibility to work as association chairman.

He has not been without controversy and was forced to fend off accusations that he had falsely claimed on a website that a school he helped set up during Covid had the personal endorsements of senior political VIPs including the education secretary at the time.

He said the school was a response to COVID, saying he and co-founder Anna Firth - now an MP - “felt more could be done for children missing out on vital education.”

Mike Tapp Labour parliamentary candidate for Dover
Mike Tapp Labour parliamentary candidate for Dover

The school was named the Invicta Academy and according to Mr James, he was directly responsible for recruiting over 100 teachers, delivering over 4 million minutes of learning, and raising £150K in charitable donations to deliver free live lessons to children across the whole UK.

However, he was forced to remove from its website claims the school had the personal endorsements of the secretary of state for education Gavin Williamson.

A list of ‘sponsors’ on the Invicta Academy site included Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins and South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay.

Prior to a change in the site the list was prefaced with the following: “Listed below are the individuals who have given significant public, personal and financial support for the initial set up of the Invicta Academy.”

Dover election tussle
Dover election tussle

Speaking to KentOnline, Mr James at the time confirmed that Mr Williamson has no monetary link to the project: “There is no financial involvement, which is why we changed the word from ‘sponsor’ to ‘supporter’.

“Certainly none of the members of Parliament have given us money, none of the ministers have given us any money - other than their support, be that moral support, praise, encouragement.

“No money has changed hands, we’re still a community interest company (CIC) and both Anna and I are working for free."

He now works in social media management in a role at a company called Hermes Digital, where services offered include providing clients with ways to “enhance and secure your digital footprint.”

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