2015 Result:
Conservative: 19206 (38%)
Labour: 5000 (9.9%)
Lib Dem: 18123 (35.9%)
Green: 2784 (5.5%)
UKIP: 5427 (10.7%)
MAJORITY: 1083 (2.1%)

Category: Marginal Conservative seat

Geography: South East, East Sussex. Most of Lewes council area, part of Wealden council area.

Main population centres: Lewes, Newhaven, Seaford.

Profile: A large, sprawling rural seat covering much of the countryside to the North of Brighton, the South Downs and the valley of the river Ouse. Lewes itself is the small picturesque county town of East Sussex, best known for its extensive and sometimes controversial Guy Fawkes Night celebrations, where effigies of Pope Paul V and contemporary figures, such as Osama bin Laden, are burnt. The country house of Glyndebourne, the site of the annual opera festival, is situated just outside the town. At the southern end of the constituency is the more Labour inclined ferry port of Newhaven and the seaside resort turned dormitory town of Seaford.

Politics: The seat returned Conservative MPs for over a century until it was won by the Liberal Democrat Norman Baker in 1997. It was regained by the Conservatives in 2015.

Current MP
MARIA CAULFIELD (Conservative) Former nurse. Brighton and Hove councillor 2007-2011. Contested Caerphilly 2010. First elected as MP for Lewes in 2015.
Past Results
Con: 18401 (37%)
Lab: 2508 (5%)
LDem: 26048 (52%)
UKIP: 1728 (3%)
Oth: 1403 (3%)
MAJ: 7647 (15%)
Con: 15902 (34%)
Lab: 4169 (9%)
LDem: 24376 (52%)
GRN: 1071 (2%)
Oth: 1034 (2%)
MAJ: 8474 (18%)
Con: 15878 (35%)
Lab: 3317 (7%)
LDem: 25588 (56%)
UKIP: 650 (1%)
MAJ: 9710 (21%)
Con: 19950 (41%)
Lab: 5232 (11%)
LDem: 21250 (43%)
Oth: 256 (1%)
MAJ: 1300 (3%)

*There were boundary changes after 2005

2015 Candidates
MARIA CAULFIELD (Conservative) Nurse. Brighton and Hove councillor 2007-2011. Contested Caerphilly 2010.
LLOYD RUSSELL-MOYLE (Labour) Born 1986, Sussex. Educated at Priory School and Bradford University.
NORMAN BAKER (Liberal Democrat) Born 1957, Aberdeen. Educated at Royal Liberty School and Royal Holloway College. English teacher. Lewes councillor 1987-99, Leader of Lewes council 1991-97, East Sussex councillor 1989-97. Contested Lewes 1992. MP for Lewes 1997 to 2015. Under-Secretary of State for Transport 2010-2013. Minister of State at the Home Office since 2013. A trenchant backbench inquisitor and campaigning MP, Baker stood down as Lib Dem Environment Spokesman in 2006 to concentrate on campaigning for a full investigation into the death of Dr David Kelly. He returned as Lib Dem shadow transport secretary in 2007.
RAY FINCH (UKIP) Engineer. Contested Eastleigh 2010, MEP for South East since 2014.
ALFIE STIRLING (Green) Born 1990. Educated at Priory School and University College London.
Comments - 312 Responses on “Lewes”
  1. Not quite sure why the tories would be up 3.

  2. Remember that the Tories got 41% here even in their disastrous 1997 election debacle. I think their vote is artificially low at 37% – after all, this is a prime slice of Tory voting southern England where you expect the natural Conservative vote to be not far off 50%.

  3. Cobblers.

    Certainly Lewes town is very far from being naturally Conservative, and that is a fairly high percentage of the total electorate. The Brighton effect has certainly had a big impact over time. Doing well in the rural areas is not good enough to get the Tories over 40%.

