As former MP ANDREW PELLING observes, the revised proposals for the parliamentary constituencies in Croydon and Sutton suggest that in this part of south London, at least, the LibDems have driven a hard bargain
The Boundary Commission’s latest proposals have dropped the idea of a new Croydon Central and St Helier seat, made up from wards from Croydon and Sutton. In so doing, it has created something of a tricky problem for one of Croydon’s sitting MPs.
Pressure from the ConDem coalition’s junior partners has persuaded the Boundary Commission for England to abandon the peculiar bolting together of the area around Sanderstead Station, homes next to Mitcham Common, Croydon town centre and St Helier, which would have created a three-way marginal Croydon Central and St Helier, possibly at the expense of one of Sutton’s Liberal Democrat MPs, Tom Brake.
Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minster, made it clear that the Liberal Democrats would not support boundary changes that would give a 20-seat leg up to the Conservatives in a 2015 General Election. Clegg yesterday dismissed the idea that the LibDems might be bought off by state funding for his party, joking that the Tory co-chairman Grant Shapps, aka internet marketing guru “Michael Green”, would not tempt him with that “get-rich-quick scheme”.
Clegg has broken promises before, so his Conservative government partners have kept the boundary change process on track just in case minds can be changed by the time parliament votes on these revised proposals in 12 months’ time.
There are still many convoluted seat boundaries, as the Commission’s instruction from government was to put voter equality ahead of respect for community boundaries.
For Croydon, there is a proposed land bridge from Carshalton through Clockhouse in Sutton to Coulsdon and Old Coulsdon to form a Carshalton and Coulsdon seat.
The Commissioners admit that the Sutton council ward of Beddington South will have to be a makeweight traded across the borough boundary in return for the two larger Coulsdon council seats and placed into much re-arranged Croydon South seat. Beddington South is a split ward politically with two Liberal Democrat and one Conservative councillor.
The proposed Carshalton and Coulsdon seat which runs up to St Helier gives Tom Brake a better chance of keeping his seat in what would now be a LibDem-Tory contest with the Conservatives just the favourites. Longer term the new boundaries, if implemented, will pose problems for Croydon Tories as there is a strong Liberal tradition in Old Coulsdon, where a Liberal Democrat councillor held one of three seats in Couldson East ward for eight years from 1998. Liberal Democrats will be motivated to revive their fortunes in Coulsdon.
Croydon South gains Fairfield ward from Croydon Central, in addition to Beddington South that includes Roundshaw and prosperous housing behind Foxley Lane, Purley. This will undoubtedly be a Conservative parliamentary seat.
Croydon Central’s sitting MP Gavin Barwell, having declared himself for the originally suggested Croydon East seat, now finds himself facing a tougher task if the changes go through in what is effectively just a re-named Croydon Central seat, but shorn of Fairfield (Conservative) ward and with Labour ward Selhurst added.
Relying on 2010 local council election results (to avoid the effect of my independent candidacy in the General Election), Barwell would have held this seat in 2010 with a majority of around 1,050. Clearly, this new proposal is a lot less attractive to the Conservatives than the previous offering from the Commissioners that included true blue Selsdon and Ballards ward in the earlier version of Croydon East which Barwell eagerly jumped at.
The likely result in 2010 in the altered Croydon East seat would have been Conservative 38.5 per cent, Labour 36.4 per cent, Liberal Democrats 18.2 per cent, others 6.9 per cent.
Back in 2009, following the MPs’ expenses scandal in which he was heavily implicated, Croydon South’s Richard Ottaway solemnly promised that if re-selected by his constituency party for the 2010 election, he would retire after one more term. But according to Barwell, Ottaway may have changed his mind about standing down. If Ottaway is persuaded to go – Lord Bletchingley has such a fine ring to it – Barwell might consider going for the much safer Croydon South seat if the boundary changes are voted through.
Unless, that is, Barwell’s former employer, Lord Cashcroft, decides that this will be the seat to launch Boris Johnson’s campaign for the leadership of the Conservative party, which remains a live possibility (with Cashcroft, the powerful party paymaster disenchanted with David Cameron, it has not gone unnoticed that Barwell attended the Tory conference to as Boris’s warm-up act, yet was back in Croydon by the time that his party leader was making his speech the following day).
Croydon North, which is to be subject to a by-election next month following the death of Malcolm Wicks, is reduced in size but remains a safe Labour seat despite losing Selhurst ward.
Paul Burstow, Sutton and Cheam’s Liberal Democrat MP, like Brake, gets a boost from the alterations to the proposed boundary changes as the two makeweight wards of Old Malden and St James from Kingston added to his seat have much better Liberal Democrat support than the two lower Morden council wards seats that had originally been suggested to make up the electoral numbers.
Elsewhere in south London, prominent LibDem MPs will not be encouraged to vote for the proposed changes. Simon Hughes sees his new Bermondsey and South Bank seat lose LibDem areas Rotherhithe, South Bermondsey and Surrey Docks and adds strong Labour areas Faraday and Camberwell Green.
Vince Cable sees three Twickenham wards leave his seat while three wards in Hounslow with very weak Liberal Democrat activity, join his seat; not nice.
For Labour, Sadiq Khan sees his Tooting seat dreadfully compromised by gaining yuppified Balham and Northcote wards.
The proposals in detail
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