One beneficiary of the local political revolt in Bexhill was Green Party candidate, Polly Gray, who topped the poll in the Old Town and Worsham ward. At the last council election in 2015, Conservatives Gillian Johnson and Jacqueline Potts were returned with comfortable majorities ahead of a UKIP candidate in third place. They both stood again on 2nd May and no doubt expected more of the same. But on a halved turn-out, Tory voters evidently failed to show up, and Mrs Gray joined Independent Chris Madeley as the ward’s co-representatives in the new-look Rother District Council.

Cllr Polly Gray
PICTURE: Mark Todd

She expressed gratitude to all those who voted for her, to her campaign team and to local supporters, including Julia Hilton and others from the Hastings Greens who, without an election of their own to contest, came across the district boundary to help. However, it seems that the Green Party has also organised nationally to an impressive degree of professionalism.  Mrs Gray explained how she had attended a residential weekend ‘campaign school’ in Nottingham to learn poll tactics: choosing a winnable ‘target’ ward, maintaining a flow of materials – by the end of the campaign she was operating with a bandaged hand, testimony to the snappiness of Bexhill letterboxes – and keeping the basic political messages short and sweet. 

The Old Town and Worsham ward has a mixture of plush residences, care homes, and low-income terraced streets. There are young families, students and many elderly residents. Mrs Gray realises that, as just one councillor among 38, and not entitled to join any council committee (she has been told) unless she joins a larger grouping, her ability to push a Green agenda for her ward’s population will be limited. But there is no doubting her belief that, with the backing of the strong central party administration behind her, she can more than pull her weight.

“Top of my list”, she confirms, “is to get an elected town council, so that decisions that affect Bexhill are taken by Bexhill citizens. The refusal of the previous District Council to listen to local people on this issue was outrageous”. But she is keen, of course, that decisions about the future of the town are taken with a principal eye on the “climate emergency”. 

“Like Hastings, the town should work towards being carbon neutral by 2030 at the very latest”, she says. “We can reduce our carbon footprint by developing more cycleways and places to park cycles; parts of the town centre could be pedestrianised; there should be much more emphasis on energy-efficient standards – why not solar panels on all new buildings?”

She is also concerned to retain social provision for the weakest. As a former senior social worker in child protection practising in Hastings, she believes that while at the beginning of her career there was some emphasis on preventative work, most social work nowadays is reduced to “fire-fighting”. She blames the ruthless cost cutting of successive Conservative governments, causing local authorities to be reduced to almost nothing but essential services. A local day centre in London Road, Bexhill has been shut down, a similar story to the closure of the Isabel Blackman Centre in Hastings
Old Town. “There’s nowhere
for people to go until their
needs overwhelm them – it’s heartbreaking.”

The new Rother council has yet to meet, and it is not at this stage clear which groupings will form alliances with a view to putting together a coalition majority. It is clear that Mrs Gray feels some affinity with Labour party representatives and also with Liberal Democrats. It is less clear what kind of programme the 13 Independents will seek to promote – there’s no central organisation or ideological stance to guide them, so she’ll have to wait and see. But in any event, she believes that with so many inexperienced new councillors, it will be very important to select a strong and experienced council leader.

She is impressed by her first meetings with the paid council officers. Even as an unelected candidate she attended training sessions with them. Last Thursday was her first induction meeting. 

“It’s a massive responsibility”, she says. “But I’m fighting a worthwhile cause for a greener, more sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.”

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