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Lewes 2023 - Conservative Wipeout & the Progressive’s surge.

After a poor result in the 2019 local election, the Conservative Party would have hoped to turn its fortunes around in this year’s contest. Yet, the party found itself being wiped out, losing all 19 councillors. The Lib-Dems and the Greens gained 7 and 8 councillors respectively and Labour gained a further 6 councillors. This means that the Greens are now the largest party with 17 councillors, the Lib-Dems are the second largest with 15 and Labour are in third with 9. The Independents lost their two councillors and like the Tories now have no representation on the council.

Figure one shows that changes of control and councillor representatives mainly came in Ditchling, Plumpton, Barcombe, Peacehaven, Newhaven and Seaford. Labour made their gains in Peavehaven and East Saltdean. The Green Party made their gains in the east of Lewes where they secured rural areas like Wivelsfeild, Newick and Barcombe and they also gained wards in Seaford. The Lib-Dems also gained in rural areas, winning Ditchling, parts of Newhaven and West Seaford. The Conservatives lost seats across the district to Labour, the Greens and Lib-Dems.

Figure 1 - Lewes District Council election result - Change of the winning party in each ward, 2019 compared to 2023

Conservatives suffer losses across the Lewes district

The main feature of the day, and indeed across the country, was the drastic decrease in the Conservative Party vote. Worryingly for the Conservatives, the Conservative Party vote share fell in 15 of the 21 wards and in some wards suffered significant drops. On average, the Conservative Party’s vote share dropped by 8%. Figure two shows that some of the biggest decreases in their vote occurred in Peacehaven, Newhaven, Newick, East Saltdean and Wivelsfeild, with some of these seats displaying over a 20% drop in the Conservative vote, meaning a fifth of voters abandoned them. This represents how the Conservative Party vote share fell in previously strong rural areas and more urban areas, indicating that the Conservative vote share collapsed across the district and across a wide range of voters. Further, these losses fragmented across political parties, meaning the Conservatives will have to find a way to win back voters from multiple parties if they are to regain their former presence on the council.

Significantly, this represents a huge mountain to climb if the Conservative Party are to get back enough councillors to have a significant influence on the district council. In terms of the party’s ability to hold onto the parliamentary constituency, these results show a low likelihood the party can hold onto such seats as they are struggling to secure their vote even in wards that traditionally show strong support for them.

Figure 2 - Lewes local election result - Change in the Conservative Party share of the vote - 2019 to 2023/

The Green Surge

The Green Party on average increased their share of the vote by 5%. But, this average masks how great the increase in Green Party support was within specific areas of Lewes. The Greens witnessed large increases in Chailey, Newick, Seaford East, Seaford North and Wivelsfield. All these seats displayed more than a 20% increase in the Green Party’s share of the vote, indicating a fifth of the electorate shifted to the Greens in this seat. Newick and Wivelsfield displayed more than a 30% increase, showing that in some areas a third of the entire electorate shifted to the Green Party. This growth in support largely came at the expense of the Conservatives who on average lost more than 15% of the vote in the seats the Greens surged. Yet, in these seats the Lib-Dems and other parties also lost support, indicating that the anti-conservative vote did not splinter between three or four parties as it could have done. This would indicate that the alliance that was formed four years ago was organised enough to direct voters on how to vote tactically to ensure they would gain more seats from the Conservative Party. The Green surge mainly came in more rural areaz, indicating the party is a threat to the Tories in the general election within such areas, but some of the Green Party’s gains did occur in more urban localities, suggesting the party has a wide appeal across Lewes and can damage the Tories across the district. This wide appeal helps explain how they secured an additional 8 council seats.

Lib-Dems gain too.

The Liberal Democrats also gained support, with them gaining an additional two percent of the vote. However, this again masks the story of how parties opposed to the Conservative Party managed to make significant gains in specific wards, and from this take seats from the Conservatives. The Lib-Dems secured more than a 15% increase of the vote in Lewes Priory, Newhaven North, Seaford East, Seaford South and Seaford West. The Lib-Dems also secured an 8% increase in Seaford Central. Again, some seats displayed incredibly large increases in support, in this case, figure three demonstrates how in New Haven North and Seaford West a third of the electorate shifted towards the Lib-Dems. Again, this rapid rise in support mainly came at the expense of the Conservative Party, who in these seats lost more than 10% of the vote. Yet, in the seats that Lib-Dems gained and increased their vote share the most the Greens and Labour also saw small decreases in support. Vitally, this again highlights how the new alliance formed on the council managed to unite the anti-conservative vote in individual wards behind one party, stopping their vote from being split. This trend enabled the Greens to win in some seats, but the Lib-Dems to make gains in other wards, which brought about the total wipe-out of the Conservative Party.

3. Lewes local election result - The change in the Liberal Democrat share of the vote, 2019 - 2023

Labour – the new party in town

Until recently, Labour had very modest representation on Lewes council, with them only securing the odd councillor in a district or odd by-election. Yet, Labour had their best-ever result and managed to gain 6 councillors and this was perhaps the biggest surprise of the day. On average, Labour increased their share of the vote by 0.5%, but this again masks how they secured very large increases of support within the areas they needed to so that they could secure seats.

Figure four shows how Labour’s increase large came within four wards, the three wards within Peacehaven and the East Saltdean & Telscombe Cliffs ward. In one of these wards Labour had not stood previously and this allowed them to gain over 60% of the vote. In the three wards they did stand in previously they gained over 25% of the vote, indicating that a quarter of the electorate within these wards shifted to them. As they took these votes from the Tories, Greens and the Lib-Dems, this concentrated increase of support enabled Labour to secure council seats from the Tories. Elsewhere Labour lost support or made modest gains, but this enabled other anti-Conservative partiers to take seats from the Conservatives and Independents, again highlighting how the new alliance in Lewes managed to unite and target the Conservative Party vote so effectively that it left the Tories without a single seat on Lewes council.

Figure 4 - Change in the Labour share of the vote


The Conservative Party’s national problems were sufficient enough to cause them to lose seats in Lewes. Before the election, it was speculated the extent to which national issues could cause the Conservative Party to lose seats, but even those who thought it would bring losses did not speculate it would cause a total wipeout of the party. Before the election, I also speculated that the new alliance might help the Conservative Party avoid losses by taking votes off each other, and from this allow the Tories to keep seats, all be it with smaller majorities. This scenario did not occur. In fact, the opposite trend developed, where anti-Conservative Parties managed to target individual wards incredibly successfully, to the point where the Greens, the Lib-Dems and Labour all secured more than 5 seats off the Conservative Party and Independents. This meant that despite securing a quarter of the vote the Conservatives were left without any representation, allowing smaller parties who usually lose out under our current electoral system to be the beneficiaries this time around (see image 5).

Figure 5 - differences between seat and vote share in the 2023 Lewes local elections

Now the election is over, the three parties who recently cooperated to get the Tories out will now have to rework their arrangement. As the Tories and Independents are gone, the Greens, Lib-Dems and Labour can’t all share power and they will have to work out which party will continue to lead the council and which party will need to form the new opposition. Labour will face the unusual prospect of being a power broker and may have the luxury of choosing who they work with. With one of these three parties being cast into opposition, this could break down these parties’ ability to work with each other, which could provide an opportunity for the Conservative Party to exploit such divisions in the next election. Yet, the Conservative Party will have to wait four years for an opportunity to represent Lewes again and the progressive parties will seek to use the opportunity they have to govern Lewes in a competent and popular enough way that it ensures the Conservatives can’t come back and take seats off them.

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