The Wikipedia entry for the West Sussex constituency of Horsham describes it as the “longest held Conservative seat”, because it has remained loyal and elected none but Tory MPs since 1880. Now, I am in general considerably impressed with the accuracy of the online encyclopaedia as well as its vast scope, but on this occasion I think this is questionable. Horsham may be the name of the seat now, and it was a single-member parliamentary borough in 1880, but in between there have been very significant boundary changes, and indeed name variations. From 1918 to 1945 there was a constituency called Horsham and Worthing, and then between 1974 and 1983 Horsham and Crawley. The reason for all this discontinuity is the rapid and long-standing population growth in these parts of Sussex – which indeed continues apace. By the time of the 2019 general election, Horsham’s electorate had reached 86,730 (according to The Times) and there will need to be further boundary changes in the next review.
The presence of the New Town of Crawley before it was awarded its own constituency from 1983 had provided a substantial Labour vote in ‘Horsham’, for example 26,000 in 1966 and 27,000 in 1970 (note the rise despite the adverse change in government) yet Labour never reduced the Conservative majority to less than 6,041 (1966, Horsham) or even 3,699 in Horsham & Crawley in October 1974. This is partly a testament to Crawley’s status as far from an overwhelming Labour stronghold (they have only held the Crawley seat in the three Blair elections of 1997-2005) but also to the ingrained Conservatism of the rest of Horsham. Apart from the anomalous Crawley, West Sussex is one of the most Tory of all the English counties: prosperous, highly owner occupied, with historically low levels of unemployment, very few single parent families and a small percentage of ethnic minorities – and going further back, heavily inclined to the Church of England rather than Nonconformist Protestantism, which accounts for the Liberal weakness before the First World War. This is a desirable place to live, as the rise in population indicates.
The town of Horsham itself, with its immediate suburbs, accounts for just over half of the electorate of the current Horsham seat, with a population of around 55,000 in 2018. A study of the map shows that the (much modernized) town centre is surrounded by largely post second world war suburban housing estates, such as Holbrook in the north west (increased from one ward to two in the most recent local government boundary changes in this area), and Roffey with its strong cricket club in the north east. To the west is Broadbridge Heath, its large industrial and retail estates conveniently situated for the A24 trunk road which connects to the motorway system via the A264 and the M23. What is more, there are still large housing developments in progress now, such as the one known as Faygate – though not actually in that village, but abutting the Crawley neighbourhood of Bewbush; all the same it is situated in the Horsham district and constituency ward of Colgate & Rusper. Also included is the small, but also growing (up 25% 2001-11), town of Billingshurst. Horsham is predominantly an urban/suburban seat in terms of its electorate.
As well as the ever-expanding built up areas, this constituency contains a selection of attractive and privileged features of the southern English countryside. There is the relatively unknown but ancient and attractive St Leonard’s Forest, east and south east of Horsham. There are at least three prominent private schools: Christ’s Hospital, which does have a connection with providing quality education for some of more deprived background, Worth (Catholic and linked to Worth Abbey) and Ardingly, alma mater of Private Eye’s long-serving editor Iain Hislop. The latter two are actually in the section of Mid Sussex district included in the Horsham seat. (Conversely parts of Horsham district are currently in the Arundel & South Downs seat.)
There are pockets that are not strongly Conservative. In the December 2019 general election the Liberal Democrats nearly doubled their share from 11% to 23%, and in May that year in the local elections they had won Broadbridge Heath, Denne in central Horsham and (St Leonard’s) Forest ward. The Green candidate topped the poll in Bramber, Lower Beeding & Woodmancote ward, as did Independents in Henfield and a couple of the Mid Sussex council wards. But the Conservatives did not come close to suffering the massive losses that they did in several Surrey councils that month. In December’s general election campaign posters for Jeremy Quin were far more common than for any other candidate (not that there were many signs of a vigorous contest) and he duly recorded his third consecutive majority of over 21,000 – falling slightly each time, but at a rate which if extrapolated would threaten the Conservative hold in about twenty elections’ time. The national headquarters of the RSPCA are situated here at Southwater, and a wag might suggest that a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Opposition Parties might also be a suitable addition to the Horsham parliamentary constituency.
General election 2019: Horsham
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Jeremy Quin 35,900 56.8 Decrease 2.7 Liberal Democrats Louise Potter 14,773 23.4 Increase 11.1 Labour Michael Jones 9,424 14.9 Decrease 6.8 Green Catherine Ross 2,668 4.2 Increase 1.2 Peace Jim Duggan 477 0.8 Increase 0.4