WORTHING BOROUGH COUNCIL has not had a Labour councillor since 1976 and there have only ever been eight Labour councillors in the town. By common consent it is a solid Conservative area.
There has been the odd Lib Dem councillor and even a Green but until recently the main challenge came from UKIP.
All this changed after Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader resulted in hundreds of new members joining the Party. At the West Sussex County Council elections last May, Labour came from its previous fourth place to second in overall votes, and was tantalisingly close to taking a couple of seats. In the general election in June the Labour vote, while still well behind the Tories, doubled from 2015.
Then the resignation of a Tory councillor led to a by-election for a borough council seat. It wasn't one of our target wards, Marine ward is in the leafy suburb of Goring by Sea, not in central Worthing. Although we were tired after two major election efforts, we decided to give it our best shot.
We selected Dr Rebecca Cooper who had been our general election candidate and whose name recognition played a part in the result. We campaigned on local issues that people were concerned about and achieved a good contact rate through canvassing. There were also targeted letters to postal voters and under 25s. Our high visibility campaign shocked the normally complacent Tories into action and they even tried to match our street stalls. I thought these showed up the difference between us - our campaigners were a diverse bunch while they had mainly older men in suits!
Volunteers came from Hove and Littlehampton which definitely helped us achieve the high turnout - for a local authority by-election - of 32%. Even so, our chief organiser was not sure on the day that we had done enough. UKIP weren't standing, had their vote gone to the Tories? Would our doorstep efforts be dwarfed by the Tories hoovering up postal votes? So it was gratifying to achieve such a stunning victory: Labour 1032, Conservative 846, Lib Dem 246, Green 55.
Worthing has annual local elections so we only have to wait until May next year for our next chance to show this was no fluke. There's no such thing as a safe seat now!