CROYDON COMMENTARY: If UKIP can gain Godstone in neighbouring Surrey, then what damage might they do to the Tories in Coulsdon or Purley, especially when 2014’s Town Hall elections are held along with European ballots? ANDREW PELLING has been crunching the numbers
This week’s local elections outside London saw national media coverage concentrate on UKIP, Nigel Farage and the social media postings of some of his candidates.
UKIP polled well yesterday but even then only made limited actual seat gains. If repeated in Croydon’s Town Hall elections next year, it could mean the first UKIP councillor being elected in our borough.
Today’s results have shown that UKIP has the ability to draw voters unhappy with the government, and those disenchanted with “real” politicians. Voters who in the past might swing from one major party to the other have this time voted UKIP.
UKIP is poison for Tory fortunes in Croydon, especially with next year’s elections coinciding with the European elections. However the diversion of voters to UKIP, rather than Labour, might yet derail the current Croydon opposition party’s hopes of taking control of the Town Hall next year.
UKIP in Greater London is not the force that it can be out in the shires and the counties. The modest 5.7 per cent share of the vote for UKIP in last autumn’s Croydon North by-election is a testament to that, as well as to the eccentricities of their candidate Winston McKenzie.
UKIP is also struggling to find the 70 candidates needed to fight the ridiculously high number of seats there are on Croydon Council. That recruitment problem may, though, be solved by the momentum for UKIP that comes from these 2013 local elections. They seem likely to aim to field just a single candidate in each ward.
UKIP may be gaining 25 per cent of the vote where they are running but they have such shallow local roots as a party that they cannot target their resources to win specific seats. It would be quite possible for UKIP to secure 25 per cent of the vote in Croydon next year but still win no seats unless they “target”. The Liberals and the Alliance polled around 23 per cent in Croydon local elections the 1980s and did not win any seats then.
Nevertheless Croydon Conservative councillors in Tory seats in the deep south of the borough, such as Selsdon and Ballards, Sanderstead and Coulsdon East will look askance at the result across the border in Warlingham, where the sitting Conservative Surrey County Council leader was hard-pressed by UKIP on 31.5 per cent. If UKIP can gain Godstone, then shouldn’t they give Purley or the Coulsdon seats a serious try?
Labour can feel that UKIP are not much of a challenge in their north Croydon seats after that Croydon North by-election result. The Conservatives risk being distracted by UKIP when the real battle for them is holding off Labour in Waddon and New Addington wards. Take those wards and hold marginal Addiscombe, and Labour will win the Council by 37 seats to 33.
A good guide as to whether Labour can beat the Conservatives in Croydon comes from Crawley, a parliamentary seat that often polls similarly to Croydon Central.
Many wards there offer up many seats that are Labour/Tory marginals, more typical of the Croydon contest than other Surrey and Sussex areas.
Excluding two very strong Tory seats in Crawley, it’s interesting to look at how the other seven seats have gone this week. In some cases the UKIP vote has really hurt the Conservatives.
In Broadfield, where it was just Labour v Tory last time, there’s been a 24.5 per cent swing from Conservative to Labour – with UKIP almost pipping the Conservatives to second place. In other words, the Tory vote was split in half.
In another seat, Langley Green and West Green, a seat Labour held by 8 per cent in the 2009 meltdown, the swing was 19.9 per cent to Labour from Conservatives. Here, UKIP did overtake the Tories.
These types of swings to Labour in Croydon next year would see wards like Ashburton and Fairfield, which have never been anything but true blue Tory, be at real risk of turning red.
Two other Crawley wards – Bewbush and Ifield West (Lab Hold) and Gossops Green and Ifield East (Lab Gain) had swings just over 12 per cent that would suggest Labour can win in Croydon.
However three other Crawley wards which gave Labour two gains in close contests saw 8 per cent (Northgate and Three Bridges), 7.1 per cent (Southgate and Crawley Central) and 4.3 per cent (Tilgate and Furnace Green) swings that are very modest in the context of just how awful the 2009 results were for Labour. These results point to UKIP slowing down the rate of Labour advance in closely fought seats (such as Waddon ward). It shows that the Conservatives can still hope to hold on to Croydon Council if they can get themselves organised, and Labour don’t.
If Labour, the Conservatives and UKIP are all at the top of their game in 2014 in Croydon, the result on today’s county votes, some of which are still being counted, would likely be:
UKIP’s gain would be in Coulsdon East, which Farage’s local supporters have said they will target, and with Waddon being so close that the three seats there could be split 2-1 to Labour. So there is still much to play for in the next year for the parties locally.
The slightly blunted performance for Labour nationally may be sufficiently re-assuring this afternoon to prompt Gavin Barwell finally to settle on running in Croydon Central and leave the way clear for someone else run in the safer Croydon South. After all, Croydon lacks an Old Etonian and Bullingdon Club member from its political cast list.
Lib-Dem postscript: The Liberal Democrat vote will be pitiful in Croydon in 2014, just as it was with their Croydon North by-election performance. In Sutton in 2014 though, the Liberal Democrats will hope to match the way in which hard-working LibDem incumbents in seats like Caterham Hill and Epsom West have prospered.
- Andrew Pelling was a Croydon councillor from 1982 to 2006, standing down from the Town Hall after he had been elected as MP for Croydon Central
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