What caused a ‘political earthquake’ in West Sussex ? by Dr James Walsh

Lib Dems celebrate their victory inLib Dems celebrate their victory in
Lib Dems celebrate their victory in
​May 4th was a political earthquake over much of West Sussex, with the Conservatives being ousted by majority Liberal Democrat administrations in Chichester and Horsham, losing to No Overall Control in Mid Sussex (Liberal Democrats the largest group), and in Arun where opposition LibDems, Labour, Greens and Independent have more seats combined than the Tories, and are expected to take control in an Alliance. Worthing and Crawley remained under firmer Labour Control.

(Dr James Walsh has been a member of Arun District Council and Littlehampton Town Council since 1975. He is a past Chairman of Arun District Council and has been Town Mayor twice. He was Leader of Arun District Council from 2019 to 2021. He has been a member of West Sussex County Council since 1985 and is a past Chairman Social Services and Deputy Leader. James was a full Member of the EU Committee of the Regions for SE England from 1998 to 2002. He is a past Member and Chair of the Sussex Police Authority and a member and past Chair of Littlehampton Harbour Board)

Only Adur, which didn’t have elections, remains Tory-run. For the first time ever, no Conservative administration was returned across West Sussex in the 6 out of 7 areas with elections!

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I believe several factors were at play with a mixture of national and local considerations in play. Firstly the Conservatives are going through an existential crisis nationally, with splits appearing between hard Brexiters and more pragmatic moderates.

Secondly, the chaotic state of the NHS, rail network, sewage disposal, coupled with the historically highest taxation levels in 70 years, a cost of living crisis, and rocketing home energy prices, have all given the electorate much to feel concerned or angry about.

Locally, the daily frustration with multiplying potholes, difficulty for many with social care costs and or availability, and school disruption have added to a deeper sense of anti-Tory sentiment.

Across most of West Sussex there is huge anger at the sheer volume of house building on green farm

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lands, without addressing the growing problem of affordability for our young families for both rent and ownership.

Coupled with the infrastructure deficit ( transport, health, schools, water and sewage), there is growing

alienation from local decision- making and governance.

Additionally, I detect a growing disaffection with politics in general, especially among the young with, for example, populism and voter ID, which has “ turned off” a significant proportion of voters, with abstention rates up in most areas.

It would be rash to draw wider conclusions of what the result of the next General Election might be across West Sussex, but it is abundantly clear that across swathes of the Home Counties, many firmly rock-solid

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Conservative heartlands are now held by Liberal Democrat councillors (West Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire, Berkshire),and some by Labour (Crawley, Brighton, Worthing and Hastings).

Many will point to the effects of our First Past the Post voting system, which can and does give majorities of seats based on a minority of votes.

It is still extraordinary to me that it is only in England that local government elections use this type of voting, basically designed for a two party system.

All the other nations of the UK use forms of proportional voting, which give equal weight to all votes, and produces much fairer outcomes.

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I feel that this is a long overdue reform. Meanwhile we will have to wait and see what policy changes will occur in all our Town Halls, but the electorate have spoken clearly, and it is clear they want a new approach to local decision making, local services and local taxation.