  4. Presumably Lewes and Seaford are in this seat too – neither being at all Conservative friendly either.

  5. *Newhaven* and Seaford

  6. Cobblers, eh? Please show a tad more respect for other people’s views, H.Hemmelig. Lewes town has a population of about 16,000 and the wider constituency is made up of 68,000 people. I make that just 23% which is hardly a ‘fairly high’ proportion of the electorate. I think that remaining 77% is more than capable of delivering a higher Conservative vote next time.

  7. A “fairly high” proportion of the remaining 77% – about half I’d say – consists of the absolute shithole that is the port of Newhaven, and the neighbouring town of Seaford which isn’t much nicer. They are Labour towns which the Lib Dems squeeze very effectively.

    The Tories are only strong in the countryside, which is less than half of the electorate.

    The anti-Tory trend in Brighton, Hastings, Eastbourne has clearly and naturally spread to this seat as well. Comparisons even with 1997 are not really valid.

  8. Should the legendary East Worthing and Shoreham discussion be printed off and framed on the wall?

  9. That was a surreal joke BTW…

    Anyway, with regards to this seat, it has, in line with the other somewhat leftfield parts of East Sussex, trended heavily against the Tories in the last 15 years or so at least, enough to the extent that they may find it difficult to win this once safe seat back, maybe not until Norman Baker retires.

  10. “Lewes town has a population of about 16,000 and the wider constituency is made up of 68,000 people. I make that just 23% which is hardly a ‘fairly high’ proportion of the electorate. ”

    In fact you are understating your case as the electorate of Lewes town is about 12,000 so actually well under 20% of the totall. Newhaven is even smaller. I’m afraid that H Hemelig is talking horseshit on this occasion, at least in relation to his comments about Seaford which has never been remotely a Labour voting town (Newhaven did have a Labour vote about 30 years ago)

  11. I was about to say. Seaford isn’t one of the LDs’ strongest areas by any means, and that is important since it’s actually the largest town in the seat. It CAN vote LD, but the Tories tend to be at least competitive there, sometimes clearly ahead even. Newhaven, Polegate & Lewes itself are all LD towns for the most part, and there are even some villages which aren’t bad for them, but the north of the seat is prosperous & Tory (places like the Chaileys & Wivelsfield are I think in this seat),and some of the villages in the south are pretty chintzy (Alfriston, Alciston, Berwick for example). But I think Baker will survive without any difficulty because he will build up a large enough lead in the 3 strong towns & a decent enough vote in Seaford, and that will be enough to outnumber the wealthier villages. As someone who has had the pleasure of enjoying a pint in all of Harveys’ pubs (well all of the pubs they had until more recent acquisitions anyway), I know this constituency very well, and I went to Sussex University which is of course only yards outside the constituency boundary – in fact I think bits of the campus are actually within it.

  12. The Conservative vote finally recovered a little here last time, after two disappointing results for them in 2001 (-5.6%, Norman Baker’s majority up from 1,300 to 9, 710) and 2005 (-0.7%), though on that latter occasion they did still manage to reduce Baker’s majority, but only because his own vote fell by 3.9%, after his massive increase in 2001. Could the Tories be back at 34% come 2015 here?

  13. ‘in fact I think bits of the campus are actually within it.’

    During my time at Sussex University (1993-96) I distinctluy remember somebody telling me that all of the Falmer campus was within the Brighton Pavilion seat

  14. It was an anomaly Tim, and I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually it got sorted out. The other side of the A27, however, it is I am sure true that the new Brighton & Hove Albion Amex stadium is in Brighton Kemptown, but its car park or part of it is in Lewes.

  15. Part of the campus is still in Lewes district, in Kingston ward, the boundary being Estates Road on the campus. There are also halls of residence south of the A27 which would be in Brighton Kemptown so to all intents and purposes the campus is split between three constituencies

  16. thanks Pete, it’s not that long since I visited (there was an event in 2012 to celebrate 50 years of the university, attended by 4 MPs, Peter Bottomley, Tony Baldry, Hilary Benn & Ben Bradshaw) & I never knew exactly where the boundary was – still is. David Lepper came down from here in Richmond to study at the university, and never went back. What did you read Tim? I did first an MA, then an MPhil, in music, gaining the latter in 1986 by which time I was already in a job.

