The local election results came in on Friday and though they were mixed overall, there was a lot to celebrate. Wealden is now less blue (and Hailsham in particular a lot more orange!) with Liberal Democrat Steve Murphy being elected by a large margin as the new East Sussex County Councillor for Hailsham Market division, while the town's popular Lib Dem mayor Paul Holbrook comfortably won the District Council by-election in Hailsham North. We were also pleased that Green Party County Council candidate Georgia Taylor was elected in Forest Row & Groomsbridge division (where the Lib Dems did not stand this time) - the first time Wealden has had a Green County Councillor.
Paul Holbrook now joins existing Lib Dem Councillors Neil Cleaver, Gavin Blake-Coggins, Gareth Owen Williams and Paul Sparks on Wealden District Council, making a total of five Lib Dem District Councillors, which means that the Liberal Democrats have become the second largest party and are therefore now the official opposition to the Conservatives at district level.
Frustratingly, we just missed out on a second County Council Lib Dem win in Crowborough North & Jarvis Brook, where our Chair James Partridge ran an excellent campaign and lost to the Conservative by just 35 votes. It's also worth noting that two thirds of those voting in James' division did not vote Conservative, but under our "winner takes all" First Past The Post system the Tory candidate was still elected with 33.69% of the vote. David Tutt, the Lib Dem leader on East Sussex County Council, commented, "We came close in a number of places; just 36 votes behind in one of the Crowborough seats where we had a splendid candidate in James Partridge. I hope at some point he will get himself elected to the county council, because he will be a real asset."
It was another close contest in Uckfield North, where Tim Murray greatly increased the Lib Dem vote share from last time, getting 1010 votes, but still 285 votes behind the Conservative. The only other candidate (Green Party) got 347 votes, so again, the majority of those voting (51.2%) did not vote for a Conservative yet are now represented by one.
We also saw vote share increases in the County divisions of Hailsham New Town, Crowborough South and Wealden North East, where candidates Neil Cleaver, Gareth Owen-Williams and Lucy Buck proved that it is possible to mount a credible challenge to the Tories with a locally well known and respected candidate. And it was another close run race in the Hailsham South District Council by-election where Anne Blake-Coggins fought a valiant campaign at short notice, and came in second place to the Conservative. So there was much to be pleased about, especially the massive increase in Lib Dem vote share in many Wealden divisions - and the corresponding big reductions in Conservative majorities, and much to build on in the future.
Despite getting only 42% of the vote throughout East Sussex, the Conservatives have retained control of East Sussex County Council, but with a decreased majority (27 out of 50 seats), while the Liberal Democrats remain the second biggest party with 11 seats, followed by Labour (5 seats), the Green Party (4 seats) and three Independents. On Monday, the votes for the East Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner were counted, with Katy Bourne (Conservative) being re-elected for a third term. The Lib Dem candidate Jamie Bennett came third with 63,271 votes, a big increase of 33,721 on the Lib Dem vote in 2016.
There were two town planning referendums held, for Hellingly and Hailsham, asking the Yes/No question: "Do you want Wealden District Council to use the neighbourhood plan for [Hellingly/Hailsham] to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area?" Both referendums received a resounding majority vote in favour (82% voted "Yes" in Hellingly; 73% voted "Yes" in Hailsham).
We'd like to extend a huge thank you to all those who voted for our candidates, as well as our amazing candidates themselves, along with their campaign teams and all the Lib Dem volunteers who've worked tirelessly across Wealden over the past few months, and managed to keep going in what were especially challenging conditions due to COVID lockdowns and restrictions.
To view all the 2021 East Sussex County Council election results, either as a map or list, please CLICK HERE.
To access the 2021 Wealden District Council election results please CLICK HERE.