Published: 20:54, 29 April 2019
| Updated: 08:54, 30 April 2019
University chiefs say they have no concerns about their chancellor standing in European elections as candidates face growing wrath from voters on the doorstep over Brexit.
The University of Kent said its "governing documents do not prohibit politicians being appointed" following the news broadcaster Gavin Esler is standing for the new Change UK party in the forthcoming elections for the European Parliament.
It comes as the Conservatives brace themselves for their worst local election results since 1995 under Sir John Major amid a Brexit backlash.
Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whately, the party's deputy chairman, admitted her party is in for a "difficult night" on Thursday, claiming she had seen "more anger than before" on the doorstep.
Mr Esler is among candidates standing for the newly-created pro-EU Change UK party in elections to the European Parliament, which are set to take place on May 23 if - as expected - the government fails to negotiate a Brexit deal.
The broadcaster, who used to present the BBC Newsnight programme, has had a career in journalism spanning 40 years.
He was appointed Chancellor in 2015 and has a largely ceremonial role, representing the university on special occasions and conferring degrees. He also chairs what is known as the University Court, a group that promotes the interests and reputation of the university.
Speaking at the party’s launch, Mr Esler, who graduated from UKC in 1974, said he had never been a member of a political party before but called the current system a "worldwide joke".
Political editor Paul Francis discusses Conservative concerns ahead of the local elections
He will be standing as a candidate in the London region where he is top of the list - meaning that under the electoral system used - a version of proportional representation - his chances of being elected are enhanced.
University of Kent spokesman Dan Worth said: "The University of Kent is aware that its Chancellor, Dr Gavin Esler, has announced his candidacy for the European elections.
"Our governing documents do not prohibit politicians being appointed to the honorary role of chancellor..." - University of Kent spokesman
"Gavin Esler, who is standing in a personal capacity, was appointed as Chancellor in 2014 on the grounds of his overall contribution to society and his commitment to the highest standards of evidence-based discourse and integrity in journalism.
"Our governing documents do not prohibit politicians being appointed to the honorary role of chancellor.
"Lord Grimond, an MP from 1950 to 1983, was Chancellor of the University between 1970 and 1990.
"Across the sector, we also note a number of past and current university chancellors include politicians across both houses."
Change UK has also nominated the former Kent Conservative MEP Richard Ashworth as a candidate for the South East region.
He was suspended by the Conservative party two years ago.
Brought up in Folkestone, Mr Ashworth was the Conservative chief whip in the European Parliament between 2008 and 2017.
Asked why he had joined the new party, he said: “My politics which are pragmatic, middle-ground politics align with theirs so it is a natural fit.
"The Conservatives have moved further to the right and Labour to the left, leaving the people who are in the middle ground somewhat politically homeless. I think there is an opportunity there.”
Two Kent Conservative councillors are among candidates nominated for the South East region: Swale county councillor Mike Whiting and Sevenoaks councillor Anna Firth.
The Liberal Democrats are fielding the long-standing MEP Catherine Bearder as its number one candidate with the Faversham county councillor Anthony Hook as its second of 10.
As expected, ex-Ukip leader Nigel Farage is the top candidate for the Brexit Party, which he launched earlier this month because of what he claimed was the failure of the government to deliver on its commitment to secure a deal to leave the EU.
Despite being in existence for less than a month, opinion polls have suggested that the party could be on course for a dramatic win.
Ukip has nominated the Tunbridge Wells barrister Piers Wauchope as its number one candidate.
Mr Wauchope contested the North Thanet constituency in the general election in 2015 and sits on the party's executive board.
The Conservative list is headed by Daniel Hannan, who has been an MEP for the South East since 1999 and writes regularly for several newspapers, chiefly the Daily Telegraph.
Labour MEP John Ashworth tops the list for the region - he was elected in 2017 and replaced the MEP Annelise Dodds, who stood down after she was elected an MP at the general election.
How does the election work?
MEPs are voted in as representatives of a region rather than a particular constituency. Kent is part of the South East region, which has 10 MEPs and is the largest area. MEP candidates are usually members of political parties but can stand as individuals.
At the last election, UKIP won the most seats (24) followed by Labour (20); Conservatives (19); Green (3) and the SNP (2). Turnout was lower than most other member states at 35.6% against an average across the EU of 42.6%.
The full list of candidates by party standing in the European election for the South East Region:
Leslie Groves Williams
Phelim Mac Cafferty
The Brexit Party
Belinda De Camborne Lucy
The Socialist Party of Great Britain
UK European Union Party
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