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Greens win the battles, Labour wins the war: HBC22 result analysis.

Updated: May 12, 2022

With the shock Green gains grabbing the headlines, this blog takes a more in-depth approach to better understand how the election result came to be and what it means for politics in Hastings&Rye. It addresses such questions as, how did the Greens gain such rapid support in four Labour seats, should the Conservatives ditch Boris Johnson and should Labour change Kier Starmer's new approach?

The results:

Map 1

In terms of seats, Labour won 9 seats, the Tories 4, and the Greens three, thus putting the council into No overall control - NOC (see map 1). A year ago, the anticipation was Labour and the Conservatives would battle in the traditional key marginal seats, like Silverhill, St Helens, Barid, Ore and Wishing Tree. Yet, it was clear from early on in the count that the Conservative Party's vote was down and Labour's was up, allowing Labour to hold onto all these battlegrounds seats with surprisingly comfortable majorities. Labour failed to gain West St Leonards largely due to unpopular planning policies in the area, but Labour holding these key Labour-Tory battlegrounds would have met their goals.

However, as the count progressed it became evident within select seats the Greens were neck and neck with Labour. As the recounts happened, it was clear the Greens had marginally won Central St Leonards and Gensing, with Tressell being declared for the Greens with a strong majority shortly afterwards. Indeed, Labour only Kept Castle ward by 5 votes, surely stopping another loss through getting out a personal vote for Cllr Rodgers. Consequently, the election result became framed around this shock result.

Critically, this success for the Greens got much high-profile media coverage, but it masked some important facts to take away from the election. Primarily, although Labour lost battles with the Greens, they did in fact win the election as they gained more seats and votes than any other party by quite some margin (see figure 2). Further, it is worth noting the ‘Electoral Calculus’ website predicts Labour would likely win the parliamentary seat if a general election was held this May, even when taking into account the Conservative-leaning rural areas that comprise the rest of our constituency.

Figure two - Vote share for the main parties that contested the HBC22 elections

The rest of this blog identifies the important facts to take away from the elections for the three parties that won seats in this election.

The Conservative Party: A tough day

Firstly, let's start with our parliamentary party. The mid-term elections often deliver tough election results for the government, and this time was no exception. The Conservative Party were hoping to force the council into no overall control through winning at least one Labour-Tory key marginal seat. St Helens, Ore, Silverhill and Baird in particular would have been hopeful targets for Hasting's Conservatives. Yet, the Conservative Party losing votes across Hastings meant that these targets were not reachable, especially when adding in long-standing Labour councillor's personal support.

The shock rise in support for the Greens distracted the media's attention away from the biggest story of the night, the Tories' vote in Hastings went down by 9.3%, putting them lower than 30% of the Hastings vote for the first time since Labour's landslide victory in 1997. Although not a complete disaster, as it could have been worse, it was still a very bad night for the Tories, with them being the main loser (in terms of votes cast) this time around.

Map two

Map two shows that the Conservatives lost a sizeable amount of their vote in safe areas, with Ashdown and Conquest displaying over a 10% decrease. The Tories also lost some support in West St Leonards and Mazehill but were never in danger of losing any seats due to the large majorities they have in these four seats. The Conservative Party also suffered a large loss of support (11%) in Baird, meaning that they went from winning this seat last year to losing it this year. They were also prevented from challenging other Labour-Tory marginals, such as St Helens, Wishing Tree and Silverhill due to smaller losses and Labour gains. Therefore, the Conservative Party became reliant on the Greens to force the NOC scenario they desired. However, as will be outlined later, their vote collapse would prove vital in helping the Greens to win traditional Labour seats.

Overall, this election result presents the Conservative Party with a dilemma. The result nationally was not as bad as it could have been but based on recent polling returns they would lose Hastings&Rye. Therefore, do the local Tories lobby the MP and ask her to vote against Boris Johnson in a vote of no confidence or do they stick with the PM who has a long history of winning in the hope these mid-term blues will go away? There are no obvious answers as governments have come back from worse local election results, yet, these results do show PM Johnson might not be the winner he once was.

Labour wins the election, but loses Green battles:

The Labour Party lost overall control of the council and will find it tough to see past this huge negative, yet there are some encouraging signs for Labour.

Firstly, the negatives are obvious. Labour was supposed to be the party to pick up the disaffected voter and should have kept every seat. Yet, due to an unexpected Green surge, Labour lost three seats and was only 5 votes away from losing a fourth. In these four seats, Labour's vote share declined by -6.7%, whilst the Green's jumped by +22.9%. This average swing of around 15% got the Greens just over the line in Central St Leonards and Gensing, resulting in Labour losing council control. This again shows there is an anti-Labour vote present in Hastings and it is giving Labour a message to change their local policies or risk losing more seats.

However, Labour activists may conclude that they should return back to a Corbyn-styled era in order to placate radical Green voters. However, this would not be an optimal strategy to follow. Firstly, going after left-leaning voters Labour lost to the Greens would not guarantee winning back these voters. Secondly, this movement away from Labour may be associated with local issues and not Labour's overall stance nationally. Thirdly, it might not gain enough voters to win back the seats lost as some of the new Green voters are former Conservative voters. Fourthly, this vote could possibly be a flash in the pan protest vote. For instance, I remember UKIP gaining 23% in 2013 but now has 0%. Finally, Labour turning themselves more left-wing might cause them to lose Conservative voters they have won over in places like Silverhill, St Helens, Ore and Baird; therefore, potentially risking Labour councillors to Conservative challengers.

