Felipe Araujo
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In Canterbury, a divided electorate shows the new rift in British politics

The city's students turned out to deliver an historic win for Labour.

In a region unashamedly proud of its blue pedigree, a tinge of red has come to make a splash on the political landscape. Labour’s Rosie Duffield is now the MP for Canterbury, a city of 50,000 people in the far-south east of England, after ending Sir Julian Brazier's 30-year tenure by a margin of less than 200 votes. It is the end of an era.

On the cathedral city's high street, old ladies wear their best attire on their way to afternoon tea; sitting outside pubs with Shakespearean facades, young couples hold hands while sharing a bottle of wine. As the working day comes to an end, residents flock to the city’s river Stour to bask in the afternoon sun.

A day after Thursday’s elections, the divisions here reflect those that have shaken up British politics. On one side is a young, ethnically-diverse electorate who, saddled with student debt, chose to vote for a Labour Party which promised to scrap tuition fees. Brazier was the first to admit how that was key to his demise. 

“I think the largest factor was the very large number of students,” he said when conceding defeat. “They voted in very large numbers and in a large part, I think, because of the (Brexit) referendum result."

Young people here — mainly students from the town’s two main universities — failed to turn up en masse for the Brexit vote. They didn't let this opportunity pass them by.

“Labour said they [are] gonna get rid of our [student] debt so I voted for them,” said 20-year-old University of Kent student Hannah Clemett. “Theresa May should resign now, she’s awful. All of her policies are xenophobic and unpleasant.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the older, and often wealthier Tory faithful are equally afraid of a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn. They see the left as a menace to their way of life, its policies nothing more than hubris. In contrast, their confidence in Theresa May is rock solid. 

“Theresa May reminds me of Margaret Thatcher, and Thatcher was brilliant,” said pensioner Robin Paxman. “Corbyn was asked the other day where he was going to find the money for all the these things he wants to do and he wouldn’t answer. Now it turns out he is going to borrow a lot of money, billions of pounds, so I don’t understand how people can vote for the bloke.” 

One explanation for why people here voted for “the bloke”, can be found on the short train journey from London to Canterbury. The two cities are connected by a high-speed rail link which takes less than an hour. Pushed out by the capital’s obscene housing prices, many young families have chosen to make Canterbury their home.

 “The demographics are changing, you can feel it,” said 37-year-old Jeremy Macleod, a Canterbury resident for the past 15 years. ”That brings with it people from different class backgrounds and that must have some sort of impact on voting patterns.”

Macleod, a boatman on the city’s famous river, was never an ardent Labour voter himself, always choosing to go with the Greens instead. Then Corbyn came along.

“Everyone I know has voted Labour for the first time in Canterbury,” he tells me. “There’s a vibrance in politics that just didn’t exist for most of the time I have been here.”

And yet, for all the new found excitement in politics, people here might get more than what they bargained for. Having failed to win an outright majority, the  Conservatives are set to form a coalition with the DUP.

“That’s crazy,” Jeremy exclaims while taking me for a punt ride on the river. “To go into a coalition with people who are against homosexuality, against abortion even for victims of rape. That’s the last thing I want.”

A  new government is still to be formed, and if Theresa May fails to win the confidence of her party, a new election looms. Excitement in Canterbury is slowly but surely giving way to fatigue. 

“I just want them to get on with it,” my taxi driver told me. “There is more to life than Brexit. Someone needs to run the country.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.