by Julie Wassmer
Why Canterbury Labour supporters can no longer keep silent about their MP
On Sunday 31st May, Rosie Duffield MP became the “Dominic Cummings of Labour”, when it was revealed she had broken lockdown guidelines to pursue her affair with a married man, James Routh, the father of three children.
For many of us who campaigned for Duffield to win this seat for Labour in 2017, this was the final straw. As Eric Segal, a member of Unite and Secretary of the South East Kent Trades Union Council commented: “This is not the time for silence”. I, and many others, agree. The “brand”, carefully constructed by the cabal that still surrounds Rosie Duffield, has collapsed. It’s time for the truth…
In the summer of 2017, Canterbury constituency was ready for political change. Julian Brazier had been the Conservative MP for almost thirty years and, apart from the election of an Independent Unionist from 1910-1918, the constituency held the official record as “the longest uninterrupted period of one party holding a Parliamentary seat”. The Tories had been in power here since 1835.
Labour’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was determined to make a break with the party’s Blairite “red-Tory” past, by pursuing a truly socialist agenda, defined by the slogan “For the Many Not the Few”. This resonated with many people across Canterbury constituency and we came together to show support for Corbyn – and to finally win an election here for Labour.
In my own town of Whitstable, residents offered help with a grassroots campaign run by those who simply desired change and to refute the old adage that “you could pin a blue rosette to a chimpanzee in Canterbury constituency and it would still win.”
Keen to give the lie to the media slurs at that time that Jeremy Corbyn was “unelectable”, I rang friends, neighbours and many other local people I had been in contact with during campaigns to save essential services from Tory cuts, and asked them to help with what became known as the Paint the Town Red campaign. Residents were asked to display Vote Labour posters in their windows or gardens – but, importantly, also to spread the word widely across the whole constituency and thereby increase the amount of red on display.
Fuelled by many social media posts, Paint the Town Red soon caught on and orders for posters flooded in from constituents in both Whitstable and Canterbury. My neighbour constructed a makeshift workshop in his bedroom and nailed posters to stakes every evening after work. I kept a record of names and addresses and handed over staked posters to another resident who delivered and erected them. When we ran out of posters, a contact at Kent University printed more for me. When we ran out of those, I asked residents on social media to be proactive and photocopy their own.
My husband took charge of the orders for massive hoardings from friends with conspicuous homes. One such hoarding dwarfed the Tory poster in a resident’s field on the main Blean road from Whitstable to Canterbury – driven past by thousands every day.
The posters clearly stated Vote Labour.
The Labour candidate’s name failed to appear on them until shortly before the election, but when it did, it was so late in the process we were simply pleased that we had run a successful grassroots campaign. Streets were literally lined with red posters and hoardings – an indisputable sign of support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour – and change.
All those who joined the Paint the Town Red campaign were hoping to unseat the Tory MP, Julian Brazier. Having clashed with him many times over what I saw as his lack of support for local people on environmental issues, saving post office services and in opposing the privatisation by stealth of the NHS by his government, I considered his ousting at that time to be a personal mission.
I missed the first hustings event in Whitstable but learned, with great disappointment, that the new Labour candidate, Rosie Duffield, had put in a disastrous performance. The news came not only from residents, but from Duffield herself, after I met her for the very first time, at a public event at Whitstable Labour Club. For a woman who’s a year away from 50, Duffield appears far younger – a naïve ingénue, disarmingly innocent and, at that time – in need of reassurance. I gave it, insisting that future hustings performances could be finessed and that a trusted friend and I would put her in touch with two professional TV actors from our community who had agreed to help coach her.
Duffield’s performance at hustings events improved, though she continued to read from notes, rather than trusting her own ability to speak. During one particular hustings in Canterbury, public support rallied for her when she was accorded victim status after being heckled mercilessly by a local Tory councillor for her heavy reliance on cue cards. Everyone felt sorry for “poor Rosie”…
The image projected at that time for Canterbury’s new Labour candidate was of a single mum, depending on Tax Credits, who had brought up two sons while working desperately hard as a Teaching Assistant.
