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Muriel Matters House, where a five-strong Cabinet will run affairs until May.

Coalition Green/Hastings Independents Cabinet draws fire from Labour and Tories

Two Green councillors head up Hastings Borough Council’s new Cabinet in alliance with three Hastings Independents as the council heads into the final straight before the May elections, with important budget proposals to be decided on at this week’s Full Council. HOT’s Chris Connelley looks back over a momentous week in local politics.

Last week’s Extraordinary Full Council meeting was convened in response to a Labour-initiated no confidence motion in the Cabinet, the group of senior councillors who effectively set the political direction for the borough.

Since December, following the defection of eight councillors from the ruling Labour Group – including its leader Paul Barnett and deputy leader, Maya Evans – to form the Hastings Independents, the Cabinet had been in the hands of this brand new party.

Following pre-emptive resignations by all the Cabinet members in advance of the meeting, the motion was withdrawn. This cleared the way for the election of a new council leader,  Julia Hilton, from the Green Party, who secured 14 votes, with two against and 11 abstentions, including one Green, Cllr Claire Carr. Five councillors were absent.

Cllr Hilton will lead a Cabinet in alliance with the Hastings Independents until May, when elections will be held. In a press release issued after the meeting, she  commented, “I had hoped to be able to form a unity cabinet with representation from all four groups, including Labour and Conservative, but that has not proved possible. This interim administration is one that all groups have said they can live with for the next few months until the May elections, to give much-needed stability to the council.

“My focus for the months to the elections in May will be on securing the financial future of the council and working on the ambitious plans to tackle the housing crisis”.

Damning reactions

Hopes for a honeymoon period for the new leadership were short-lived, however, with damning reactions to the Green/Hastings Independent coupling from the other parties. Labour’s response came in first, with its new group leader Cllr Heather Bishop noting that, “After weeks of chaos and uncertainty, we now know that the Hastings Independents have done a dodgy deal with the Green Party to cling on to power.

“This coalition of chaos is not the fresh start that Hastings needs. Just four weeks ago, Cllr Hilton called the Hastings Independents ‘highly irresponsible’, but she has now done a deal to keep them in power. Even worse, despite their record of failure bringing the council to the brink of bankruptcy, Cllr Hilton has put the Independents back in charge of the council finances.

“In May, residents in Hastings have the chance to clear out this unelected and unwanted coalition of failure, and vote for a changed Labour Party that will bring stability and prosperity back to our town.”

Conservative group leader Cllr Andy Patmore, whose 10-strong group is now the largest on the Council, issued an equally blunt statement: The Conservatives find themselves the largest group on the Council, but still a minority overall. No one party had the numbers to form a majority administration, and it is ironic that the only workable coalition includes ex-Labour councillors who have taken the council to the brink of bankruptcy. The current interim arrangement is still a minority administration, so decisions will be harder to make.

“The Conservative group will still provide robust scrutiny in opposition as they did before the Labour group imploded.”

The 10-strong Conservative group led by Cllr Andy Patmore (front centre) is HBC’s largest but excluded from power (photo: Rob Lee).

Earlier expectations that the Extraordinary Full Council would provide full details of the new Cabinet were dashed following the failure to reach an agreement between the parties in advance of the meeting. Finessing the shape of the top table grouping and publishing the names in the frame took the best part of another 48 hours, with an announcement finally issued by the Council’s communications team on Friday afternoon.

Cabinet choices

This revealed that the Cabinet would comprise:

Cllr Hilton as leader, with specific responsibility for Regeneration, Culture, Tourism, Climate Action, Governance;
Fellow Green Glenn Haffenden, deputy leader, covering Environment, Community Safety, Health, Equalities and HR;
Simon Willis, Hastings Independents, taking on Housing:
Former leader Paul Barnett, Hastings Independents, heads up the all-important Finance portfolio;
Cllr Ali Roark, Hastings Independents, believed to be standing down from the council in May, holds the Charity Committee/Foreshore Trust portfolio.

The statement also indicated that a further set of posts were being advertised, and that announcements would be made at the next Full Council meeting, this coming Wednesday 24 January. These will take the form of Cabinet committees, which will cover the local plan, tourism and festivals, cultural assets and climate action (see below).

Carr goes independent

The period between the meeting and the announcement of the new Cabinet saw Cllr Carr change her designation on the council website from Green to Independent, suggesting that the new arrangements had generated disagreement within the Green group and that she had parted company with former colleagues.

This marks the second shift by Cllr Carr, who represents Castle Ward, following an earlier defection from Labour to the Greens in 2022. Her latest move sees the Green group fall back to four of the 32 councillors.

So, at  the end of a tense week, and a month after the original Hastings Independents split from Labour, the borough has a new slimline Cabinet, headed up by two Green councillors sitting alongside three Hastings Independents, in a fragmented council where no single group can command a majority.

At first glance, the Greens appear to be the biggest winners, securing both leader and deputy leader posts and heading up the council just three years after winning their first seat. With the glory comes challenge, however, and they will be mindful of the risks that come with taking over the reins at such a challenging moment financially, and in alliance with the Hastings Independents.

