346 VOTES. That’s all that stopped us toppling the Home Secretary. It’s an amazing achievement for all those who worked on the campaign. But it’s frustrating that we came so close, but didn’t quite do it.
When all this started, it didn’t look like we had much chance. I put my name forward to be the candidate because, as leader of the council, I was quite well known, at least in Hastings. So we set up a campaign that was a little different from anything we’d done before.
The mainstay was a 16-page booklet, which I wrote myself. I supported Jeremy Corbyn in both leadership elections, and our CLP has always been overwhelmingly pro-Corbyn. So the policies in the booklet - opposing public service cuts, building more social rented homes, tackling deprivation, action on climate change, and more - fitted well with the national manifesto when it was published.
The booklet was professionally designed, using my own photos. We did two versions: a Hastings & St Leonards News and a Rye & Village News, to reflect the different parts of the constituency. The idea was to produce something of high quality and visually attractive that people would want to read. It had no attacks on the opposition - we didn’t mention Amber Rudd at all. This worked well. We distributed 50,000 copies, getting them to virtually every home and giving them away at regular street stalls. It was well received and people welcomed the level of detail and the positive messages. We conducted a well-targeted social media campaign too, with Facebook posts promoted to particular parts of the constituency, or a particular demographic, as well as short videos.
As the campaign progressed, it became clear that the tide was turning in our favour, as Jeremy Corbyn cut through the media onslaught. Our street stalls were met with indifference at first, but by the end of the campaign received unprecedented enthusiasm, with people queuing to shake my hand when I turned up.
Over 2,000 people got involved, including many young people, and local Green Party members - the Green candidate stood down to support me. We had 30-50 people at canvassing sessions, covering the entire constituency in a fortnight.
In the end, we achieved an 11% swing to Labour, and the biggest ever Labour vote in the constituency. Turnout was not up much (less than 2%). Probably, some of the UKIP vote went to the Tories, a few came back to us, but most former ‘kippers’ didn’t vote, replaced by young, first-time voters, who supported us.
So now we have to keep the momentum going. We’re going to do some door-to-door research in more deprived areas where turnout was low, to see how they can be persuaded to vote Labour. With a little more effort, we can win this next time. And that might be quite soon.
is leader of Hastings Council and was Labour's Parliamentary Candidate for Hastings and Rye