Last week, Labour made history by becoming the first majority council administration in Brighton and Hove for two decades.

Argus reporter Daniel Green followed every twist and turn from the count.

After weeks of canvassing, hustings and debates by the more than 200 candidates, the election was finally over and everyone now waited with bated breath to see what verdict voters in Brighton and Hove would deliver.

As I arrived at the count at the Brighton Centre, I saw Labour had already been making gains in other parts of the country, along with the Greens, and that the Conservatives nationally were beginning to admit they were in for a bruising result.

I began to wonder whether it would be a close-fought race between Labour and the Greens at the expense of the Tories.

However, very early on, I got the sense from the candidates that this wasn’t the case and that Labour would be set for a very good result.

While officials were still determining the turnout for the election, a Liberal Democrat source told me that Labour had swept all the seats in Goldsmid, Hollingdean and Fiveways and Woodingdean, ousting Green and Conservative councillors.

As the waiting continued, I heard of a feeling of resignation among the Tory camp, with claims that one of their councillors had been saying goodbye to people, knowing they were just hours away from being ousted by a Labour wave sweeping across the city.


As the hours ticked by, Labour seemed increasingly confident of making in-roads in some Green bulwarks in the city centre.

There was talk of a possible recount being needed in Regency - the seat of retiring husband-and-wife councillors Alex Philips and Tom Druitt, and of good results in West Hill and North Laine and even Brunswick and Adelaide - the ward of council leader Phelim Mac Cafferty and deputy leader Hannah Allbrooke.

A Labour source said to me that residents in the city-centre had seen first hand the effects of the Green administration with the state of the city and had voted with their feet.

I tried to canvass Green opinion, but was met with stony silence - perhaps the rumours were true after all. 

There was another indication that things may not have gone to plan for the Greens - while the city’s two Labour MPs appeared at the count, Green MP Caroline Lucas was nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Caroline?,” Labour’s activists wondered out loud as claims that the Greens had haemorrhaged support and seats grew.

First results

The first result came in at around 2.30pm from Round Hill, delivering a historic moment from the outset.

Not only had the city’s first Green councillor Pete West been successful in his bid for re-election, but he was joined by Brighton and Hove’s first openly trans councillor - Raphael Hill.

The Argus: Raphael Hill and Pete West were elected in Round Hill for the Green Party Raphael Hill and Pete West were elected in Round Hill for the Green Party (Image: The Argus)

For a city that is often referred to as the UK’s LGBTQ+ capital, it was an important milestone, but would turn out to be one of the only positive results for the Green Party.

Roughly an hour later came the next result, and with it the first major defeat of the election, as Labour won both seats in Woodingdean. 

Steve Bell and Dee Simson, stalwarts of the local Conservative Party, had been defeated in a ward that had been Tory for the entire life of Jacob Allen, one of its new Labour councillors.

The Argus: Labour's Jacob Allen and Jacqui Simon won Woodingdean from the Conservatives, defeating Conservative leader Steve BellLabour's Jacob Allen and Jacqui Simon won Woodingdean from the Conservatives, defeating Conservative leader Steve Bell (Image: The Argus)

Slowly more results trickled in, including a Green hold in West Hill and North Laine. Labour’s confidence had not amounted to a gain here, and I did wonder whether talk of a Green collapse was overblown.

A closer look at the numbers said otherwise; Sue Shanks had received 3,348 votes four years ago, but was now reduced to less than half of that with just 1,256. Labour had been around 300 votes from unseating her.

A red wave and a Green collapse

What followed was a huge red tide that swept all before it; Goldsmid, Hanover and Elm Grove and Wish all backing Labour and defeating both the Greens and the Conservatives. Hollingdean and Fiveways saw three Green councillors swept out by Labour in one go; deputy leader Siriol Hugh-Jones, Jamie Lloyd and Zoe John - who had won a council by-election only two years ago, were all ousted by the electorate.

The red wave also consumed controversial councillor Dawn Barnett, who had been seeking re-election as a Conservative for a fifth time.

In a moment that crossed political boundaries, Hove MP Peter Kyle hugged the 81-year-old and offered his commiserations.

He said, while he disagreed with her on various issues, he had “never doubted her commitment to Hangleton residents”.

The Argus: Peter Kyle offered commiserations to Dawn Barnett after her election loss in Hangleton and Knoll Peter Kyle offered commiserations to Dawn Barnett after her election loss in Hangleton and Knoll (Image: LDR)

Labour weren’t the only ones making gains, however - there was good news for independents, as Peter Atkinson was re-elected in North Portslade, and Bridget Fishleigh’s Brighton and Hove Independents group claimed both seats in Rottingdean and West Saltdean.

The Conservatives’ three councillors in Patcham and Hollingbury had tears in their eyes as all three kept their seats in the ward, despite an attempt from the Greens to make gains.

