By Max Power

It started awkwardly. A soft opening question on which fictional character the candidates would like to switch lives with led to several excruciating seconds of dead air as Labour candidate Peter Chowney floundered desperately in search of a fictional character. Any fictional character would do. Peter’s mind went blank – Jeremy Corbyn? Not fictional. Boris Johnson? Sadly not fictional. Time stood still until Peter eventually plumped for the decidely non-fictional Robert Tressell, celebrated local author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Nick Perry attempted to soften his image in comparing himself to Baloo the Bear – although the Lib Dems were not so cuddly in their five-year stretch propping up the Tory government – while Sally-Ann Hart displayed her modesty by implying her similarity to Jesus Christ himself, in the form of Aslan. 

PICTURE: Peter Mould

Soon a battle for the oxygen of publicity broke out between Independent candidate Paul Crosland and host Chris Connelley. Crosland bizarrely revealed his support for the Labour Party in Canterbury, calling into question the logic of running against Labour in another marginal. He invited the audience to visit his website and Twitter page so often the words lost all meaning. Meanwhile, Connelley’s constant interjections into the debate made one wonder whether he was pondering jumping behind the desk and running for MP himself.    

Hart, a semi-professional Amber Rudd impersonator hoping to make it in the big leagues, demonstrated why she had kept a low profile in the campaign up to this point with a series of right-wing monologues. She took aim at immigrants after an unrelated question about the skills gap in the local area, before turning her ire on working people reduced to using the town’s foodbanks; and finally settling on people with learning difficulties who apparently should be paid less than the minimum wage because they ‘don’t understand money’. All classic vote winners, these. Give them enough rope, as the saying goes. 

And things only got worse for the Tory candidate overnight as various national news outlets got hold of her comments. Perhaps she should have taken a leaf out of her leader’s book and ducked out of the hustings altogether. Oh, wait, she already did that at the climate hustings. 

Perry was reportedly generated within Liberal Democrat headquarters by scientists tasked with designing the archetypal liberal, and he lived up to his billing with a torturous explanation of the party’s policy on Brexit – apparently backing revoke and a second referendum at the same time – mirroring Jo Swinson’s struggles with the same question. Chowney set out his stall as ardent Remainer, at odds with his famously neutral leader.

The night ended in farce as local PhD student and self-publicist James Prentice revealed the results of a local opinion poll he’d conducted, putting the Tories 10 percentage points clear of Labour, and then argued heatedly with audience members over the microphone. By this morning (Friday) we’ll know whether he’s been proved right.

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