Thanet councillor Helen Whitehead announced as Labour General Election candidate for Herne Bay and Sandwich constituency

Helen Whitehead

Thanet council deputy leader Helen Whitehead has been announced as the Labour parliamentary candidate to stand for the Herne Bay and Sandwich constituency in the next General Election.

Cllr Whitehead, who says she believes she is the first openly autistic woman to stand for a Parliamentary seat, will be standing against veteran Conservative Sir Roger Gale who has has been MP for North Thanet for more than 40 years.

At the next Parliamentary General Election, the current South Thanet and North Thanet constituencies will no longer exist; the boundaries were updated by the Boundary Commission and the new constituencies will be known as the East Thanet constituency and the Herne Bay and Sandwich constituency.

East Thanet takes in Ramsgate, Broadstairs and most of Margate while Westbrook, Birchington, Garlinge, Thanet villages wards and Westgate form part of a Herne Bay and Sandwich County Constituency.

Announcing her selection, Cllr Whitehead said: “I began this journey because I was asked to be a councillor. I didn’t want to be, at that point. I’d seen what politics was, how unpleasant social media could be, and I’d seen what negative politics produced. Choosing to face into that, as an openly autistic woman, did not seem healthy or wise.

“But representation is important. I have a son, who faces similar challenges to me, and I know that his potential is limitless in a society that understands him; that understands his abilities, and needs and values him for them.

“Since becoming a councillor I have seen the best and the worst of politics. Some of the best has been the level of support I have received, from other councillors and from officers at TDC, in finding who I am, and how I work, and allowing me to realise both my abilities and the importance of autistic people being in political spaces, determining policy, and addressing needs.

“That support, from friends, family, Labour members, councillors, gave me the confidence to try for something I never thought would happen; and this week, with the backing of Unison, The Co-operative Party and Labour Housing Group, I was selected to stand in the General Election for the seat of Herne Bay and Sandwich, which includes a large part of Thanet.

“Everything I have worked on in five years has pushed forward the idea that our foundations, locally and nationally, have to be strong for everything else to function.

“We have increased the production and acquisition of council housing by 700% in less than half a year; we are about to purchase further in house temporary accommodation, to keep residents in area; we have our first year round rough sleeping centre in the form of the RISE centre, providing direct support to some of our most vulnerable residents. We are improving the energy ratings of our homes, and integrating environmental and energy saving measures, and exploring passive house models to ensure that what we are building is what is needed, and can support future generations.

“These things can be done locally; but the power of influencing policy nationally to support councils in delivering these things is immeasurable.”

Cllr Whitehead says being an MP would mean making changes at national level in areas such as housing development targets and provision of affordable homes.

She added: “I’m not going to pretend that doing this doesn’t terrify me. I’m very aware of how unpleasant politics can be; the only thing I can do in response to that is not play that game, and stick, as I always have done in any election I have stood in, to the Jo Cox election pledge; there is no way to stop negative politics, other than by consistently modelling positive politics.

“I will never attack or belittle other candidates; I have no need to. I do not need to bring others down in order to make myself look better; it is, as it should always be, your work that makes you stand out.

“I am incredibly privileged and proud to have been chosen for this seat; and I will work my hardest for it.

“In an area that struggles so much in terms of SEN provision, I think it is hugely significant that we have had the first openly autistic Deputy Leader of a Council, and now, we believe, the first openly autistic woman standing to become an MP.

“Our little corner of the world is extraordinary; we face huge challenges, and we always rise to them. I will rise to this challenge.”

For East Thanet candidates are, so far, Craig Mackinlay (Conservative) Polly Billington (Labour) and Steve Roberts (Green).

The next United Kingdom general election must be held no later than 28 January 2025 with Parliament being dissolved no later than 17 December 2024. However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he expects to call a general election “in the second half” of 2024.

56 Comments

  1. Excellent. Next step a campaign to get MPs salaries raised by 16% in a year to be more inclusive.

  2. Most members of the council – whatever party they are in – recognise that Helen is an outstanding councillor, highly intelligent, hardworking, caring and fair.

    Not every will agree with her (or me) politically but she is an outstanding candidate and anyone who claims otherwise simply doesn’t know her or is blinded by partiality.

      • My feelings too, though I can be swayed by a convincing candidate (as I very occasionally have in the past).

  3. I was so pleased to hear this news. Helen has done brilliant work in increasing our hosing stock, and creating more temporary accommodation in Thanet, so less people have to go out of area. I know she would be a real asset as a local MP

  4. Another poor choice by Labour. This candidate can’t handle pressure. We don’t need key board warrior candidates.

    • Unfortunately, due to our housing crisis, I have had five years of directly supporting families and individuals who are facing often the worst time of their lives; as well as five years worth of social media comments stating that anyone in politics who actually cares can’t “handle pressure”.

