Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

The six councillors who have resigned from Labour: from left, Andy Batsford, Ali Roark, John Cannan, Paul Barnett, Simon Willis and Maya Evans.

Labour Cabinet defections rock HBC – more likely to follow

The decision of six  Cabinet members to resign from the Labour Party has rocked the council only days before Christmas. More may follow, indeed one already has. This sudden re-arrangement of the political line-up on the council has prompted critical responses from the Conservatives and differing reactions from the Greens. Meanwhile, who controls the Council? Chris Connelley reports.

The week before Christmas usually marks the beginning of an extended wind-down as most of us focus on family and time away from work. Politics tends to disappear into the shadows for a fortnight as our elected representatives abandon Parliament and council chambers to tour the festive markets and take part in the carol concerts that traditionally define the season.

Here in Hastings, however, the run-up to Christmas 2023 has seen the birth of a new political force as six senior Labour councillors, encompassing all but one of the Hastings Borough Council Cabinet, including leader Cllr Paul Barnett and his deputy, Cllr Maya Evans, resigned from the party to form the Hastings Independents, and were shortly joined by another, non Cabinet member.

The shock announcement was made mid-afternoon on Thursday 14 December, when Barnett and Evans, joined by councillor colleagues Andy Batsford, John Cannon, Simon Willis and Ali Roark, issued a press release outlining their decision to exit left from Labour, citing a profound disillusionment with the national party.

Their statement reads, “The national Labour Party no longer provides us with the policies, the support or the focus on local government that we need given the many local issues we are committed to tackling.

“We will now concentrate on standing up for Hastings, to work in partnership with all those who are  passionate to drive our town forward, and our work in our communities, which is why we all became councillors.

“As a group, we will not be making any further comment until the New Year”.

“Sadness, anger and regret”

The Hastings Independents have also launched a new website and published content on social media, with personal statements from a number of its members identifying the factors that had most influenced their decision to leave. Cllr Barnett’s narrative, accompanied by the image of a cut-up Labour Party membership card,  expressed “sadness, anger and regret” at the decision, saying, “There are many reasons but for me I just want to be able to speak out for Hastings without being told what to think, say and do by people in London”.

Cllr Willis, the Cabinet member for Housing and Homelessness, was more expansive, claiming, “I have found it increasingly difficult to reconcile the actions of my party with its espoused principles of equity, fairness and equality”.

He went on to assert that, “Colleagues have been unfairly treated and I have tried again and again to ignore it because even indirectly contributing to more years of deeply corrupt malign [C]onservative rule is so unbearable to contemplate.

“Most painfully, I do not regard it as coincidence that nearly all the local members who have been barred from running locally or nationally or who have been suspended or expelled from the party are black, brown or Jewish – and mostly women. In each case the grounds given have been starkly spurious, not just by conflating criticisms of the state of Israel with antisemitism but, in several cases, by referring to events or bans that post-dated the alleged offences by years. This is not just injustice, it is a level of Kafkaesque inhumanity that sits very oddly beside the traditional values of the party I joined.”


Cllr Evans’ text focused on the intervention by the national party whilst also referencing  her personal situation. She wrote, “Locally we have been micromanaged by Westminster centric, unelected Labour Party officials who have barely visited Hastings let alone understand the town and its residents.

“The national Labour Party has denied Hastings’ members the right to select their own parliamentary candidate and selection of councillors; and there is now a well-established national pattern of the Labour Party blocking people of colour from leadership positions. It appears unelected Labour officials now have a very fixed idea around who is electable, sadly this tends not to favour people of colour, working class people, or local people from the community.

“I have personally been blocked by the Labour Party from standing as an MP and also to re-stand as a councillor, reasons given were spurious.”

It is widely suggested that Cllr Evans’ unsuccessful appeal against being debarred as a council candidate for Labour in elections being held next spring, which was apparently confirmed late last week, was one of the major factors that precipitated the decision to jump.

While the new Hastings Independents website was created last Monday, Thursday’s press release came just a day after an important Budget Full Council meeting, at which proposals for major cuts in spending were tabled by the same group of councillors and approved by the Labour Cabinet. The budget package seeks to respond to major financial challenges facing the local authority following an extended period of funding cuts, a critical Local Government Association peer review and external audit by Grant Thornton after months of speculation about the imminence of a Section 114 Notice, which would effectively declare the council bankrupt.

Cllr Nigel Sinden, right, who has also resigned from the Labour Party and joined Hastings Independents, with fellow rebel Cllr Andy Batsford.

The six original Hastings Independents were joined by long-standing Silverhill councillor colleague, Nigel Sinden, who announced his resignation from Labour at Saturday lunchtime. The expectation is that others may follow over the coming days.

