Chuka Umunna, Labour’s most charismatic MP, was in Croydon yesterday to serve notice on Gavin Barwell that his seat is on a hit-list of targets at the next election.
The day after Labour issued a list of 106 target seats that they aim to win at the 2015 General Election, the MP for Streatham and shadow business minister said, “Croydon Central is one of the battleground seats in the General Election. We are absolutely determined to win back the support of the people in Croydon.”
Barwell – the former aide to tax avoider Lord Cashcroft – won Croydon Central in 2010 in a three-way battle with Labour and the former Conservative, Andrew Pelling, who stood as an independent. Croydon Central is ranked 47th on the Labour list in order “win-ability” based on wing needed on 2010’s votes.
With cuts to benefits in the headlines, Umunna said that “it is totally unfair that 360,000 families in London are being hit by the benefits and tax credits cuts that are being imposed on working families when tax breaks are being given to 8,000 people in the country earning a £1 million a year”.
Umunna found good reason to be critical of Barwell, who had given his own free advice to Labour on Twitter after Tuesday’s Commons vote on benefits: “Labour just voted for benefits to increase by more than wages. Big mistake. Hard-working #Croydon families deserve better,” Barwell wrote.
Umunna felt that the approach of Barwell and his party of “a ‘divide and rule’ fantasy is completely absurd when six out of 10 benefit recipients are working”.
Government figures show that there are 17,000 working families on working tax credits in Croydon. That’s a lot of people and potential voters for Barwell to have insulted.
The 106 gains Labour is targeting would give them a 60-seat Commons majority. The respected Electoral Calculus suggests that this is a modest target when compared with current opinion polls that point to a Labour majority in Parliament of 96.
Barwell’s tenure in Croydon Central may be much safer, though, if the seat reverts to its performance in the simple Tory v Labour contest of 2005.
Croydon Central moved from being the 198th best seat in the country in 2005 for the Conservatives to being only the 262nd best seat for the Tories when measured by the relative percentage majority secured. This fall in ranking is undoubtedly due to the distortion Andrew Pelling’s intervention as an independent candidate, with his likely poaching of more Tory than Labour voters.
Croydon Central will be a tough shot for Labour against an MP returning to the electorate for the first time. First-time incumbents are typically expected to gain additional votes from helping people for five years boosted by around £500,000 of spending of public funds on staff in the MP’s offices. Barwell’s reliance on unpopular local Tory councillors to staff his office may prove to cap the advantage.
Political commentator Mike Smithson of the Political Betting website feels that there may be a bit of kidology in Labour’s list of target seats. He thinks that the very long list aims to spread the Conservatives too thinly when the Tories themselves have said they have just 80 target seats, 40 of which are Conservative-held seats which they are defending. It may well be that Croydon Central is not in that Tory “protection list”.
In his tour of Croydon, Umunna visited the successful start-up business, dotDigital, and No1 Croydon, along with the new Croydon North Labour MP, Steve Reed. The Labour politicians called on a day that the company was selected as recipient of the “Ruban d’Honneur” in the Infosys Business of the Year Awards.
Umunna was full of praise for the digital marketing company. “I have had the pleasure of visiting one of the most fantastic and inspirational businesses here in Croydon, exporting to businesses around the world but headquartered here in Croydon.”
- The full interview with Umunna can be heard on Croydon Matters on croydonradio.com at 3pm on Sunday January 20.
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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- ‘Mr Obama? I’m me’ says Chuka Umunna, Labour’s rising star (thetimes.co.uk)
- £30m libraries privatisation could be sent for judicial review (insidecroydon.com)
- Getting trollied: Croydon’s uncharitable councillors (insidecroydon.com)
- Arrogant Labour chiefs: We’ll win by 60 seats at General Election (thesun.co.uk)