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2022 HBC election results: what do they tell us?

Though it was the Green Party gains which grabbed the headlines, there is much to be learned from the implications of last week’s election of 16 councillors to Hastings Borough Council for politics in Hastings & Rye. James Prentice sifts through the facts and figures to address such questions as: how did the Greens gain such rapid support in four Labour seats? should the Conservatives ditch Boris Johnson? and should Labour change Keir Starmer’s new approach? Graphics by the writer except where stated.

In terms of seats, Labour won nine, the Tories four and the Greens three, thus putting the council into a situation of no overall control – NOC (map 1).

A year ago, the anticipation was Labour and the Conservatives would battle it out in the traditional key marginal seats, like Silverhill, St Helens, Baird, Ore and Wishing Tree.

Yet it was clear from early on in the count that the Conservative Party's vote was down and Labour's was up, allowing Labour to hold onto all these battleground seats with surprisingly comfortable majorities. Labour failed to gain West St Leonards largely due to unpopular planning policies in the area, but holding these key Labour-Tory battlegrounds would have met their goals.

However, as the count progressed it became evident within select seats that the Greens were neck and neck with Labour. As the recounts happened, it was clear the Greens had marginally won Central St Leonards and Gensing, with Tressell being declared for the Greens with a strong majority shortly afterwards. Indeed, Labour only kept Castle ward by five votes, surely stopping another loss through getting out a personal vote for Cllr Rogers. Consequently, the election result became framed around this shock result.

Critically, this success for the Greens got much high-profile media coverage, but it masked some important take-aways from the election. Primarily, although Labour lost battles with the Greens, they did in fact win the election, as they gained more seats and votes than any other party by quite some margin (see graphic at top). Further, it is worth noting that the Electoral Calculus website predicts Labour would likely win the parliamentary seat if a general election were held this May, even when taking into account the Conservative-leaning areas that comprise the rest of our constituency.

The rest of this blog identifies the important facts to take away from the elections for the three parties that won seats in this election.

Conservative Party: A tough day

Firstly, let's start with our parliamentary party. The mid-term elections often deliver tough election results for the government, and this time was no exception. The Conservative Party were hoping to force the council into no overall control through winning at least one Labour-Tory key marginal. St Helens, Ore, Silverhill and Baird in particular would have been hopeful targets for Hasting's Conservatives. Yet, the fact that the party lost votes across Hastings meant that these targets were not reachable, especially when adding in long-standing Labour councillors' personal support.

The shock rise in support for the Greens distracted the media's attention away from the biggest story of the night: the Tories' vote in Hastings went down by 9.3%, putting them lower than 30% of the vote for the first time since Labour's landslide victory in 1997. Although not a complete disaster, as it could have been worse, it was still a very bad night for the Tories, with them being the main loser (in terms of votes cast) this time around.

The map above shows that the Conservatives lost a sizeable amount of their vote in safe areas, with Ashdown and Conquest displaying over a 10% decrease. They also lost some support in West St Leonards and Maze Hill, but were never in danger of losing any seats due to the large majorities they have in these four seats. They also suffered a large loss of support (down 11%) in Baird, meaning that they went from winning this seat last year to losing it this year.

They were also prevented from challenging other Labour-Tory marginals, such as St Helens, Wishing Tree and Silverhill, due to smaller losses and Labour gains. The party therefore became reliant on the Greens to force the NOC scenario they desired. However, as will be outlined later, their vote collapse would prove vital in helping the Greens to win traditional Labour seats.

Overall, this election result presents the Conservative Party with a dilemma. The result nationally was not as bad as it could have been, but based on recent polling returns they would lose Hastings & Rye if a general election were held now. Therefore, do the local Tories lobby the MP and ask her to vote against Boris Johnson in a vote of no confidence or do they stick with the PM who has a long history of winning in the hope these mid-term blues will go away? There are no obvious answers, as governments have come back from worse local election results, yet these results do show that Johnson might not be the winner he once was.

Labour wins the election, but loses Green battles

The Labour Party lost overall control of the council and will find it tough to see past this huge negative, yet there are some encouraging signs for them.

Firstly, the negatives are obvious. Labour was supposed to be the party to pick up the disaffected voter and should have kept every seat. Yet, due to an unexpected Green surge, they lost three seats and were only five votes away from losing a fourth. In these four seats, Labour's vote share declined by 6.7%, whilst the Greens' jumped by 22.9%. This average swing of around 15% got the Greens just over the line in Central St Leonards and Gensing, resulting in Labour losing council control. This again shows there is an anti-Labour vote present in Hastings and it is giving Labour a message to change their local policies or risk losing more seats.

Labour activists may conclude that they should return back to a Corbyn-style era in order to placate radical Green voters. However, this would not be an optimal strategy to follow.

Firstly, going after left-leaning voters Labour lost to the Greens would not guarantee winning back these voters. Secondly, this movement away from Labour may be associated with local issues and not Labour's overall stance nationally. Thirdly, it might not gain enough voters to win back the seats lost as some of the new Green voters are former Conservative voters. Fourthly, this vote could possibly be a flash in the pan protest vote. Recall, for instance, that UKIP gained 23% in 2013 but now has 0%.

