Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

County Hall in Lewes, where the Tories remain in overall control, though with a reduced majority.

Majority reduced, but Tories remain in control of ESCC

Liberal Democrat hopes of taking control at County Hall at the head of a coalition of anti Tory parties did not materialise, though the Tories failed to benefit from the surge their party experienced elsewhere, losing two seats. Meanwhile the Greens prospered, winning four seats, while Labour gained two seats beyond the Hastings border. Nick Terdre reports.

While fully expecting a poor performance by their party in Hastings, as proved to be the case, Liberal Democrats also saw their hopes of an East Sussex alliance of opposition parties and independents ousting the Conservatives from control of East Sussex County Council dashed.

In the event the Tories lost two seats overall but ended with 27, enough to stay in charge of the 50-seat council. The Lib Dems were left with 11 seats, the same as before. Labour gained one net seat and now have five, the Greens, previously unrepresented at County Hall, gained four and independents have three.

Bob Lloyd

“We fell short of what we wanted to achieve, just three more seats would have done it,” Bob Lloyd, chair of the Hastings & Rye Liberal Democrats and unsuccessful candidate for St Helens & Silverhill division in Hastings, told HOT.

“It seems the vaccination rollout has given the government the momentum. We are still the main opposition on ESCC and run Rother council in coalition.”

However there was not, as other areas experienced, a great Tory surge. In fact the Tory vote was down by some 1,900 on 2017 to 67, 837, while the Lib Dems, the second largest party, also lost ground, their vote down by some 1,200 to 33,692. But Labour pulled in more voters, up by more than 2,100 to 24,624, while the Greens more than doubled their vote to 23,355, almost catching up with Labour. Independents also polled higher, putting on more than 4,100 votes to 10,544.

FPTP distortion

The first-past-the-post system benefited the Tories disproportionately – with a 42% vote share they gained 54% of the seats. Most of the other parties lost out – if seat allocation matched vote share, the Tories would have 21 seats, the Lib Dems (20.9% of vote share) 10, Labour (15.2%) eight, Greens (14.5%) seven and independents (6.5%) three (total 49).

ESCC’s first Green councillors: from left, Georgia Taylor (Forest Row & Groombridge), Wendy Maples (Lewes), Johnny Denis (Ringmer & Lewes Bridge), and Julia Hilton (Old Hastings & Tressell).

One of the Greens’ gains was the Old Hastings and Tressell division, which Julia Hilton took by 1,125 votes against 1,013 for Labour’s Ruby Cox. The turnout was 45%, compared with an average of 39.4% in East Sussex as a whole, indicating the high degree of local interest engendered by the contest. The Greens also won Forest Row & Groomsbridge, Lewes and Ringmer & Lewes Bridge. The party’s national leadership hailed its 99 new councillors and representation on 17 new councils – including of course Hastings and ESCC.

In addition to retaining its other three seats in Hastings – Hollington & Wishing Tree, Central St Leonards & Gensing and Braybrooke & Castle – Labour won Peacehaven and Telscombe in the Lewes district, overturning substantial Tory majorities. “Labour bucks the national trend with a stronger presence at county hall” proclaimed its website report.

The fact that the non Tory vote totalled 58% raises the tantalising prospect that some degree of collaboration among the opposition parties might have delivered enough extra seats to give them a majority. As Labour shows little inclination for electoral pacts, the two relevant parties are the Lib Dems and Greens.

Food for thought

There is food for thought for both parties, given that there were six seats won by Tories where the combined Lib Dem/Green vote exceeded the Tory vote. Two were in Hastings – Baird & Ore and St Helens & Silverhill – the others in Uckfield North, Crowborough North & Jarvis Brook, Wealden East and Meads.

As it happened, where the parties did agree not to stand against each other, their collaboration failed. In Rye & Eastern Rother, where the Lib Dems stood down in favour of the Greens, county council leader Keith Glazier romped to victory with 1,849 votes against 819 for the Greens’ Dominic Manning and 676 for Labour’s Ashley Madden.

The Greens returned the favour by allowing the Lib Dems a straight run in the by-election for the Rother District Council seat vacated when the Tories’ Sally-Ann Hart departed for Parliament, but Hart’s replacement, Lizzie Hacking, won the day easily enough with 999 votes against 273 for the Lib Dems’ Kate Lamb and 300 for Labour’s Ash Madden (the same).

Tory Carl Maynard saw off the challenge from independent Beverly Coupar in Brede & Marsham.

The Lib Dems also stood aside in Brede & Marsham to support the independent candidate, Beverly Coupar, but this again proved a futile quest, although she came a strong second to Tory Carl Maynard.

One in nine

Rye & Eastern Rother was one of nine seats identified by the Lib Dems as winnable by themselves and their allies. But here too their hopes were disappointed, as they won only one, Hailsham Market. The others – Northern Rother, Rother North-West, Eastbourne Ratton, Seaford North, Hailsham New Town, Uckfield North and Uckfield South with Framfield – went to the Tories.

While Labour does not object when other parties stand aside in support of its candidates, as the Greens did in Hastings & Rye in the 2017 general election, it has shown little inclination to enter into electoral pacts.

In Lib Dem Lloyd’s view, the local party is split on the matter: “It depends who you talk to,” he said.

“Labour are very difficult to work together in cooperation, we have tried,” said Polly Gray, Green RDC councillor. “They simply won’t agree to any proposals, and stand where they choose, regardless of other parties.”

Elsewhere there are instances of the three parties working together, as in Oxfordshire, where Lib Dems, Labour and Greens have set up a coalition – the Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance – to run the county council although in terms of seats won the Tories are the single largest party.

Bexhill Tories’ cunning plan fails

Meanwhile there was apparently not a Tory in sight in the first elections for the newly constituted Bexhill Town Council, which they had vehemently opposed, with Sally-Ann Hart in her days on Rother District Council seeing in the proposal “revolutionary socialist Momentum …on a seditious, stealthy path.”

In the event it was the Tories who took the stealthy path, designating themselves as Bexhill Independents, a confusingly similar label to the anti Tory Independents Supporting Bexhill Together. However, they left no doubt that if they won a majority, they would abolish the council at its first meeting.

That will not happen, however, as the Bexhill Together group won nine of the 18 seats, and can count on the support of the sole Lib Dem councillor.

Labour will presumably be interested in how the new town council progresses, as in its election manifesto it expressed the wish to see the “creation of a Hastings, or Hastings and Bexhill, unitary council.”


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Posted 15:37 Thursday, May 20, 2021 In: Politics

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