Status changed

The exodus from Labour deprives the party of its status as the largest on Hastings Borough Council, where it had previously held 15 of the 32 seats, with the remainder shared between the Conservatives on 10, the Greens on five and Reform UK on one, while ex-Tory councillor John Rankin now sits as an Independent.

So the shape of the new Council is significantly altered, with Labour down to seven seats, the same number as the new Hastings Independents, the Greens on 5, the Conservatives on 10, Reform UK on one. It seems there are now two independents – in addition to Cllr Rankin, we understand that Braybrooke councillor Sabina Arthur’s appeal against suspension from Labour was unsuccessful and that she will also sit as an independent.

The next set of local elections are scheduled for May next year, when half of the 32 council seats will be up for grabs. Cllr Evans is the only member of the Hastings Independents whose seat is up for re-election, prompting much interest in whether she will still stand again in her existing Hollington Ward wearing her new Hastings Independent rosette.

National Labour unhappy

Labour’s reaction to the resignation was swift and terse. Its press release, issued on Thursday evening, claimed that, “With Keir Starmer as Leader, the Labour Party has changed fundamentally. The fact that these councillors, all holdouts from the previous regime, no longer feel the Labour Party is their home is conclusive proof of that.

“Their performative gesture politics has driven the council to the brink of bankruptcy and as a result they had effectively been placed in special measures.

“We call upon them now to do the honourable thing and step down immediately, and allow the hardworking people of Hastings the chance to elect councillors who will put Hastings first.”

Tories damning

The Conservatives were equally damning, arguing that, “The council is facing bankruptcy but it seems these councillors are placing their own self-interest above those of the town. Residents of Hastings deserve better.

“The practical outcome of their actions could have dire consequences for Hastings Borough Council. For the Council to avoid a S114 notice (bankruptcy), the chief financial officer must have confidence a legal budget can be set. The very fact that a minority renegade group has splintered off and cling on to power without any mandate from either the people or the council, can only lower that confidence.

“This is the same group of councillors, who, as Labour cabinet members, have been rebuked by the recent Grant Thornton audit report. The same group who have been responsible for borrowing tens of millions of pounds, having no understanding of the risks and how it would impact on the Council’s financial sustainability.

“Their performance running the council has come under an extreme spotlight this year from external reviews. Both the Local Government Association, and now external auditors, have been highly critical of the way the council is being run. These are not politically driven reports but independent reviews.

“There are council elections in May. If these councillors truly believe in their cause they will step down and seek re-election under their new guise. One thing is for sure, this splinter group are not independent, they are driven by their own political agenda”.

Mixed response from Greens

The response from the Greens was more mixed. Becca Horn, the party’s recently selected parliamentary candidate for Hastings and Rye, took to Instagram shortly after the news broke to welcome their move, issuing “Congratulations to our Councillors who have bravely, finally, stood up against their national Labour Party which has veered so far from its social democratic course as to deem it unrecognisable.”

Her reel also anticipated the prospect of renewed collaboration with Green councillors, asserting that, “We are pluralist and happy to work with other parties for the common good”.

The local party’s press release, issued the day after the split by Green group leader, Cllr Julia Hilton, was appreciably less positive, however, noting, “I am not surprised that half of the Labour councillors have finally decided to leave an increasingly autocratic Labour Party. However their timing leaves much to be desired. I first proposed that the cabinet should take a stand and resign in summer 2022 when the Labour Party interfered in local democratic decision making to stop the cooperation agreement between Greens and Labour.

“Creating uncertainty now, just after passing a budget which requires eye watering savings to keep the council afloat, is highly irresponsible and increases the danger of a 114 notice being issued. In addition a new cabinet would have only nine weeks of administration before the pre- election period starts – no time to get up to speed.

“There are now six different political groups represented on the council and all those voices need to be heard in the important decisions that need to be made in the next two months, particularly on the budget and corporate plan. There are also huge regeneration plans being consulted on over the next three months with both the public realm and Green connections project and the Station Gateway proposals currently under development. These decisions cannot be left to a group that now represents only seven out of 32 councillors”.

Meanwhile the only Cabinet member not to resign from the Labour Party is Cllr Judy Rogers, who instead on Friday resigned from Cabinet declaring herselfshocked, upset and disappointed in the events of the last 24 hours.

Who is in charge?

Many will be asking who is in charge of the Council, and can the six-strong Cabinet, all of them Hastings Independent members, consider that they have the mandate to make decisions, for example, by appointing someone to take over Cllr Rogers’ Organisation portfolio? Others will consider that there appears to be a decision-making vacuum at the centre of the Council.

