Election lessons for Labour in Hastings and Rye
I AM HONOURED to have been elected a first-time Labour councillor for Hollington ward in Hastings and Rye constituency. 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 4,000 to just 346. Her rural vote held up, but even in Rye, known as a middle class area, but 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.
Hollington is a white working class area. It is often defined by the Tile Barn estate. Built in 1970s, it was the largest estate in the country, intended to accommodate the London overspill of skilled workers apparently destined 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 1980s 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 people hard, with cuts in social services and mental health, while the demoralising, impoverishing effects of welfare cuts have seen increasing numbers of residents using food banks.
Hollington shifted from being a fairly solid Labour voting area to showing a spike of support for UKIP. In 2016’s local elections Labour held on to the ward despite UKIP taking 23% of the vote. In the 2017 general election, Hollington also voted more strongly for UKIP. But while elsewhere there was a shift from UKIP back to the Conservatives, Hollington bucked the general trend, with just under 50% of previous UKIP voters returning to Labour instead of voting Tory. Why?
Labour locally made Hollington a priority ward. Extra resources were earmarked, included mass canvassing. When knocking on doors, our activists showed great sensitivity to residents living in poverty. We recognised that people in Hollington have been overlooked for too long.
I am now a co-councillor with former Hastings CLP chair Paul Barnett, also a first-time candidate. We took an unorthodox approach, walking around with clippers to cut back overgrown hedges and picking up litter. We also showed we could listen and that we care. It seems to have worked.