The Labour Party suffered its worst election results in Brighton and Hove for two decades on May 3. Lawrence Marzouk speaks to former council leader Simon Burgess about why his party was dumped at the ballot box.

Across the country Labour faced a battering from a resurgent Conservative Party under the more youthful and "compassionate"

direction of David Cameron.

And while the Lib Dems generally failed to take full advantage of the downturn in Tony Blair's popularity, in Brighton and Hove a Green surge nonetheless meant the ruling party was squeezed from both sides.

Simon Burgess, leader of the city council until ten days ago, was one of the ten Labour councillors to leave Hove Town Hall on Friday, May 4, with a bowed head.

He said: "Being a council with no overall control for the four previous years, we always knew that we had three other parties who could take a pop at us.

"We did better than some in the South East but we knew we were very vulnerable as we just held on to a lot of seats in 2003.

"There is no getting away from it - national issues played quite an important part in the election, particularly when our votes went to the Green Party.

"The problems people were talking about were around the party's national leadership, and Iraq was a big part of that.

"If Tony Blair had left just before the election I suspect people would have thought that was too cynical.

"But the recent opinion polls now show we are on the rise and I feel that last autumn would have been a good time for a change in leadership and it could have made a significant difference.

"It seems that David Cameron gave the Conservatives a bounce in the South East and people came out and voted for the Conservatives for the first time in the last ten years while Labour voters did not feel as motivated.

"But areas like Moulsecoomb and Bevendean and Portslade do not look particularly sustainable for the Conservatives, as the national polls show that people are already losing interest. I do not think they will be able to keep these seats and people will realise what the Conservative administration is doing to the city."

Mr Burgess, who hopes to become Labour's Kemptown candidate for the next general election, said he felt that people had voted for the Greens in protest.

They now have 12 seats - one less than Labour.

He said: "Now the Greens have reached this number of seats they will need to be more than a single issue party, they will need to have solutions across a range of issues."

Learning to work in opposition and listening to residents are two qualities he believes the party must develop in the next four years, but he is keen to point out that these issues should be addressed to the acting Labour group leader Gill Mitchell.

He said: "We have got to change quite a bit because we have been used to running things and we have to be working hard to listen more and listen better."

Regrets? He has just one. He believes that the controversy around plans to transfer the city's ageing council housing stock did cost his party votes.

He said: "The one issue that I am really disappointed that we got into was the housing transfer.

"It is a very difficult one because the Government was pushing in one direction and the tenants in the other.

"If I knew it would have dragged on for so long I would have looked at pulling the plug.

"We would have been criticised if we had stopped by those claiming that residents should be able to make up their own minds.

"But the choice could have been put to people a lot earlier.

"The issue didn't help with motivation and some tenants were left wondering whether they could trust us or not.

"We need to rebuild that trust."

But he feels that some of the thorny issues of the past four years - the £290 million redevelopment of King Alfred and secondary school admission changes - were right for the city.

He said: "We knew that issues like King Alfred and the secondary schools admissions would be difficult.

"But it was absolutely the right thing to do to bring in changes to secondary schools as the implications of not doing anything would have been awful.

"Otherwise the catchment areas would have got smaller and smaller and the only people who would have been able to go to these schools would have been those who could afford it.

"It would have been going back to grammar schools and comprehensives and the reputation of the other, less popular, schools would have been damaged.

"The major developments like King Alfred are vital for the future of the city and those who showed the least enthusiasm over the decisions will now see them built on their watch."

Mr Burgess believes that his party has left Brighton and Hove in good stead for the Tories and is well placed to retain the city's three parliamentary seats and regain the council in four years.

He said: "The Conservatives are inheriting a city where people want to do business and I hope the new administration doesn't damage that.

"In terms of services we have done a very good job in protecting people and I would be upset if they introduced cuts to the most vulnerable. We need a socially balanced city where everyone is protected by safety nets."

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