  17. I stand corrected

    ‘What did you read Tim?’

    History & Politics – although in Sussex it was Political History in English & American Studies

    Graduated with a Desmund (BA) in 1996

    I always though David Lepper was from Brighton. I know quite a few people who moved down here from Surrey in thew late 90s and have stayed since. I couldn’t imagine living elsewhere

  18. I also have a Desmond (History) though I went to Goldsmiths College which I once saw described as “Sussex University without the science and posh bits”!

    Regarding this seat, I still think the LDs won’t have any real problems holding it next year. Despite some potential for UKIP in the Newhaven and Seaford area as seen in last year’s CC elections, the LD lead in Lewes itself and Polegate should be sufficient enough to see Norman Baker re-elected with a majority of 3,000-4,000.

  19. David Lepper was born in Richmond, and in fact I used, when a young man, to collect the Labour Party subscriptions of his parents in my ward – his mother lived to a great age & I continued to collect hers for a long while. His father was a lorry driver. He also had a sister living very close to his mother but sadly she passed away when quite young

  20. It is testament to Norman Baker’s ability as a constituency MP here that in 2015 he will more than likely hold this seat with a majority still much higher than he got when first elected in 1997- That perhaps says something about how this seat has changed in other ways.

  21. ‘The LD lead in Lewes itself and Polegate should be sufficient enough to see Norman Baker re-elected with a majority of 3,000-4,000.’

    Correct – Lewes towen is monolithically Lib Dem when it comes to general ekections and they have a syrong lead in Polegate too

    But going back to Barnaby’s point about Seaford – it is increasingly Lib Dem, and I think the party carried at least four of its five wards in 2010, although quite narrowly in most of them

    The North of the seat is certainly the most Tory part, and the affluent town of Ditchling – just North of Brighton – is very Tory too as I understand it

  22. The Liberal vote here before Norman Baker was on the scene never really amounted to much-
    1945- 6, 374 (12.48%)
    1950- 6, 565 (12.62%, +0.14%)
    The Liberals did not stand between 1951 and 1959
    1964- 8, 924 (18.40%, N/A)
    1966- 9, 328 (18.14%, -0.26%)
    1970- 9, 083 (15.77%, -2.37%)
    February 1974- 16, 166 (28.13%, +12.36%)
    October 1974- 13, 741 (25.84%, -2.29%)
    1979- 12, 279 (21.10%, -4.74%)
    1983- 15, 357 (30.7%, +9.6%)
    1987- 18, 396 (32.7%, +2.0%)

  23. The boundary changes which came into effect for 1997 were very favourable to the LDs – he would not have won then on the old boundaries

  24. That’s true. Of course that made all the difference in Tim Rathbone being at risk of losing this to Norman Baker in 1997.

  25. 1992 result:

    Con 33042 (54.6%)
    LD 20867 (34.5%)
    Lab 5758 (9.5%)

    Con maj 12175 (20.1%)

    1992 notional:

    Con 26638 (51.3%)
    LD 20301 (39.1%)
    Lab 4270 (8.2%)

    Con maj 6337 (12.2%)

  26. Funny how much of a difference the boundary changes made here in 1997. It had looked a like a safe enough Conservative seat on the actual 1992 figures, but with these alterations the seat became a marginal, certainly in the conditions of the landslide that the Conservatives suffered.

  27. Swings & roundabouts. Without these boundary changes the Tories would not now hold Brighton Kemptown.

    I think I’m right in saying that the bit of Lewes now in Brighton Kemptown is not as Tory as it used to be. I doubt it would be enough for the Tories to win Lewes on the old boundaries in 2010.

