Labour 'incredibly hopeful' of winning more Commons seats in Kent

WATCH: ITV News Meridian’s Kit Bradshaw reports on Labour’s Kent launch (Picture: PA Images)

Gillingham Football Club might not be the obvious first stop on a General Election campaign tour.

But Labour’s decision to send Sir Keir Starmer to Kent has been seen by some as a statement of intent from the opposition, which until recently only had one MP in the county.

Natalie Elphicke’s surprise defection brought the Labour tally on the Commons' benches to two, alongside Canterbury’s Rosie Duffield.

Speaking on the pitch at Priestfield Stadium, Sir Keir said: "It's great to be here in Gillingham. Last time, under a Labour government, Gillingham was in the same league as Manchester City. So, that’s a good place to start."

The Labour leader joined several of the party’s parliamentary candidates at Gillingham FC on Thursday morning.

The Gills’ stadium sits within the Gillingham and Rainham parliamentary constituency. The incumbent Conservative MP Rehman Chishti won a 15,000 majority in 2019.

When I asked Labour’s candidate for the seat, Naushabah Khan, whether she could win, she told me: “We don’t want to take anything for granted. As Keir said, we’re humble about asking the country for their vote.

“I’m going to go out there and fight for every single vote, and speak to residents about what Labour can offer to this country and this area.”

The party will also be hoping to win the key swing seat of Dover and Deal. Natalie Elphicke is not seeking re-election in the Kent port constituency, with Mike Tapp standing for Labour.

"We simply do need change", he told me. Mr Tapp added: "We’ve got our six first steps and if I get elected in Dover then I’ll be working very hard to deliver that change. I’m a former soldier absolutely dedicated to service and that’s what people will get from me."

Sir Keir Starmer pledged to make "every citizen in Kent feel safe and secure in their country and their community".

The current Labour group leader on Kent County Council, Lauren Sullivan, is standing for the Gravesham constituency. She told me: “I’m incredibly hopeful there’ll be more Kent [Labour] MPs after the election but of course it’s up to the general public to vote… I think we’ve got the right vision for the future.”

In coastal communities, sewage discharges are likely to be a key election issue, according to Polly Billington. She is standing for Labour in the East Thanet seat, a new constituency created due to a boundary changes.

Ms Billington told me: “In East Thanet we’re surrounded on three slides by sea… it has a big economic impact if people are worried about raw sewage. We need to make sure water bosses face criminal charges if they don’t clear up their mess.”

Leaders of all the major parties have started campaigning despite not all candidates being selected in all seats.

The official campaign will start in our region - and across the country - once Parliament is dissolved on Thursday, 30 May.

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