Robina Baine was the Labour candidate in the Southwick Green ward of Adur District Council, a seat in which Labour had not run a proper campaign for years, instead standing "paper candidates" and not canvassing. This time, an active campaign secured a remarkable 20%+ swing from the Tories to Labour, winning the seat for Labour for the first time in fifty years. Janine Booth asked Robina to explain what happened...
Tell us a bit about yourself …
I’m a very ordinary 61-year-old, mother of four and teacher for most of my life. When the children were young, I gave music lessons from home. Then I set up and ran the Popular Music course at Brighton Tech before doing the best job imaginable - teaching at HMP Ford for ten years.
What does being a socialist mean to you?
Well, my intellectual answer is that, for me, socialism means all have an equal right to a share in the wealth of a country where public ownership meets public need. But personally, it means everyone has value and a voice that needs to be both heard and listened to. It means society and community, working together for the good of all; protection of the weak and vulnerable, education, acceptance and support for everyone.
Tell us a bit about Southwick Green…
Southwick Green ward is almost midway between Brighton and Worthing on the south coast. The last elected Labour councillor was in the 1970s; since then, it’s been solid Liberal Democrat and, from the 2000s, Conservative.
Why did you decide to stand? As I understand it, Labour has not seriously contested this ward before? Why not? Why did you disagree with this stance?
After teaching I worked in, and subsequently managed, a charity shop in Southwick and through that became a member of the Traders’ Association. I came home from a meeting one evening so incensed by the dismissive comments of the local Conservative councillor that I immediately emailed our local Labour branch and said I would stand at the next local elections. Literally red rag to a bull!
What were the key issues during the campaign?
Key issues were entirely local. Affordable housing which, in Southwick, is for most local people unattainable - three of my four children have moved from the area (to Edinburgh, Keynsham and Milton Keynes) because of that. Our very local tip question; now only open four days a week by appointment and one appointment per household, per week. The last pertinent issue was support and encouragement of the local economy post Covid.
What views did voters express about the Labour party? What did they like about Labour? What did they dislike?
I stressed all through my campaign that this was local and very few views were offered about the Labour Party on the doorstep. One notable one was from a lifelong Labour voter who said he’d “never vote Labour again” because “there had been no opposition”. Ultimately it became obvious that he was a Covid denier who had lost his business and didn’t think lockdown should have happened. More worrying, to me, was that his wife, a specialist cancer nurse, agreed with him. A week later I saw the statistics from Nursing Notes UK that voting intention among healthcare workers for the local elections was Con: 42 percent, Lab: 32 percent - in the 2019 election those figures were Con: 6 percent, Lab: 82 percent - I have no words.
The second incident was as I was putting out the recycling. A young couple walked past, doubled back and asked me what I thought of Keir Starmer. Again I stressed that this was a local election (but I did tell them what I thought) - they voted for me!
How were you able to win support – in particular, working-class support – for Labour?
Sorry, you don’t, or shouldn’t in my opinion, set out to win the "working class" vote. If you believe every voice is important you listen to every voice and talk to everyone. Canvassing would be made easier if I could regulate what people read - banning certain newspapers would have an enormous impact! And that really brings me on to question …
Why was there such a variation in Labour’s results in these elections? Why do you think Labour did well in Southwick Green, and the other areas it did well, when it did so badly in others?
Firstly, you don’t "parachute" someone in from outside. You select people to stand from the community they want to represent. You start local, really local and grow outwards. We have a street Whatsapp group; we know each other and support each other and my street was 80 percent behind me. From that you build a relationship with the wider community - there’s no point in talking to people in the month before an election and assuming they’ll believe that you’re concerned about them because they won’t and you don’t! Also, as a party we need to provide a united front. If the electorate see you fighting amongst yourselves and not supporting each other how are they meant to believe that you’ll support them - especially the ones that didn’t vote for you?
What direction would you like Labour to take now? What do you make of the people, such as Mandelson, who want Labour to stampede to the right?
If I was to give the Labour party a direction I’d say, “Go left and then left again”! On polling day I woke up singing the Pet Shop Boys song, ‘Go West’ but changing west to left - try it, it works perfectly and “life is peaceful there”. If only!