While the national fight to select a new leader for the Labour party rages on there will be another battle for control of the Labour party this time here in Hastings.
Peter Chowney has announced to his party members that he will stand down as leader of the Labour group and as leader of Hastings Borough Council (HBC) at a special meeting of the council on March 15th.
Mr Chowney became leader of HBC unexpectedly after the sudden death of it’s then leader Jeremy Birch in 2015 and Mr Chowney has said publicly he had never expected that he would be leader but as deputy to Mr Birch he was the ‘obvious’ candidate to take over.
Likewise the man who says he never had ‘any aspirations to be an MP’ found himself contesting a parliamentary election twice and coming very close to unseating the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd in the 2017 contest.
“I’ve never really got why people want to be career politicians,” he told Hastings In Focus at the height of the General Election campaign last November. He went on to say he believed politicians should come from the communities they represent, political service he said should be something you are “thrust in to,” it should be “something you are encouraged to do by your community to represent it.”
December’s General Election was a blow to the Labour party nationally and in Hastings and Rye Mr Chowney could do little to prevent the national swing against his party eroding his vote. The number of votes for Labour fell from over 25,000 in 2017 to 22,853 in December and the Conservative majority grew from 346 votes to more than 4,000.
Mr Chowney says he has let his local party members know of his decision and will make a full statement ‘soon’. There will be a special council meeting on March 18th when a new leader will be elected giving them two months to prepare for the HBC elections in May.
Hear Peter Chowney speaking to Hastings In Focus by following the link below…
In the meantime jockeying for position will begin within the local labour party.
Councillor Andy Batsford has been building his profile and is very active in both promoting and defending his party’s position on social media. Councillor Judy Rogers has been Mayor and in the past has harboured ambitions to be an MP, she is active in the community as a trustee of St Mary In The Castle and President of Hastings Rotary Club among other interests. The other likely candidate who some see as the front runner is the current deputy leader Councillor Kim Forward.
“I think Kim is seen as a ‘safe pair of hands’,” Hastings In Focus was told this afternoon.
Nick Perry who was a political opponent of Mr Chowney at the 2017 and 2019 General Elections said today: “Peter has given his best and deserves thanks.
“It is an interesting time for Labour both locally and nationally. Personally I hope they choose a direction of travel that is more participatory and collaborative.”
Councillor Rob Lee who leads the opposition Conservative group on HBC was less charitable saying: “Peter leaves a very mixed legacy behind him. From costly vanity projects to well-meaning but doomed schemes, it will take some time for the council and the town to recover from his leadership.
“From the straw-built Country Park visitor centre to the closure of the town centre toilets, Peter’s blunders as leader carried similar themes. They were often over budget and over time.
“They caused massive disruption to our community, and they seemed to make no sense. Why close a public toilet? Why put solar panels in our Country Park?
“However, I believe the long-term damage and Peter’s ultimate legacy will be the huge borrowing that the council has undertaken during his time, the amount borrowed is already huge at over £60 million and is set to climb even further to £104 million or £1,600 for every person in Hastings.
“One things for sure, Peter will be gone, but his consequences of his policies will haunt Hastings for decades to come.”
Have you heard the latest edition of The Hastings Podcast? Follow the link below…