As Duffield states on her website “I’ve worked as a Teaching Assistant in local schools… As a working single parent, I know the impact of drastic cuts on this area from my own experience. I really understand what life is like for those who need Tax Credits, benefits and decent housing.”
After she was elected, an article by the teaching union, Unison, continued in the same vein: “Rosie isn’t planning to forget what her life was like…when she had to rely on tax credits and was still struggling to make ends meet, but was working extra, unpaid hours as a teaching assistant because she cared about doing a good job…It was also just assumed that she could stay late and she recalls rushing to pick her son up from school, because she “couldn’t quite afford” after-school clubs, so would have to ask a friend to wait with him till she could get there.”
Demonstrating such dedication in the face of economic hardship and while struggling to bring up two kids alone, Rosie Duffield appeared not only as a brave model for other single mums across the constituency – but for all of us who had been working so hard to get her elected. Amazingly, she had yet another string to her bow – she was involved in writing “political satire”.
As the Guardian reported: “after working as a teaching assistant she moved into political satire writing. She and her writing partners had recently been working on a pilot for a Spitting Image-style puppet show. “It’s cross-political … It’s supposed to be, it tends to be anti-Farage,” she said. “There’s lots of Nigel Farage puppets. Theresa May was just drying.” In light of her unexpected win, the comedy writing is on hold…”
What an amalgam of talents! As Labour supporters we were ecstatic to be helping into power someone with such flair and integrity. But as time moved on, a wider picture appeared of Rosie’s exploits. In the words of one disaffected constituent: “writing political satire? Rosie Duffield is political satire!”
Details began to emerge…Far from being the embodiment of the solid, struggling “working-class single mum” of her election profile, Rosie was actually educated at a small private girls’ school in rural Norfolk. Having performed poorly there, something to which she freely admits: “I was terrible. I played truant a lot,” she left school at 16 and, according to a press article based on an interview she gave to the Kentish Gazette: “In the mid-90s she worked in the City of London and lived with a man, who worked in banking, exposing her to the profit-driven corporate world…Ms Duffield ended her relationship with the banker and moved to Canterbury in 1998.”
She then had two sons (now 21 and 17) and was still living with her partner, Damon Trigger, in Canterbury in 2007, when they both signed a petition from the same address at Riverside Close Canterbury against the extension of opening hours for a local Indian restaurant. Trigger is the New Zealand-born former England cricketer who represented the Kent Cricket Board in List A cricket – but he’s now the sports master at a fee-paying prep school in Kent, Russell House, which charges basic Academic Fees of up to £4,775 per term.
Despite maintaining a staunchly anti-grammar school stance throughout her whole election campaign – Rosie Duffield’s sons both attended a grammar school – something that created a “troublesome position”, as Kirsty Brown described in an article for The National Student in 2017:-
“Duffield’s sons were sent by the MP to Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury, she was clearly happy to put her own children through a “horrible, devise and stressful” experience so long as it had the potential to advance their academic careers.
Indeed, it seems that although Miss Duffield has claimed that creating grammar schools would be of little importance to the education of thousands of other people’s children, the so called “vanity project” was chosen for her own.
Such revelation has created much debate, with some claiming Miss Duffield was simply choosing the best school available within the current system while others have slammed the MP as both hypocritical and self-serving.
Ultimately, it is absolutely impossible to be anti-grammar schools in principle whilst exercising the ‘right’ to send your children to the same establishments. Either grammar schools are too cruel and backwards to send any child too, or they represent an excellent opportunity for the most gifted and talented students to advance their academic careers and should subsequently be available to those qualified.
Interestingly, the Labour Party recently attempted to support Miss Duffield’s troublesome position in a statement claiming that although an individual “can’t opt out of the system” they can still “disagree with it”, a statement which is neither true nor particularly useful.
If an individual is fundamentally against grammar schools, as Duffield repeatedly claimed to be during her election campaign, they are spectacularly easy to avoid sending your child to. For example, the 11+ exam is in no way mandatory, and as such those who know they wish to attend a non-selective secondary school are under no obligation to sit the examinations. Equally, in filling out their preferences for potential secondary schools no-one is forced to have a single grammar school on their list.”
