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Kent general election: The East Thanet constituency and the candidates standing

Redrawn boundaries and the decision of the incumbent MP to step down mean it is all change in East Thanet at the forthcoming general election.

Conservative Craig Mackinlay, who held the constituency under its South Thanet name, last month made a triumphant return to the House of Commons following a devastating battle with sepsis and made it clear he was planning to stand again.

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay returned to the House of Commons for the first time in May after his devastating sepsis battle. Picture: BBC Parliament
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay returned to the House of Commons for the first time in May after his devastating sepsis battle. Picture: BBC Parliament

But on the very same day Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made the shock decision to fire the starting pistol on a sooner-than-expected election, leading Mr Mackinlay to decide a gruelling campaign was beyond him and announce he would not be seeking reelection.

At the 2019 election, the pro-Brexit Tory had increased his majority to more than 10,500. That margin of victory – allied to Mr Mackinlay’s local profile and inspirational backstory – would have suggested he had a good chance of being returned to parliament once more. But with Labour enjoying a commanding lead in the polls, it is predicted the seat is now very much in play and could swing to Sir Keir Starmer’s party on July 4.

In 1997, decades of Tory control was relinquished as Labour took control on the back of Tony Blair’s landslide victory. It remained red until Gordon Brown failed to do enough to hold onto power in 2010. Since then, it has been firmly Conservative controlled - although not without a few scares along the way.

When Mackinlay first stood, in 2015 (replacing the short spell of Tory Laura Sandys), he had a huge fight on his hands when Nigel Farage campaigned ferociously in a bid to finally get a seat in Westminster. Despite being the subject of huge media attention, Farage failed - but he did so only narrowly. Less than 3,000 votes separated them.

Since then, Mackinlay increased his share of the vote in the next two elections.

Margate - much of the town, but not all, sits within the East Thanet constituency
Margate - much of the town, but not all, sits within the East Thanet constituency


His decision to depart, however, throws the field wide open again.

The Conservatives have confirmed Helen Harrison as its candidate.

Labour’s Polly Billington is the main threat to the Tories. She has friends in high places, too, having previously worked as a special advisor to former leader Ed Miliband (who has already joined local activists during this campaign).

Covering much of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate, the loss of Sandwich in recent boundary changes may prove significant too, as it is traditionally Tory-leaning. Thanet District Council also went red in 2023.

Behind the towns’ revival as tourist hotspots, there’s plenty of deprivation too - unemployment rates are comfortably higher than the rest of the county - and a lack of industry hinders opportunity.

One of the key topics, as is ever the case in Thanet, will be Manston Airport.

For some it is a potential economic goldmine, offering jobs and opportunity. For others a disruption to their life.

While those parties supporting the airport have, traditionally, proved winners with the electorate - Ukip’s shock control of Thanet District Council in 2015 was primarily put down to their commitment to reviving the then-recently closed site - it doesn’t sit well with all constituents. In particular, those in Ramsgate who sit beneath its flight path. It could prove a minefield for those on the doorstep.

A map of the new East Thanet constituency
A map of the new East Thanet constituency

In addition, across Thanet there is a growing concern about housing and the strain that applies to local services. It’s not just the scale of the work ongoing - developments seem to be popping up everywhere - but also on pressure applied from Down from Londoners.

The Thanet towns’ revival over recent years has ushered in many from the capital who have snapped up cheap property and, undoubtedly, played a key role in their reversal of fortunes.

But it also leads to fears of pricing local people out. Again, it’s a tightrope to walk for those campaigning for any party. Especially given so many in the constituency will have London heritage themselves.

As for the other parties?

Reform UK’s vote is undoubtedly going to get a shot in the arm following Nigel Farage’s decision to be front and centre of the party.

He may have opted against standing in East Thanet - preferring Clacton instead - but it may pull in more votes than the party had originally anticipated. Will it come from disillusioned Tories? Or unconvinced Labour folk? Or, perhaps more significantly, those who feel no affinity to either party?

That remains to be seen, but it is likely to play a role. Immigration - a key bedrock of Reform UK’s manifesto - is certainly a concern for many.

Neither the Lib Dems (represented by Jai Singh) or the Greens (Steve Roberts) have polled more than 10% since 2010 and appear unlikely to challenge again.

The candidates for East Thanet are:

The full list of candidates:

Jai Singh, Liberal Democrats

Helen Harrison, Conservative

Polly Billington, Labour

Steve Roberts, Green

Paul Webb, Reform

Paul Holton, Independent

Mo Shafaei, Independent

Grahame Birchall, Independent

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