Finally, Labour turning themselves more left-wing might cause them to lose Conservative voters they have won over in places like Silverhill, St Helens, Ore and Baird, potentially putting Labour councillors at risk from Conservative challengers.

Now the good news. Although Labour lost isolated battles with the Greens (see lightly coloured areas in map 3), they did in fact win the election. They got the highest amount of seats and the highest vote share total, beating the Tories by over 10% and the Greens by roughly 17%.

Furthermore, Labour did very well in the Tory-Labour marginals they need to win back in order to have a chance of winning the parliamentary seat. Across the borough, they gained 3.5%, yet in the marginals of St Helens, Ore, Baird and Silverhill they gained 9.6%, with the Tories losing 7.5%, a swing of 3.8% in Labour's favour.

Further, the map above demonstrates their result was improved in the wards of Ore, Silverhill, St Helens, Braybrooke, Conquest and Ashdown, again showing they are making headway. Therefore, based on this and current national polling, which shows them five points ahead, it is possible Labour can win the parliamentary seat from the Conservatives.

Vitally, this all shows that Labour's strategy to win the parliamentary seat could currently be working as they are gaining more than enough votes to beat the Tories. Labour can take comfort from this, but must be aware of the threats on the right by the Tories and on the left by the Greens.

The anti-Labour vote? The Greens target Labour

The map above firstly shows that the Green Party's gains were very concentrated in traditional Labour areas. The Greens actually lost votes in Ashdown, Silverhill, St Helens, Wishing Tree and Old Hastings (due to a popular mayor defending his seat). They also only made limited gains in Hollington, Maze Hill and Baird.

The map makes it clear that the Green Party's vote comes in the urban liberal cosmopolitan Remain-leaning central parts of the town, which has recently been subject to new voters coming in from London due to rising house prices and people looking for a more desirable and affordable place to live post-Covid.

Whilst this changed electorate makes it easier for the Green Party to gain votes, it cannot fully explain the huge swing to the Greens. Clearly, there are local factors, including unpopular decisions by the Labour council which have potentially alienated part of their voting base.

Further, the local Greens ran a very competent campaign, with a clear message of targeting wavering Labour voters in traditional Labour areas who were unhappy with the local Labour Party. Moreover, they seemed to have personally likeable candidates able to communicate their effective outsider image that could appeal to wavering Labour voters.

On top of this, there could be national factors at play. Whilst the Greens clearly targeted Labour areas, the untold story of this election is that a large decline in the Conservative vote within these areas probably tipped the Greens over the line in two of the wards they won, Central St Leonards and Gensing. The graph below shows that in the four wards where the Greens made their largest gains, the Tories' vote collapsed by 12%, whilst Labour's shrank 7% and the Lib-Dems around 4%.

Consequently, it is almost certain that a large proportion of the Green Party's gains came from Conservative-leaning voters, which in key areas helped the Greens win or come close to winning. This could be a combination of local and national factors. Locally, Conservative voters who wanted to have an impact against Labour backed the Greens in the hope they could win and force NOC, thus potentially giving the Tories more influence.

Nationally, disillusioned Tories looked for their best alternative after "Partygate", causing them to abandon the Conservative Party. Therefore, the Greens partly won due to their ability to mobilise the anti-Labour and wavering-Labour vote within traditional Labour areas.

Council composition: The Greens' strategic nightmare

The Greens' gains theoretically make them power brokers, yet this does not necessarily favour them. They have three choices ahead of them: firstly, they could try and secure a deal with Labour; secondly, they could do a deal with the Tories; thirdly, they could leave Labour in a minority position and work with both parties on an issue-by-issue basis.

Labour's preference: Labour will want to avoid working on an issue-by-issue basis. It will allow the Greens to have a deciding vote on every decision with no security of having a stable administration. This would also allow the Greens to take credit for all the good decisions and avoid responsibility for all the controversial decisions.

Their best outcome is to get the Greens involved in the cabinet, so they can stay in a leadership role whilst attaching the Greens to Labour Party policy and a clearer political programme. If Labour can't get such an agreement, after 12 years in government they may have to consider taking two years of opposition.

The Tories will hope the Greens offer them a deal or work with them on an issue-by-issue basis, with either scenario giving them considerably more influence than they have now. They will hope bad blood between the Greens and Labour means they do not do a deal that keeps them, the Tories, in complete opposition.

No one knows what the Greens will do - indeed, when the BBC interviewed their leader at the count they refused to be drawn on the question, indicating they are keeping their options open. They have stated they want greater questioning and transparency in decision-making, so they will likely go with the party they feel can best deliver this.

The ideal situation for them is to keep Labour in a minority scenario so they can claim policy successes without having the responsibility for decisions, such as planning applications. The Greens may be forced to consider doing deals with the Tories if Labour does not play ball. Either way they face a problem: if they do a deal with Labour they will alienate gained Tory voters, but if they work with the Tories they will alienate gained Labour voters.

