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Map 1. HBC 2018 election results by ward, and the party winner’s majority. The map shows the current representation of the seats up for election this year by ward. It also gives the winning party’s majority, showing how easy or hard it will be for a seat to change control. T = Tressell ward, Labour majority 42%.

Hastings: the key battlegrounds

In less than a month the town will be electing 16 councillors for Hastings Borough Council (HBC) as local elections take place in England for the second year running. Last year Labour’s once solid majority was shaken by Tory gains and the Greens winning their first seat. So how will the council look after 5 May? PhD researcher James Prentice of Capture Politics outlines the prevailing political situation and which are the seats most likely to change hands.

The map above shows the seats that will be defended in the upcoming local elections. These are half the seats that were won in the 2018 local election when due to boundary changes two councillors were elected to each ward – the ones held by the candidates who were elected with the highest number of votes; those who finished second faced the ballot box in last year’s local election.

Labour is defending 12 seats and the Conservative Party four. The map also shows the majority the parties are defending. Realistically, it is unlikely the Conservatives will lose any seats. Ashdown, Conquest and Maze Hill have returned Conservative councillors for decades, and with such large majorities for them this is unlikely to change.

Moreover, in the last local elections, Labour had a tough time in West St Leonards after residents felt frustrated over the council not listening to their objections over a controversial housing development plan. So Labour will find it almost impossible to gain anything from these local elections, meaning that all they can do is defend their record.

In contrast, this election presents the Conservative Party with nothing but an opportunity to eliminate Labour’s overall majority. If Labour loses two councillors from the 12 seats they are defending to the Conservatives, they will be reduced to only 16 councillors, leaving them without an overall majority.

This means that if the Greens, who have two seats, neither up for election, worked with the Tories, who would have 14 seats, they could carve out a tie that would leave Labour out of office. If Labour loses three or more seats to the Tories then a Conservative administration becomes more likely, with the Greens possibly deciding the balance of power.

Worryingly for Labour, there are reports that the Greens feel badly treated by Labour, possibly meaning they may be more likely to side with the Tories in a hung council scenario. Therefore, to be certain of remaining in power Labour can’t afford to lose more than one seat.

Map 2. HBC 2021 election results by ward, seat changes and winner’s majority. The map shows the winner of each ward in the 2021 local election and highlights the key battlegrounds for 2022. It also shows the party’s 2021 majority, showing how marginal these areas might be. Wishing Tree is highlighted due to the closer than expected result last time. St Helens has a ! as the strong win for the Tories shows Labour will find it hard to win this seat. West St Leonards and Old Hastings have a ? as it is not known how marginal these wards are.

Where could Labour lose those two seats?

Some seats have long returned strong Labour majorities, such as Central St Leonards, Gensing, Castle, Hollington, Tressell and Braybrooke, meaning the number of seats Labour realistically can lose is limited. Yet, there are vulnerabilities in the red wall displayed in map 1.

The key battlegrounds will likely be the traditional four key marginal seats that have often defined the swing of power in Hastings. These four seats are Baird, Ore, Silverhill and St Helens. It is possible that Labour could lose all these four seats as in last year’s local elections Labour lost all four seats to the Tories – see map 2. In particular, St Helens (currently held by Cllr Batsford – Labour’s housing leader) could be tough for Labour as last year the Conservative Party won a 16% majority in this ward in a large swing against Labour.

Baird, Silverhill and Ore have small Labour majorities (all less than 8% last year), and usually have for any winning party, meaning these seats will again likely be close. Further, there are more potential swing areas. West St Leonards is a traditional key marginal, but due to unpopular housing policies in the area, Labour may not be able to get close and challenge the Tories in this ward for a few election cycles.

Yet it is possible that national factors may override local concerns and bring back close results. Wishing Tree was a surprising battleground in last year’s local election, with the Conservative Party coming much closer than expected to Labour. Moreover, with the longstanding Cllr Scott stepping down Labour may lose some of the personal vote he gathered after many years of work in the area, potentially giving the Tories an opportunity. Yet, Labour has not lost this seat for a very long time, so the Tories might find it harder to take compared to other key marginals.

The problem for Labour is that the biggest decreases in their vote share in last year’s local elections, and therefore some of the biggest swings against them, occurred in these key marginal seats which they are defending – see map 3. Consequently, if Labour cannot reverse this decline in support, and the rise in Conservative support, then they will lose their majority.

Map 3. HBC: Conservative gain over Labour in 2021. The map shows the percentage of the vote the Conservatives gained over Labour in 2021 by ward. The figure is compared to the share of the vote both parties obtained in 2018. T = Tressell ward (28.3%).

The biggest unknown element that could impact these local elections is what will happen to the Green Party vote after last year’s election. Map 2 highlighted how Old Hastings ward could now be thought of as a key marginal seat. Historically, the ward was a battleground for Labour and the Conservative Party, but over the years the Old Town has changed demographically. It has given way to a more middle-class and socially liberal audience, who are more likely to vote for liberal-left parties.

