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Kent general election: The Herne Bay and Sandwich constituency and the candidates standing

A little bit of history will be created on July 4 when the first votes for the constituency formerly known as North Thanet - now renamed Herne Bay and Sandwich - are cast.

Following boundary changes, a chunk of Thanet remains as part of the electoral area (it still encompasses part of Margate and many of the isle’s villages) but all traces of its name in the seat have been vanquished.

Herne Bay beach packed during a sizzlingly hot summer – remember those? Pic: Scott Turner
Herne Bay beach packed during a sizzlingly hot summer – remember those? Pic: Scott Turner

And if you believe some of the pre-election poll projections, Conservative Sir Roger Gale - Kent’s longest-serving MP - may be headed the same way.

MP for North Thanet since Margaret Thatcher won her second term in 1983, he emerged from the 2019 election with a powerful 17,189 majority.

Labour has traditionally been his most threatening opponent - running him closest in 1997, the year Tony Blair swept to power with a landslide victory. On that occasion, his majority was slashed by almost 16,000 to a slender 2,766.

Yet he has steadily grown that gap over the years - seeing off the rise of the likes of Ukip in the pre-EU referendum in the 2015 election (in which the party sensationally claimed control of Thanet District Council - its first) in some comfort.

The big question is whether apathy towards the Tories will give Helen Whitehead, the Labour candidate (and deputy leader of Thanet District Council) an opportunity to score what would be one of the biggest upsets in the county.

A map of the new Herne Bay and Sandwich constituency
A map of the new Herne Bay and Sandwich constituency

There is also the unknown element in Reform UK - recently buoyed by the return of Nigel Farage to its helm. Could it draw some votes away from the Conservative candidate? While the ardour for Brexit has certainly waned in recent years, the area was fiercely in favour of splitting with the EU back in 2016 when the referendum took place.

The older demographic in the constituency is likely to be significant too; with an average age of 54.5 it is some five years older than the national average. Traditionally, that tends to favour the Tories.

Veteran MP Sir Roger, who turned 80 last August, is popular locally - seen as a high-profile, accessible figure who is not afraid to speak out on key issues. And that includes his memorable challenges to his party’s very own Boris Johnson when he was Prime Minister. It has won him begrudging admiring glances from those who do not subscribe to the Tory manifesto and makes him a far tougher nut to crack.

He’s also been an outspoken advocate of Manston Airport - perhaps the area’s most contentious political hot potato. A previous threat to resign if it was barred from being reopened now appears to have disappeared given its recent green light. That will carry weight with the electorate. The bulk who oppose it lie under its flight path - and that, most notably, is Ramsgate, which lies in the neighbouring East Thanet seat.

Elsewhere, Herne Bay’s failure to secure much-longed-for funding to regenerate its seafront after a last-minute rule change by the government may leave a bitter taste in the mouth for many.

Then there was the uproar over the Spanish-style plaza which blocked traffic from part of the seafront in the town until it was recently scrapped. Ushered in by the Tory-led Kent County Council, could that play on voters’ minds?

Yet it is the diverse make-up of the constituency - pulling in areas which sit under Canterbury, Thanet and Dover councils - which make unifying factors, outside the obvious national trends - difficult to discern.

Sandwich, now part of the constituency, voted in both the existing Tory candidate and a former blue-turned-independent candidate in Dover District Council’s elections last year, which suggests they will back Gale.

The future of Manston Airport has been a defining political issue in the area
The future of Manston Airport has been a defining political issue in the area

With the surrounding villages tending to be Conservative voters, it is hard to see Sir Roger being toppled.

However, he will have witnessed Labour taking control of Thanet District Council last year and that may give him pause for thought.

The council is, however, one of the most fickle, changing colour regularly both when voters head to the polls and even mid-term.

As for other contenders? The Lib Dems and Green will both field candidates but, traditionally, have failed to compete against the Tory or Labour candidates.

You have to go back to 2010 - when a Nick Clegg-led Lib Dems was riding high in the polls - when that party last polled more than 10% of the vote.

But the Lib Dems have proved to be a popular alternative to those not wanting to back the two main parties - so they could make a dent in that majority.

The Conservatives have held the seat - in its various different guises, boundaries and name changes - since the 19th century.

The question is, could 2024 be the time more history is made?

The candidates for Herne Bay and Sandwich are:

The full list of candidates:

Angie Curwen, Liberal Democrats

Sir Roger Gale, Conservative

Helen Whitehead, Labour

Amelia Randall, Reform UK

Thea Barrett, Green Party

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