In Conversation: With Rebecca Smith: Reflections on #GE2019

By Tobias Chalcraft

Exactly two months after the General Election that gave the Conservatives a large majority, we reunited with Rebecca Smith, a Plymouth City Councillor and former Conservative Candidate in the snap election, to look back on an outcome that delivered her some mixed feelings.

When asked about the election result, Rebecca initially provides a positive response by turning her attention to the national level. She started by saying “it was obviously better than we imagined or predicted”, before going on to add that the government is now in a position to deliver its manifesto without any parliamentary obstruction. 

Reflecting on the constituency result, Rebecca said it was “disappointing [and a] real shame” before highlighting that, although Labour were re-elected, Plymouth Sutton & Devonport saw a general swing towards her party. She claimed the result was “quite an exciting opportunity for the [Conservative] party”, as they now face the task of changing face in order to appease new voters that gave them their majority of MPs. Following this result, Rebecca sees the seat as now “all to play for” and hopes that Boris Johnson has Plymouth voters in mind when he speaks of ambitions to solidify support amongst his new voters.

Humbled by the turnout of activists from across the UK who came to support her, the councillor said, “In terms of what we got on the doors; it was probably the most positive campaign I’ve ever been involved in” while reflecting on invitations into homes to meet constituents, and seek their vote, alongside volunteers from the around the UK. However, there were some downsides of the campaign too, especially one bad experience in which a constituent swore at her, whilst holding their toddler. 

Looking back, she described her campaign as “strong” because of her ability to continue with TV interviews, hustings and door knocking alongside suffering from a severe headache for three weeks.

One moment that she found to be surreal took place on Christmas Eve in a Plymouth shopping centre, when Rebecca’s Dad pointed out that numerous shoppers probably voted for her.

Looking at why her campaign was not successful, Rebecca started by looking at Plymouth’s large student population. “It’s nothing new that young people vote Labour and older people vote Conservative”, she said, pointing out that her seat houses students from three universities. She added that Conservatives would only be able to win over students once they persuade them to “drill down into everything [the Conservatives] are saying and realise that it is going to benefit them”. 

Moving on, considerations turned to the opposition as she thinks Labour’s ability to adopt an attractive agenda of promoting “free stuff” for students provides a big hurdle for the Conservatives to win here. Her response concludes with claims that it is “trendy” to vote twice and that she believes the government should highlight the illegality of casting votes in university and home constituencies.

Once pushed on whether she believes voter fraud is being committed by students, Rebecca mentioned that “credible sources” have witnessed voter fraud from local students before saying “our system is open to fraud”.

Losing an election has a hard-hitting impact on the wellbeing of politicians with Ed Balls once likening the experience to dying. To help cope with the emotional, mental and physical impact of the campaign, Rebecca booked a holiday to California. After candidly saying that she was briefly “peopled out”, she underlined efforts of being kind to herself over Christmas, including time on the sofa with Netflix. It was also important for her to take time to process the multiple emotions of electoral defeat and she expressed gratitude towards friends, with similar experiences, that it takes time to reconcile.

The interview turned to the future, as we discussed what our former candidate will be doing to keep busy before the next election, due to take place in four years. “If I could fight a seat again, I’d love to”, but she pointed out that “ultimately, it’s a massive waiting game”. Nevertheless, instead of waiting around, Rebecca will be re-doubling her efforts as a local councillor for the Plymstock Radford ward.

In terms of running in Plymouth again, Rebecca said she would “definitely like to run locally” but suggested Plymouth Sutton & Devonport could only be won if Labour’s strong grip over students began to loosen.

It is safe to say that election defeat has not ended this political career, as proven at a point in this interview in which Rebecca stated “I like to think I’m not a one hit wonder with election campaigns” which certainly reflects the more driven and ambitious figure she has become.

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