The Croydon election campaign is underway. The campaign for the 2014 local council elections, that is.
Though we are 20 months out from the next local elections, it is notable that the Croydon Labour party is organising so early for the campaign. Unlike previous elections, they have been employing an agent full-time all this year. Tony Newman, Croydon Labour’s leader, boasts on Twitter of weekly Saturday canvass sessions.
Labour was encouraged by the London Assembly election result in Croydon and Sutton where a five-fold increase in political campaigning activity compared to the 2008 Assembly campaign saw Labour win more votes in a local election in the borough of Croydon for the first time in history.
Croydon Labour has won control of the council previously, but they always did this with a smaller share of the popular vote than the Conservatives – it’s just that they got the votes in the right places in a first-past-the-post system, as these stats show:
- 1994 council election: Cons 42.5% Lab 38.9% – Labour win
- 1998 council election: Cons 47.5% Lab 38.2% – Labour win
- 2002 council election: Cons 45.4% Lab 37.9% – Labour win
- 2006 council election: Cons 44.7% Lab 25.6% – Conservative win
- 2010 council election: Cons 36.8% Lab 31.9% – Conservative win
- 2012 London Assembly: Cons 39.8% Lab 40.3%
As well as an historic first, it is notable that in Croydon, Labour polled more than 40 per cent of the votes in May, a significant threshold in the borough.
With demographic change apparently in their favour – Croydon-Sutton has gone from being the third to only the fifth safest Conservative seat on the London Assembly – the local Labour party even staged a manifesto meeting at its Ruskin House headquarters at the weekend, where by all accounts it was broadly agreed that they will seek to capitalise on the hundreds of millions unaccounatbly spent on the new council HQ, the Conservatives’ broken election promises on the incinerator, and the financial incompetence of the council, which as Inside Croydon first highlighted more than a year ago, has the fifth worst Council Tax collection arrears in the whole country.
But Labour also has its own problems over financial competence. The current Labour front bench at Croydon Town Hall is virtually the same as that which introduced a 27 per cent increase in Council Tax in a single year the last time they were in control. Graphs used on Croydon Conservative party literature that show “the increase is so large it goes off the edge of the page” still resonate with voters.
Also of concern for Labour is that the trend in local council elections, rather than in national opinion polls, is not so convincing. According to the latest national polls, Labour will capture 37 of Croydon’s 70 council seats, including Waddon‘s three seats and one seat in New Addington.
Actual local council election results suggest that Labour is not gaining as much ground as it should be. In the national polls, much of the ground being captured by Labour is being won from disaffected Liberal Democrats, or from swing voters who backed Nick Clegg in 2010 and seem to regret that decision now.
But in local elections, well-organised LibDems often put up stiff resistance on the ground, as has been seen in neighbouring Sutton. In Croydon in any case, there’s less LibDem vote to squeeze for Labour, where the Town Hall ballot has long been a straight fight with the Conservatives.
LibDems are so rare in Croydon politics these days, David Attenborough is believed to have put them on the endangered list: the last time a LibDem councillor was seen in Croydon Town Hall was a decade ago. Prior to 1998, the last time a Liberal was elected to Croydon Council had been 1968 – so long ago, England were still the football World Cup-holders.
Local council by-election results in the first two weeks of September suggest that Labour would find it an uncomfortably close contest in Waddon, maybe only able to capture two of the three seats contested, despite the incinerator issue.
It was in Waddon that Tory Councillors Hoar, Harris and Hilley told the electorate that they would oppose an incinerator “in or on the borders of Croydon”, only to vote in favour of the incinerator once returned to power. But Labour has performed wonders in Waddon election contests before.
Inside Croydon will continue to read the runes of local council by-election results counytrywide to give occasional predictions of what would happen in Croydon if the trends were repeated here.
There being more LibDem votes to erode in Sutton might see more movement in Sutton on current trends but LibDem performances in local elections as against national poll standings in the first fortnight of September’s by-elections suggest that the LibDems would still keep control in Sutton pretty respectably.
Predictions on council seats
- Croydon: Labour: 36 (+ 3); Conservatives: 34 (- 3); LibDems 0; UKIP 0.
- Sutton: Liberal Democrats: 34 (- 9); Conservatives: 20 (+ 9); Labour 0; UKIP 0
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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