OPINION

Vulnerable seats leave our local politicians in for a bumpy ride

Posted On 19 Sep 2021 at 1:00 am

The next council elections are just over 18 months away and already we are seeing some ambitious councillors have started their campaign.

This is understandable as it building up to be one of the hardest fought local political battles we’ve had for some time.

For a project I’ve been working on, I have been creating complex analysis spreadsheets on council voting patterns across the country.

The data from the last Brighton and Hove City Council election gave some surprising results. They reveal that the tiniest changes in voting intentions can dramatically change who is elected and which party is in control of our council.

At the last election there were six seats where the voting margin was less than 90 votes. Just 45 people in each of those wards voting differently would have changed who was elected. The three smallest winning margins were by 2, 40 and 56 votes.

At the 2019 election Labour won 20 seats, the Greens 19 and Conservatives 14 with one Independent.

The current position, after by-elections, suspensions and resignations, is that Greens have 20 seats, Labour has 15, the Conservatives 13 and there are now six Independents.

Five of those six independent seats could be crucial. Will the incumbent fight again in the next election? If they do, will they be able to beat the candidate from the party they used to belong to – or will that split the vote letting another party slip in?

If the voting margins are expanded to 250 votes (the equivalent of 125 people voting differently) then 13 seats would have elected a different person.

Bear in mind that the electorates vary from 5,000 to 8,000 people in two-seat wards and from 10,000 to 13,000 in three-seat wards. It only needs a tiny change in who people vote for to change everything.

Also consider that almost 60 per cent of registered voters didn’t vote last time and the intentions of first-time voters are currently unknown.

There’s also the impact of the various lobby groups advising their followers on how each party has interacted (or not) with them.

Looking at this totally apolitically, there are strengths and weaknesses for all parties.

For Labour and the Conservatives, the national picture hugely affects local voting patterns. Yet despite Boris Johnson’s low approval ratings, Labour are not reaping the rewards off that as they should.

This, to some extent, will give the Brighton and Hove Conservatives a certain confidence going forward trying to reclaim the seats they lost in the 2019 election.

With the number of recent press releases and policy declarations they’ve issued, they appear to be the first party out of the election starting blocks. That said, they are the smallest party group in the council with the most ground to recover.

Labour are having to fight on two battlegrounds, with the Conservatives and the Greens. The in-fighting within the local Labour Party hasn’t helped. Through suspensions and resignations, it now has a number of councillors sitting as Independents.

Labour have been blighted by social media comments of that they have been “in bed with the Green Party”, something the Conservatives have been keen to exploit. Whether that is true or not, there are a lot of people on social media platforms spouting that opinion.

In recent weeks Labour have been distancing themselves, but their struggle over the next year will be to define themselves as different from the Green Party yet to still hold on to the voters where both parties clearly have similar policies.

The safest of seats are held by the Green Party. There are at least five that would need a massive change of opinion to overturn. Yet, they are also in the tricky position of being the party in control of the council, albeit as a minority.

The public tend to blame the incumbent party for everything the council does wrong, regardless of whether they instigated it or not. We are seeing this across social media.

The Greens have a strong core vote but that is propped up by a large proportion of wavering voters.

The divisive nature of the imposition of cycle lanes will be a factor at the next elections. The irritation and grumbling still continues, on both sides of the argument. Unless the issue is resolved, the annoyance factor may haemorrhage those wavering voters.

If the two other parties come up with credible cycle lane solutions on which they’ve canvassed local opinion first (which a I believe they are working on), it will sit better with the voters than a perceived forced implementation by the Greens.

A big election factor may be what one commentator has described as “the uglification of Brighton”. We are a tourist city. We depend on them so much.

While the decision not to use pesticides in public places is fully laudable, there is a credibility issue in not having an alternative achievable solution in place while implementing it.

Weeds near London Road railway station in Brighton

It is not just that the city is looking a little tardy but there are significant safety considerations too for the infirm and disabled. If they don’t manage to resolve the situation in time it could seriously hurt the Greens at the ballot box, particularly if there is a serious accident between now and then.

From the analysis spreadsheets, I have identified 25 of the 54 seats that I can see as vulnerable with a further 10 on the watch list. Anything the individual parties do during the next 18 months is now going to be critical.

As it dawns on the public that this vote is so close, it could increase turnout, making the result even more unpredictable. It’s going to be a bumpy ride for the politicians.

Mark Stack is an events creator from Hove.

  1. Nathan Adler Reply

    Fascinating piece. I have always wondered why the Greens took the three Conservative seats in Withdean, a popular belief is student votes but this does not hold true for Withdean especially. Were the sitting Consevatives poor councilors? Was this disaffected Tories anti Brexit voting for anyone other than Corbyn.

    • Chaz. Reply

      Yes I agree with you, it is an excellent piece.
      If you remember the Maybot was in charge and was a complete disaster.
      As a result Tory councillors all over the country came to grief.
      That should all change nationally.
      Locally the uglification of B&H continues and the Greens seem to relish it. They certainly do nothing about it.
      Their amateur and childish handling of the OSR cycle lanes will be a turning point all around. It will not be forgotten.
      Interesting times are coming and thankfully they are not far off.
      We do need adults back at the table.

    • Mark Reply

      A very interesting article. Nathan, yes, Withdean’s 3 green councillors disprove the often quoted theory that the green vote is student driven. I suspect your suggestion is right: despite their own weaknesses, the Greens do offer a good alternative to those who dislike Brexit and “culture wars” from the Tories and equally hate the far left Momentum Labour! I certainly put myself in that bucket and live in Withdean!

  2. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    Interesting as this article is, it appears armchair-bound. On the doorsteps, many factors become apparent. Say no more, squire!

  3. ChrisC Reply

    All very well and good but the next council election will be fought on the new ward map that is currently being drawn up by the Local Government Boundary Commission.

    Until that is finalised in July next year no one knows who will be standing where or the impact of moving some streets from one ward to another or even if some current wards are deleted to be replaced by others in more populous (in terms of numbers on the electoral roll) parts of the city.

  4. Adam Campbell Reply

    Like a cat litter tray, Brighton and Hove needs a really good clean out. I look forward to what the Electoral Commission comes up with to prevent the blatant Gerrymandering of students into the Pavilion constituency to prop up La Lucas.

  5. Serena Evans Reply

    Just promise to make Brighton and Hove Great Again, get terraces restored, support visitors and local events and businesses, remove temp cycle lanes, replace lost trees, reinstate beautiful bespoke lamps on seafront. Insist on no roadworks or seafront clutter during peak times. Make it an amazing place to live in and visit again. Get seafront ready for business every season. Award winning flowerbeds returned. Massive fines for graffitti and anti social behaviour. Election would be in the bag! Just serve the people. It’s not rocket science.

  6. Ian Chaplin Reply

    The Council service that affects the most residents most obviously is the collection and disposal of rubbish.

    Failure of this service can cause a major change in people’s voting intentions (and or likelihood to vote).

    I have lived in Hove since 2009 and I haven’t seen a year go past without this service being in turmoil. (in fact I think it was why the Greens lost the council in 2015).

  7. Kaz Reply

    The bill to clean up post the greens mismanagement of the streets will be huge.

    Large stretches of pavement/footways will need to be replaced a lot sooner than normal. That is very costly.

    Try walking from Marina Gate towards Rottingdean – on the left side along the mini golf – and all the way up – the pavement is < 1' wide now at most places – and full of potholes due to "the greens" growing and damaging everything.

    Apart from that I guess we will have a lot of court cases for personal injury due to the broken pavements everywhere. And every-single-one will result in a payout.

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