Amid the range of local and devolved parliament elections taking place across Britain on May 6th, Brighton is preparing for two local by-elections; the first since the Greens took control of the council last year.
Although each race is taking place in normally safe territory for the Conservatives and Labour respectively, the government’s response to the pandemic, Kier Starmer’s first year of leadership of Labour and local issues ranging from student housing to rubbish collection could all have a major effect on who will win in each race.
The by-elections, triggered by the resignations of two veteran Brighton politicians, are taking place in Patcham – a traditional Conservative stronghold in the city, and Hollingdean and Stanmer – an area that normally backs Labour.
For Labour, the stakes could not be higher, as wins in both seats would leave them tied with the Greens and potentially put control of the council back in play.
Patcham by-election – the Tories to lose
Since the creation of the current Patcham ward in 2003, the Conservatives have always won each of Patcham’s three councillors. In 2019, the third Conservative councillor Alistair McNair beat the Green’s Geraldine Keenan by just over 650 votes. The outgoing Tory Lee Wares won over 50 percent of the vote in the ward.
Given the strength of Conservative support in the ward, it is likely the Conservatives will hold the seat once again in May. However, the race for second place will be an important test of support for the current Green-led council and for Labour under Starmer.
Hollingdean and Stanmer by-election – a race between Labour and the Greens
In Hollingdean and Stanmer, a much more contested race is to be expected. Labour have often won all the seats in the ward, but the Greens picked up two seats in 2011 and one in 2019, when the Greens won the most votes across the city in those elections. The Green councillor elected at the last election, Martin Osborne, was elected by just 56 votes over the Labour candidate. The outgoing Labour councillor Tracey Hill won just shy of 44 percent of the vote in the ward.
The ward covers the campuses of both the city’s universities, with the student vote often more left-leaning and perhaps more likely to back the Green candidate, particularly given some disillusion with the more moderate leadership of Labour under Kier Starmer.
However, with students still working remotely, it is possible that a good portion of the student population may not be living in the city. In addition, young people are the most likely to not turn out to vote, so efforts to get out the student vote could be crucial in deciding the result.
For the Conservatives, a result improving on their just over 10 percent result in 2019 would be considered a good result in this reliably left-leaning ward.