      Managing both of the above show that I am very capable of handling pressure.

      • I remember seeing you cry at the KCC election results in the winter gardens, I’d say you can’t handle pressure.

        • That would be surprising, considering that we didn’t have the KCC election count in the Winter Gardens.

          You are aware that autistic people (contrary to stereotypes) feel emotions very strongly, aren’t you?

  5. I look forward to Helen visiting the villages to discuss local issues (tip: be prepared to answer questions on the airport!).

  6. It would be nice if the stock photo of Helen Whitehead IOTN uses, could be updated.

    Good Luck in the upcoming Election but if the current Govt. can stop an election they will.

  7. Congratulations you will be great and make difference. Your record as Councillor show your determination to make our community a better place for all. Keep the good work going.

  8. Frightening choice, for Thanet not sure which is less inspiring labour or Tory candidate.

    That said surely Craig Mackinlay would win any contest for the limpest most uninspiring MP in Kent.

    • I’m not sure I’ve been described as frightening before; I’ve gained a few new epithets today…

  9. I wish her well and it will be nice to see Sir Roger retire although I hope it’s a different party that do it.
    It would also be nice to see Thanet as one like it used to be and not north, south, east or west.

  10. An excellent choice of candidate. A local candidate with a proven track record or working for her constituents and the locality. Very best of luck, Helen. (P.S. I hadn’t realised you have autism until reading the comments section here. As a father of a six-year old daughter with very recently diagnosed autism, it is hugely inspiring to see that it is not a barrier to success).

    • Thank you James. Your comment means a huge amount to me.

      I’m not exaggerating when I say I find this process frightening; currently politics often isn’t a healthy or manageable place for anyone autistic. But it is really important for us to be in the spaces where decisions are made, and to advocate for our community; as without our voices and the understanding of what autistic people genuinely need policy will never reflect real life.

      It took five years to get support for my son and find the right school for him; but with the right environment in place, he is now thriving.

      The point of standing openly as an autistic candidate is to do exactly what you said; to show that we are capable and needed and that whatever we want we can achieve. I’m hoping that no matter the result of this election that people see that we belong in politics, and are needed in politics, and that our potential is limitless if we are just supported and understood by our society.

      All the very best to you and your daughter.

      Helen.

  11. It is 100 years since the First Labour government came into office. They faced major problems yet in John Wheatley they had someone who was prepared to tackle the considerable housing crisis of the time.I am not at all sure that a Starmer Govt will do anything other than wring their hands and offer platitudes.
    The nation expects action and on a great scale, not I am not sure how it will be funded!
    In the past mental health and the position of an individual on any behavioural spectrum was something that was hidden, not discussed, shameful in some way Nowadays, that does not happen, but what I will say is that many of us exhibit some kind behaviour outside of the normal spectrum, because what is normal?
    Autistic or not, putting your head above the parapet means you become a target for all the HYS ‘experts’ as seen here.Old Sir Roger, is not a kindly old gentleman who will let you freely debate the issues of the day, he will try to shut you down and suggest that you believe in things that might be detrimental to your cause.
    My evidence for that is just about everything the current government are doing at the moment and the crow that ms Donellan is having to eat at our expense for defaming two university professors.
    So Bonne chance,and my best wishes for your future success.

    • Helen is a true socialist, sincere and empathetic, and I wish her all the best in her work to improve things for Thanet residents.

      • It’s the “true socialist” bit that puts me off too (and I suspect the majority of other Thanet voters). Still, I’ll listen to what she says… which I suspect is much more than you’ll do with any Tory or Reform UK candidates.

  12. So what’s the point of Helen visiting Birchington when the Pink friend of an insurrectionist is obviously adamant in his/her extremism.
    Helen is trying to meet you part of the way, and what do you do? You bang on about the orange pensioner from Florida.You want to be taken seriously and all you do is say pointless things.

    • The voting majority of the USA are “extremists”???

      You’re be telling us that Hamas are “moderates” next.

      Anyway, Trump said he’ll throw Harry out of the country, so well worth voting for.

      • You don’t get a vote not even in planet Birchington
        The UN has already seen what Hama’s did, but appalling as that was is it right that 30,000 men,women and children had to die.
        Your crass behaviour only makes a tragic situation worse.

        • The UN also stated that it’s true the Hamas terrorists raped women and children – yet that somehow gets overlooked. As for ME making things worse, the comments by people in Thanet don’t make a blind bit of difference to a war overseas. Get a grip, lad.

  13. I’m looking forward to the GE, and the trouncing of this ghastly Tory government.
    Over the years they’ve got worse and worse, culminating in the utter shambles of the recent past.
    I’m quite sure that, in the short term at least, Labour will not bring about miraculous changes, given the situation we’re in.
    But we most definitely need a change, new blood.

