Page last updated at 09:48 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 10:48 UK

West Sussex spirit means voters will not be pushed

Peter Henley
BBC South Political Correspondent

Birdman 2009 competition
The annual Birdman contest encapsulates the area's feisty spirit

They have a saying in Sussex: "We won't be druv." They won't be pushed around.

Even when loyally electing Conservative MPs in the rural parts of the county, or dealing with some of the more challenging problems in the seaside towns of Bognor and Worthing, Sussex people demand an independent spirit.

Conservative Children's spokesman Tim Loughton faced up to drugs and welfare dependency while he was living on a Birmingham council estate for the recent TV series, Tower Block of Commons.

Parts of his East Worthing and Shoreham constituency have challenging problems unlike the area's blue rinse image - pockets of poverty, long term unemployment and anti-social behaviour.

Labour has some support and an interesting candidate, feisty young Emily Benn who is elder statesman Tony Benn's grand-daughter.

Plans to merge local NHS facilities, especially accident and emergency, drew strong local campaigns in opposition. Protests against further house building and calls for better road links have also been led by Sussex Conservatives.

'High hopes'

Bognor and Littlehampton's Nick Gibb is known as an independent thinker in his role as Shadow Schools Minister, while Nick Herbert representing Arundel and South Downs, is now Shadow Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.

Peter Bottomley in Worthing West, Andrew Tyrie in Chichester, Francis Maude in Horsham and Nicholas Soames in Mid Sussex all enjoy comfortable majorities.

In Crawley the Conservatives have high hopes of capturing the last Labour seat in West Sussex, held in 2005 by Laura Moffatt with the smallest majority in the country - just 37.

Despite tattooing the majority on her foot and campaigning hard for five years, in March 2010 Mrs Moffatt suddenly decided to pull out of the contest.

Her replacement Chris Oxlade, a local radio presenter, now has just a short time to square up to the Conservative contender, leader of West Sussex County Council Henry Smith.

Meanwhile, in nearby Brighton all three seats will be keenly fought at the next election.

'Could make history'

Seized by Labour from the Conservatives in 1997, they were the party's high water mark here in the south. Since then the tide has slipped back and now each is being seen as a good target by the other parties.

Brighton Pavilion could even make history and elect the country's first Green MP, Caroline Lucas.

Back in 1997, Tony Blair famously remarked that it was when he heard Labour had won Hove that he realised the scale of the party's victory.

Thirteen years on and things look quite different in the south-coast town. In Hove, the Labour majority is down to 448, making it tenth on the Conservatives' list of target seats.

The slightly old-fashioned rather grand town, which likes to see itself not as Brighton but "Hove, actually", was a Conservative stronghold for almost fifty continuous years prior to 1997.

In Brighton Kemptown, where the sitting MP is standing down, Labour is defending a majority of 1853.

'All women candidates'

With its distinctive architecture and a large student and gay population, it may yet revert to the Conservative preference it showed steadily from 1950.

Then there is Brighton Pavilion, where the current MP is also standing down. It straddles the central area, with those quintessential Brighton landmarks the pier, the Pavilion, the Lanes and the hotels.

This is where Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Greens are all fielding women candidates.

Fighting over the Labour majority of 5867 has been pretty intense already.

All through the sixties and seventies the local council was dominated by the Conservatives. Then in 1986 Labour took power and held on for more than 20 years.

But the Greens have grown steadily more powerful - they now have 13 of the 54 seats on the council, and polled particularly well here in last year's European elections.

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