Labour has a new parliamentary candidate in Hastings: Helena Dollimore, a challenger determined to wrench the seat from Tory control after 12 years. The hustings, on the town’s Pirate’s Day, comes on the back of a fresh tide of support for Labour, both nationally, and in Hastings itself. Despite losing overall control to the Greens, the party took 42 per cent of the vote in the local elections earlier this year, enough to send shivers through the timbers of Conservative central office.
The present incumbent, Sally-Ann Hart, has a lower profile than her predecessor Amber Rudd, a government minister who resigned and quit parliament, largely over Boris Johnson’s policy on Brexit. Hart, elected in 2019, has been a backbench Johnson loyalist throughout his three years in office, only until almost the very last moment disavowing her disgraced leader.
An initial popular choice to take on Hart – Hastings borough deputy leader Maya Evans – failed to make the shortlist. But Dollimore has won over sections of the party impressed by her help during the local elections and desperate for a Labour win in a target seat.
Dollimore, 28, ticks several boxes for a successful run at the Hastings & Rye seat.
She went to a state school, Heathfield Community College, near Hastings, in her spare time becoming an active Young Socialist. At St Hilda’s College, Oxford, where she studied history and politics, she was co-chair of the University Labour Club.
A job at the Save the Children charity plunged her into working with the charity on many major humanitarian crises such as the wars in Yemen and Syria. She is currently behind Unilever’s drive to improve access to safe water and sanitation, and its response to humanitarian emergencies. Since 2021, she has also been a Labour councillor in the London borough of Merton.
Dollimore gave a good account of herself before well over 100 local Labour members at the selection meeting on July 17. She later told Sussex Bylines:
“Hastings and Rye deserve an MP with drive and determination who will secure a better deal for us. Our community is struggling with the cost of living crisis and are scared about what the future holds. People want to know that somebody has got control of the economy and control of this crisis. For too long our corner of East Sussex has been neglected by Conservative MPs and governments.
“We have a brilliant community in Hastings and Rye but we are being let down. People deserve better than what they are getting under the Tories. Findings from the OECD show just how badly the Tories are trashing our economy and with the continuation candidates of Sunak and Truss, the political chaos will only add uncertainty for consumers and businesses.
“Or take our local NHS: 12 years of conservative mismanagement and neglect has left it in crisis. People find it really hard to get a GP or dentist appointment, and we have a GP surgery with 15,000 patients to every one GP. That’s the worst of anywhere in England.
“Look at the crisis in our local ambulance service. The figures I have uncovered show that people in Hastings and Rye are waiting up to an hour, and target times are missed.
“So our first campaign will be asking the Conservative Secretary of State for Health to urgently explain what he will do to ensure that people here can get an ambulance within the target times, and to make sure our local Ambulance Service, and our brilliant hardworking NHS staff have the resources to serve our area to the highest standards. 24 hours in A&E used to be a reality TV programme, now it’s government’s policy. When is this Government going to take responsibility for Conservative failure on our NHS?”
Dollimore is also keen to energise support in Rye and the surrounding villages. Engaging with people and finding out their concerns – via events such as coffee mornings – will be a priority while the party seeks to make gains in next year’s Rother district council elections.
One electoral challenge for Dollimore will be the Greens, who made substantial gains in Hastings borough elections in May, winning 23.5% of the vote. They held back from challenging previous Labour parliamentary candidate Peter Chowney, but their support next time cannot be counted on. Talking up council action locally and Labour’s Green New Deal will be part of her strategy.
2019 General Election results:
Tories, 26,896; Labour, 22,853; Lib Dems, 3,960; Ind, 565
Conservative majority: 4,043
2017 General Election results:
Tories, 25,668; Labour, 25,322; Lib Dems, 1,885; Ukip, 1,479; Ind, 412
Conservative majority: 346
Brexit: Hastings voted to leave in the 2016 referendum by 54.9% (24,339 votes) to 45.1% (20,011 votes). Support for Brexit was higher than the 51.9% support nationally, when 48.1% voted to remain.
This is the first article in an occasional series profiling parliamentary candidates preparing to take on sitting Conservative MPs
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