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.
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.
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