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Cllr Robert Cooke, the new Conservative oposition leader in Hastings where Labour increased their majority last week. He says the fight back started on Friday May 4th
I have rarely been involved in an election that went so far the other way of my expectations. Throughout this campaign the majority of doors I knocked on said they were planning on voting conservative. It therefore came as a huge shock to me and many others as one after the other we lost seats at the count. By two o’clock in the morning we had lost the leader of our group he led from the front and by example by fighting all targeted seats . Which meant he paid the ultimate sacrifice by losing his own seat, we also lost the deputy leader and three other councillors and quite simply we had been routed.
So what went wrong? We knew we had a hard fought campaign ahead so we started our canvassing in September 2011. Therefore much of the canvassing we had done was done before that budget and the disclosures regarding Jeremy Hunt at Levison Inquiry meant we were caught unaware and went from looking like we may win a couple of seats to not realising our seats were under threat.
More importantly the Liberal Democrat vote completely disappeared in Hastings. They were beaten easily in Castle Ward losing their only seat and elsewhere their vote collapsed. Whilst there was a slight increase in our vote the Liberal Democrat vote went almost entirely to Labour. This poses a significant problem if this was to remain the status quo at forthcoming elections. It’s of paramount importance that the Liberal Democrat vote holds up in the future or we could end up with a two party system where we are consistently the losers.
As bad as the results were we need to learn lessons from them and I hope we can, the first thing we must do is learn to communicate far better with the public all year round. We did not sell the 1% council tax reduction that we proposed on the door so no one (with the exception of my residents because I did a black and white leaflet) knew it had happened. The second thing we need to ask is why 70% of the population in Hastings chose not to vote for anyone. The turnout in Hastings was abysmal. I did sense on the door there was a feeling of total loss of faith with all the political parties.
Residents are no longer interested with who is to blame regarding the current economic downturn but what is going to be done to improve their lives. None of us should be happy about this and I believe locally we need to address this by showing positive reasons to vote Conservative.
My priority is to bring a stronger team both on and off the council together, so that we can have the strongest possible team campaigning. People who came and campaigned in the area I was managing (north st Leonards) enjoyed themselves and worked hard. We were well organised up there which is one of the reason I think we held the two seats we were defending even if we did not take the target wards…..we will next
Ultimately the build up of bad news nationally cost us the chance to win in Hastings and however hard you work you cannot completely offset this. I do not believe comments from Nadine Dorries in the weeks before the election helped. The truly awful spin on the budget damaged us as well and this is a case in point my friend at work said the day after the budget “I actually think the budget is quite good and you are being harangued unfairly” his belief was the tax allowance being raised would do more to help him and his family than anything else. Sadly the government chose to ignore it.
We will be back in Hastings we may have lost the battle but the war goes on and the fight back started on Friday May 4th