Where do we go from here? As the dust settles on last week’s council elections we might well ask.
The first full meeting of the new-look Hastings Borough Council will come next Wednesday and while a number of things will have changed, a lot will have a very familiar feel about it. Labour remain in control and seem unwilling or unable to acknowledge that what happened last week was a defeat and a clear indication from local people that they are unhappy with the current administration’s style.
The party has even tried to suggest that national factors created their problems in Hastings: “…The national swing clearly made these elections less about local issues than usual,” a party spokesman said at the weekend.
There is still no acknowledgement that people like Lucie Mason, a life-long Labour supporter, cannot bring herself to vote Labour at a local level. Before the election and discussing Labour’s campaign literature Lucie said: “I am being constantly taunted by these posts from Labour candidates.
“This council has failed to work with the community it has failed to be a strong voice for local people, if our ‘voices must be heard’ why are they not listening?”
In the old council there were
23 Labour members
In the new council there will be
19 Labour members,
1 Green councillor
Make no mistake, the results of last Thursday’s elections for Hastings Borough Council brought seismic change. No one expected to see Labour’s Warren Davies unseated by a Conservative in his Baird ward. And over in Silverhill it has been clear the local Labour party had big things in mind for Margi O’Callaghan’s civic future but she too found herself unseated from her borough ward and unable to get elected in the county ward that she contested.
In Old Hastings it was widely expected that that the Greens’ Julia Hilton would take the seat from Labour, she had been just 29 votes short last time around, but what no one foresaw was the scale of her victory, she took more than half the vote and can proudly make the claim to be the only councillor voted in last week who got more than 1,000 votes – 1,032 to be exact.
Of course just half the council’s 32 elected members were up for election last week, the other 16 will face the voters in just a year’s time and that’s why we need to dig a little deeper to understand what’s happening.
Last Thursday was a clear victory for the Conservatives. It’s not just that they won four seats that had been held by Labour but their share of the vote was significantly ahead of their rivals too.
Here is the state of the parties
What might have happened if the entire council had been up for election?
Spare a thought for the Liberal Democrats, once in control of HBC now well beaten into fourth and in many seats an irrelevance. In the Baird, Hollington, Old Hastings and Ore wards the Lib Dem candidates only just scraped above 30 votes.
Bob Lloyd, chair of Hastings and Rye Liberal democrats said afterwards that his party knew it was going to be tough and had focussed what resources they had on fighting for success in the county council contests and are now looking to next year where he expects they will be better prepared and resourced.
But what of Labour? The party went in to the elections facing big issues. In key parts of the town the Labour group was, and probably still is, seen as being out of touch and stands accused of not listening to its electorate.
As Graham Wilkins says: “The irony will not be missed by most voters that this party claims to speak for the people, yet clearly, is out of touch with reality.”
Issues for Labour included an apparent refusal to listen to advice not to build on the Bulverhythe Recreation ground, failure to engage with locals who believe it’s wrong to put high density housing on the old bathing pool site, concerns about financial management and overspends on key projects, decisions by the councils planning committee that have left people bewildered and even the seeming invisibility of council leader Kim Forward, who refused all approaches for pre-election interviews.
In the aftermath of such a poor showing by Labour at the polls many considered that Ms Forward would stand down as leader and let someone more comfortable with the media and a more natural communicator take the reins – but that is not what happened and instead Labour has issued a statement that effectively promises business as usual.
The statement issued by Liam Crowter, Chair of Hastings and Rye constituency labour Party said: “We are pleased that the May 6th elections in Hastings have once again resulted in a Labour run council.
“The national swing clearly made these elections less about local issues than usual and this has been a significant factor in the wards where hard working Labour councillors lost their seats. We thank Antonia Berelson, Margi O’Callaghan, and Warren Davies for their support and commitment to the residents of their wards and to our town.
“We welcome the election of three talented new councillors, Sabina Arthur, Claire Carr and Ali Roark to the Labour team.”
Ms Forward added: “We are sad to lose three colleagues but proud to welcome three new councillors, all of whom are women.”
Councillor Paul Barnett, who takes over from Colin Fitzgerald as deputy leader after Mr Fitzgerald did not seek re-election to the council said: “This is an exciting and challenging time for all of us involved in improving the future of Hastings. We will be focusing on continuing to support and develop the vital partnerships which our town needs, with both private and voluntary sectors, other service providers such as housing and health, and national and regional funders.
“We must all come together to address the major challenges of inequality and economic opportunity that are so vital to deliver what our residents expect.
“I am looking forward to meeting with all those who share our passion for this wonderful town.”
The party statement says: “This Labour party will continue to promote a socialist vision of fairness and equality for all, and our large membership will be active in a wide range of progressive causes to improve local life.”
“We are committed to continuing the regeneration of Hastings and to boosting the local economy and welcoming visitors to this most special coastal destination. We will work to attract investment and improve services to the poorest areas of our town.
“Our climate change plan is central to our work across the Council and we will continue to work with our partners who also deliver key services in Hastings to strive for a carbon neutral town by 2030.
“As we are still navigating our way through this pandemic, we will continue to work with our partners including voluntary and community groups, prioritising support for our residents and ensuring their needs are met. We are standing with the people of our town and remain committed to a bright future for all.”
“…bringing all the passions and skills of this amazing community to build a town where everybody’s needs are met within planetary limits,”Julia Hilton
In addition to electing Mr Barnett as deputy the annual meeting of the Labour group elected the cabinet team that will consisting of Councillors Peter Chowney, Judy Rogers, Maya Evans, Andy Batsford and Trevor Webb. They will, according to the party chair: “…with energy and determination, continue to ensure we deliver the manifesto pledges that residents have elected us on.”
Some local politics watchers have been surprised to see no commitment to greater consultation, more open communication or any sense of acknowledgement that the Hastings Labour Party effectively lost last week’s election.
For Councillor Andy Patmore – who was elected leader of the Conservative group just before the election campaign got started – last week was cause for celebration: “I am delighted to have four new Conservative Councillors on Hastings Borough Council, increasing our group to 12.
“The residents have sent a very loud and clear message to the Labour administration that they are not being listened to and won’t be taken for granted.
“The Conservative group polled 40 per cent of the vote compared with Labour’s 37 and people will be wondering why they still have a Labour Council.
“Voters will have a chance in only 12 months’ time to hold Labour to account again. With that in mind, I feel like the job is only half done and the Conservatives must double their efforts to make sure we have genuine change in the borough.”
As for Ms Hilton over in Old Hastings she went on, later in the day, to become the town’s first Green representative on East Sussex County Council when she won the Old Hastings and Tressell ward: “I’m going to be in listening and learning mode for the next few weeks and months, seeing where we can join the dots and work together, bringing all the passions and skills of this amazing community to build a town where everybody’s needs are met within planetary limits,” she said after her election.
For the full election results, including the eight Hastings wards that make up east Sussex County Council, click on this link
Full borough and county council election results – bad election for Labour, Hastings has its first Green councillor on both councils