As announcements come thick and fast from Theresa May’s Cabinet, the people of Hastings in East Sussex will be very interested in one appointment in particular. Amber Rudd, MP for the Hastings and Rye constituency since 2010, has been announced as our new Home Secretary.
Hastings has for a long time struggled with the same fate that has afflicted many of Britain’s seaside towns: deprivation. In 2010, the year Rudd was elected to the seat, it was ranked the 20th most deprived town in the country, according to the Indices of Deprivation. The area in recent history has struggled with high unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, and homelessness. Clearly, residents need an MP who will vouch for them, push for investment and job creation, and support drug rehabilitation and treatment.
Instead, they got a woman who described her reasoning for standing for selection in the constituency as thus:
I wanted to be within two hours of London and I could see we were going to win it.
Rudd’s upbringing is a world away from the lives of those in Hastings. The Financial Times described her as a “born-to-rule Tory”, having grown up between Kensington and a mansion in Wiltshire with a stock-broker father and an upper-class mother. The initiatives she has piloted or championed in the constituency are representative of that. For example, a £4m art gallery (the Jerwood Gallery) on the seafront; the £14.2m regeneration of the burnt-down pier; and the Bexhill-Hastings bypass, which cost over £100m and several million more than expected.
These developments all hold value, of course, especially to a town with the potential to attract tourist revenue. Good infrastructure is vital, and Hastings certainly needs regeneration. Jobs will have been created as a result. Ultimately, though, these projects do not even touch the iceberg of the problems underlying this town.
Rudd called these projects Hastings’ “cultural renaissance”, and in 2013 hoped it would be these projects that won her votes in the 2015 general election. She retained the seat in the end, so perhaps they did.
The rise of UKIP
Unfortunately, UKIP’s gains in the area suggest something else. In the 2010 GE, the far-right party attracted 3% of the vote in the Hastings and Rye area. Fast-forward to 2015, and that figure was up to 13%. Their candidate, Andrew Michael, was described by a Ukip spokesman as:
keen to fight for the interests of the people of Hastings and Rye in Parliament, especially in securing regeneration funding for the constituency.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that this kind of sentiment resonated with a population whose regeneration needs go far beyond cultural artifacts.
You get people who are on benefits, who prefer to be on benefits by the seaside. They’re not moving down here to get a job, they’re moving down here to have easier access to friends and drugs and drink.
This kind of contempt towards her constituents, some of whom will be among the most vulnerable, was described at the time as an example to MPs on “what not to say in interviews”. If Rudd wanted people to think she cared about the people of Hastings, this was not the way to do it.
But the proof is surely in the statistics on deprivation. Sure enough, the Indices of Deprivation ranked Hastings as 13th most deprived in the country in 2015 – a 7-point jump from 2010. Unemployment had decreased between 2014 and 2015 – but it remains the highest in East Sussex.
Hastings is not a success story aside from superficial regeneration, costing millions of pounds. The problems within the town remain the same. When considering Rudd’s voting record, and the policies enacted by her party, this is no great surprise. The FT described the area as “the 11th biggest loser in the country among local areas” based on what benefit changes would take out of the local economy. It was forecast to lose £690 a year for every working age adult. That’s quite a pinch.
Rudd has shown no particular interest in changing that. Her voting record is awash with opposition to raising welfare benefits and guaranteeing jobs for unemployed young people, and support for the bedroom tax and legislation to reduce benefits.
Introducing our new Home Secretary
When it comes to her voting record on home affairs, she’s no less restrained.
Votes against a stricter asylum system, in support of stronger enforcement of immigration rules, and in favour of military intervention abroad put her in good stead for stepping into Theresa May’s shoes. Unfortunately, that’s bad news for everyone else – especially migrants.
If her impact on her constituency of Hastings & Rye is anything to go by, Rudd’s control of the Home Office might just be disastrous.
Read all our coverage of the new PM and her Cabinet here.
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