Election lessons for Labour from Hollington
I am honoured to have been elected a first-time Labour Councillor for Hollington Ward in Hastings and Rye Constituency (which includes St Leonards on Sea). It, is one of the most deprived wards in the South East, with 769 children living below the poverty line and 20% of residents claiming benefits.
Hollington is key to removing the sitting MP and former Home Secretary Amber Rudd. In the General Election in June 2017, her majority was slashed from over 4000 to just 346. Her rural vote held up, but even in Rye, known as a middle class area. which has an underbelly of deprivation, Labour surged and the Conservatives dipped. We believe Hollington could be the key to Hastings finally removing Rudd and getting a Labour MP at the next General Election. The leader of the Labour Borough Council, Peter Chowney is again standing as Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate and we are a key target seat.
So what is significant about Hollington?
It is a white working class area. It is often defined by the Tile Barn Estate. Built in 1970's, Tile Barn was the largest estate in the country, intended to accommodate the London overspill of skilled workers who were destined, so it was believed, to work on the neighbouring industrial estate. But the plan was never realised. Instead , Tile Barn ended up as a ‘sink estate’, accommodating low-income families from the local area with a range of complex social needs. It picked up a reputation in the 80’s as one of the roughest estates in the South East outside London.
In Hollington, the average voter turnout is a low 27%. A decade of punitive austerity has hit the people hard. Hollington families have been at the sharp end of cuts to many services, including in social services and mental health, while the demoralising, grossly unfair and impoverishing effects of welfare cuts have seen increasing numbers of people in Hollington using Food Banks.
Hollington shifted from being a fairly solid Labour voting area to showing a spike of support for UKIP. In the 2016 local elections Labour held on to the ward despite UKIP taking 23% of the vote. It is worth noting that (although local election and general election voting patterns can be very different) in the 2017 General Election, Hollington also voted more strongly for UKIP. It followed a significant national trend where those hardest hit by austerity, used the ballot box to protest against the Conservative Government. However, during these local elections in 2018, in the northern working class heartlands, the shift was from UKIP back to the Conservatives. But Hollington, a white working class electorate, bucked the general national trend, with just under 50% of previous UKIP voters returning to Labour instead of voting Tory.
So how did this come about?
Concerned by a surge in UKIP voters in the previous General Election, the local Labour Party made Hollington a ’priority ward’. Extra resources were diverted which included extra mass canvassing . We had a larger than average turn-out of activists for normal canvassing. When knocking on doors, our activists showed a great deal of sensitivity and understanding for residents living in poverty. We recognised that people in Hollington have been overlooked and ignored for too long, and the reasons why. As campaigning continued we became quietly confident that it was possible we could reclaim much of the UKIP vote.
I am now a Co-Councillor with former Hastings CLP Chair Paul Barnett also a first-time candidate. We took something of an ‘unorthodox’ approach. We walked around with hand clippers to cut back overgrown hedges, we were seen picking up litter, we donned custom-made matching red woolly hats displaying the legend: “Maya & Paul, Hollington Labour”. We went everywhere together as a strong positive team. We were also able to persuade comrades from Lewes to come to Hollington and help us. We had presence - ‘in your face’ noticeable and we were bold. We also showed we could listen and that we care. It seems to have worked.