Night of the insurgents, as Labour and Greens chalk up gains in Sussex

Peter Kyle, MP for Hove & Portslade (third from left) celebrates with Worthing Labour Party members. Photo credit: Worthing CLP

Labour and Greens both had successes in the local council elections. Labour held its own in Sussex – winning Worthing for the first time in the party’s history by a comfortable margin over the Conservatives. In Crawley, Labour was also back in charge, taking one Tory seat to emerge as the majority party after years of no overall control.

Greens end Labour control in Hastings

But in Hastings, the red rose wilted in the face of a determined Green assault. The local party leader, Julia Hilton, is now joined by three other Greens, making a five-strong group after an earlier Labour defection. This effectively ends 12 years of Labour control. While still the largest party with 15 councillors, Labour will have to sue for peace with the Greens after an often bitter election campaign.

The Greens took some high-profile scalps, unseating Labour’s deputy mayor Ruby Cox, and former council leader Kim Forward. Another senior councillor, Judy Rogers, held off a Green challenge in her ward by just five votes. The town’s popular mayor, James Bacon, more comfortably won against the Greens in Hastings Old Town. 

It is unlikely the Greens will ally with the council’s 12 Conservatives –  although they have occasionally voted with them in the past. In terms of policy, there does not seem much between Labour and the Greens. On climate change, for example, the council has already signed up to an ambitious zero emissions target.

Successful Green candidates in Hastings: Tony Collins, Amanda Jobson & Glenn Haffenden. Photo credit: https://twitter.com/greenshastings

A historic Labour win in Worthing

It was certainly a good night for the Greens nationally, and even in Worthing, where Labour held sway, there was a strong Green showing. But it was Labour’s night – with the party gaining six seats and, with now 23 councillors, comfortably ahead of the 12 Tories and one Independent.

Labour were the insurgents, upsetting the Tory applecart with vigorous campaigning, just as they did in Hastings over 12 years ago. And they did it in an even more spectacular fashion: Worthing didn’t even have a single Labour councillor before 2017.

Those who attributed Labour’s Worthing win to Partygate and disillusion with Johnson’s government are only partly right. A lot was down to the local party itself.

Take this comment from Nigel Watson, owner of the micropub Anchored in Worthing. In an interview with the i newspaper he said: “The Tories need kicking out. Locally they are useless. The local Tory council have done nothing for the town centre or the town’s businesses in the nine years I’ve been here. Whereas Labour councillors have already had a meeting with all the local town businesses to listen to us and our ideas, which have been reflected in their manifesto.”

Beccy Cooper, leader of Worthing Labour group, told the BBC her party won due to a “perfect storm of very strong community activism, demographic change, local Conservative complacency and the national picture.” And she predicted that in the next general election Labour was poised to take East Worthing and Shoreham, which Conservative MP Tim Loughton won in 2019 with a 7,474 majority.

Labour back in charge in Crawley

Crawley’s council leader Peter Lamb is stepping down at the party’s moment of triumph, to give himself a break from the intensity of council life. But in a brief interview with the BBC he expressed optimism about Labour’s role now. Before the vote Lamb told Sussex Bylines: “There’s a lot of upset regarding the Conservatives both nationally and locally, including amongst life-long Tory voters.”

But, as elsewhere, the Conservatives benefit by division on the progressive left. He said the last time the Conservatives took control of Crawley, “They won it on a coin toss. Had one more person made it out to vote Labour or switched their vote from the Lib Dems and Greens, years of services cuts could have been avoided.”

By the same author:

The way forward in Hastings?

In Hastings, Labour leader Paul Barnett told the BBC talks would begin on “how we take forward the agenda that we have for Hastings. As far as the public is concerned what they’re saying very clearly is: ‘We need help with housing, poverty and terrible problems over health in Hastings, but we also care passionately about the climate emergency’.”

But the Hastings upset for Labour can be attributed to factors other than the climate crisis – one being feet on the ground. The Greens ran a highly targeted campaign, with outside support, focusing their efforts on just five wards.

Labour, on the other hand, entered the campaign with many activists disillusioned after several high-profile local expulsions from the party; so many just sat on their hands. Former Labour voters may also have switched to the Greens – attracted to Corbyn, now dissatisfied with Starmer’s centrist approach.

In 2017 and 2019, the Greens stood aside for Labour’s parliamentary candidate Peter Chowney, partly because of his strong support for green issues. He was still defeated, though; last time by the town’s current Tory MP Sally Ann Hart, by a fairly narrow 4,043 votes.

The question hanging over Labour now is: come the next general election, can they again rely on Green support?

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