Labour’s bucking the national trends in Hastings – but not in a good way

Labour politicians in Hastings appear reluctant to accept any responsibility for the losses suffered by the party at the local elections held a month ago today. Instead local Labour cites ‘national trends’ for its poor showing which included the loss of four seats to the Tories and one to the Greens at borough level and the loss of two seats; one to the Tories the other to the Greens at county level.

But the cause of Labour’s sizeable problem in Hastings is both national and local, presenting the party with a tough challenge when it faces the Hastings electorate again in just 11 months time for the next set of borough council elections. James Prentice has crunched the numbers and here’s what he has to say.

In the aftermath of the 2021 local elections, social media quickly began to debate how bad the result was for the Hastings Labour Party.

Some argued that the result showed localised problems for the borough’s Labour Party, while others argued that it merely reflected wider national trends. As Labour could not escape these national trends it was therefore argued that failings with the national party were to blame for the poor result.

Other commentators later argued that this was a denial of local problems the Labour Party faced as the result for Labour highlighted both national and local problems. Here I aim to provide evidence that will help inform this debate.

We find that Hastings Labour’s result in some ways did buck the national trend, but not in a good way. Specifically, it finds that the swing from Labour to the Tories was much greater in Hastings than elsewhere, indicating that both national and local factors hurt Labour.

Hastings compared to the national average:

Table 1 highlights how the result for Labour in Hastings was comparatively worse than compared to the rest of the country; whether you compare Hastings to the rest of the South East, the Red Wall or the national average.

These averages are the first indication that Hastings was an outlier, indicating local factors possibly partly shaped the election. However, averages can be misleading, so lets go on to compare the Hastings result against results in regions across England.

The Tories gains over Labour:

Fig 1: Comparing the Tories’ gains over Labour in Hastings to other boroughs in other regions, LE 2021.

Fig 1 shows how Hastings compared to all other borough council results across various regions. Specifically, it shows the Conservative Party’s net gain in the share of the vote (this is calculated through the Conservative Party’s increase in the share of the vote plus Labour’s decrease in the share of the vote). Figure one demonstrates how when using this measure Hastings can be said to have been one of the worst results in the country. Although a few cases do outrank Hastings, when comparing Hastings to other regional trends the Hastings Labour Party lost out far more than other local Labour organisations. While it would be unfair to compare Hastings to the rest of the South due to demographic differences that exist in Hastings it is not unreasonable to identify that when compared to other regional averages Labour performed significantly worse.

Crucially, this highlights how Hastings can be viewed as an outlier, indicating external factors, such as local issues, may have caused Labour to buck the trend.

Labour’s decline in support:

Fig 2, comparing the decrease in Hastings Labour’s vote to boroughs in other regions, local elections 2021.

Fig 2 shows that when focusing just on Labour’s loss in the share of the vote (compared to the last local election) it can be said that Hastings bucked the national trend.

Hastings Labour decreased its share of the vote by 12.5 per cent, a figure well below all the regional averages. Again, a few borough Labour parties did perform worse than Hastings, but Labour did worse than 75 per cent of councils in all regions.

Therefore, while Labour’s result in Hastings did appear very bad when considering Labour’s better performance in the South, when considering borough results across the country Labour still stands out as an outlier. This would again indicate negative local factors depressed Labour’s vote alongside the clear national problems the party has.

The SwingOmeter:

While swing is not a perfect measure, it does accurately capture the relative position of Labour to the Conservatives – who is up and who is down. Table two shows when producing a list of the 20 boroughs with the highest swing away from Labour, Hastings placed in the top ten.

Over 120 borough councils were contested in last month’s elections, clearly making Hastings one of the heaviest defeats for Labour. Considering that Hastings usually bucks the trend in a positive way for Labour, this raises the question of why this year’s result was so poor for the Hastings Labour Party? Considering national factors were at play everywhere this again raises the possibility that local issues damaged Labour candidates in Hastings.

Local factors?

On viewing table three it can be seen that the results of Old Hastings and West St Leonards were where most of Labour’s largest net losses occurred. Within these areas, there were clear local issues, particularly planning issues.

West St Leonards had a mixture of tough planning issues that any incumbent council group would find tough to defend. Moreover, Old Hastings had a long-standing planning issue, the Marina development, something that gave the Greens a foothold and a focus to campaign on. Therefore, local factors most probably did cause Labour to have a particularly hefty decrease in their share of the vote. However, it should also be noted that large net losses occurred in other seats that more reflected problems Labour had nationally, such as the seats of Baird, Ore, Tressell and Wishing Tree.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the cause of Labour’s sizeable problems in Hastings is both national and local, presenting a hard challenge for Labour in Hastings.

Figure 3, comparing the swing in Hastings against other borough in other regions, Local elections 2021

5 thoughts on “Labour’s bucking the national trends in Hastings – but not in a good way

  1. Thank you for an excellent analytical article on the local election voting.
    The very first line about accepting “responsibility for the losses,” is something I doubt this cabal will ever go public on.
    I really do believe there has been for a long period this air of arrogance and confidence that Labour will rule the borough indefinitely. And doing the basics such as listening to the electorate and even doing what the electorate would like has been a serious non-achievement with this party.
    If it is controversial, if it is not agreeable with the local Labour ideas you are perceived as being vexatious.
    Over the years several Labour councillors have refused to speak or get involved in so many issues. Some such as Rocklands and the Bunker that is still ongoing some seven years later. Or the abusrd mismanagement regarding the Gateway Road are among just two on along list to mention. And to include the current planned Bulverhythe development or the old Lido issue.
    One memorable example of ignoring residents was the Bexhill Road bus lane. A signed up Labour party member I know living there never got a reply from two emails to the previous leader of the party.
    Far too much cherry picking goes on and if the subject is controversial they will avoid the subject at all costs.

  2. Can only echo Sagacious’ comments. The local issues matter greatly to almost every resident I speak to (and every other political party), but the majority Labour Party ignores both those concerned and even common sense. If the local Labour Party is to halt this decline in confidence and votes it needs a ‘root & branch’ inquiry into its own local failings.

  3. Thank you Bryan for your endorsement on my comment. Agree with you are the other major political party that I too should have mentioned.
    I for one from personal experience know what your campaign. As a member of a campaign that took seven years to save a local HBC owned meadow from being concreted on and developed. Communication with the councillors over that period was virtually non-existant

  4. Sagacious, you are far more literate than I, but I have to say that I, as does Bryan, agree with every word you say.
    The only thing that I can add is that I am amazed that we are lumbered by the same HBC that we have had to cope with….AGAIN. I really am surprised that they did get in again. All the Labour voters like me, voted elsewhere as we were hoping to get a council who listen.
    I am just pleased that Greens gained one seat at last, thought it would be more. ??

  5. Thank you, James, for your work in analysing the results. As a non-political person it seems to me that there will always be swings between the parties over time. Older voters pass away, there is a constant migration between areas and younger people join the electorate. Before the election I wrote the same email to my four County candidates. The Labour candidate replied within a couple of days, the Lib Dem’s reply was just a complaint about the Conservative dominated Council. The Green and Conservative candidates didn’t even bother to reply. I have had the same experience with our MPs. I have sent emails to our present MP and the previous two. On each occasion, I received an automatic response saying that they don’t reply to emails! In what job in the real world would you be able to say that you are too busy to do what you are paid to do? Until our so-called elected representatives are compelled to actually communicate with the people, they will continue to take us for granted and we will not trust them.

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