So, if Rosie wasn’t quite the working class hero(ine) we were initially led to believe, surely her “hardworking Teaching Assistant” credentials still held? Perhaps not…
It wasn’t long after her 2017 election success that news began to circulate, from a trusted union source, that during her time as Teaching Assistant, Duffield had actually been brought before a disciplinary hearing for persistent lateness – and had even arrived late to the hearing. It was also reported that on being advised she was pushing her luck, she revealed her real ambition was to become an MP and, when questioned on policy, she simply restated that ambition…
In fact, persistent lateness and being fired is something to which Rosie freely and casually admits. In an article for Politics Home, she discussed with Marie Le Conte “being perpetually late, getting fired and her hidden comic talent.”
“I’m late for everything, all the time, constantly. Always have been…I’ve probably been fired more times than anyone else I know. I mean timekeeping was always a huge issue with me, it’s probably the number one issue. I’ve got friends who literally have this thing called Rosie time, so they know that when we’re meeting for a meal or we’re going out for someone’s birthday, they will build in that half hour, and when I find out I get really cross, even though I know it’s the right thing to do.”
The news about the disciplinary hearing circulated widely among Labour members and supporters – but we all kept quiet about it – until now. Why did we do so? Why else? For fear of causing damage to Labour as a whole – and Jeremy Corbyn in particular.
It became increasingly clear that Duffield was not all that she had first appeared; a certain amount of “branding” had taken place before and during her election campaign. Rather than an asset, she was actually a liability to a Corbyn-led government. Even worse, any hopes I still harboured that she would, at least, acquit herself as that thing – “a good consituency MP” – were also soon dashed.
Throughout the late summer of 2017, I was contacted by constituents complaining that they were receiving no support, or even replies to correspondence, from their new MP. These included high-profile local figures needing to discuss time-sensitive matters relating to the local Oyster Festival as well as young residents requring urgent help from Social Services and constituents trying to care for sick relatives. In the light of my clear support for Duffield during the election, evidenced in numerous public social media posts, I now felt personally responsible for Duffield’s failure to respond to local people.
From August to November, I wrote several emails, not only to Duffield herself, but copying in other figures within the local Labour party who had been actively promoting her as candidate. It is worth noting at this point that the previous Labour parliamentary candidate, Hugh Lanning, had polled a significant increase in votes at the 2015 general election. As Labour party member and campaigner, Diane Langford, comments: “Crucially, it had been Hugh Lanning who was responsible for making the seat winnable; a fact that would not have gone unnoticed by the South East Region of the Labour Party who, in collusion with a coterie within the CLP, unilaterally decided to install Duffield as the candidate.”
Lanning who had been a highly respected trade union official, and also Chairman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) since 2009, had stood down as candidate, quite unexpectedly, just before the 2017 election. Shocked local Labour members and supporters had been told that he had decided not to stand, leaving no other candidate than Rosie Duffield. In effect, Duffield’s candidacy had been a fait accompli – and presumed to be the work of Duffield’s Campaign Coordinator, Mike Bland, and his partner, Pat Edwards, of Canterbury CLP who would later become a local city councillor and Duffield’s Election Agent.
On 4th November, I wrote an e-mail (title: Unacceptable Four Month Delay in Replying to Constituents), and sent this to Rosie Duffield, Mike Bland and eight other figures in the local party, cataloguing the dismal failures to reply to constituents. One of those constituents, a disabled resident, had kept me updated regarding the lack of response as follows: “Hi Julie, I’ve still heard nothing off anybody…. I don’t expect to, no one cares…”
I wrote as follows to that Labour group: “I’ve now actually lost count of the number of times I’ve written regarding the unacceptable delays in dealing with constituents’ correspondence at Rosie’s office but I have included some of that correspondence at the foot of this email….
