Next week, residents of Brighton and Hove will go to the polls in their thousands to decide who is going to run the city council for the next four years. Six parties and five independent candidates are running in the election and it is set to be a very interesting race, particularly given the collapse of the Conservative vote in national polling.
Given how interesting this election is, I’m going to stick my neck out a bit and make a ‘guesstimate’ at what the result might be.
Some things to consider first. Labour are the opposition party in Westminster and are benefiting from a collapse in support for the Conservatives, the party in government. The Greens vote share has remained fairly stagnant. This might suggest that Labour will take seats from both parties.
However, it’s important to remember that Labour are the largest party in Brighton and Hove and have been running the council for the last four years. Some of the decisions made by the council have been unpopular and there is also a bin strike looming in the city. When the Greens were in power, they faced a similar situation and were punished heavily at the ballot box. So it is also possible that Labour’s vote share could decline, perhaps in favour of the Greens.
With all this in mind, I anticipate that Labour will remain the largest party, but would be one seat short of an overall majority.
Here’s a quick summary about how I came to this conclusion for each of the parties, and some of the ‘wildcards’ that could affect this prediction.
Given the significant increase in the Labour vote in both Hove and Brighton Kemptown in the last general election and Labour’s national support, I think it’s fair to assume that Labour will remain the largest party and make gains. However, the scope of those gains may vary given their track record in the council and also how well the Greens do in certain wards.
Labour need five seats to get an overall majority on the council, and there are four seats that the party missed out on by less than 300 votes. I expect Labour to gain a third seat in Goldsmid from the Greens, a second seat from the Conservatives in Central Hove and their first seat from the Greens in Brunswick and Adelaide (which has been completely Green since 2011).
With an expected collapse in the Conservative vote, I think it’s possible to see Labour gain seats from the Conservatives in areas which are normally strongly Tory. I can see Labour picking up seats in Wish, Withdean and even in Hangleton and Knoll, home to Brighton and Hove Conservative leader Tony Janio.
However, depending on how well the Greens do, these gains will be tempered by losses to the Green Party in areas they lost in 2015. The party dropped dramatically after their time leading the council, and I can see them beginning to recover from that dip. This means that they could win back seats lost to Labour like Hanover and Elm Grove, and Preston Park.
With seven gains and three losses, that brings Labour to 27 seats, short of a majority by one.
As I just mentioned, the Greens suffered a huge setback in 2015, losing over half their seats and over six percent of their vote share. With four years having passed since then, and with Green MP Caroline Lucas maintaining her seat with a greater majority in 2017, I think it is plausible that the party will recover from that low and could begin to make headway once again.
The problem for them will be dealing with Labour, which has a great deal of momentum behind them and has adopted some of their more left-wing policies under Jeremy Corbyn. I anticipate that the Greens could see losses to Labour in Goldsmid and Brunswick and Adelaide, but will hold on in their ‘safe seats’ of Regency and St. Peter’s and North Laine. Labour’s gain in Brunswick and Adelaide could leave the Brighton Greens’ leader, Phelim Mac Cafferty, without a seat.
That said, I don’t think it is all bad news for the Greens. The party came close to winning a seat in the university ward of Hollingdean and Stanmer in 2015 (missing by just 53 votes), and lost a seat in Preston Park by just 65. It’s possible that the Greens could pick up both of these on Thursday, and win back a seat from Labour in Hanover and Elm Grove (an area which was previously solidly Green.
With the party losing two and gaining three, the Greens would be just one up on last time, but a stronger vote share could put them in a better position to overtake the Conservatives in 2023.
It has been almost a decade since the Conservatives ran the council and since then, the party have lost both the seats in Brighton they once had. Nationally, the party is suffering a Brexit backlash and even Tory councillors are considering voting differently come the European elections later in May. Grassroots Conservatives feel betrayed and are perhaps more willing to give the party a bloody nose at this local election, and I doubt Brighton is any exception to that.
The Conservatives would need eight seats to gain a majority on the council but any gain for the party on Thursday would be extraordinary. There are several seats where Labour either came close to winning or has been on an upward trajectory since 2007, and I think the Conservatives are likely to lose five of these.
These include many once-Tory strongholds on the coast of Hove, such as Wish, Westbourne and Central Hove. Withdean elected a Green councillor in 2011 during a surge of support for the party, and one of the Conservatives’ councillors could be vulnerable to a red tide this election. Finally, in the ward of current Brighton Conservative leader Tony Janio, Labour came within 400 votes of a seat in 2015 and, with Conservative support dropping, I think it’s likely Labour could win here too.
This leaves the Conservatives bruised on 15 seats, but they remain the opposition party, keeping the Greens in third place.
Although I anticipate other parties could do well, I don’t expect this to materialise into seats.
The Liberal Democrats performed well in Central Hove in 2015, with 12.7% of the vote. However, with one candidate running in the ward this time, I think the most likely result is that the party will hover around 8 percent. It is hard to see where else they could have a chance, seeing as they did so badly in 2015, but if there is significant dissatisfaction at the main parties, there is always the possibility of a surprise result.
Brighton voted overwhelmingly to remain in the 2016 EU referendum, so I would think that UKIP’s chances of gaining a seat are somewhat remote. The only way I could see them getting representation is if the Conservative vote is dramatically down in places like Hangleton and Knoll, which was one of the strongest leave areas in the city. Gains in wards like North Portslade and South Portslade, where they also performed well in 2015, are unlikely given they are held by Labour who will likely gain a larger vote share this time round.
The Women’s Equality Party are running candidates for the first time in Brighton and, given the city’s liberal attitudes, I think there is a possibility that they could win a seat on the council. However, the challenge they face is great. In Central Hove, they will face a stiff challenge from Labour to take a seat off the Conservatives, but only need around 1,500 votes to secure it. Meanwhile, in Hanover and Elm Grove, the Greens and Labour are battling it out. The Greens normally have over 50 percent of the vote here, so I would normally suggest there’s little chance for them here. But given a feeling of dissatisfaction and also considering they are only asking for one of three votes, there is perhaps some possibility of the first Women’s Equality Party councillor being elected here.
This is a rough ‘guesstimate’ of what I think the result will end up being, but of course I could be entirely wrong in either direction. We will know on Friday how accurate this all is…