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The Lib-Dems' day in Eastbourne – 2023 local election result.

In Eastbourne, the Lib-Dems already had a majority on the Borough council, but with a strong performance across the Borough, they have strengthened this majority and added one new seat to their total. This brought the Lib-Dems up to 19 seats and the Tories down to 8 seats, again giving the Lib-Dems a strong majority on the council.

Eastbourne - Party winner by ward, 2019 compared to 2023. It shows how Meads ward changed control. Note: click the map to view it in full view.

The Lib-Dems success


The Lib-Dems managed to gain a seat in Meads as one of their candidates finished in first place, with a long-standing Conservative councillor, Robert Smart, finishing in third place (much lower down than usual), only managing to hang onto his seat by 21 votes. Meads is not usual territory for any other party other than the Conservatives and winning representation in areas like this demonstrates how some parts of the town are changing demographically and also displays the extent to which the Conservatives suffered collapses of support across the borough, some of this occurring in their strongest areas of support. National trends and local factors, such as a long-term Conservative councillor stepping down and the Lib-Dems performing strongly in this seat in the recent County Council elections, likely contributed to this seat changing control.


The Lib-Dems took votes off the Conservatives across the Borough, helping them to increase majorities in other wards and make inroads into the two wards where the Conservatives still hold all councillor positions. Outside some rural wards in Wealden, Eastbourne displayed the Lib-Dems' biggest vote share increases, where Langney, St Anthony’s, Old Town, Hampden Park and Meads ward all displayed large increases in the Lib-Dems' share of the vote. This again shows how the Lib-Dems are strong in Eastbourne and that they may be able to take the parliamentary seat off the Tories next year.


Local factors, such as the long-term Liberal-Democrat leader, David Tutt, stepping down from politics did not appear to limit the Lib-Dems' success. Further, the Lib-Dems' new parliamentary candidate, Josh Babarinde, seems to have received a positive endorsement from individuals who turned out for the local elections and will seek to use these gains as a springboard for the upcoming general election.

Change in the Lib-Dem share of the vote between 2019-23. It shows large gains in Langley, Old Town and Meads. Note: click the map to view it in full view.

National trends played a role:


Vitally, national trends appear to have contributed to these results. In May 2019, the last time local elections in Eastbourne were held, the Conservatives were punished at the polls for failing to deal with Brexit, and smaller opposition parties, such as the Lib-Dems, benefited from this. Therefore, this time around the Tories would have thought they would be going into these local elections in a more advantageous position. Yet, this was not the case as for nearly a year the Tories have drifted from one crisis to the next, forcing two Prime Minister’s resignations. This, along with a feeling that many services are just not working saw the Conservatives drop support across the country, and the Eastborune Conservatives were no exception to this trend. Further. nationally the Lib-Dems are performing more strongly in the polls, which likely filtered into their local stronghold of Eastbourne, allowing them to gain an additional seat in an area thought of as solidly Conservative.


Although these trends helped the Lib-Dems perform strongly they did fail to gain seats in other Conservative wards they could have targeted. Ratton ward, where last time around there was only a 6.4% gap between the third-placed Conservative candidate and the most popular Liberal Democrat candidate, failed to fall to the Lib-Dems. This seat had a very small majority for the Conservative Party and with the party performing poorly in the national polls the Liberal Democrats could have gained this, but in this seat, their share of the vote fell back by 0.6% and the Tories increased their majority. Therefore, although the Lib-Dems will take confidence from this result, it does not necessarily guarantee that the Lib-Dems will take the parliamentary seat.


The Tories fall further behind:


The Conservative Party’s share of the vote increased by an average of 2% across the nine wards, but the Lib-Dems' vote share increased by 4% across the same wards. Therefore, the Conservatives have again lost ground to the Liberal Democrats, making this two elections in a row where the Lib-Dems have extended their lead over the Tories. Significantly, some of the wards the Tories need to win back in order to erase the Lib-Dem’s majority have quite strong leads for the Conservative Party. The Lib-Dem held wards of Devonshire, Hampden Park, Langley, Old Town, St Anthony’s and Upperton all display majorities over more than 25% over the Conservatives. This means the local Conservatives face an electoral mountain to climb if they are to take away the Lib-Dems majority.

Eastorune - Change in the Conservative share of the vote 2019-2023. The Conservatives particularly lost ground in Meads, Old Town and Sovereign. The Conservatives held their vote in Ratton, but generally lost ground across the Borough.

Overall:


It was clearly the Lib-Dems day as they extended their lead and the Conservative party experienced their second poor election performance in a row. The Lib-Dems kept their 2019 gains and managed to add an additional seat in Meads, making them competitive now in 7 of the 9 wards within Eastbourne. The domination of the Lib-Dems within these 7 wards makes it hard for the Conservatives to secure enough seats to challenge the Lib-Dem’s majority and it would appear that across East Sussex the electoral system we have did not favour the Conservatives, see figure 4.


Limited gains in other seats the Lib-Dems targeted means that although they look likely to gain this parliamentary seat, it is by no means a certainty they will. Therefore, the Eastbourne parliamentary election is still likely to be highly competitive, as it always is.


Figure 4 - Eastbourne Vote share compared to seat share - 2023 council results. Note: click the image to view it in full view.

Published - James Prentice - 14/05/2023.




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