I’ve always told everyone I campaign with that the “winning” isn’t difficult – the real challenge is knowing how to deal with the victory. Let’s hope there is another victory next time but, at this rate, I don’t hold out much hope. On a brighter note, (for you anyway), I shan’t be writing again as I won’t be recommending anyone at all to contact their new MP for help. I hope you can see from all that I’ve written that the result is far too disappointing for me – but more importantly – for the constituent.”
This time, I received a reply from Duffield herself, acknowledging the delay and apologising: “for the very slow response to correspondence”. She explained that following her election in July, “by September there were 18,000 e-mails in my inbox…Everything was put into a database and given to caseworkers and our constituency assistant, who have been trying to clear that backlog ever since.” Ever since? 18,000 unanswered e-mails??? Yes. Duffield went on to admit: “The delay is embarrassing” but “we are all doing our best to meet the demands of that as best as we can.”
What a staggering admission – 18,000 unanswered e-mails in an MP’s inbox. Is that usual for a new MP? I suggested that the very least they could do in that constituency office was to check a few times a week that the automatic acknowledgement for emails was working – but it rarely was.
Since that time, I’ve kept my word never to recommend anyone to write to Rosie Duffield for constituency help – although, in October last year, on the request of Labour Thanet District Councillor, Aram Rawf, I did write to invite Duffield to speak at a Canterbury event to support the Kurdish people in Syria – unsurpisingly, I received no reply…
In July last year, Rosie Duffield came “under fire” from her own local party when she claimed on the Sunday Politics Show that the Labour Party “probably is” institutionally anti-semitic. Canterbury Labour Party chairman, Ben Hickman, duly branded Duffield’s comments as “incredibly reckless” and claimed that they had “angered the “overwhelming majority” of local party members.
Indeed, local members and supporters were furious at Duffield’s unswerving support for those perpetuating the smears of anti-semititism that were constantly being levelled against Jeremy Corbyn. In fact, in September 2018, a censure motion had actually been drafted in a democratic effort by members of the local party to hold Rosie Duffield to account. News of the motion caused a stir in Canterbury CLP and pressure was put on those who had drafted and supported the motion, to withdraw it. The claim was that news of the censure motion might bring negative publicity to the party as a whole, rather than to Duffield personally. The motion was duly withdrawn, at the very last moment, but that failed to prevent someone from Duffield’s camp, exploiting publicity by writing a piece for the New Statesman, describing the motion as a “Dog’s Dinner” and claiming, ironically, that “democracy” had won.
The article appeared the very next day so it must have been worked on the evening before to have met its deadline. Members and supporters felt betrayed.
It was clear that a schism now existed between the Duffield camp at Canterbury CLP and the local Whitstable Labour Party branch which has a proud history of members supporting Palestinian human rights. That breach was only to deepen as time went on…
Some months after Duffield’s electoral success, she became engaged to Michael Anderson – a man she had met “two years ago at a Labour Party meeting”, according to this news story: https://www.kentonline.co.uk/canterbury/news/kent-mp-gets-engaged-days-157324/ Described in the article as “a former Maths teacher”, it appears Anderson, like Duffield’s former partner, Damon Trigger, had also taught at private schools – including Roedean – one of the most exclusive and expensive schools for girls in the country. The Roedean school publication from 2016 also states that Mr Anderson: “taught Maths and worked in boarding at a number of schools including the Duke of York’s Royal Military School Dover and St Edmund’s School, Canterbury”. How prestigious.
Unfortunately, the engagement did not last but in October last year Duffield went on to make a keynote speech in the House of Commons, recounting her experiences of domestic abuse and coercive behaviour from a previous partner.
The speech gained Duffield great sympathy and respect, moving her Labour colleagues to tears. No doubt, Duffield’s 2019 Election Agent,|Pat Edwards, must have given Duffield great support at the time, as she has a longstanding association with the Rising Sun Domestic Violence Abuse Service – of which she is Chair.
Duffield had used her parliamentary voice to speak out and became an inspiring figure for other domestic abuse victims. Notably, in choosing to make this speech in parliament, she effectively muzzled her former partner because “parliamentary privilege” denied him the right to take proceedings (either civil or criminal) against her statements.