Last year the Green Party secured its first-ever seat in this ward and could gain another councillor if they can persuade enough of these voters to back their proposed second councillor. However, they face the challenge of dethroning the current Mayor, something not often done. Cllr Bacon has a very visible presence in this part of town and local social media and will have some personal support because of his amount of constituency casework and visibility.

Therefore, Labour should be the favourite to hold onto this one. But the Greens could repeat their performance from last year, or they could take enough votes from Labour to let the Tories in, meaning this ward will be one to watch.

Finally, the Greens may have some impact in the key marginal areas. Crucially, polls show the Green Party’s national vote to be down from last year’s success. Therefore, if the Green Party’s vote decreases, how the vote will be distributed between Labour and Conservative could prove vital. It could let the Tories back in, alternatively it could help Labour by bringing back former wavering voters.

Moreover, in key marginal wards, where the election likely will be tight, how the Lib Dems perform could partly determine if the power flows the Tories’ or Labour’s way. Map 4 shows that the Green Party’s support varied highly between wards, so how the Greens fare will be important in wards like Old Hastings, Ore, St Helens and Silverhill, but perhaps less so in wards they did less well in, such as Baird, Wishing Tree and safe Conservative areas.

If the Greens build upon last year’s success and increase their vote share, then the evidence from the last election is that in key wards this would likely damage Labour more than the Tories.

Map 4. HBC: Green Party vote share in 2021. The map shows the percentage of the vote secured by the Green Party in 2021 by ward. T = Tressell ward (19.4%).

Will Labour lose their majority? How likely is it that Labour can lose the two seats the Tories require?

It is entirely possible that this election could prove to be quite a dull affair, with possibly no seats changing hands. Although Labour is in for a tough election they are defending their majority at a good time for them. The national polls put them ahead, indeed some election predictor websites show them gaining Hastings & Rye if a general election were held tomorrow.

Further, we are at the mid-term point in the parliamentary term, where the government usually gets a kicking. There will be incentives for the public to kick the government due to “partygate” enraging many voters. Again, in the key marginal areas Labour has some longstanding councillors who will have some personal support based on work they have done over the years, such as Cllrs Sinden, Turner, Bacon and Batsford. Based on these positive factors, Labour really should have a good local election.

However, there are local factors to take into account. Labour faced a kickback last year partly due to unpopular positions on local issues, and opposition parties have focused on criticising Labour’s record. Due to the odd position of electing two councillors in the same ward, although Labour is theoretically defending some large majorities in reality they might be fighting against the Tory majorities secured in 2021 (see map 2), some of which will be hard to overcome.

The Greens will work Old Hastings hard as they can win in this area. Indeed, debates online about leaflets that talk about “Greens can win here” and criticising Labour’s record have already provoked heated debate.

The Tories are focusing on critiquing controversial planning decisions and highlighting stories of waste in local government, which might provide the difference in a tight election.

The question is, will these local factors be enough to overcome the national trends that look to be favouring Labour? The answer is that there are just too many unknown local factors, meaning that this local election is just too close to call. But one thing is for sure — it is the seats of Baird, Ore, Silverhill and St Helens (and possibly Old Hastings) which will determine the distribution of power for the next two years at HBC.

 

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Posted 20:17 Sunday, Apr 10, 2022 In: Elections 2022

10 Comments

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  1. DAR

    No. 1 priority – get rid of HBC’s cabinet system – currently controlled by a small cabal of Labour councillors who have become arrogant and dismissive of residents’ concerns about building on open green spaces (e.g. see Harrow Lane Playing Field).

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Apr 14, 2022 @ 13:02

  2. Julia Hilton

    This article seems to forget that the local Green Party has stood aside twice for Peter Chowney as the Labour candidate for the General Election to try and avoid us getting yet another Conservative MP. Labour has failed twice to achieve this and we received no thanks for our principled action. Does this look like the act of a party that is likely to side with Conservatives?

    The suggestion that a Green vote in Old Hastings will let the Tories in is frankly, laughable. I received 1032 votes to Labour’s 500 last year. The Conservative candidate got 399 and that was in a year when Conservatives were doing well, due to the Covid vaccine. The wider picture is very different this year.

    Greens are already and will continue to hold the council to account, whichever party is in charge. Last year we showed that if you vote Green you get Green and this year we expect to have even more Green councillors working hard for all residents.

    Comment by Julia Hilton — Wednesday, Apr 13, 2022 @ 16:47

  3. Mr Blair

    If anyone genuinely wants factual insight into Hastings Green Party’s true intentions why not ask them direct?

    Tonight (Tues 12th) from 6pm onwards they are holding a ‘meet the Green candidates’ evening at The Albion Pub on George Street – Perfect opportunity for a friendly face to face chat with them.

