Labour councillors on Hastings Borough Council elected Paul Barnett as their new leader last week following the surprise resignation of Cllr Kim Forward. No account of the internal meeting of the Hastings & Rye constituency party held on 28 March has been voiced publicly, save that in a contested selection process Cllr Barnett won the approval of the majority of the 18 councillors eligible to vote. A full council meeting next Wednesday (13 April) will be invited to endorse him formally as council leader.

Cllr Barnett is aged 66, and first arrived in Hastings in 2010 after a career in local government focussed on promoting arts – initially for the London Borough of Islington, then as Head of Culture first on Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, then on Bristol City Council.

He has been a member of the local Labour party since 2011 and, as Chair, organised Peter Chowney’s constituency campaign in the general election of June 2017 which failed by 346 votes to topple sitting MP Amber Rudd. He was elected as councillor for Hollington ward the following May, was quickly promoted to the borough cabinet, and became deputy leader under Cllr Forward in 2020.

He said in a formal statement: “This is a real honour, to be asked to lead for Labour at such a crucial time locally, nationally and internationally. I will do my best to live up to the excellent work done by Jeremy Birch, Peter Chowney and Kim Forward who have all inspired me as leaders over the last ten years. Hastings is a great town, and I will do my best to help make it a place where everyone feels happy and secure.”

He promises a style of leadership which will extend outwards to all sections of the community and all centres of power. “I’m going to work with anyone – public, private, county, government: let’s not be fussy – who can help close the gap in Hastings between the haves and have-nots. That gap has been growing. There has been a lot of inward investment from people moving down from London, setting up businesses. We want to welcome them, but not at the cost of a large proportion of inhabitants falling further and further behind.”

Cllr Barnett’s first task, however, will be to lead the Labour party into the borough election on 6 May. With 16 council seats being contested then – several in three-way battles between Labour, Conservative and Greens – defeat for just two party incumbents could result in Labour losing overall control.  

For more on Cllr Barnett’s background (see here) and a retrospective on the two-year council leadership of Cllr Kim Forward (see here).

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