  14. You guessed wrong again! Just because I don’t like the gruesome trump puts well within the democratic majority.
    Writing slurs about Lenin and the Bolsheviks is old fake news, about 100 years old. Now where is my copy of the Zinoviev letter?

    • Andrew/George, perhaps you should stop answering for each other. That way, the more gullible might be convinced.

      Oh, and you’re wrong about me driving to train stations (or anywhere else).

  15. I agree. The latest boundary changes are weird. Geographically, east Thanet is really Thanet, and now tin pot tiny geographically. And north Thanet straddles the next salami slice of land up. If its on headcount there would have been far better options. And if its on local context then it’s even weirder.

    • Yes Alice: ‘Herne Bay and Sandwich’ makes as much sense as ‘Dartford & Croydon’ or ‘Bromley & Mayfair’. But then I suppose that normal, decent people don’t get to make these decisions!

  16. Whilst no doubt Helen’s heart is in the right place, sadly, there is no chance of her being elected in Herne Bay & Sandwich. Due to the recent boundary changes the current incumbent Roger Gale is expected to be elected again with an increased majority.

    Despite the Tories’ gross incompetence over the past 14 years, the residents of Sandwich, Westgate and Birchington still vote Tory in large numbers, as evidenced by the local TDC election.

    At least Helen will face no competition from the Reform UK candidate Amelia Randall who is so doolally that Reform UK has banned her from using the Reform name and logo for an event she is holding at St Augustine’s in Westgate on 6th April. As a result, it’s doubtful that Reform’s deputy leader Ben Habib will attend.

    One such bonkers idea Amelia has planned for the event is to invite audience members to come up onto the stage until it is so crowded that no more can fit in an attempt to demonstrate Reform UK’s anti-immigration policy.

    When Reform UK distances itself from a candidate because she’s too right-wing, you know she’s got to be an extremist! Word is they may replace her with a more moderate candidate.

    • Reform , labour and anyone else who cares to put forward a candidate know full well that the chance of beating Sir Roger are slim to non existent, for all the criticism aimed at him ( much probably has some basis of truth) he’s an excellent mp and does much for his constituents, how many more years he intends to carry on is another thing and as and when he does step down , that’ll be when we find out if an alternative party will win.

      Labours candidate would quite happily bankrupt TDC in her quest to house everyone in expensive to buy property that she’d rent at the lowest possible rate, land us in a Bormingham style situatio lEaving us all to bail out her largesse via similar Birmingham style council tax increases. Her socialist ideals also mean that there is little concern for those other than those she deems worthy .
      Nothing wrong with that in a democracy, but fortunately the same democracy chooses how much power she’ll be given.
      As for candidates photos,

      Those on the left genarally appear as not trustworthy and condescending, ( oh little person let me run your life for you)
      Those on the right generally appear as arrogant and untrustworthy ( oh , little person let me run your life for you).

      Depending on which group of the top and bottom of society do better or worse, but unfortunately for the vast majprity of the middle ground they end up worse off under both. The safest thing to do is get a job in central or local government, where you can loaf at home to your hearts content and do so safe in the knowledge you’ll get away with it no matter who’s in charge.

      • Housing ‘everyone’ who is homeless or in recognised need of local authority housing services in ‘expensive to buy property’ is still cheaper than housing those same people in expensive privately rented and often poor quality rooms and flats around the country. Don’t take my word for it, google the news to find out just how much this country’s homelessness crisis is costing the country in hard cash. Add to that the hidden costs caused by disruption in children’s education, stress related mental health problems, and adults losing jobs because they are forced to move to another part of the country because there is nowhere local for them to be housed.

        • Social remted Housing receives around 20 billion a year in benefit payments as around 65% of its tenants are on benefits, the tax payer comtributes grant funding towrds initial purchase and in the case of old stock has handed over more than 40 billion for the decent homes standard and will no doubt hand over billions more in the net zero crusade. Social housing pays no tax. Grenfell and Lakanal are alone responsible for more deaths than the private sector as a whole ever.
          The private rented sector pays tax, devise a syatem where that tax is returned to the tenants or deducted from the benefits paid to the tenants and the whole economic argument is turned on its head, which is why you’ll never see that level of detail in the google searches you do.
          Neither the private or social sector housing will ever be perfect, but the council being both poacher and gamekeeper for its housing is never going to be a good way of improving things , and councils have huge amounts of legislation they can use to monitor and act against the pricate sector but largley they don’t.
          Two sides to every coin

  17. Well done Helen. I for one, will be voting for you as I have seen how pro-active and seriously you take your current position. Time for change – from an ex-Tory.

  18. I’m late to the party but just wanted to put it out there that this is the best thing that labour have done since 2020. Congratulations Helen. To my mind you are already the winner.

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