We might not know the date but one thing we do know is that a General Election is coming – and soon – writes Stuart Baillie.
Whatever your political persuasion the election battle and especially in Hastings and Rye, is going to be a fascinating one. Just a matter of weeks ago all we expected was a straight fight between our sitting MP Amber Rudd and the man who ran her oh-so close in 2017; Labour’s Peter Chowney.
But in the fast moving waters of British politics that now seems like a lifetime ago. Amber Rudd has resigned the Conservative party whip in parliament – although she remains a member of the wider Conservative party – and has announced she will not be seeking re-election in Hastings and Rye. There’s speculation that she might well stand as an independent in the Kensington and Chelsea constituency.
Before we consider the ‘what-ifs’ lets look at what we do know and that’s not much.
Labour will once again be represented by Peter Chowney, the current leader of Hastings Borough Council. Mr Chowney famously came within 350 votes of unseating Ms Rudd – who was then the Home Secretary – at the 2017 General Election.
For the Liberal Democrats Nick Perry will be contesting the seat for the fourth time and he’s entering the contest representing a party that’s seemingly rejuvenated nationally and according to local polling poses a real threat not just to Labour, as you might expect in the current political climate, but in this age of realigning political allegiances to the Conservatives too.
That’s what we do know, from here on the focus becomes less sharp.
Amber Rudd was well known as a ‘remainer’ and took a high-profile position in attempts by former Prime Minister Theresa May to get a Brexit deal through parliament. Ms Rudd’s stance on Brexit meant Hastings and Rye became a target for The Brexit Party and in August they announced that Tom Bewick would be their candidate in any General Election.
A former Labour councillor in Brighton and Hove, he was Chair of the Vote Leave campaign there in 2016. He left the Labour party in May this year and in August was announced as the Brexit Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Hastings and Rye.
BUT… with Amber Rudd gone, if the Conservatives select, as surely they are very likely to, a candidate with ‘Brexiteer’ credentials, would the Brexit Party still want to contest this seat? Would there be any point? The official line at the moment is that they will.
WHAT… will the Green party do? In 2015 Jake Bowers took 1,951 votes beating the Liberal Democrats by 337 votes. In 2017 the Greens did not field a candidate which was seen to be a benefit to Labour but what will happen when this next election is called?
We know that the Greens held a meeting to select a prospective parliamentary candidate two weeks ago but so far they haven’t made any announcement about who that is. We also understand that talks, both formal and informal, between members of the local Labour party and local Green party have been going on.
It has also been clear this year that local Labour is parking its tanks on the Green party’s lawn. The Labour controlled borough council passed a ‘Climate Emergency’ motion that was seen to be tougher than many other councils were approving. There was the appointment of an additional member to HBC’s cabinet when Maya Evans became lead member for climate change.
Is Hastings Labour genuinely giving itself a green overhaul? Or, is it trying to do, just enough, to persuade the Greens not to contest the seat again in the hope that Mr Chowney will win round those who might otherwise have voted Green?
Interestingly Hastings Green Party is also being courted by the Lib Dems who are asking them to form an electoral pact when it comes to contesting next year’s elections for Hastings Borough Council – what it is to be popular!
WHICH brings us to the Conservative party.
Despite Brexit and despite Amber Rudd’s seeming unpopularity on social media the local Conservatives remained confident they would win Hastings again with an increased majority – well it would have been difficult to get a smaller one!
Whether her opponents liked it or not Ms Rudd did have a significant personal support built up over her years in the constituency. But can whoever steps in to her shoes command that same level of personal support? Should the new Conservative candidate be local or would be bringing in ‘an outsider’ be too risky a choice?
The party locally is staying tight lipped. We know the selection process is underway but then with the threat of an election being called at any moment it has to be. Two names are being mentioned by the Conservative’s opponents they are Rother councillor Sally-Ann Hart who represents the Eastern Rother Ward and leader of the Conservative group on Hastings Borough Council Rob Lee who represents Maze Hill.
It would appear to be one of these two councillors that the other parties predict will win the nomination but no one will confirm these two are even in the race, or if there are any other contenders? And if so who are they?
Like our wait for the election to be called we’re just going to have to be patient while the Greens, The Brexit Party and The Conservatives make their decisions on the way ahead.
The thing that surprises me though, is that so far, there has been relative silence from Peter Chowney – although perhaps Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to the town on Saturday will effectively fire the starting gun on his campaigning.
In the absence of a Conservative rival you would have thought this would have been an ideal opportunity to make hay!
Others have been less reticent. Even before he was confirmed as his party’s candidate Nick Perry was making the running. He is seemingly prepared to comment on any issue he believes affects the town and he is already establishing a significant profile while speaking with the authority of a man who believes his time has come.
Whether you believe them or not the opinion polls are looking good for the Liberal Democrats nationally and even locally. What’s more they can back those polls up with the results from European and local elections earlier in the year where the party did very well in and around Hastings. So while his opponents contemplate their navels Mr Perry is getting a head start.
Has he peaked too soon or is his a shrewdly tactical game? Only time will tell.