Election votes all add up to more change across Croydon

ANDREW PELLING, a former Assembly Member, crunches the first set of numbers from Thursday’s London elections and finds some interesting trends for politics in Croydon

For a while on Friday, the Conservatives thought that they had lost out at City Hall. The count had been delayed by a power failure at Alexandra Palace, one of the counting centres. This meant that the strongly Labour seats of Enfield and Haringey and North East were later to declare than others.

By mid-afternoon on Friday, Tories on the Mayor’s floor at City Hall feared that Boris Johnson would be pipped at the post by second preference transfers to Livingstone in north-east London, where turnout had held up, unlike in Boris heartlands in south London.

Now the count slowed even more. Two boxes of ballot papers were discovered, offering the prospect of more anti-Boris votes. But the Livingstone campaign team at the London Assembly, on the floor below the Conservatives, was already resigned to losing.

Just two months short of a 50-year working career, Livingstone was looking forward to retirement. He knew that Lynton Crosby‘s negative campaigning had been effective in delivering a second term for Mayor Johnson. Ken had written his retirement speech, and he was applauded warmly as he went off to the Chamber for the result, the end of a romantic campaign for yet another Livingstone comeback.

His speech  was moving. It was the end of an elective career that went back to Lambeth Council in 1971, a point that Livingstone mentioned in his speech.

But this is not the Olympics. Elections are about winning, not the taking part.

Boris is back. But as Livingstone said in his farewell speech the composition of the London Assembly is much changed, with Labour up from eight to 12 seats out of the Assembly’s 25. To win half the seats in the Assembly is a great achievement for Labour when you bear in mind that it is elected under proportional representation.

Crucially, though, as far as Boris is concerned, the Conservatives clung on to nine seats, just enough votes in the Assembly to ensure that the Mayor will avoid having his Budgets and other key measures blocked by the more than two-thirds majority required under the Assembly rules.

It was a Labour government that established this “weak Assembly, strong Mayor” model, and they declined to change it when they the chance when legislating on the GLA Act 2007, in the last Parliament. Thus the Assembly will continue to be quite ineffective.

This is the first Assembly since 2000 without a political group to the right of the Conservatives. UKIP had a poor night.

Locally, Conservative Steve O’Connell was re-elected in Croydon and Sutton. His winning margin did come crashing down to 9,184 from 42,665 in 2008. The previous low for the Conservatives in this constituency came in 2000 when their majority was 17,807, when opinion poll standings were very similar to today.

There are some important lessons to be learned by the parties and trends to be spotted in the election results, with Liberal Democrats continuing their long decline in these London elections and Labour showing that they can match the local Croydon Conservative vote machine.

The election results also have other important implications. The £1 billion Beddington Lane incinerator scheme, which Livingstone would have called in under Mayoral planning powers and turned down, now seems a certainty to go ahead unless public pressure can change the minds of Croydon Conservatives and Sutton Liberal Democrats.

The 2012 elections come against a background in opinion polls very similar to those in the 2000 elections. This allows for some helpful analysis of trends in voting patterns locally.

The table below shows the opinion poll standings nationally at the time of the past four London Assembly elections, rounded to the nearest percentage point:

























This next table shows share of the vote at each of the last London Assembly elections for the Croydon and Sutton GLA member constituency:

































As we predicted, compared to the 2008 election, the turnout was down. This was probably due to a combination of factors, including the negative campaigning and general disillusionment with politicians, all discouraging voters from taking the short trip to the polling station on what was, in any case, a drizzling wet day that kept people at home.

We predicted 150,000 votes in the Croydon and Sutton ballot boxes. The final turnout was 153,819, down a significant 6.71 per cent on last time around. This was the third biggest fall in turnout from among the 14 different polling areas of London. Like Conservative strongholds of Bexley and Bromley and Havering and Redbridge, there was a significant fall in the Tory turnout, of more than 16,000 Conservative voters, compared to the previous election when their party was neither in government nor held the office of London Mayor.

“O’Connell’s profile is low, and getting lower”

The swings to Labour were noticeably more muted in south London compared to north of the river, where the controversial High Tory Brian Coleman and Mayor Johnson’s official statutory Deputy Mayor, Richard Barnes, were both put to the sword by Labour.

Experienced, savvy Conservative politicians in outer south London seats did well against the incoming Labour tide. James Cleverly in Bexley and Bromley actually managed a 0.04 per cent increase in his share of the vote. Former MP and government sports minister Dick Tracey saw his vote share down a modest 1.7 per cent in Merton and Wandsworth and battle toughened Tony Arbour in South West pegged his losses to just 0.98 per cent.

Steve O’Connell: We’ll Tweet again, don’t know where, don’t know when

These results all compare very favourably to the Conservative results in Croydon and Sutton, where the Tory vote was down 4.97 per cent for Steve O’Connell. It seems hard to blame this poorer performance entirely on the candidate.

His profile may be low and getting lower following his departure from Twitter, but the relatively weak performance may belie more important demographic and political trends.

The Conservatives did get their vote out, but O’Connell now represents a seat which is more marginal than Merton and Wandsworth and South West. This is very different to how the seat was in 2000 and 2004, when it was among the safest Tory seats in London. Now, it must rank as a Labour target.

This will not help O’Connell’s ambition as he attempts to portray himself as a dependably winning candidate for the Tories, capable of replacing Richard Ottaway in 2015 for the expected Carshalton and Purley parliamentary seat, which undoubtedly will be a Conservative-LibDem battle.

One persistent trend is that the Liberal Democrat vote in Croydon and Sutton has fallen in every London Assembly election since 2000.

We had predicted a further fall to 16 per cent, but the final result was even worse for the LibDems, at a desultory 14.2 per cent. Yet that was still the second best share in London for the LibDems and shows that the Liberal Democrats remain a roadblock to Labour hopes of winning the seat. Labour only emerged as the second-place challengers in the Croydon and Sutton seat in 2008, but they are now clearly leagues ahead of the Liberals, which ought to make them a dangerous challenger to the Conservatives if national opinion polls remain as they are, or get worse for the Tories by 2016.

In Croydon and Sutton, where Abigail Lock won 21,889 votes in the Assembly Member poll, the support for the LibDem Mayoral candidate, Brian Paddick, was a pitiful 8,311. Maybe Lembit Öpik would have offered more razzmatazz to engage the electorate?

The Liberal Democrats, despite an effort by Carshalton and Wallington MP Tom Brake to take his campaigning prowess into Croydon – against parliamentary protocol – for this election, frankly had a disastrous campaign. The 14.2 per cent of the vote achieved by Lock marks the fourth reduction in the LibDem vote in the seat, with the LibDems polling almost half as many votes in the constituency in 2012 as they did in 2000.

With their limited resources, this has implications for the Liberal Democrats’ ability to make inroads into the new Croydon Central and St Helier parliamentary seat.

Political anoraks will look forward to the breakdown of results by ward that will be seen next week. These may suggest that Labour are becoming a serious challenger in some seats on Sutton council and Conservatives far ahead of the Liberal Democrats in others. No doubt the LibDems though will be back with key issue campaigns in Croydon under the stronger franchise of Tom Brake as a parliamentary incumbent.

The change in votes for each party from 2008 is instructive.







-16,325 (-4.97%)




+16,922 (+13.49%)




-10,446 (-4.41%)




+1,317 (+1.55%)




+1,318  (+1.52%)



 -12,457  (-7.17%)

Again, as we predicted, the Conservative vote fell back to 60,000. Our 24,000 prediction for the Liberals looks fairly good too. The votes for the Greens and UKIP were, though, over-estimated; Winston McKenzie is to be congratulated on getting the best share of the vote for UKIP in Greater London on what was a bad night for the anti-EU party, which had hoped to get up to two seats on the Assembly but failed to get past the 5 per cent threshold required to win a place at City Hall through the list vote.

The decision not to have the UKIP party name clearly listed on the ballot papers, instead replacing it with the anonymous slogan “Fresh choice for London” seems to have been an error of judgement, rather than a mistake.

Gordon Ross: a disappointing last place for the Croydon and Sutton Greens, when Jenny Jones polled third in the Mayoral ballot

The Greens’ Jenny Jones coming third in the Mayoral vote may change their party’s prospects elsewhere in London at the expense of the LibDems, but here in south London they will be disappointed by their last place for candidate Gordon Ross.

What was most impressive was the Labour vote, more than 16,000 higher than we predicted and 17,000 up on last time in an election, even against the background of a much reduced turnout. To jump from less than 20 per cent to more than 33 per cent was a spectacular performance by Thornton Heath councillor Louisa Woodley.

The national opinion poll standings for Labour were even better in 2000, but getting more than 50,000 votes now, compared to 29,514 back then, is a sign of the changing political environment in Croydon over the last 12 years.

This result also reflects that Labour is building an electoral machine in Croydon that can get its vote out in the same way as the Conservatives. Locally, Labour opted against the same kind of aggressive campaigning that the Conservatives’ Lynton Crosby used so effectively against Livingstone. Labour did not make O’Connell’s many publicly funded jobs an election issue, as the LibDems had done so effectively against “Three Jobs Bob” Neill in neighbouring Bromley in a parliamentary by-election.

Next time, Labour may be in pole position to squeeze the Liberal Democrat vote in Sutton and overtake O’Connell if the Tories’ national opinion polls remain on the 30 per cent baseline.

Of more immediate concern for the Conservatives will be the likelihood that the Labour party has matched the Conservatives in a local election poll in the borough of Croydon for the first time ever. Whether they have the same number or more votes than the Conservatives will become apparent when more detailed results are issued by ward next week.

Labour has proved to themselves that if they prioritise and get organised, they can match the Tories for delivering the local election voter to the polling station. This has clear implications for the 2014 local elections that must be of concern to Croydon Tory campaign managers.

And one last set of figures. In the list vote (where voters were asked for their party preference for the Assembly), the poll was even closer in Croydon and Sutton: Conservatives 56,495 (36.6 per cent); Labour 49,804 (32.3 per cent), a lead of a meagre 6,691 (4.3 per cent). That might really set the worry beads rattling at the Conservatives’ Croydon HQ down at Brighton Road in Purley.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Abigail Lock, Andrew Pelling, Boris Johnson, Brian Paddick, Croydon Greens, Croydon South, Gordon Ross, Ken Livingstone, London Assembly, Louisa Woodley, Mayor of London, Richard Ottaway MP, Steve O'Connell, Sutton Council, Thornton Heath, Waste incinerator and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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