With difficult decisions to be taken over coming weeks, and elections due in just three months, they will be aware that they will be the first in line to take the flak for unpopular decisions, and that their recent history of steady advances could stall. Local election results in Brighton and Hove last year saw the Green group, which had led another minority administration, fall back from 20 to seven seats, losing control of the council to Labour.

Low profile

The Hastings Independents will be delighted to maintain a presence in Cabinet, and to be responsible for the finance portfolio. They have maintained a  generally low profile since breaking away – Cllr Barnett has had nothing to say in public since the split – and their efforts thus far have focused on unleashing some new branding and promoting a public launch on Friday 26 January in Central St Leonards.

Their latest Facebook post on the event invites local people to “bring the passion and ideas and we will supply the food, open ears and hearts to build a lively, incredible Hastings-owned movement”.

In a further statement issued over the weekend, the group go on say, “Over the next month, Hastings Independents will hold a series of meetings and events to not only celebrate our town, but also to provide an opportunity for those with a passion for this town to help shape the strategies and policies we will bring to residents’ doorsteps during the local election.

“Policies for the people, made by the people. It is finally time for the old National parties to recognise that excluding 99% of the population from the creative process is doomed to be introverted and uncreative.”

With elections just months away, the Hastings Independents will be pondering how many candidates to put up, where to stand and how to harvest enough active supporters from upcoming live events to run a ground campaign as a new party without any members.

Good mood

Labour sources suggest that, whilst depleted in size, the mood in their camp is good, and that their focus is very much on the future. With an almost entirely new team of candidates standing for election in May, there’s a sense of relief that the councillors behind the Hastings Independents have left the party, allowing it to reclaim a broader, more mainstream appeal.

Party organisers will be heartened by the result in Brighton and Hove last year, where the main battle was with the Greens, and where their representation almost doubled, gaining them overall control of the council, and by the party’s strong and consistent lead in national polls.

The Conservatives, though now the largest single group, will be aware that current national poll ratings are dire, and that holding on to all their current seats in May will present a challenge. The rise of Reform UK will add to their worries, with rumours that the party, which has one seat on Hastings Borough Council following Cllr Lucian Fernando’s defection to them last year, intends to stand in most Conservative-held wards and some traditionally marginal seats such as Silverhill and Ore. Fernando will also contest the parliamentary seat in the upcoming general election with the incumbent Tory MP Sally-Ann Hart.

With local and national elections on the horizon, and a difficult budget to transact, 2024 looks set to be a momentous year for politics. The drama continues this week, with the first sighting of the new regime in action at Full Council on Wednesday 24 January. HOT will be there to follow the proceedings.

Cabinet committees

Hastings Green Party has provided the following explanation of the Cabinet committees which are to be set up.

Cllr Hilton is keen to move the council away from a centralised cabinet-based model of governance. Therefore, to increase the involvement of the councillor body and to ensure cross-party participation in the decision-making process, Committees of Cabinet will be established with deputy chairs to lead on the following:

 1. Local Plan – chaired by a Green Party councillor.

2. Tourism and festivals – chaired by a Hastings Independent councillor – working on a replacement to Visit 1066 Country, tourism promotion and festivals.

3. Cultural assets (chair to come from another party or an independent councillor not belonging to the Hastings Independent Group) – including the Castle project, St Mary in the Castle, the White Rock Theatre transition and Hastings Museum.

4. Climate action – chaired by a Green Party councillor – to focus on developing a climate action forum with community expertise.

All councillors will be invited to express their interest in taking part according to their interests and skills. These Committees of Cabinet will not have decision-making powers but will enable feedback and involvement from the wider community into these important areas of the council’s work.

 Further details will be announced at the Full Council meeting on Wednesday 24 January.


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Posted 18:29 Sunday, Jan 21, 2024 In: Politics


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Tim Barton

    One suspects that ‘committees’ with ‘no decision-making powers’ will mean the council as a whole decides, if so surely a good thing.
    I think it also recognises that there is no public electoral mandate for this council current make-up, so modestly puts a more forthright position on the back-burner until after the May elections (which I expect will be messy and please no-one, except perhaps the Tory faction, but let’s hope otherwise).
    But, perhaps if they maintain control they may still put decisions to the full council, it’s called democracy, the UK should try it sometime.

    Comment by Tim Barton — Tuesday, Jan 23, 2024 @ 11:15

  2. Bea

    So committees would have no decision-making powers? The Greens/ ex-Labs have fallen at the first hurdle. So much for including all councillors in decisions, as promised by Hilton. First green shoots of broken promises?

    Comment by Bea — Monday, Jan 22, 2024 @ 07:48


    What a mess.

    I must admit some of the defectors I would not miss and hope this is the step to their demise straight to the bottom and no more being voted in by a Labour loyalty vote.

    Possibly an election year and the mess at the head is depicted in the mess in our local councils. I don’t think anyone will win outright.

    So a mess equal to 1970s I predict. For those who remember.

    Comment by J B KNIGHT — Sunday, Jan 21, 2024 @ 22:47

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