Indeed, this was the problem the Liberal Democrats faced in 2010, and the only chance the Greens have to satisfy both is to work with both parties on a policy-by-policy basis, something Labour will be keen to avoid.

Whatever the Greens decide they will need to decide it before 18th of this month when the council reforms and decides its cabinet. One thing is for sure, these decisions, taken behind closed doors, will determine the political composition of HBC for the next two years.

 

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Posted 20:05 Wednesday, May 11, 2022 In: Elections 2022

7 Comments

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  1. Tim Barton

    I agree with ‘DAR’ about the move of anti-Starmer Labour to Green. Many of my friends, and customers at Bookbuster, all long-time LP voters, often for decades, expressed to me their disgust with Starmer’s hypocrisy and injustice dealing with internal party ‘issues’.

    Thus, i didn’t regard the green wins as a ‘shock’ result. But there was a surprise for me, as I had worried that this split (mostly) left vote may inadvertently lend a seat or two to the Tories even if they gained no votes or even lost a few. I am relieved to be wrong, and now hope our local LCP & councillors and the local Green Party and councillors can find enough common ground to function. I also hope the greens can help steer those environmental and planning issues that HBC are responsible for in the right direction (many such issues are in the hands of ESCC, or exacerbated by the changes to development and construction rules, especially on court appeals, introduced under, if i recall correctly, George Osborne).

    As I say, it was a relief to see Green wins rather than low-vote tory wins. Cllr ‘but what about the treeeeees’ Lee would have been even more unbearable heralding such a ‘win’ as a great triumph!

    Comment by Tim Barton — Tuesday, May 17, 2022 @ 11:31

  2. Hippolyte Grigg

    I was not surprised at the Kim Forward loss in Gensing. She was bound to loose being below par for a councillor and a poor leader of the council. Way too low key.
    To reflect on the losses. Coucillors stand for election to make a difference. Putting aside the Boris factor (he’s not a local) I would be asking those who lost ‘have you done enough in your Wards to make a difference?’ The answer has to be no.
    H Grigg.

    Comment by Hippolyte Grigg — Monday, May 16, 2022 @ 17:44

  3. Remus

    Ideologically, I would have preferred a Conservative, but I lent the Green candidate my vote to get Labour out. I know others who did likewise, and it seems to have worked.

    Comment by Remus — Saturday, May 14, 2022 @ 12:30

  4. Russell Hall

    It is worth also comparing the 2022 vote shares in Hastings to 2018, when the councillors defending their seats in 2022 were elected. Labour got about 50% of the vote share from 2014-2018, fell back to 34% in 2021, but only regained part of its 2014-2018 vote share in 2022 – polling 42%.

    The Tories consistently got around 30% of the vote share in Hastings from 2014-2018, but surged to 39% in 2021, and returned to 30% in 2022.

    Analysis by Britain Elects finds the Greens saw their largest vote share gain anywhere nationally in Hastings when compared to 2018, going from 10% in 2018 to 23% in 2022: https://sotn.newstatesman.com/2022/05/local-elections-2022-are-the-greens-here-to-stay/

    Comment by Russell Hall — Friday, May 13, 2022 @ 18:15

  5. DAR

    I’d say the much larger Green vote came from disenchanted Corbynistas and radical incomers from London and Brighton.

    Comment by DAR — Friday, May 13, 2022 @ 14:28

  6. James Prentice

    I am baffled by the comment that stated the article did not say anything positive about the Greens impressive gains.

    “Further, the local Greens ran a very competent campaign, with a clear message of targeting wavering Labour voters in traditional Labour areas who were unhappy with the local Labour Party. Moreover, they seemed to have personally likeable candidates able to communicate their effective outsider image that could appeal to wavering Labour voters” I think that part of the article made it clear they did well and did things right. The article just reports the facts and lets people come to their own conclusions on why the election result went the way it did.

    Comment by James Prentice — Thursday, May 12, 2022 @ 10:25

  7. J B KNIGHT

    CRIKEY!! Cant hide your bias and skewerd pink tinged rosy hued glasses again.
    The Greens gain was not nothing, especially when gaining Labour seats for life strongholds such as Central St Leonards and Gensing. I myself was surprised at Gensing as Kim Forward had over a 600 vote advantage and to change that so tremendously around was not nothing to do, A lot of traditional life long Labour voters turned to Greens including working class, hard core left, benefit dependents and tenants.

    The spin you have to put on your bias to spin it out is DISGRACEFUL!

    Aiming and pursuing to dismiss and insult both the winning candidates and the voters, who again Labour biased writers like to suggest are too thick to know what is best for them.

    It was a great win and a kick up the backside, and other overall Labour council has got some brakes on it at last. They are NOT FOR YOU, YOU KNOW!!

    Or does bias and blinkers still stop you seeing that.

    Well Done for a Great Turn Around. Complacency always needs a Kick in the Arse.

    Comment by J B KNIGHT — Wednesday, May 11, 2022 @ 23:18

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