With no formal Council meetings scheduled until the new year, the festive period is likely to see intense negotiations between the political groups in an attempt to generate a working model. The most likely permutation is some kind of arrangement between the new Hastings Independent Group and the Greens, although, on current figures, a coupling would not give them an overall majority. Tempting though it might be to return to Cabinet, the Greens will be mindful of the challenging financial backdrop, and the obvious risks from becoming the junior partner of a shared arrangement in such an adverse context.

Meanwhile, Labour will need to select a new leadership team and adjust to changed circumstances after dominating the local council for many years. With a number of new candidates for May elections about to be announced, it will most likely seek to position itself as the party best able to bring fresh faces and new talent into the Council chamber and to address deep-seated issues against a set of Hastings Independents that until Thursday were the political establishment.It will also stress the importance of having a Labour Council able to work with what current polling suggests will be a new Labour government at Westminster after the next general election. Our parliamentary seat, Hastings and Rye, is a marginal constituency, currently held by Conservative Sally-Ann Hart with a modest majority of just 4,043, and Labour have high hopes that their very visible candidate, Helena Dollimore, can take it back next time.

With just days to go before the Christmas break, political discussion looks set to go to the wire and to continue behind the scenes over the holidays. Strap in tight. 2024 looks set to be a lively year in Muriel Matters House.

Helena Dollimore, front left, on the campaign trail accompanied by Cllr Judy Rogers, who has resigned as a Cabinet member in protest at the defections from the party of her Cabinet colleagues (photo: James Prentice).

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Posted 19:16 Sunday, Dec 17, 2023 In: Local Government


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  1. Bryan Fisher

    Rebellion within the Labour Party as election year looms is unwise. After ‘managing’ the council finances towards bankruptcy and then leave, but still cling to power in HBC’s cabinet without a new mandate is crazy. We laughed at the Tory divisions but, just as the Labour Party offers a viable alternative at Westminster, here we have ‘Corbynistas’ doing the same! As Cllr Hilton stated, the Labour Party has become more autocratic. It needed to do that to present a credible alternative to the Conservative Party – one that offered a sound, policy-based platform. Do the rebels truly believe their political views will attract enough votes to change the government at Westminster? Honestly?
    Tim Barton’s comment includes a list of items that need changing (including greater control of AirBnB and second homes), but the rebels could have addressed these from within the LP! This is gesture politics by a group that will not own up to wasting ratepayers’ contributions in vanity projects! I truly hope the Greens do not try to become a junior partner with them (a la Clegg), as I for one would not support them!

    Comment by Bryan Fisher — Saturday, Dec 23, 2023 @ 11:19

  2. JC Hart

    The spectacle of leftie squabbling and the resulting verbage appearing on these pages affords some Christmas cheer. The ghost of Corbyn past especially, is always a cracker and cause for merry mirth.

    Do keep ’em coming.

    Comment by JC Hart — Thursday, Dec 21, 2023 @ 09:00

  3. Ken Edwards

    Whatever the shortcomings those of us on the left/progressive side of politics may perceive in the national Labour Party’s current stance, this action by a group of local councillors seems to be at best mistimed. At worst, it’s selfish, and a major blow for hopes of ousting the Tories and ensuring a Labour victory in Hastings at 2024’s general election. It portrays Labour as divided and still riddled with gesture politics. And Maya Evans’ claim that Labour is actively excluding people of colour is just wrong.

    Comment by Ken Edwards — Thursday, Dec 21, 2023 @ 08:52

  4. Keith Forbes

    Well done the independents.
    Labour is no longer fit for purpose. I look forward to their manifesto.

    Comment by Keith Forbes — Wednesday, Dec 20, 2023 @ 17:34

  5. DAR

    Rachel. While I could support some left-wing economic ideas, in Hastings your list is only likely to appeal fully to those who I’d describe as Hackney exiles & friends.

    Comment by DAR — Tuesday, Dec 19, 2023 @ 15:29

  6. Rachel Lever

    I have been musing for some time about the need to bring together a new left opposition, national because a local base may give it some initial grounding but could exclude potential troops and allies who would be left out for purely geographic reasons. In an age of instant communication, why leave out 99+% of co-workers purely on grounds of location?

    As an unrepentant Corbynist I see no reason to start out from a lesser position than the one we won together before the “antisemitism” conspiracy was deployed to defeat the left.

    So here is a proposition: Let’s build a left opposition to Starmerism. Some main principles would
    * defend the living standards of the vast majority,
    * oppose toxic nationalism and racism, welcome refugees
    * oppose war, racism and the colonial legacy,
    * oppose the insults and inherent violence in the treatment of women.
    * lead urgent action against the profiteers destroying the planet ranging from local eco-systems to major climate threats.

    Some major voices could include Sir David Attenborough, Ken Loach, leading trade unionists such as Mick Lynch, and Labour heroes Corbyn, Abbott and others outcast from the seats they have represented with honour for decades.

