Hastings - Can We Make A Difference?
I AM DELIGHTED to have just been elected as a new Labour councillor for Hastings borough council and am on a very steep learning curve. Boundary changes made these the first all-out elections in 18 years and comparisons are difficult, but with comrades’ hard work, we won comfortably. We lost one seat to the Tories, we gained one from them and another (mine) back from a Labour defector/ Independent. The Greens nearly gained a seat and my own ward was the Lib Dem target. We have 24 of the 32 seats and there are twelve new councillors (nine Labour and three Tory). Eleven Labour and one Conservative members are women, which will also have an impact.
Of course, we are operating within horrendous constraints, with government funding cut by almost 70% since 2010 and Hastings is the 20th poorest borough in the UK - so much for the prosperous south east.
The local campaign was positive but the national coverage has been almost universally hostile, especially on Labour antisemitism. A Jewish Board of Deputies/Jewish Leadership Council demonstration in Parliament Square (26th March), another demonstration outside Labour HQ (7th April) and the Tory scheduled debate on antisemitism in Parliament (17th April) were all focused on attacking Labour under Jeremy’s leadership.
And the Times and the Jewish Chronicle wrote about me being co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour and a candidate. I was quoted in small part and out of context by David Aaronovitch in the Jewish Chronicle, implying I was not really Jewish - quite a shock to my relatives! Following the Times article, there was some critical tweeting about me and, by implication, the local Labour Party for selecting me. Someone complained and other journalists tried to raise it with the leader, who was supportive.
But antisemitism was barely raised on the doorstep. Instead, people wanted to know what we could do about: housing, street homelessness, service decline, the state of our NHS, the shortage of GPs (about 40 fewer than needed), policing cuts, especially community policing, the need for non-academy schools, social services under strain, the lack of youth facilities, regeneration, the risk of even less genuinely affordable housing, the refusal of private landlords to take people receiving universal credit, the rise in food bank use and street cleanliness – an extra problem with seagulls in our lovely town.
Many of the areas of concern are the responsibility of Conservative-controlled but also cash strapped East Sussex County Council, the police and NHS. And the fact that we are taking street cleaning back in-house at the first opportunity - which is fairly soon - was very popular.
So I’m a new councillor with huge demands and, like all the Labour councillors, committed to finding creative ways to have quality services for all, especially the most disadvantaged. My main worry is not hard work but that we will not be able to make the difference needed with the resources and powers that we have. We badly need a Corbyn-led Labour government to start to make the changes we so desperately need.