The constituency of Chatham and Aylesford in the South East is going to be one of the most interesting and hard-fought races in the 2015 general elections. It will be a contest between Tracey Crouch MP (Con) and Labour’s PPC, Tristan Osborne. I met with both candidates to discuss the race, their hopes for it and what they believe will be the main issues. These are the key factors in the race:
It has national significance
The constituency was created in 1995 and since then, its results have reflected national government. The area was a devout Labour seat under previous MP, Jonathan Shaw until 2010, when Tracey Crouch (Con) was elected. This is why Labour have targeted the area on its list of 106 “battleground seats” predicting that a Labour win in Chatham and Aylesford would give Ed Miliband a parliamentary majority of 60.
Tracey Crouch is more than aware of this, saying: “It’s really important for Labour to win seats in the South East. To be honest with you, if they want to get anywhere near national government, they are going to have to win seats like mine.”
The two candidates are not your usual suspects
Tracey Crouch has established herself as somewhat of a party rebel. She was one of the 81 Conservative MPs who rebelled against David Cameron in a vote on an European Union referendum and has said she is a politician “who votes how she believes”. Outside of Parliament, she is a fully qualified football coach, who spends her Saturday mornings with her team, Meridian Girls.
On the other hand, Tristan Osborne commutes to London daily where he works in a small business. A former Special Constable in the Metropolitan Police, he says he is “a big believer in people coming into politics from the outside of the Westminster bubble.”
The candidates reflect a new generation of politics
The current age of an MP is 50. Tracey Crouch is 37-years-old whilst Tristan Osborne is just 30. And he believes he and Tracey’s age give them the edge when it comes to campaigning. He said: “I think that means both of us have a more campaigning and ground-based understanding that to win elections now, you can’t just to sitting in Westminster, talking about what you are doing.”
Both candidates are avid users of Twitter, run award-winning blogs (Tracey’s and Tristan’s) and are frequently out and about in the constituency, doing everything short of kissing babies. It is this approach that is making the race so unique; both candidates know that their constituents want to see and hear from them all the time, not just a few weeks before they go to the polls.
A variety of issues matter to the people
Both candidates unanimously agreed that the economy will be the biggest issue. The issue of jobs and business is a key factor in the area, built upon what Tracey says is “a constituency with a low to middle income group, self-employed, ‘white van man’ kind of aspirational class.”
But they also made it clear that other issues matter to the people of Chatham and Aylesford. One of the most polarising is the debate over the Thames Estuary airport. With firmer plans set to emerge in coming years, the candidates’ positions on an airport in the Estuary could play a major part in the campaign. Issues also mentioned include the NHS, education (Medway is among the lowest performing areas for primary schools in the entire country) and crime.
The constituency has a wide demographic
I was out with Tristan Osborne in the village of Burham, a small, rural community that one could mistake for Emmerdale. The main issue there was Kent County Council cuts to bus services. But Burham is just twenty minutes away from the heart of the centre of Chatham, a densely-populated, low-income area with higher levels of crime and anti-social behaviour. A voter on Luton Road will have slightly different priorities to the voter in Burham and it makes for a diverse range of opinions.