Political Figures: What next for Chatham and Aylesford?

In which Alan Collins from Medway Elects looks at Chatham and Aylesford, and ponders how easily the Conservative hold on the constituency could be broken..

Ah, 2015, the year (the Republic of) Ireland voted to introduce same-sex marriage, a NASA spacecraft visited Pluto for the first time and Queen Elizabeth II became the UK’s longest-reigning monarch.
It was also the last time any of Medway’s parliamentary constituencies changed hands.

In recognition of this unbroken run of Conservative representation in parliament, Messrs Jennings and Keevil have asked me to look at what has changed between the three most recent general elections. So, for my latest three-part mini-series I’ll be looking at the results for each of Medway’s three constituencies in turn.

In 2015Chatham & Aylesford saw the highest Conservative vote share across Medway’s constituencies, a distinction it would hold in both subsequent general elections. Tracey Crouch, the Conservative member of parliament, took 50.2% of the votes, with Tristan Osborne, a Labour councillor in Luton and Wayfield, coming second on 23.6% and Ukip a close third on 19.9%. The Liberal Democrats lost their deposit for the first time since the constituency was created in 1997, polling 3.2% and only narrowly coming ahead of the Green party on 2.6%.

Two years later, in the snap general election of 2017, Crouch increased her share of the vote by 6.8 percentage points to poll 57%. Her Labour opponent, Chatham Central councillor Vince Maple, increased his party’s share of the vote by a slightly greater 10.1 points to reach 33.7%, their highest share of the vote since they last held the seat in 2005. Ukip were the big losers on the night, seeing their share of the vote drop by 14.9 percentage points to just 5%. The Liberal Democrats and the Green party both saw small decreases in their vote share, polling 2.5% and 1.3% respectively.

The result in the 2019 general election was without modern precedent. Crouch saw her vote share rise by 9.6 points to an impressive 66.6% (insert Biblical joke here), while Maple’s vote share fell by 9.9 points to 23.8%. The Liberal Democrats were the second biggest winners in December, increasing their share of the vote by 4.1 points, earning themselves 6.6% of the vote and retaining their deposit for the first time since 2010. The Green party saw a more modest increase of 1.2 points to 2.5%.

Before December, no candidate had ever achieved more than 60% of the vote in Chatham and Aylesford. In fact, the last time a member of parliament from Chatham won more than 60% of the vote was in 1931 when Sir Park Goff won the constituency of Chatham with 62.5%. The last time a member of parliament from Chatham won more than 65% of the vote was when the Whigs’ George Byng took 66.1% of the vote in 1841. In that election, he was one of only two candidates on the ballot paper, and the electorate was less than 1,000.

So where does that leave the prospects for Labour in 2024? Quite simply, it is almost unimaginable that the Conservatives could lose the seat. For Labour to take the seat at the next general election, they would need to secure a swing of at least 21.4%, which, whilst not impossible, is almost unprecedented.

The only time in Chatham’s electoral history a member of parliament has taken over 60% of the vote in one election and lost the seat in the next was in 1910, when Labour’s John Jenkins went from winning with 62.5% in 1906 to losing to the Conservatives’ Gerald Hohler four years later. In both of those elections, though, only two candidates were on the ballot paper and the electorate stood at less than 16,000, while the required swing was just 12.5% (less than 2,000 votes).Chatham and Aylesford, then, looks likely to remain safe Conservative territory for the foreseeable future (subject to any intervening boundary review). But what of Medway’s two other constituencies? Well, next week I will be reviewing Gillingham and Rainham, with Rochester and Strood to come the following week. You don’t want to miss them!

Alan Collins is the creator of Medway Elects, which is committed to building a complete electoral history for Medway.

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