  28. It still votes predominantly Conservative, though there is a substantial UKIP vote now. Labour did achieve a very narrow lead over the Tories in the 3 Peacehaven wards (winning Peacehaven E) in the 1995 local elections, and would probably have been competitive with the Tories there in the 1997 & 2001 general elections, but E Saltdean & Telscombe Cliffs are definitely more Tory than Labour. It has been known for the Liberals to win Telscombe Cliffs in the past.

  29. Yes, I think the Tories will have carried Peacheaven as a whole fairly comfortably over Labour in 2010- maybe by slightly less than two to one. I’d say Rottingdean is the Toriest part of the Kemptown seat.

  30. By which I mean the Rottingdean Coastal ward.

  31. It is, but even there the Tories are not quite as strong as they were 30 years ago. Nevertheless it is very, very safe & always has been. It now includes Roedean which is closer in towards Brighton, doesn’t amount to all that much, and is still very Tory indeed, as well as the rather hidden-away village of Ovingdean which is very nice but doesn’t have a pub!

  32. ‘I’d say Rottingdean is the Toriest part of the Kemptown seat.’

    It’s run pretty close nowadays by the considerably less pleasant town of Woodingdean – a Jehovahs Witness stronghold

    You and Barnaby are right though that Tories strongest areas overall in the Kemptown seat would be Ovingdean and Roedean

  33. Tim – do you see the Tories holding Kemptown in 2015?

  34. ‘do you see the Tories holding Kemptown in 2015?’

    It will be a tough one for them to hold, although I think they have a slightly better chance of holding Kemp Town than Hove.

    At the moment though I’d say not

    Both MPs – Kirby and Wetherly – are quite low-profile, certainly in comparison to Lucas in Pavilion, so I’m not sure either of them will experience that big an incumbancy bonus – although on the other hand, both are on the pragmatic wing of the Tory Party which will certainly help them in a place like Brighton & Hove

  35. Woodingdean does have a sizeable Labour minority, but it is perhaps the only part of the seat where there’s evidence Labour has weakened demographically in the last 20 years. However, Labour has in any case only won there twice, in 1994 & 1995.

  36. ‘but it is perhaps the only part of the seat where there’s evidence Labour has weakened demographically in the last 20 years. ‘

    Absolutely Barnaby

    It also mirrors the general trend of not particularly attractive or especially affluent places increasingly favouring the Tories – South Essex, North Kent, East Midlands, southern New Towns

  37. The leader of Lewes District Council has defected from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems. The makeup of the council is now:

    Con 19
    Lib 19
    UKIP 2
    Ind 1

  38. Level pegging. Can’t say that will be the case for the seat come next year though…

  39. The next local elections here are on the same day as the GE so that may well be to the Lib Dems advantage as people who vote for Norman Baker might also give their vote to his local colleagues. On the other hand, there could also be ticket splitting with people voting LD in the GE and Con or other parties in the locals.

  40. True. It will be interesting to see what the swing to the Tories here might be, even if they too decrease. I personally believe that Norman Baker can hold this with a majority of about 3-4,000, any higher and I think he has done very well.

  41. Hello – I have been reading this discussion with interest. I live in Lewes town and just wanted to add a bit of history and context.

    Lewes town was actually Labour voting until the late 70s/early 80s. There was large-scale industrial employment and, contrary to image, a fairly large council house stock. This was added to by the influx of lecturers and graduates into the town post the opening of Sussex University. However this also meant that a lot of ‘new left’ lecturers, and later, militants, got put forward for the Labour candidacy. The local candidates, many of whom were from old Lewes families connected to bonfire, either went independent or moved to the SDP (later Lib Dems). Voters followed them, and this explains the strength of the Lib Dem vote in estates such as Landport and Malling.

    It is true, however, that the Conservative vote in Lewes is very small – despite it being a very affluent town. Many people work in academia, media, the arts, the public sector or in the profession; It is very left-liberal, and the demographics are more similar to affluent inner suburbs of cities than with typical country towns. There are lots of would-be Labour voters, who as others have said, vote tactically.