Map three

Secondly, the good news. Although Labour lost isolated battles with the Greens (see lightly coloured areas in map three) they did in fact win the election. They got the highest amount of seats and the highest vote share total, beating the Tories by over 10% and the Greens by roughly 17%. Furthermore, Labour did very well in the Tory-Lab marginals they need to win back in order to have a chance of winning the parliamentary seat. Across the borough, they gained 3.5%, yet in the marginals of St Helens, Ore, Baird and Silverhill they gained +9.6%, with the Tories losing -7.5%, a swing of 3.8% in their favour. Further, map three demonstrates their result was improved in the wards of Ore, Silverhill, St Helens, Braybrooke, Conquest and Ashdown, again showing they are making the headway. Therefore, based on this and national polling (which shows Labour 5 points ahead), it is possible Labour can win the parliamentary seat from the Conservatives. Vitally, this all shows that Labour's strategy to win the parliamentary seat could currently be working as they are gaining more than enough votes to beat the Tories. Labour can take comfort from this but must be aware of the threats on the right by the Tories and on the left by the Greens.

The anti-Labour vote? The Greens target Labour.

Map 4

Map four firstly shows that the Green Party's gains were very concentrated in traditional Labour areas. The Greens actually lost votes in Ashdown, Silverhill, St Helens, Wishing Tree and Old Hastings (due to a popular Mayor defending his seat). They also only made limited gains in Hollington, Maze Hill and Baird.

Map four makes clear that the Green Party's vote comes in the Urban Liberal cosmopolitan Remain-leaning central parts of the town, which has recently been subject to new voters coming in from London due to rising house prices and people looking for a more desirable and affordable place to live post-Covid19. Whilst this changed electorate makes it easier for the Green Party to gain votes, it can not fully explain the huge swing to the Greens. Clearly, there are local factors, firstly unpopular decisions from the Labour council potentially have alienated part of their voting base. Further, the local Greens ran a very competent campaign, with a clear message of targeting wavering Labour voters in traditional Labour areas who were unhappy with the local Labour Party. Moreover, they seemed to have personally likeable candidates who could communicate their effective outsider image that could appeal to wavering Labour voters.

On top of this, there could be national factors at play. Whilst the Greens clearly targeted Labour areas, the untold story of this election is that a large decline in the Conservative vote within these areas probably has tipped the Greens over the line in two wards they won, Central St Leonards and Gensing. Figure two shows that in the four wards where the Greens made their largest gains the Tories' vote collapsed by 12%, whilst Labour's shrank 7%, with the Lib-Dems declining around 4%. Consequently, it is almost certain that a large proportion of the Green Party's gains came from Conservative-leaning voters, and in key areas helped the Greens win or come close to winning. This could be a combination of local and national factors. Locally, Conservative voters who wanted to have an impact against Labour backed the Greens in the hope they could win and force NOC, thus potentially giving the Tories more influence. Nationally, disillusioned Tories looked for their best alternative after "partygate", causing them to abandon the Conservative Party. Therefore, the Greens partly won due to their ability to mobilise the anti-Labour and wavering-Labour vote within traditional Labour areas.

Figure 6 - Change in the parties' vote from the 2021 HBC elections

Council composition: The Green's strategic nightmare.

Figure 7 - Current council composition - HBC22

The Green gains theoretically make them power brokers, yet this does not necessarily favour them. They have three choices ahead of them. Firstly, they could try and secure a deal with Labour. Secondly, they could do a deal with the Tories. Thirdly, they could leave Labour in a minority position and work with both parties on an issue by issue basis.

Labour's preference: Labour will want to avoid working on an issue by issue basis. It will allow the Greens to have a deciding vote on every decision with no security of having a stable administration. Further, this would allow the Greens to take credit for all the good things and avoid responsibility for all the controversial things. Their best outcome is to get the Greens involved in the cabinet, so they can stay in a leadership role whilst attaching the Greens to Labour Party policy and a clearer political programme. If Labour can't get such an agreement, after 12 years in government they may have to consider taking two years of opposition.

The Tories will hope the Greens offer them a deal or work with them on an issue by issue basis, with either scenario giving them considerably more influence than they have now. They will hope bad blood between the Greens and Labour means they do not do a deal that keeps them in complete opposition.

No one knows what the Greens will do, indeed when the BBC interviewed their leader at the count they refused to be drawn on the question, indicating they are keeping their options open. They have stated they want greater questioning and transparency in decision-making so they likely will go with the party they feel can best deliver this. Their most ideal scenario is to keep Labour in a minority scenario so they can claim policy successes without having the responsibility for decisions, such as planning applications. The Greens may be forced to consider doing deals with the Tories if Labour does not play ball. However, if they do a deal with Labour they will alienate gained Tory voters, but if they work with the Tories they will alienate gained Labour voters. Indeed, this was the problem the Liberal Democrats faced in 2010, and the only chance the Greens have to satisfy both is to work with both parties on a policy by policy basis, something Labour will be keen to avoid.

Whatever the Greens decide they will need to decide it before the 18th of this month when the council reforms and decides its cabinet. One thing is for sure, these decisions taken behind closed doors will determine the political composition of HBC for the next two years.

Figure 4 - Seat composition at HBC 2022: British Parliament format.

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