HASTINGS is crucial to win back from Tory control if Labour is to win the next General Election, the leader of the Opposition has said.
Ed Miliband was confident and upbeat that the town will be wrestled from Conservative MP Amber Rudd, praising the strong support for his party in 1066 Country.
The Labour leader visited Hastings last Thursday (July 26) as part of his Real Change tour and met with local councillors, community groups and students at Sussex Coast College in Station Plaza.
Mr Miliband said: “Hastings is a very important seat to win and we have a dynamic, young parliamentary candidate in Sarah Owen.
“The local council is incredibly active, as is the Labour support here. The council is telling Hastings people that they can trust Labour again. People here clearly are concerned about the economic situation.”
The leader of the Opposition addressed a crowd of supporters in the college atrium and answered questions from the audience.
He said: “People think that this Coalition Government is not offering real change, and what is happening is change for the worse, not for the better.
“We are in the deepest recession for 50 years. People here in Hastings and elsewhere are struggling to make ends meet and find work.
“The best way you can make a change in policy is to have a party rooted in the ground locally. We were a great Government and one example of this is the fantastic multi-million pound building at Sussex Coast College.”
But Mr Miliband admitted one failing of the previous Government had been not listening enough to people in grass roots politics and the local community.
The Labour leader also said local government was suffering and seen as a ‘soft touch’ and therefore was seeing cuts in its funding from Whitehall.
Hastings Borough Council is to see its funding from Government slashed by up to 50 per cent over the next few years.
Mr Miliband said: “We are far too centralised as a country and too much power rests in Whitehall. More power should be devolved to local authorities.”
Cllr Mike Turner, representing Baird ward, said there were many residents in his ward that struggled to pay high utility bills, such as gas and electricity, and that, as a consequence, fuel poverty was getting ‘worse and worse’ in Hastings.
He called for the renationalisation of all utility firms.
Mr Miliband said everybody would be ‘rightly appalled’ by bosses of utility companies getting huge bonuses with customers facing higher bills.
But he added: “I can’t honestly say that the Labour party’s priority is the renationalisation of gas and electricity. We need to change the way these companies are regulated though and start guaranteeing the lowest tariff for customers.”
Following Mr Miliband’s visit, Hastings MP Amber Rudd said his comment about being able to win Hastings back from the Tories was ‘oddly complacent remark for someone with no policies and no ideas’.
She said: “Hastings Labour party seem to think that posing next to a Labour big wig is a local strategy. It’s not. I wish they would follow my lead and focus on delivering jobs and investment for Hastings. That is the way for economic growth and I am determined to deliver it here.”