The Greens had seemed confident of winning at least one seat in the ward when I met their candidates before the election. Their loss signalled to me that the party was condemned to a monumental defeat.

'Dizzying' number of Labour wins

The pace of results showed no mercy for those just voted out - with votes being announced at an almost dizzying rate. At times, the number of Labour holds or gains was so great it was hard to keep track of just how many councillors the party now had.

A map of council wards I had made for The Argus was becoming so red that Labour activists, councillors and even MPs often pulled me aside to take a picture of it to send to their fellow campaigners.

The election of Leslie Pumm in Westbourne and Poets’ Corner at around 6pm marked the moment that Labour reached the threshold needed for a majority council - a feat not achieved in 20 years.

But Labour continued to win council seats, as Central Hove, Whitehawk and Marina and Queen’s Park all turned red.

The party came close to winning a seat in Westdene and Hove Park, where the Conservatives secured their final seats of the election - taking their total to six and depriving former Labour council leader Warren Morgan of a return to the council chamber.

Phelim Mac Cafferty swept from office

By 7pm, we were still waiting for the results of three wards with a total of seven council seats; Preston Park, Regency and Brunswick and Adelaide - all of which had gone to a recount.

Through the day rumours had grown that the council leader Phelim Mac Cafferty had “definitely lost” in Brunswick and Adelaide and that his deputy Hannah Allbrooke was fighting for her political life, with her result said to be on a knife edge.

In my final face-to-face interview with the council leader before election day, I asked him whether he would stand down as group leader if the Greens lost control of the council. I remember he said he wouldn’t comment and laughed.

“What a silly question,” a Green candidate in the room with us said.

But now I was sat as witness as his political career on the city council he presided over for almost three years was set to come to an unceremonial end.

The Argus: Phelim Mac Cafferty and Hannah Allbrooke watched votes being counted for Brunswick and Adelaide with apprehensionPhelim Mac Cafferty and Hannah Allbrooke watched votes being counted for Brunswick and Adelaide with apprehension (Image: The Argus)

And then, at just before 7.30pm, it came - a moment reminiscent of then-Conservative MP Michael Portillo’s election loss to Labour in 1997.

The rumours had been true; not only had Hannah Allbrooke lost by six votes, but Phelim Mac Cafferty had slumped to just 901 votes - down from his win of 1,654 only four years prior.

It was a moment almost unparalleled in Brighton’s political history. The city council’s leader and two deputies had succumbed to a political earthquake.

As Labour’s candidates and activists cheered with delight at this most incredible win, Ms Allbrooke sprinted off the stage - it was the last I saw of her on this most extraordinary of days.

The Argus: Phelim Mac Cafferty shortly after his election defeatPhelim Mac Cafferty shortly after his election defeat (Image: The Argus)

Mr Mac Cafferty followed soon after, embracing some of his Green colleagues, before he too slipped away out of sight.

Meanwhile, Twitter went into meltdown at this most seismic of results. Some took to offering the ousted council leader a private jet service from the count - a reference to the scandal where he apologised for taking a flight to the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

A Labour win by one vote

Regency delivered another shocking result just minutes later - Labour had gained a seat from the Greens by a single vote. An astonishing outcome in a ward that had been solidly Green for many years. Let that be a lesson to anyone who said that voting can’t make a difference.

The final result of the night, Preston Park, saw another Labour gain, bringing the party to a final total of 38, with the Greens consigned to opposition with just seven councillors.

The sheer number of Labour gains had surpassed even the party’s expectations. One source told me after all the votes were counted that he had expected the final number to be around 32.

Brighton and Hove's new council leader

The Argus: Bella Sankey said that Labour would 'get to work to deliver for Brighton and Hove'Bella Sankey said that Labour would 'get to work to deliver for Brighton and Hove' (Image: The Argus)

Labour’s group of councillors went off into a room to elect a new party leader and council leader - selecting Wish ward councillor Bella Sankey, who had only been elected for the first time in December.

I managed to catch Cllr Sankey after the meeting, who celebrated the “historic day” and told me that the party was now “ready to lead”.

She said: “So many of our residents put their trust and confidence in us and we have heard them and we have listened and we have managed to inspire that confidence.

“We are going to take that forward and we are going to get to work to deliver for Brighton and Hove.”

The Argus: Daniel Green shortly after the end of the count at the Brighton CentreDaniel Green shortly after the end of the count at the Brighton Centre (Image: The Argus)

The Labour activists and newly-elected councillors spilt into the road and brought to an end a day of political drama, one that will be remembered for many years to come.

Labour earned the trust of voters across the city, but now the hard work will really begin to deliver on the promises made.

With such a large majority, they will now only have themselves to blame if they fall short.