    Far better than this online crystal ball gazing speculation – just fuelling Labour Party fear mongering about Greens being Blue. Mr Prentice & HOT could attend & gain genuine insight from them over this.

    Comment by Mr Blair — Tuesday, Apr 12, 2022 @ 13:38

  4. Janice Ayton

    roadfromhell@hotmail.com
    As someone who is in the process of deciding which party will get my vote and leaning Green, the thought of them cozying up with the tories fills me with dismay. It’s bad enough we have a Conservative MP but to have them holding the reigns of the Borough Council too…. Please not!

    Comment by Janice Ayton — Tuesday, Apr 12, 2022 @ 12:45

  5. Mr Blair

    No mention of Lib Dem votes at all?!
    & What about voter turn out stats? Variations by ward & year. Last year was lower than usual except for Old Hastings where 48.9% were inspired to turn out to vote – 52% of them for Julia Hilton.

    & What about party canvassing – Last year the Green’s had meagre resources & only focussed on Old Hastings (with none for other wards). Despite this they still scooped up 25% in Central St Leonards. This election their campaign is noticeably far bigger & highly coordinated covering every ward – along with strong social media. Meanwhile Labour received poor campaign reception to bullying tactics used via leaflets attacking Greens.

    Has HBC ever had such a run of bad press? Many Labour voters feel let down locally by the avalanche dud decisions by cloth eared HBC right across town – The Bathing Pool Site, Harold Place Restaurant, Tilekiln Football Ground, Bulverhythe, threats to green sites current & future, swapping housing sites to Premier Inn Hotels, overspend & long disruptions to Silverhill demolition works, lack of planning enforcement, St Leonards feeling entirely forgotten when it comes to investment – & the high cost of failures when they have no cash to gamble.
    Best not underestimate the local electorate esp after 2yrs confined to home turf with time to follow local news – will they sit on their Labour vote & not use it? Or will new candidates like Central St Leonards & Gensing’s Green candidates inspire them to the polling stations?

    Seems wrong for Mr Prentice to focus on Green/Tory alliances here when the Greens have far from indicated this. Under new leadership Labour have fresh opp to start treating Greens with the same respect the community do. & start wooing them – why not focus/ help inspire that as possibility it would be healthiest outcome for the borough.

    Comment by Mr Blair — Tuesday, Apr 12, 2022 @ 09:31

  6. Remus

    Please avoid using the Americanism ‘liberal’ to describe parties of the left. They are statist, authoritarian and essentially illiberal. A similar misnomer is ‘progressive’ – there is nothing progressive about trying to impose the failed political experiments of the 20th century. Ignore the ‘free sweeties’ on offer and vote for the best candidate, which means whoever is most likely to oust Labour from your area.

    Comment by Remus — Tuesday, Apr 12, 2022 @ 08:50

  7. Erica Smith

    The thought of Greens working with the Tories makes me feel ill. It would definitely stop me from voting Green.

    Comment by Erica Smith — Tuesday, Apr 12, 2022 @ 07:48

  8. Heather Grief

    I’m surprised this article takes no notice of the size of Green support at the last election (Gensing, Central St. Leonards and Castle seem to be top on this criterion), nor of the quality of the candidates being fielded for these wards, and how well-known they are locally – Gensing’s Green candidate Amanda Jobson is known from being involved with the Bohemia Walled Garden, the Alexandra Park Greenhouse and the Marianne North project, as well as having lived locally for many years and her children went to St. Paul’s Primary School; also, she has been a leading activist re. all-year-round testing of the seawater’s quality.
    HOT readers may be interested to know that Julia Hilton supports my attempts to get the ‘Roman’ bath on the Summerfields estate looked after properly, after years of neglect and deliberate damage under the guise of health and safety, and refusing to respond to the offer of a grant to finance the writing of a development management plan by a suitably-qualified expert, to guide future repair and maintenance of this Grade II listed building, which belongs to HBC / the town, and for which HBC is legally responsible. The Conservative leader is also supportive.

    Comment by Heather Grief — Monday, Apr 11, 2022 @ 17:02

  9. Nigel Sinden.

    Well put and researched James. This report shows the problems and pleasures all local candidates and councillors live with. A local councillor is the residents link with not only HBC and ESCC, but Highways, housing, welfare and many other agencies and mostly the resident themselves. If a councillor [of any group] cannot or does not find time for this they will never succeed. I now look forward to your post-election report.

    Nigel Sinden.

    Comment by Nigel Sinden. — Monday, Apr 11, 2022 @ 09:00

  10. Mark Curry

    If the Greens work with the Tories I can see an awful lot of people being very unhappy with that – people will next expect to vote Green and get Blue

    Comment by Mark Curry — Sunday, Apr 10, 2022 @ 22:20

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