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Labour makes gains in Rye, Winchelsea & Bexhill.

Updated: May 14, 2023

Our lead researcher, James Prentice, attended the Rother count to report on the local election results that affected the Hastings & Rye parliamentary constituency. Here is his take on the results:

The recent Rother District local election saw Labour gain new councillors in Rye, Winchelsea and Bexhill. Labour particularly had a strong showing in Rye & Winchelsea where they gained two new councillors, Cheryl Creaser and Simon McGurk, and they also performed more strongly in surrounding rural areas, such as Southern Rother. Labour secured six councillors in Bexhill, giving them a total of 8 representatives, making this Labour’s best-ever result in Rother.

Change in Party that won each ward in Rother, 2019-23 local elections. Click map to see full view.

After a disappointing result in 2019, the Conservatives would have hoped to regain lost ground, but these local election results were even worse for them, seeing them lose a further 4 councillors. Like Labour, the Greens pulled off some shock results and they improved their vote share by enough to gain two new councillors from the Tories in rural areas. The Lib-Dems both gained and lost seats and finished roughly as they were in 2019. The Independents again performed well across Bexhill and isolated rural areas, allowing them to again deny the Tories a majority.

In Rye & Winchelsea, Labour increased their share of the vote by 17%, taking votes off the Conservatives, Independents and other smaller parties. Figure two shows that Labour most increased their vote share in Rye, Southern Rother, Crowhurst and select areas of Bexhill. As Rye is often a key battleground between Labour and the Conservatives general elections Labour pushed hard to win this seat and the Tories put in their best efforts to defend it.

Change in the share of the Labour Party vote, 2019-23 Rother elections. Click map to view in full view.

Labour’s Hastings & Rye’s parliamentary candidate, Helena Dollimore, was very visible in the months leading to the local election and even brought down prominent shadow cabinet members, such as Emily Thornberry, to Rye to engage in campaigning and raise the party’s local media profile. Also, local Labour Party media showed that the party was able to consistently send activists to the area. Further, Labour nominated two well-known and popular local residents, Cheryl Creaser and Simon McGurk. Ceryl has worked in many community projects in Rye and also has worked in developing affordable housing within the area, giving her a personal vote within the area that helped Labour appeal to voters. Simon, although newer to the area, appeared to have enough contacts and helped enough people to also have personal appeal. This more professional and serious approach was deliberately in contrast to the former Corbyn version of the party who lost this seat in 2019, showing Labour is a more serious threat to the Tories for the upcoming general election than they have been for some time.

Sally Anne Hart and Conservative campaigners had also been visible within the area and were spotted dropping leaflets in the weeks leading into the local election. Further, the Lib-Dems were defending a seat in this area and also had a visible campaign in the weeks leading to polling day. Therefore, Rye was a hotly fought three-way battle that appeared very unpredictable. Yet, as Rye & Winchelsea was the last seat to be announced previous results made it clear that the Conservatives had suffered a collapse in support and Labour was in with a chance to win two councillors in this ward for the first time.

Having been wiped out in Bexhill in the morning and delivered further losses in rural areas by the time the Rye result was announced the Tories already looked shell-shocked. Labour looked fairly confident as earlier results in rural areas, such as Eastern and Southern Rother, was surprisingly strong from them, with Labour seeing their vote share increase. Although Labour fell short of winning seats in the wards the swing indicated that winning both councillors in Rye & Winchelsea was a strong possibility. Not long after these rural areas has been counted the returning officer called the agents to notify them of the result and it was clear no recount was needed. The Conservatives were visibly upset with another loss whereas Labour’s election agent lost all calm and punched the air to let her candidates know they had won. Shortly, the returning officer announced the swing against the Tories was sufficient enough for Labour to have won both seats.

Labour's two new Rye & Winchelsea candidates celebrating with Helena

This result brought the count to a close and, as in most districts across the country, the Conservatives were the main losers, with the anti-Conservative vote (Labour, the Lib-Dems, Greens and Independents) being the main winners. In Rother, the Conservatives suffered a further four losses, (leaving them with just 10 councillors), the Independent group secured 10 councillors, Labour gained a further five councillors bringing them up to a record of 8, the Lib-Dems remained at 7 and the Greens secured three councillors.

No overall control of the council was maintained, but this time Labour and the Greens will have more influence in any alliance that is formed. The Conservatives will likely remain in opposition whilst the Independents will seek to work with Labour and the Lib-Dems, with the Greens possibly also forming part of any new alliance. Therefore, this former Conservative stronghold will not be controlled by the Tories for another four years and the era of total Conservative control in Rother areas may have come to an end.

In terms of what this means for the Hastings &Rye constituency, there are no guarantees as local elections do not always translate into general election outcomes, but these results do indicate Labour can perform well and win the key marginal area of Rye and can perform well enough in the villages to take votes of the Conservatives and win the Hastings & Rye constituency. Yet, the general election is a long way off and much could change between then, but at the moment the seat appears to be heading Labour’s way.

10/05/2023 - James Prentice.

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