Perhaps not. The “victim” is also known as an able abuser by constituents who have witnessed or complained of Duffield’s rudeness on social media. In a tweet (into which she copied Jess Phillips MP) Duffield dismissed a senior member of Whitstable Labour with this stunningly ageist remark:-
“As a feminist, politician and working mother, if I suddenly feel the need to consult an old man about my judgement you’ll be the first on my list Wes”.
And after a heartfelt Facebook message to Duffield from Eric Segal, in which he gave a comprehensive account of the tragic loss of his relatives “murdered in the death camps or on the death march out of Auschwitz for the crime of being Jewish”, while entreating Duffield to review her intransigent support for the suspension of Chris Williamson MP for alleged anti-semitism, Duffield issued this dismissive public response: –
“Thanks for your important and fascinating contribution Eric, now please do as I asked (as you are clearly a Chris Williamson fan) and unfollow me.”
Duffield also reassured fellow Labour MP, Rachel Reeves, (now Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) that she would complain to her Regional Director (RD) about a local party member and Palestinian rights supporter, which resulted in the woman, a long-standing Labour member in her 70s, having her personal details exposed on the Politics Home site which left her prey to abuse.
Ironically, it became abundantly clear to many of us who had helped Duffield’s first campaign in 2017, that our MP always seemed to put in her hardest work while trying to discredit Jeremy Corbyn – especially with smears of anti-semitism. Duffield campaigned brazenly on the streets of Canterbury last year alongside her self-proclaimed “friend”, Margaret Hodge MP, who had infamously and shamefully dubbed Corbyn “a fxxxing antisemite and a racist”.
She contributed to the continued vilification of former Labour MP, Chris Williamson, and became the darling – or willing puppet – of Corbyn’s greatest enemy, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) – for which you needed to be neither Jewish nor Labour to join, merely perhaps an enemy of Corbyn. At the same time, she refused to listen to the alternative views of many Jewish Labour members within Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) – something which in itself could surely be construed as anti-semitic?
A McCarthyite witch hunt took place within Labour prior to the 2019 election, with local members “shopped” to the party, in effect, for showing support for the Palestinian cause. Diane Langford, a lifelong anti-racist campaigner and Palestine Solidarity Campaign member, was sent no fewer than 39 pages of allegations to be answered within one week, and was sworn to secrecy and warned not to share the news that she was under “investigation” with anyone. “No concrete charges were made,” said Langford, “the trick was that you were supposed to incriminate yourself by responding.”
Coupled with a full mainstream media onslaught against Corbyn, the election was lost to Labour though Duffield retained her seat by a slim majority. She did so via her collusion with the Remain campaign; forces like the ‘Canterbury For Rosie’ group which had the brass neck to proudly include her in their tweets instructing voters in North Thanet to “tactically” vote Lib Dem – rather than Labour – even though the Labour candidate had polled far more votes in North Thanet in 2017.
The North Thanet Labour candidate, Dr Coral Jones, a campaigning GP who had worked tirelessly to expose, and oppose, government plans to privatise the NHS, is a socialist who supported Jeremy Corbyn. While Duffield’s electoral campaign was awash with funds from Remain supporters – including the Lib Dem peer, Lord Matthew Oakeshott – Labour Party members in Whitstable tried to send a soldarity payment to Dr Coral Jones’s election fund. The donation was blocked, seemingly by Duffield’s Election Agent, Pat Edwards, so my husband, a Labour member himself, wrote to the party and duly received the following reply from the Legal and Governance Department of the Labour Party, confirming that there were no obstacles to such a donation being made:-
From: Legal Queries <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: 02 December 2019 13:59
Dear Mr K,
Thank you for calling us regarding this query. I can confirm that it perfectly acceptable and not against any electoral regulations for a CLP to give money to a neighbouring CLP. As both CLP’s are official units of the party then the money concerned is simply considered a transfer between party units, and so does not fall any donation restrictions.
The Labour Party
Still, the solidarity payment was never sent.
