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County results show a divided Hastings, pulling Labour apart.

Updated: May 15, 2021

As the party that took the most seats in the county council elections, the Conservatives will be feeling very positive, especially as governing parties usually take a hit in the locals. The Greens were the only party to gain a seat, whilst Labour was the only party to lose one. Although not that much changed in terms of seat control there were some interesting voting patterns that emerged. These patterns mirror a new divide that has emerged in British politics, where the Tories have formed a new broad coalition that has made it easier for them to pick up seats and win elections. In contrast, Labour has found it harder to hold onto some of their traditional areas and have lost support to both the Conservative and Green Party. The Greens have received a boost from Labour's inability to meet their tough task of trying to regain their lost support the Conservatives have scooped up, whilst at the same time having to keep their more middle-class liberal base on side. This blog post outlines the broad social trends that have contributed to this outcome. In short, a generational divide and the alternation of how some working-class communities are voting helped the Tories carry the day and contributed to the continued fragmentation of Labour's vote.

A generational divide:

There was a clear generational divide that separated the county council election results, an even starker divide than the Borough results produced. Figure 1 shows that the Conservatives performed the best in seats with older than average populations, winning all the seats with an average population age of 42+ years. Labour instead managed to hang onto areas with more youthful electorates. The exception to this was Old Hastings & Tressell, of which has one of the most youthful populations in the borough. The large swing of young voters in the Hastings old town area likely helped the Greens win not just the borough seat in this area but its county seat too. As a result, it can be argued that Labour lost from both old and young voters abandoning them, presenting an electoral nightmare for Labour as these groups often want very different things and are antagonistic in these different objectives.

Qualifications, The Tories expand their base:

Focusing on figure 2 and the Baird and Ore result, it is interesting to note that the Conservatives are picking up areas that have high levels of education deprivation, indicating fewer voters obtain higher-level qualifications. Crucially, this highlights the growing reach the Tories have, where they can win both deprived and affluent areas. Vitally, this reach allows them to expand their base and at the same time shrink Labour's. Labour has relied on working-class areas, often unfairly hit by lower attainment, to give them a solid base of support which could then be built upon to win elections. Yet, as the Tories continue to eat into this base it does mean that Labour will find it harder to discover that winning coalition of voters who can win them enough seats to gain control of councils like Hastings.

Labour struggling with the left-behind?

Has the working-class now left Labour behind?

It was previously suggested that as Labour was losing deprived areas they probably were struggling in retaining their working-class vote. Figure 3 shows that wards that had a higher proportion of its workforce registered as traders and manual workers tended to have lower support for Labour. Oppositely, they tended to increase support for the Conservative Party and be more likely to return Conservative councillors. The Green Party gained support, and their one new seat, in areas that reflected a smaller working-class vote and a larger middle and professional class base. Therefore, Left-Liberal parties like the Greens and Labour tended to do better in areas where there were fewer working-class voters, and the Tories instead performed better in localities with a higher proportion of working-class individuals. This again indicates Labour struggled to connect with voters most likely to feel left-behind, whilst at the same time they suffered defections from younger professionals who backed either the Greens or Lib-Dems. These voters often have different priorities and Labour will continue to face the conundrum of how to bring them together on polling day.

The Green's gains - where did they come from?

The seats where the Greens gained the most, tended to come from areas with younger than average populations. Therefore, as stated earlier, more youthful areas, which were more likely to have voted to Remain in large numbers, helped increase Green support at the expense of Labour. Whilst Labour hung on in most areas this would have hurt them in the key marginals they lost to the Tories, alongside also helping cause the loss of one seat to the Greens. The Greens did less well in districts that had more older and working-class voters with fewer qualifications, areas more likely to have backed Leave. Therefore, this splitting of the vote presents a problem for the Left-Liberal parties, and especially Labour, as such parties are failing to connect a broad enough coalition of voters, meaning they will find it hard to gain enough support to win council majorities. As such, they will also find it hard to win the parliamentary seat.

Overall, the Tories look secure:

The county council elections show how the social divisions within the electorate have split the vote in a way that favours the Conservative Party and has damaged the Labour Party. The Tories have gained from older electorates containing more working-class voters who were more likely to have voted to Leave the EU. Further, gaining more votes than the other parties will only increase confidence in their ability to hold together this broad coalition of voters. On top of this, left-liberal parties, the Greens, Lib-Dems and Labour, will continue to fight over similar Remain type voters and only dent each other's ability to defeat the Conservatives. Meanwhile, this will mean the Tories will mostly continue to be unopposed as Labour struggles to connect is diverging Leave and Remain former bases of support. Therefore, the Conservatives will be the party most likely to win the parliamentary seat going into the next general election, unless Labour can reconnect with its former working-class base without alienating the voters they lost to the Greens in this local election. As bringing together this split electorate under the banner of Labour is unlikely, these county council results show that the divides from 2019 could linger on and help the Conservatives to win the next general election.


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