Greg Clark held on to his Tunbridge Wells seat, and his place in the Cabinet, in an election that saw a seven per cent local swing to Labour, giving the party it’s best vote since the constituency was formed in 1974.
The result prompted Labour to point out that Mr Clark was ‘the only Conservative candidate in Kent, Medway, and nearby East Sussex constituencies to have suffered a loss in his share of the vote by – 1.8 per cent.”
The party added: “Our candidate Charles Woodgate secured an increase in the Labour vote by +12.3 per cent.
“There were many people in a constituency that voted Remain who felt betrayed by their MP serving in a Government that is supporting a hard Brexit and driving through budget cuts that are devastating our health and public services.”
Mr Clark admitted the national result for the Conservatives was both ‘disappointing’ and the product of a ‘very poor campaign’.
“Corbyn had a very good campaign and we had a very poor one”
The re-elected MP saw his position in Government secured over the weekend when he was reaffirmed as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Speaking to the Times, Mr Clark acknowledged his party’s failure to effectively challenge Jeremy Corbyn or put across a compelling vision for Brexit.
“Corbyn had a very good campaign and we had a very poor one. He managed to communicate his message more effectively than we did.
“We did not challenge him effectively and point out the danger of his policy programme which would be a disaster for Britain and result in some of the highest levels of taxation we have seen at a time of Brexit.
“But it was a very disappointing night for the Conservative party. We hoped to get a good majority and we ended up without one, which was clearly very disappointing.”
Mr Clark still managed a comfortable 56.9 per cent of the vote share although his majority fell by over 6,400 votes, to 16,465.
He said the slip in vote share could be attributed to the constituency’s unique position as Kent’s only place that voted to remain in the EU, but believes he ran a robust local campaign.
“Tunbridge Wells was in a unique position during the EU referendum due to its very strong Remain vote. What you saw during the General Election nationally was in seats that were strongly Remain we either failed to make ground or lost ground.
“My position, I believe, reflected the strength of local support for my campaign which focused on very local issues. I actually picked up 700 more votes than during the last election.”
The Conservative Tonbridge MP Tom Tugendhat has already raised concerns in the Tonbridge edition of this paper about a possible deal with the DUP, particularly it impact on the ‘peace process and neutrality of the UK government’.
However Mr Clark defended the decision to seek an arrangement for the Northern Irish party to prop up the minority government.
“We are not entering a coalition with the DUP but as we are in a hung parliament we need to ensure there is stability.”
Mr Clark would not be drawn on whether a second election was likely this year, possibly after a Conservative Party leadership challenge.
“The country wants parliament to pull together to get a good Brexit deal for Britain. People do not want yet another election,” he said.
With the DUP determined to ensure there is no ‘hard border’ between Ulster and the Republic of Ireland, it is looking as if ‘soft Brexit’ is back on the table.
In what could be seen as a veiled criticism of Theresa May’s relentless focus on the issue of immigration when it comes to Britain’s future relationship with Europe – to the ire of those who want access to the single market to be a priority – Mr Clark said the Government will ‘reflect’ on its approach to Brexit.
“We need to proceed with Brexit but clearly we must reflect on the needs of businesses and ensure we have the best possible deal for the country.”