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

For the first time since 1997, the country 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 ahead of the election, from Chichester to Camber, about the mood on the ground and how results could play out on election day.

Today, we look at Worthing, a town which has elected Conservatives to Parliament since 1841 when Sir Robert Peel returned to Number 10 in a victory against the Whigs. In elections past, you could have weighed in the Tory vote in Worthing, such was the scale of their support and majority in the town.

However, Worthing’s two current Conservative MPs, who have sat in Parliament since 1997, look set to be swept aside as a red tide threatens the bastions of the so-called “blue wall”.

Such is the scale of Labour’s current polling lead that even Sir Peter Bottomley, Father of the House of Commons and MP for Worthing West, could be at risk of being ousted by Labour.

So how has Worthing gone from Tory stronghold to election battleground?

The Argus: Sir Peter BottomleySir Peter Bottomley (Image: PA)

Sir Peter Bottomley has been an MP over six decades, first being elected in Woolwich West, before becoming the representative in Worthing West in 1997.

He credited Labour’s recent success locally to the party “working hard” in the area, alongside “coastal drift”, as he said neighbouring Tory MP Tim Loughton describes it.

“People from Brighton coming to Shoreham and Worthing, people with university degrees who think Jeremy Corbyn is brilliant,” he said.

This stands in some contrast to when he was first chosen to stand for election in Worthing West, when - as Sir Peter recalled - the constituency had the greatest proportion of people above retirement age.

'The things I fail at are important enough to try'

Rather than working on climbing the political ladder to serve in some of the prestigious offices of state, Sir Peter has spent almost all of his career as an MP on the backbenches except for a six-year stint as a minister in the government of Margaret Thatcher.

Instead of aspirations of jobs in the cabinet, Sir Peter’s primary focus is dedication and service to his constituents. This is most clear in the questions he poses in the House of Commons, which are more often than not directly linked to the needs of people in Worthing West.

He said: “People occasionally say to me ‘how do you manage to get so many things done?’ and the answer is I don’t need the credit. I just want things to work and as soon as something happens I move on to something else and try to find more causes that need a bit of attention.

“I think I do enough good and the things I fail at are important enough to try.”

The Argus: Sir Peter recalled one campaign where he worked with residents to save Worthing Hospital from closureSir Peter recalled one campaign where he worked with residents to save Worthing Hospital from closure

He recalled one campaign when he fought alongside residents to save Worthing Hospital from closure, which saw campaigners protest against the move until the plans were abandoned in 2008.

“We got thousands of people to stand all the way around the hospital holding hands and we got people inside to spell out the letters KWASH [Keep Worthing and Southlands Hospital],” he said.

'I hope people will say they'll trust the Tories'

He said he anticipates having “a good deal of fun” when voters next go to the polls and said: “I think it’s probable that people will look rationally at their choices at the next general election.

“They will say ‘how is it that we managed to have four million more people in work now than when Tories came in in 2010, when government was spending £4 for every £3 of income?'.

“People talk about austerity, I call it housekeeping. You can’t go on spending a third more than you’ve got.

“If you look at what Nick Gibb [Bognor MP and former education minister] has done in education, we have more schools doing better in every sense of the word than we had before.

“I would argue that when the trains run, they can run as well as anywhere else in the world.

“If our taxation is relatively high, which it is because of pandemic costs, would you trust Labour more on that than the Tories? I hope people will say they’ll trust the Tories.”

'We've been represented by a bit of an absentee landlord'

The Argus: Third time lucky? Dr Beccy Cooper is hoping to become the MP for Worthing West at the next electionThird time lucky? Dr Beccy Cooper is hoping to become the MP for Worthing West at the next election

Facing off against Sir Peter is Worthing Borough Council leader Beccy Cooper, who is running for the third time to become the MP for Worthing West.

Dr Cooper made history five years ago after she became the first Labour councillor in Worthing for more than 40 years.

She now aims to go one step further and become the first Labour MP for the traditionally Conservative town.

She said: “Change is definitely in the air and lots of people I talked to have voted Conservative for their whole life and are now looking for an alternative. They have had enough and after 13 years [of Conservative government] they are ready for a change.”

Unlike the previous two elections when she stood as a candidate, Worthing West is now a Labour target seat, which Dr Cooper said comes with a lot more responsibility, but also more support.

“I really think we stand a chance this time,” she said.

“It’s a lot of hard work and it’s a team effort, so you may well see my face everywhere, but there’s a lot of people in the Labour Party who are working incredibly hard to get two Labour MPs elected in Worthing West and East Worthing and Shoreham.

“We’re willing to fight for our residents and to make a difference and to be here.”

Dr Cooper said while she gets on with Sir Peter, the current Conservative MP and her election rival at two previous elections, there is a sense among residents that he has not been very present in the constituency.

She said: "With all respect to Sir Peter, there is a sense that we have been represented by a bit of an absentee landlord.

“He’s a nice bloke, but there is a sense even in the most ardent [Conservative] areas - I speak to people and they say ‘we haven’t seen him for a long time'."

'We make decisions knowing that we have listened to people'

Dr Cooper credits Labour’s recent success in Worthing’s local elections in part to demographic shifts but said: “It is important to note that there are still an awful lot of people who have been local here for a very long time.

“The issue they had with the Conservative administration on the council is that they had stopped listening to local residents and they had become apathetic really.

“Labour came along and we realised Worthing had huge potential and had very strong communities that wanted to engage with the council in a different way.

“We took the council to our community streets and said ‘this is your council - what do you want from it?'.

“We don’t always get it right but at least we can make decisions knowing that we have listened to people.”

'People feel that the NHS is being abandoned'

Like most parts of the country, the cost of living crisis is one of the biggest issues being raised on the doorstep by voters.

Dr Cooper said: “I talk to a lot of single parents concerned about how they’re going to keep the heating on, how they’re going to feed their children and where they’re going to find the money for school uniforms."

As a public health doctor, Dr Cooper has also seen that the state of the NHS “looms large in the public consciousness” among Worthing voters, particularly “those horrendous waiting list times”.

She said: “We’re very proud of our NHS and people feel that the NHS is being abandoned and that has implications for almost every family in the country.”