Labour hopes to defeat Caroline Lucas after dramatic local by-election win in Brighton

The party celebrates after winning a seat off the Greens in one of the safest wards in Lucas's constituency.

There was a dramatic local by-election result in Brighton last night, where Labour won a seat off the Greens in the Hanover and Elm Grove Ward, one of the safest in Caroline Lucas's constituency. The party's Emma Daniel took the seat by just 38 votes (1,396 to 1,358) but this represented a huge swing of 11.7% since 2011.

It would be a mistake to read much into the result, a reflection of local discontent with the Green council, which Lucas herself has protested against in response to pay cuts. But it is a reminder that there is no guarantee she will keep her seat in 2015. Lucas currently has a majority of 1,252 (2.4%), with Labour, which held the constituency between 1997 and 2010, in second place. 

Brighton Pavilion is one of Labour's 106 target seats (the 19th most marginal on the list) and with a hung parliament looking increasingly likely, the party has no intention of giving her a free run.

Caroline Lucas became the first Green MP when she won Brighton Pavilion at the 2010 general election.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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To win power, Labour needs to start talking about giving it away

From the House of Lords to First Past the Post, the Labour Party must seek reforms to return power to the people.

The signs were there in 2010. The British electorate failed to give any single party a majority in the Commons, delivering what amounted to a vote of no confidence in Westminster. Since then, voters have taken every opportunity to inform to those sitting on the green benches that they are not content.

The independence referendum in Scotland was closer than many had predicted. The Labour leadership election [in 2015] brought another rejection of the Westminster way of doing things when hundreds of thousands joined the party to elect a leader who opposed the New Labour platform. But David Cameron assumed that the Conservative Party was immune to this spirit of insurgency. Confident that he and his chums could convince the electorate of the wisdom of EU membership, despite decades of anti-Brussels headlines, he rashly called a referendum without considering the implications of defeat.

As with the election of Jeremy Corbyn, those who felt that their voice was no longer heard at Westminster saw the referendum as an opportunity to have their say. Driven by a dispiriting sense that they had lost control of their fate, to the extent that they felt this was no longer their country, they voted to make the rest of us feel the same.

The urge to dismiss this as nothing more than spite should be resisted. These voters feel vulnerable. If we are to believe the majority of them when they say they are not racists – and I do – then we must accept that their complaints about immigration mask other concerns. My hunch is that if they were asked to rank security of employment, of housing and of health care in order of importance, each of these would be a higher priority than security of our borders. And the terrible irony is that a Brexit driven by free-market libertarians is likely to create an economy that is even less secure for low-paid workers and those who rely on support from the state.

If the Labour Party hopes to engage with those vulnerable voters, it needs to win back trust by first showing that it trusts the people. Labour should make accountability its watchword, giving all employees statutory rights, especially those kept on precarious terms by profiteering corporations. A reformed voting system would stop parties listening only to the voices of those living in key marginals. A democratic upper house would offer another opportunity for engaging with people from beyond the Westminster bubble. Devolving power to the English regions, giving them the final say over housing, employment and health care, would allow voters to take back control over their lives and also create a better balance between London and the rest of the country.

To win power, Labour first needs to start talking about giving it away.

Billy Bragg is a musician and campaigner

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition