The resounding 292 to 334 defeat of the Conservative-led Government in the House of Commons tonight, with the LibDems breaking their coalition to vote with Labour and others against proposed boundary changes to parliamentary seats, will have a significant impact upon Croydon and its MPs.
Gavin Barwell MP, who had stated that he would abandon his Croydon Central electors and would try to move if the boundary changes had gone through, will now be fighting the seat he won in 2010, and he ought to do so with a good deal of confidence.
Barwell tonight rejected suggestions that the boundary changes were the Conservatives “gerrymandering” – attempting to mould parliamentary constituencies to ensure the best possible outcome in their favour, often at the expense of their supposed coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats – and he stated on Twitter: “Labour & Lib Dems combine to keep current unfair boundaries. Sad day for democracy (I say that despite fact my seat would have got worse)”.
Labour has already listed Croydon Central on the targets it needs to capture in order to form a government at the next general election, due in 2015, although no candidate has yet been selected to contest the seat.
The existing ultra-safe Tory seat of Croydon South, with its sailing expert MP Lord Bletchingley retiring at the next general election and Barwell now firmly re-attached to Croydon Central, is thrown open to competition, with a politician outside Croydon to secure the Conservative nomination. It seems likely that the seat will be much sought after by candidates well above the calibre of the local Conservative gene pool.
If the Tories’ Croydon South candidate selection is delayed at all, this will be taken as an indication that the seat is being held back to see whether London Mayor Boris Johnson sees his return to national politics through a Croydon prism.
Tonight’s vote means that the redistribution of parliamentary boundaries is delayed until 2018, which may prompt Johnson to look for a seat in the less politically treacherous Home Counties, rather than risk Tory Croydon South being merged with the strongly Liberal Democrat Carshalton and Wallington.
Of course, any Labour government may further delay the boundary changes, though Croydon’s very large seats – as measured by the number of voters – are making them close to being untenable in the form of just three seats in one borough of 363,000 residents (according to the 2011 census).
In Croydon Central, Barwell does not now have to face the prospect of the inclusion of the strongly Labour-inclined Selhurst ward as replacement for the fairly Conservative inclined Fairfield ward.
Barwell will defend a seat that in 2005 was captured by the Conservatives in almost the same shape, when nationally they could not even reach 200 seats against a still-strong Tony Blair.
The seat is only slightly changed since 2005, losing just one high-turnout, strong Tory polling district, one low-turnout usually strong Labour polling district and parts of two Labour-leaning polling districts.
As a new MP, Barwell should also benefit from an incumbency effect that he has not enjoyed before: he has had £100,000 a year of public money to pay for his parliamentary and constituency staff – including a couple of Croydon Tory councillors. That is typically worth about 1,000 votes on the majority.
Only a national Tory meltdown or a spectacularly strong campaign from Labour, whose constituency party is notably weak, will see Barwell ousted.
Tonight’s vote also means that Carshalton and Wallington’s LibDem MP, Tom Brake, will not now have to export his campaign machine into Croydon for the 2015 election.
“Carshalton and Wallington is safe! Plan to cut the constituency in half and merge with part of Croydon has been defeated,” was how Brake, the deputy leader of the House, categorised today’s vote outcome on Twitter.
It is notable that the Conservatives have not included the seat among their targets for 2015, unlike the more prosperous neighbouring LibDem-held seat of Sutton and Cheam. The rise of the Labour vote and the very poor showing of the Conservative vote in Sutton local council by-elections suggests the nature of the contest is in any case changing in the Sutton parliamentary seats.
The lack of a boundary change will leave safe Labour seat Croydon North with a massive constituency of 93,063 voters, as per the recent by-election.
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