ON 5 MAY, THE PEOPLE OF HASTINGS again returned a Labour council with a big majority, giving Labour 24 seats and the Tories eight. While this is unchanged from the last election, it maintains our highest ever number of seats, first achieved in 2012.
At the election count, Rob Cooke, the Tory Group Deputy Leader, announced that ‘Hastings Conservatives are going nowhere’ – which sums it up nicely. Labour had not targeted to win any new seats in this election – we decided instead to consolidate, a tactic that worked. We increased our share, achieving over 50% of votes across the borough.
Our campaign centred around high quality election materials, including two leaflets delivered to all households, and a ‘highlights’ leaflet of our detailed manifesto, available online, along with our achievements from the last manifesto. This summary leaflet proved very popular, so we distributed that, too, to most households.
We were the only political party to produce a manifesto, or indeed any details of what we were proposing for the town – the Tory campaign focused entirely around negative messages and criticism of the council. Other parties in the running (UKIP, Lib Dems, and Greens) did virtually nothing.
We also did plenty of door knocking, concentrated on our most vulnerable wards. On the doorstep, people mostly wanted to discuss local issues – there was no sign of a negative ‘Corbyn effect’, nor did anyone mention their concerns about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. But it’s always hard to get party members out to help with this, particularly newer members. With a tripled membership since Jeremy Corbyn’s election, this is something we need to work on - making contact with new members to get them more active in campaigns, and translating our support in local elections to support for the Labour Party nationally.
Elsewhere in Sussex, Labour doubled its majority from one to two in Crawley. This was one the Tories expected to take, but Peter Lamb, the Labour leader, told me early in the campaign that their canvassing was showing much higher levels of support than he’d expected. Labour also made two unexpected gains in Adur, trebling its presence on the council.
There were no elections in Brighton and Hove, where Warren Morgan still has the difficult job of running a minority administration with the support of the Green Party, whose administration was so damaging to the city before they lost control. So in Kent and Sussex, Hastings, Crawley and Brighton remain the islands of red in a south-eastern sea of blue. But we buck the regional trends because we can show what an active, interventionist Labour council can achieve, compared to Tory laissez-faire apathy. We need to communicate that message throughout the region