    A lot of posters have commented on the influence of Brighton. Historically people did move to Lewes from there to have families — but historically Lewes was cheaper. These days, it is more expensive. A bigger influence is families moving from London, which is just about commutable. It attracts those looking for something different from the archetypal home counties commuter town, and this all reinforces the existing trends. There is quite a divide between “DFLs” and locals. All the families who have bought into my street in the past two years have come directly from London, often places like Stoke Newington, Crouch End or East Dulwich.

  42. Thanks for that very interesting history, Lewes Resident. There was actually a very small swing to Labour in Lewes in 1970 (contrary to the national trend) and Labour were in clear second place, so that bears out what you say about the influence of the new University, as it was at that time. However, from February 1974 onwards the Liberals were in second place and Labour have never again regained this position. I know that you were talking of Lewes town itself and I am looking at the results for the constituency, but this does show that Labour have been generally weakening here for 40 years. I wonder if there will be some unwinding of the tactical Lib Dem vote here at the next GE. Many would-be Labour supporters would have been pretty fed up in 2010 to see their votes contribute to a Tory led government. I guess that Norman Baker’s incumbency and reputation may save him from actually losing this seat, but I think he may get a nasty shock.

  43. “All the families who have bought into my street in the past two years have come directly from London, often places like Stoke Newington, Crouch End or East Dulwich.”

    Whereas in my part of Sussex, 20 miles north of Lewes, most of the incomers are from Bromley and Croydon. That perhaps explains the more conservative politics here relative to the liberal leanings of Lewes.

  44. Even some of the old pubs contrive to look trendy & a bit right-on in Lewes. I have visited frequently over the years starting with my days as a Sussex postgrad, when visiting the town made a nice occasional change from Brighton.

  45. Whereas my part of Sussex (this makes us sound like the landed gentry) 20 miles west of Lewes is generally Sussex born and bred, with only a small diaspora of Sarf Londoners (like myself). I too am a post graduate scholar of Sussex University and do lecture there occasionally. It still retains vestiges of its old radical reputation.

  46. What would you say about Eastbourne’s reputation, seeing as how it’s also a Sussex town and currently held by a non-Tory MP? Has it shifted demographically or is it still quite different to e.g. Lewes or Brighton?

  47. there’s no doubt that Eastbourne isn’t the blue-rinse OAP-dominated Tory seaside it used to be. It’s not quite Brighton let alone Hastings yet but it’s not at all like Bexhill or Worthing in atmosphere any more, which it used to be to an extent. It’s younger and a bit more deprived than it used to be. Of course, it’s still extremely weak for Labour despite the change that has taken place; whether this will still be true in 20 years or so remains to be seen.

  48. All the Sussex coast seaside towns are changing. Worthing is not what it used to be either, which may well be a good thing. Far more young families and even a touch of political volatility. The Greens are competitive in the town centre and the Labour vote – an almost unheard of thing in Worthing – increased sharply in the 2011 local elections, although that was before the UKIP rise. Eastbourne too is certainly changing as Barnaby says, but I doubt very much whether Labour will be competitive there for decades to come. The Lib Dems have a long tradition in Eastbourne too and will remain very strong in this seat, even if their vote dips a bit there next time.

  49. Coastal East Sussex in general has moved substantially against the Conservatives since 1992. Although they are still pretty strong in the inland areas (Lewes and surrounds aside), their decline in the coastal towns has got to the point where they lose overall control of the county even with Brighton & Hove excluded from the county council area. Compare that to West Sussex where they remain a lot stronger despite a more significant UKIP showing than in its eastern twin. Interesting to see how the two have diverged in the past couple of decades.

  50. “connected to bonfire”

    Interesting phrase. Can I have a translation please?

    I know there’s a local tradition of bonfires, burning of Catholic effigies, etc.

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