Ultimately, Rosie Duffield retained her Canterbury seat at the expense of Jeremy Corbyn – the party leader she had so compromised with her alliance and allegiance to his enemies. Throughout the 2019 election, I declared that not only would I refuse to lend a finger to help Duffield’s campaign – I would not vote for her either. While Rosie Duffield remained candidate, I considered myself disenfranchised and decided to exercise a protest vote by spoiling my ballot paper. I suffered online abuse from Rosie Duffield’s supporters for this stance but I never disclosed all that I have now done in this piece because I still did not want to see a Tory back in place in Canterbury. I chose to campaign instead for Dr Coral Jones in North Thanet and Dr Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt in South Thanet – two excellent hardworking pro-Corbyn Labour candidates. But even then, I was stymied by pro-Duffield forces…
Herne Bay Labour member, Gilbert House, had come to my house to canvass support for Duffield – only to be shown the following explanatory poster in my window.
House then went on to block me from helping a dozen of my friends and fellow Labour supporters with a Super Sunday canvassing day for Dr Coral Jones, writing to me as follows: –
“I made a decision to bar you because you have and are campaigning against Labour candidates and if you are a paid up supporter That would be breaking Labour Party rules if you are not a paid up supporter as you are campaigning against a Labour parliamentary candidate that is enough for me to not want to work with you. I am speaking as an individual at this stage and not in any official roll, (sic) but please if you need or want to take this further please make an official complaint to the Labour Party.”
Many staunch Labour members and supporters have now left the party – hounded out by unfounded allegations of antisemitism, disappointed with the prospect of more Blairite “red-Toryism” under Starmer – but also thoroughly disillusioned about the person we campaigned for in 2017 – the “brand” that had been presented to us all in Canterbury as Rosie Duffield.
Until now, we have kept silent on most of these details but there has to be an end to the damage Duffield continues to do – no longer to Corbyn – but to the new Labour leader, Keir Starmer. Having rewarded her with a position as Labour Whip, Starmer’s judgement must surely have been called into question when Duffield flouted lockdown guidelines so she could pursue her affair with a married man.
Starmer would also surely have been hobbled in properly holding Cummings to account by having a high profile MP sitting on his front bench who was also guilty of breaking lockdown. Duffield may have resigned her whip’s position but by continuing as MP, she holds on to her £81,950 salary and additional £10,000 for “working from home” during lockdown.
Regarding her own “whopping” expense claims, Shepway Vox reports: “the most expensive MP in Kent for the financial year 2018/19 was Rosie Duffield (Lab). Miss Duffield comes in first claiming a whopping £211,887.63.”
On the People Power Index Rosie Duffield is ranked a humiliating 614th out of a total of 650 MPs, based on three criteria: “availability to constituents”, “participation in parliament” and “listening to the public”.
Hardly good value for taxpayers?
But following her resignation from the front bench Duffield writes:-
“I will continue to represent the people of Canterbury, Whitstable and the villages as a Labour MP, working hard on all the issues that myself and my team have made positive action on over the past three years.” Does that include 18,000 unanswered e-mails in her constituency inbox, I wonder?
The “ambition” for power is clearly still evident but that’s surely a slap in the face for the real hardworking single mums in this constituency, and elsewhere, who have braved lockdown in all adversity – including the threat of domestic violence?
As one resident commented to me on a social media post:-
“The case against Ms. Duffield is that she has both mixed up her personal psychodramas with her politics when it has suited her, and, even more crucially, exhibited a disloyalty to her previous party leader, which can only have contributed to the electoral victory of the Johnson government. Oh, and if you are a lawmaker and representative of the public you do have a duty to public policy above and beyond your personal inclination – no matter if that is inconvenient or would be of no proper interest to anyone but the affected parties, were you a private citizen. “
Rosie Duffield’s “brand” has finally lost its sparkle. In fact, it’s thoroughly tarnished. But there’s still time for others, including Keir Starmer, to see the light.
Julie Wassmer is a TV drama writer, author and environmental campaigner
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