“They have not exactly embraced transparency or welcomed being held to account by the borough’s thriving blogging community.”
No, not a quote about the Conservatives who control Croydon Council and their outright hostility to this website. It is actually an explanation provided by the leading Conservative political site conservativehome.com for the spectacular by-election defeat yesterday in the previously safe Tory seat of Brunswick Park on Barnet Council.
Conservativehome is not a rogue organisation on the fringes of the Tory party. Conservative party donor and billionaire Lord Ashcroft KCMG holds a controlling stake. Its opinions matter.
It is fair to say that Conservative party morale is on the floor in north-west London after some really dreadful swings against them in the recent London elections. Although their London Assembly member Brian Coleman, now defeated, was a delight to meet, he gained a reputation for snarling vituperative correspondence with his constituents which has gravely damaged the Conservative brand in Barnet and north London generally.
What is being called the “Barnet Spring”, with shopkeepers, residents, teachers and bloggers uniting across a range of issues and campaigning together against Coleman in the London Assembly elections, explains the Conservative difficulties across the other side of Greater London.
Nevertheless, last night’s by-election result also ought to act as a warning to Croydon Conservatives who themselves have become too detached.
Croydon Council Leader Mike Fisher is trying to overcome this problem and he has recently put his reliable deputy Tim Pollard in charge of communications.
Communication needs to be sorted or else, if the Conservatives encounter this type of setback in Croydon, council seats never held by Labour could be lost as far south as Purley Oaks.
In 2010 in the Brunswick Park ward, the Conservatives had a much better share of the vote than their Croydon colleagues managed in, for example, in Croham in elections held at the same time.
2010 local election % vote share by party
Brunswick Park Croham
Conservative 48.8 40.8
Labour 27.3 20.5
LibDems 17.2 23.5
Others 6.7 17.3
Source: Greater London Authority
You can see just how far Labour has advanced – or disillusionment with the Tories has grown – in Barnet if a seat with an electoral geography like Croham has fallen.
Indeed, when you look at the result in Brunswick Park as below, you can see how a greatly squeezed Liberal-Democrat vote (and the absence of a Green candidate) has helped Labour. In Croham, there is a bigger LibDem vote to squeeze. Is the Conservative position even more vulnerable in Croham?
In fact, the Conservative vote held up well in Brunswick Park – 46.1 per cent, down from 48.8 per cent in 2010. The Brunswick Park Tories actually did better at defending their share of the vote than Conservative Steve O’Connell managed in last month’s Croydon and Sutton London Assembly election.
2012 Brunswick Park local election % vote share by party
If such a swing were to be repeated in a Croydon’s 2014 local council elections, the following ward seats (set out in order of vulnerability) would likely fall to Labour: New Addington, Ashburton, Fairfield, Croham and Shirley.
That would leave an overall result on Croydon Council of Labour 46 seats, Conservatives 24 seats. Even the council leader, Mike Fisher, might lose his seat in Shirley.
Time perhaps for Croydon Conservatives to learn some Barnet lessons and to start communicating with, rather than snarling at or insulting its electorate.
- Andrew Pelling is a former councillor, London Assembly Member and MP for Croydon who is a contributing editor to Inside Croydon.
- Inside Croydon: A news source about Croydon that is not based in Redhill. Post your comments on this article below. If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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