What will they do with power?

Voters from disempowered groups and the general public met just days before the 2019 General Election to challenge Canterbury’s candidates on what they will do with power. 370 people packed out the Westgate Hall, with the knife-edge margin between Labour and Conservatives charging the atmosphere.

bemix Co-Chair Steve Chapman explained: “Many people don’t have a voice in politics. We put this on so disempowered people can be seen and heard in this election.” Shortlisted questions ranged across the social care crisis, the “legalised psychological torture” of PIP assessments, children’s mental health, unpaid carers, the hostile environment for refugees and the “horrific reality” of the detention of people with learning disabilities and/or autism in mental health hospitals. The audience then took the chance to press candidates Rosie Duffield, Anna Firth and Claire Malcomson on homelessness, austerity and the unfairness of first-past-the-post voting. 

Candidates Anna Firth, Rosie Duffield and Claire Malcomson alongside Chair Paul Francis and bemix leaders Steve Chapman, Tom Seaton and Leila Ayoub

Innovating with interactive big screens to engage the crowd, we asked what quality people value the most in their MP: 

The instantly-generated word cloud highlighted 'honesty' and 'integrity', echoed by Steve who told candidates he simply wanted "the truth". While many feel politicians have always lied and broken promises, questions of integrity and trust define this election like no other. We're struggling to handle fake news and social media echo chambers. Truth and lies about austerity have impacted our most vulnerable fellow-citizens for nearly a decade. Truth and lies about Brexit will affect us all for decades to come. With what's at stake for the most disempowered - it can be life and death - honesty and integrity are words for Rosie, Anna and Claire to hold in their hearts in the final days before voting.

Tom Seaton from bemix spoke up powerfully to the audience and media for people with autism. "We don't want a regime built on loneliness. It has to be about integration and co-existence, not just about segregated care."

Read and watch KMTV's feature on the event here.

After the evening, we emailed our audience to ask: "Leaving aside your own party preference, who do you think performed best overall in yesterday’s Question Time?" 51 people responded, giving clear endorsement to Labour's Rosie Duffield:

You can read detailed audience feedback on the event here.

If you believe in this kind of initiative from people with learning difficulties and/or autism, please support with our event costs:


Was there party-bias, and were all candidates invited?

No. The Question Time was what the Electoral Commission calls a hustingsIt was non-selective, which meant we treated candidates and parties equally. Our aim was to engage all candidates who may achieve power, whatever their political position. To protect the speaking time of significant candidates, we couldn't offer a place to any new independent candidates with no history of voter following in Canterbury and Whitstable. You can read official details of all candidates here.

We promoted the event through local press releases and targeted social media to Canterbury and Whitstable voters interested in politics and social issues, regardless of party affiliation.

The constituency and candidates

The Canterbury constituency covers most of the city and surrounding villages, together with Whitstable. Held almost uninterrupted by the Conservatives since 1835, the seat was won by Labour’s Rosie Duffield in 2017 with a margin of just 187 votes. As Kent’s only Labour seat with such a small gap between Labour and the Conservatives, all eyes were on Canterbury in this election.

In order of party vote size in 2017, our three invited candidates were:

Rosie Duffield, Labour

Anna Firth, Conservative

Claire Malcomson, Liberal Democrat


Steve Chapman (left) is Co-Chair of the bemix Board and a widely-known leader in Kent among people with learning difficulties. Steve was responsible for the values guiding the Question Time with its focus on disempowered groups, and Chair of the Questions Committee.

Matt Clifton (right) is Chief Executive and was responsible for project managing the Question Time.