    Such a powerful left opposition is absolutely needed. Maybe Hastings could help to kick it off.

    Comment by Rachel Lever — Monday, Dec 18, 2023 @ 22:29

  7. Tim Barton

    It bodes badly for the future that the PLP statement says ‘“Their performative gesture politics has driven the council to the brink of bankruptcy and as a result they had effectively been placed in special measures”‘, as it is clear that the real reasons are massive cuts from Westminster and from Lewes to our council’s funding (and to Labour councils across the country). Many are over-stretched. 8 years ago Tom Crewe wrote an excellent article for the LRB (
    We are at risk of such profound cuts that we will be breaking the strictures of the Municipal Reform Act, which, if they applied to Westminster’s benefits-hacking ideology, Downing Street too would be breaking. The reason isn’t ‘gesture politics’, it’s deliberate financial castration. If it was up to me, I’d at the very least stop the absurdity of disallowing ‘vying between accounts’, as much of the criticism of the council I hear in Hastings is rooted in a failure to understand the damage this bureaucratic policy does (though rather more is caused by a failure to understand which services ESCC are responsible for; a failure to curb greed-driven policies from privatised water boards, highway maintenance, construction companies etc; and, as noted, cuts cuts cuts).
    We also need to stop ‘right-to-buy’, so investment in social / council housing isn’t just throwing good money after bad; reintroduce rent controls and tribunals; reboot council oversight of bad landlords; and, a la St Ives and Whitby, controls on second-home ownership and airbnbs etc. Much of that requires staff as well as cash. HBC had a good scheme to oversee rental accommodation, one that needed to go further, but instead was, as with so many services here, slashed as funding was increasingly throttled by the Tories.
    ‘Performative gesture politics’ works better as a description for Starmer’s attempt to get the so-called ‘red wall’ (a largely media-generated phantom) vote ‘back’ by making right-wing and anti-social handwaving noises.

    Comment by Tim Barton — Monday, Dec 18, 2023 @ 13:09

  8. DAR

    From a “floating voter”. I would side with the national Labour people on this one. Many of the “renegades” are guilty of a combination of “vaulting ambition” and incompetence, being more concerned with “gesture politics” than sound financial management. P.S. The cabinet system should go; it concentrates power in too few hands, and that is what has contributed to HBC’s parlous state.

    Comment by DAR — Monday, Dec 18, 2023 @ 12:43

  9. Tim Barton

    Additionally, regarding ‘regime change’. The PLP is over-controlling and (as unrepresentative of it’s membership) paranoid about ‘democracy’ in the constituency party and conference. As I understand it, well over 70% of constituency members polled on who they favoured in the leadership elections that gave us Corbyn (aka, hope) wanted Jeremy over the other candidates. This was, by definition, -before- the membership drive, so represents a long-standing ‘regime’, not of some spurious ‘far left’, but Labour social democracy, as found throughout northern Europe but progressively more and more suppressed since Blair’s ‘third way’. A quick note on that ‘third way’: it was in theory based on ideas from Anthony Giddens, and seemed rather sound on paper, thus my opinion is that if Blair had pursued that rather than a version skewed by his interest in MacQuarry and Etzioni’s ‘communitarianism’ things would have been rather rosier all round.
    The PLP’s ‘regime change’ is, from this perspective, a open admission of a right-wingers coup rather than the anti-‘far-left’ transformation they claim. ‘Corbynism’ (a label Jeremy himself deplores) looks like centrist social democracy from an European perspective. We need to return to it urgently. As to whether our new council faction are united on such policies, I can’t say, but let’s see…

    Comment by Tim Barton — Monday, Dec 18, 2023 @ 12:05

  10. Tim Barton

    Labour’s ‘response’, frankly, means the Labour ‘regime’ has indeed changed, and for the worse. An electoral choice between neoliberal thatcherite-lite, which is how Starmer comes across, and darth vader, is still under FPTP a grit-your-teeth-and-vote no-brainer, but oh so horrid. Give us PR and give schools compulsory citizenship & critical thinking from primary up, with a full compulsory GCSE at 16, and slowly, over time, we can finally be represented fairly with less concerns than PR will raise short-term. But we don’t have PR. So, nationally, vote Labour in Hastings to oust Sally-Ann Hartless, but so long as, as per Julia’s comment, ‘the left’ work together it matters less to share power on the council, and indeed is arguably perhaps a good thing.

    Comment by Tim Barton — Monday, Dec 18, 2023 @ 11:29

  11. keith piggott

    “A week is a long time in politics” (Prime Minister the Rt.Hon. Harold Wilson MP)

    Comment by keith piggott — Sunday, Dec 17, 2023 @ 22:16

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