Election race heats up in Brighton between Labour and Greens Brighton News

For the first time since 1997, the county is expected to see a number of closely fought battles which could determine which party holds the keys to Number 10.

From Chichester to Camber, The Argus has spoken to people in six key constituencies ahead of the election about the mood on the ground and how results could play out on election day.

Today, we look at Brighton Pavilion, the Green Party’s only seat in Parliament. After representing the constituency for almost 14 years, Caroline Lucas announced earlier this year that she would stand down at the next election. This, along with the collapse in Green support at the local election amid a Labour landslide, has sparked the possibility that the seat could flip when voters go to the polls, despite the more than 17 per cent swing needed to overturn the 20,000 vote majority the Greens secured in 2019.

Tom Gray, Labour’s candidate for Brighton Pavilion, was selected by party members for the task earlier this month. The music industry activist, who has lived in Brighton since 1999, has expressed his commitment to “deliver for our community” on issues including the health service, housing and sewage.

Speaking to The Argus, Mr Gray said: “We’re a modern wealthy state – we shouldn’t have so many unhappy people. Something has gone wrong along the way.

“More community, better housing, feeling better with a better sense of wellbeing and better mental health – that’s where I want to see us heading as a country.”

The Argus: Labour candidate Tom GrayLabour candidate Tom Gray (Image: Kenny McKracken)

He said improving critical services such as healthcare, housing and education will have a knock-on effect on problems such as antisocial behaviour.

“These are all the effects of a society that has stopped investing in people properly,” he said.

Mr Gray, an award-winning songwriter and composer, also said he could bring his experience in the music industry on to the government benches if elected and if Labour are handed the keys to Number 10.

He said: “Brighton has an extraordinary number of venues, creative spaces and cultural spaces within it and there’s an extraordinary number of creative freelancers living in the city.

“The UK is already a cultural superpower but the Conservatives don’t know how to lean into it.

“I can’t wait to have a government that is excited about putting music back into schools, about what British film is and giving our musicians visas to travel.”

‘It’s a very simple choice’

While Labour is facing off against the Conservatives on a national level, Mr Gray’s biggest opponent will be the Greens.

He said that residents are “excited” at the prospect of a Labour government and that electing a Labour MP in Brighton Pavilion is their chance to “play a part” in achieving that.

The Argus: Labour candidate Tom GrayLabour candidate Tom Gray (Image: Tom Gray)

“I think the Greens have got a real problem without Caroline [Lucas] – it’s a very different proposition,” Mr Gray said.

“It’s not just without Caroline – it’s also without the Tories. Do you want to vote for someone to be in opposition to Labour? It’s a totally different question to voting for someone to be in opposition to the Tories.

“If you’re going to make a value judgement, do you want a Green MP who is obviously going to speak personally for the Greens and be a Green voice, or a Labour MP who can push forward the biggest environmental agenda that would have ever been seen in British history, and restore your public services? For me, it’s a very simple choice.”

‘People want a Green voice again’

Former Green Party leader Sian Berry has already been out for several months speaking to voters to defend the party’s only seat.

Ms Berry, who was selected as her party’s next candidate for Brighton Pavilion in the summer, has already knocked on thousands of doors across the constituency and said she has received a positive response from voters in the city.

She said: “Lots of people seem very aware of the fact that I’m here and I’m running. I’m spending so much time on the doorsteps, talking to members of the public and getting a real feel for what they are bringing up.”

The Argus: Sian Berry with current Green MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline LucasSian Berry with current Green MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas (Image: The Argus/Andrew Gardner)

Following on from the Greens’ bruising local election result in May, Ms Berry said that lots of people had signalled that they would back her at the general election, even though they may have voted Labour earlier this year.

She said: “When you ask people to think about the national picture and the voice in Westminster, there’s a lot of people who will say they are not impressed with [the Labour leader] Keir Starmer. That is a very common conversation that I am having.

“It will be difficult for any Labour candidate to convincingly say that they wouldn’t be whipped by Labour, because that’s what you sign up to and therefore be representing whatever Keir Starmer’s position is.

“People want a Green voice again.”

The Argus: Green candidate Sian BerryGreen candidate Sian Berry (Image: The Argus/Andrew Gardner)

While Ms Berry said she had “a lot of sympathy” with the Labour administration for running the council at a time when local authorities are facing tough decisions over finances, she also warned that Labour’s majority opens up the prospect of weakened checks and balances on decision-making.

She said: “There’s a danger in not making good decisions when you know that every decision you make can just be pushed through.

“This current Labour administration is rushing ahead with a few things that are not necessarily thought through and may result in difficulties in the future and I hope we can help head that off – because difficulties for the council are difficulties for the people as well.”

Ms Berry, in particular, was critical of proposed school closures at St Peter’s Community Primary and St Bartholomew’s CE Primary – a move she described as “a rash thing to be doing”.

“The rising cost of living is forcing people further out of the city, but the way I would have thought to deal with that is not to close whole schools,” she said.

‘There’s a lot of Conservative support in the city’

One party not expected to be in contention for Brighton Pavilion at the next election are the Conservatives, who held the seat for more than 40 years from 1950 until 1997.

More than two decades on since they lost the seat, the Conservatives were reduced to just 17.5 per cent at the last election in the constituency, with some election forecasters predicting the Tories will lose their deposit and place behind Reform UK when voters next go to the polls.

Alistair McNair leads a group of just six Tory councillors on the city council, a far cry from their peak in 2007, when the Conservatives commanded 26, the most seats on the council.

The Argus: Conservative councillor Alistair McNairConservative councillor Alistair McNair

When asked if it is tough being a Tory when the party is so far behind in the national polls, Cllr McNair said: “I think Gordon Brown was 20 points behind in the polls at one point – that is not uncommon at this stage in the electoral cycle, so I don’t think Labour should get too carried away.

“If you go into politics, you’re not looking for plain sailing. It’s tough if you’re in power because you’ve got to make those difficult decisions which the Conservatives have been doing.

“It’s tough if you’re Conservative in Brighton and Hove because at the moment we are smaller, but it was only four years ago when we were the largest party, so things can change.

“There’s a lot of Conservative support in the city – we just have to activate it.”

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This notice was published: 2023-12-29 05:00:00

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