Voters across Sussex will likely go to the polls next year to determine who controls Parliament and the country for the next five years.

For the first time since 1997 the county is expected to see a number of closely fought battles which could determine which party holds the keys to Number 10.

The Argus has spoken to people in six key constituencies, from Chichester to Camber, about the mood on the ground and how results could play out on election day.

Today, we look at Lewes, held by the Conservatives since 2015 following the defeat of Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker. Home to just over 75,000 people, boundary changes now mean the constituency stretches from Ditchling Beacon to Stone Cross.

Won by Tory Maria Caulfield as support for the Lib Dems cratered after their time in coalition, polls at elections past have long predicted the Conservatives’ defeat here, to no avail.

However, Liberal Democrat candidate James MacCleary told The Argus that people across the Lewes constituency want change.

He said: “People are very clearly saying to us it’s time for a change, specifically on big issues like the NHS, dumping sewage off the coast in places like Seaford, and a whole range of things like the cost of living crisis.

“People are fed up. Everything seems to be falling apart.”

'NHS on edge of complete collapse'

Among the issues residents flag to Mr MacCleary, the former leader of Lewes District Council, is the state of the local health service, particularly a lack of GPs and NHS dentists.

He said councils had been forced to “pick up the slack” to improve the health service in the absence of support from government.

“There is a lot of concern about the future of the health service, which does appear to be on the edge of complete collapse,” Mr MacCleary said.

“Our local MP here is a health minister, which makes it even more damning that services here are so sparse.”

The Argus: Lewes has elected a Conservative MP since 2015Lewes has elected a Conservative MP since 2015 (Image: Supplied)

He highlighted Seaford in particular as an area in desperate need of more GPs, claiming that the two surgeries in the town have a patient list of some 30,000 people.

Despite limited resources, Lewes District Council is using regeneration funds to turn a former supermarket in Newhaven into a new health hub.

Along with GPs, NHS dentists are so few in the Lewes constituency that residents have told Mr MacCleary they have resorted to putting up with dental pain.

“In this country where there is so much wealth, how is it acceptable that people are waking up every morning with a toothache that could be fixed for a few hundred pounds?,” he said.

'Private control of water is flatly wrong'

The Argus: James MacCleary and Sir Ed Davey with Lib Dem supporters in LewesJames MacCleary and Sir Ed Davey with Lib Dem supporters in Lewes (Image: Lib Dems)

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey visited Lewes earlier this year and described the number of sewage spills as a “national scandal”.

Mr MacCleary said the spills are the by-product of the privatisation of the water companies and the government’s “unwillingness” to regulate the sector to prevent outflows of sewage.

He said: “My personal view is that private control of the water supply is flatly wrong - there aren’t many countries in the world that privatise their water companies because we need water to live.

“A lot of residents have been quite alarmed by the spills and are paying a lot more attention to the quality of the water.

“You have swimmers all year round in Seaford and we’ve had some huge releases near Splash Point, with huge clouds going out to sea - it’s awful. 

“It’s really shocked people how there is such a lack of regard for our water quality.”

'Community champion'

Mr MacCleary was critical of Maria Caulfield’s time as an MP in the constituency, claiming she has not been very visible in the community.

“She’s seen as a government mouthpiece - and she’s a health minister, and yet our health services have not attracted a penny of investment,” he said.

If elected, Mr MacCleary pledged to be a “community champion” and be visible in attacking many of the issues residents are facing, particularly on the health service.

He said: “I’ve lived locally now for around 15 years, in Lewes and now in Newhaven, with my two young kids, four and seven years old, at a local state primary school.

“I’ve got a track record as a councillor of delivering here and I’ve worked for major campaigning organisations and been successful in lobbying for people on lower incomes.

“What people will get from me is Norman Baker mark two - someone hyper focused on the constituency and who will put constituents first.”

The Argus: James MacCleary with Liberal Democrat campaignersJames MacCleary with Liberal Democrat campaigners (Image: Liberal Democrats)

Mr MacCleary said many residents, particularly Labour and Green supporters, are preparing to vote tactically for the Lib Dems in Lewes in order to get rid of the Conservatives.

He said: “I always thank them a lot for that support, as they shouldn’t have to vote tactically - we should have a system where people can have their priorities and preferences reflected in the result. Electoral reform is long overdue.”

Although polls project that Mr MacCleary will win a comfortable majority on election day, he is far from complacent.

He said: “I’ve seen the political sands shift under people’s feet at short notice and the Conservatives are the most resilient force in European, maybe even global, politics. Their ability to win elections, sometimes from very negative positions, is quite remarkable.

“I don’t take anything for granted. I’m assuming it will be close and what we’re trying to do is make sure is we’re 2,500 votes ahead, rather than 2,500 behind like last time.”

The Argus approached Maria Caulfield for an interview but received no response.