The slash-and-burn Conservative-run Croydon Council could have its public spending cuts put to the vote in Waddon ward, after a High Court judge today ordered an investigation into the handling of the election on May 6.
The judge’s ruling is an embarrassing blow to Jon Rouse, Croydon’s £250,000 a year the chief executive, who in his role as the returning officer in the borough was responsible for the conduct of elections.
Today’s ruling comes after an unsuccessful Labour candidate, David Christison, petitioned the court because voters were unable to exercise their right to vote at the Barrow Road polling station. A preliminary investigation conducted by Rouse found that around 80 residents were denied their vote. Christison claims it was very many more.
Other electors complained that the ballot forms were unfair, because they lacked the Labour rose emblem next to their candidates, while the logos of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were clearly printed to indicate their parties’ candidates.
Waddon’s three seats on the Council were retained by the Conservatives in May, including their rising star Claire Hilley and Simon Hoar, one of the senior Tory Cabinet members who have awarded themselves a massive hike in their allowances since being re-elected.
But now an election commissioner will sit in Croydon for five days to investigate the allegations. If they find that the May election was not run properly, Waddon will have to stage its third election within 18 months.
The big story on election night across the country was of the long queues at many polling stations, with many voters unable to vote. Waddon, though, is the only ward or constituency where the management of the polling stations has been formally challenged.
In a letter sent by Christison’s solicitors to Waddon households last month, it was alleged that:
“1, that the organisation of the voting was chaotic;
“2, that there were insufficient staff at polling stations;
“3, that this disorganisation and lack of proper resourcing and staff led to long queues forming at the relevant polling stations throughout the evening, causing major delays and hardship to numerous voters, some of whom were elderly or infirm; and
“4, that these major delays resulted in possibly hundreds of people being denied their right to vote, including people being turned away or who left in frustration before polls closed.”
Waddon is noted as a “marginal” ward. A by-election so soon after the Con-Dem Government took charge in Westminster, and with Croydon’s Conservatives applying a policy of redundancies and cuts with relish, it is sure to be seen as a popularity test.
Croydon Council is delicately balanced after the 2010 election, with the Conservatives having 37 councillors and Labour 33.