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, ahead of the election about the mood on the ground.

Today, we look at Hastings and Rye in the far east of Sussex. Home to just over 70,000 voters, the constituency has been a bellwether seat for 40 years, predicting which party entered Downing Street at every election since it was created in 1983.

At the last general election Sally-Ann Hart was elected as the Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye, once held by former home secretary Amber Rudd, with a majority of just over 4,000 votes.

However, with Labour roughly 20 points ahead of the Tories in the national polls, Hastings and Rye is now forecast to be a landslide victory for Labour, with one projection predicting a 12,000-vote win.

Labour’s candidate Helena Dollimore is not taking her party’s poll lead for granted.

Speaking to The Argus, she said: “The only poll that matters is the general election.

“We are not complacent. We are out speaking to voters and working hard for every single vote until 10pm on election day, whenever that comes.”

The Argus: Helena Dollimore and shadow environment secretary Steve Reed met with business owners in RyeHelena Dollimore and shadow environment secretary Steve Reed met with business owners in Rye (Image: Labour Party)

After canvassing over the 18 months since being selected, Ms Dollimore claims that residents in Hastings and Rye are saying the same thing.

She said: “People are utterly fed up of 13 years of chaos and mismanagement of the economy that we are paying the price for.

“Families and working people across Hastings and Rye are finding that the state of the economy and the cost of living crisis we are in means they are paying more on their bills every month.

“They’re also really feeling the impact of an economy that hasn’t been growing and hasn’t been creating the jobs and the investment we need in places like Hastings and Rye.”

'People are finding the NHS is not there for them'

One major issue raised by residents, according to Ms Dollimore, is the state of the health service.

She claims the area has “the worst ambulance waiting times of anywhere in the South East of England”.

“People are waiting in Hastings and Rye far longer than the target waiting times for an ambulance,” Ms Dollimore said.

“We have the worst patient-GP ratio of anywhere in England - we simply do not have enough GPs.

“People are simply finding that when they need the NHS, it’s not there for them.”

Ms Dollimore said some residents had told her they had been forced to spend their life savings on private treatment due to long waiting lists for knee or hip replacements.

The state of the health service is symptomatic of a more serious malady, she said.

“It is part of a general sense that nothing works in this country any more," she said.

“We have this approach from the Conservatives of sticking-plaster politics. A crisis emerges and they come up with a temporary solution, but don’t fix the root causes.”

'Southern Water has a lot of questions to answer'

The Argus: Some businesses in Hastings are still struggling with the effects of flooding earlier this yearSome businesses in Hastings are still struggling with the effects of flooding earlier this year (Image: Supplied)

Hastings was hit badly by flooding earlier in the autumn, the second such incident in the space of a year.

Ms Dollimore was particularly critical of Southern Water’s handling of the incident.

She said: “Southern Water, as is ever the case with so many of the crises we face in Hastings and Rye, has a lot of questions to answer.

“They took too long to arrive and they have been far too slow to respond to the flooding.

“We’ve now got many small businesses who have been hugely impacted by this flooding and they need Southern Water to step in and provide them compensation to avoid them going under.”

She said Labour would get “very tough” on the water companies, including preventing the payouts of bonuses to chief executives while their firms fail to meet “basic standards to customers”.

'Government has done a lot of good things'

In the face of long NHS waiting lists and the cost of living, Conservative MP Sally-Ann Hart told The Argus no government would be proud of such a record but said: “I think people conveniently forget that we had Covid and the war in Ukraine.

“Our economy is growing faster than any other country in Europe and that is down to the measures that the Conservative government has taken.”

Ms Hart said NHS waiting lists in Hastings and across the country had not been helped by recent strike action.

The Argus: Sally-Ann Hart, MP for Hastings and RyeSally-Ann Hart, MP for Hastings and Rye (Image: Conservative Party)

When asked what is the positive case for voting Conservative, she said that, despite a myriad of challenges since the 2019 election, the government has “done a lot of good things”.

She said: “We’ve done some good stuff with education, we’ve got the skills, we’ve got our economy back on track after Covid.

“I’d like to think we’ve done Brexit. People said it would be a mistake. Actually, Brexit has been a success. We got the vaccine rollout, we’ve got some amazing trade deals with loads of countries.

“Once we really focus on the long term it’s not going to change things overnight, but that long term future for people, even if we get those basics right, we’ll make that cultural change we need to see locally and raise aspirations.

“It’s building the foundations - that’s what the Conservatives stand for.”

'Every country should be allowed to control who they've got coming into the country'

She pointed to success with one of the Prime Minister’s goals - stopping the crossing of small boats across the Channel.

Ms Hart said: “Boat crossings have dramatically reduced, they have more than halved, and that was after we did the deal with Albania.

“The whole migration issue is key and people care about it. British people are innately fair - fairness means a lot to them. They think 'why should people come here who can afford to pay people smugglers, get treated better and move up the line than people who are desperately in need and should be given refuge here?'.

“Every country should be allowed to control who they’ve got coming into the country - it shouldn’t be up to people smugglers.”

Ms Hart championed her recent success in lobbying to raise the local housing allowance rates.

“The biggest thing I really hope is that I have certain things I want to get done and I haven’t finished yet," she said. "I’m hoping I get an opportunity to finish what I’ve started locally which is getting children and families right, early intervention and prevention, and education, education, education."

'People want us to be more robust on woke issues'

Ms Hart said there is no defeatism on the government benches of the House of Commons and said: “I defy anyone to say they could have done a better job over the past four years with what we’ve been through.”

Rather than being fed up with the Tories themselves, Ms Hart said voters are “fed up with the Conservatives fighting and breaking rank”.

She said: “Polls say one thing, but actually when you knock on doors and chat to people, you often get a more different feel.

“I’m also hearing that people are not voting for Labour - they just want us to get our act together and deliver for the country, that’s what I’m hearing on the doorsteps - and to be more robust on illegal boats and the woke issues, people are concerned about that.”

When will the election take place?

So when does Ms Hart think the election will be called?

“October - I think we need a bit more time for the economy to embed,” she said.

“We’ve got to make sure that, as a party we have always been solid on the economy, we’ve got to make sure people can feel that difference in their pockets.”

Ms Dollimore is ready for a general election whenever the Prime Minister decides to call it.

“The Conservatives clearly should have called an election at the point they had an unelected Prime Minister taking office and the disastrous Liz Truss mini-budget that crashed the economy," she said

“Whenever the general election comes, we will be ready.”