VOTE 2014: Labour needs to win both New Addington seats if they are to have any chance of winning control of the Town Hall, but they have been handicapped by internal wrangles and Tory accusations of being “outsiders”
Labour’s determination to wrest back control of a Tory-held council seat in New Addington, crucial to their hopes of regaining overall control of Croydon Council for the first time since 2006, is evident in this morning’s visit of their party leader Ed Miliband to launch Labour’s local election campaign in London in the key marginal ward.
In 2010, and following a dozen years of earnest Conservative activity in New Addington, Labour’s moribund party organisation conceded the seat to Tory resident Tony Pearson when the local council elections coincided with the General Election. Labour’s loss of appeal to white, working-class voters across the country opened the door for a significant Conservative gain.
This was only the second time that Labour had lost out in a New Addington local election. In 1968, Labour’s London vote dipped to only 28.3 per cent in a disastrous set of local elections which followed Harold Wilson’s “the pound in your pocket” currency devaluation. The Conservatives that year took 28 of London’s 32 boroughs.
Those 1968 council elections also saw Labour concede two of the three seats then voted for in New Addington, even worse than 2010.
Labour’s working hard to ensure that there is no repeat, with a spirited campaign this time around headed by Oliver Lewis.
But the Labour campaign has faced some challenges. In 2010, alongside Pearson, New Addington – one of two wards in the borough which returns only two councillors – also elected Labour’s George Ayres. But Ayres decided some time ago to retire from local politics in Croydon and not seek re-election. Councillor Ayres had long been a critic of what he sees as the very long-established and stale leadership of the Croydon Labour councillors.
Selected alongside Lewis to contest New Addington as Labour’s other candidate is Louisa Woodley, who until May 22 is an elected councillor for Thornton Heath. Woodley was obliged to enter a game of musical chairs to secure a shot at re-election to the Town Hall after she was dropped from her ward team, replaced by Karen Jewitt who, in her turn, had been deselected from Woodside ward.
Woodley ran Steve O’Connell close in the 2012 London Assembly election in Croydon and Sutton, but her deselection in Thornton Heath found her obliged to look for selection in the ward which offered the only realistic slot left for a return to Katharine Street, something which unsettled other party members who had assumed that they would be selected as candidates in New Addington with ease, and who sought to have the selections overturned.
The Conservatives were quick to exploit Woodley’s itinerant political journey, including the accusation that she was “not from around here”, a Royston Vasey-style accusation heavy with racist undertones, especially given Woodley’s Caribbean heritage.
Racism remains a raw issue in New Addington, one of only two wards in Croydon with two BNP candidates (the other is the neighbouring two-seat ward of Fieldway), and something which Green Party candidate and local resident Jim Clugston feels so strongly about that he has had his nomenclature on the ballot forms changed to “Green Party – Say No To Racism”.
Both the Tory candidates, Pearson and Lara Fish, are New Addington residents, unlike UKIP’s, and one of the BNP candidates. The Conservatives are keen to identify themselves very closely with local bodies like the New Addington Pathfinders. With a strong sense of their own local identity, and without a manifesto to offer to voters, the Tories emphasise their local ties and seek to dismiss outsiders. Fish says that she resents those from off the estate offering their views. “I’ve stopped listening when being lectured from afar by those who think they know better than us,” she has said.
The BNP also try to appeal to local resentment of outsiders but the collapse of the their party’s national fortunes seem likely to blunt any challenge to match previous strong showings in New Addington. That the BNP nationally is a much weakened party is reflected in three of the five BNP Croydon council candidates being among the eight from their party on the list as candidates in London for the European Parliament elections also being held on May 22.
UKIP could do much damage to the Tory vote in New Addington, although their candidates brought in from Sanderstead and Purley, Clive Christensen and Chris Johnson, seem unlikely to be strong enough to secure a first-place slot and a seat at the Town Hall.
It is also a ward where allegiances to Crystal Palace football club could yet prove to be a factor. Pearson’s controversial conduct when a senior steward at Selhurst Park is still remembered by many of the club’s stalwart supporters and his part in the council’s licensing committee’s threat to close down the Portmanor, a pub popular with fans, has created widespread resentment among many season ticket-holders who may choose to vote against him.
Labour will lose some votes to the Greens who field Clugston, well-known as a campaigner for Friends of the Earth and CND, as well as New Addington resident Martin Cousins. With the Liberal Democrats feeling it is not worthwhile to bother New Addington voters by fielding candidates there, in their absence the Greens may pick up the smattering of LibDem votes. The 6 per cent share of the vote secured in New Addington ward by the Greens in 2010 was in line with other results in Croydon.
Croydon is the only outer London borough where the Greens have candidates in all wards, and they may yet hold back any Labour gains in Croydon as a whole.
As well as being antagonistic towards Labour, Pearson has spent the past four years annoying some of his own Tory colleague councillors at the Town Hall. His calibre, or lack of it, as a local politician was demonstrated when his own party sent him on a training course but decided he was not up to the task of being a local party agent. He may yet prove to be not good enough to be re-elected by the people of New Addington.
Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:
- CROHAM: Scouring campaign for something which might inspire
- These are the councillors who voted to build on a public park
- Questions mount over political influence at council
- Telegraph poll suggests UKIP poised to win Town Hall seats
- What Barwell fails to tell you and the myths of Council Tax
- Council allowances and local politicians’ secret consensus
- The list of candidates for the May 22 local elections
Coming to Croydon
- Crystal Palace Chamber of Commerce Question Time, May 7
- David Lean Cinema: Wadjda, May 8
- Coulsdon Euro election hustings, May 8
- David Lean Cinema: Blue Velvet, May 10
- South Norwood local election hustings, May 12
- Thornton Heath local election hustings, May 14
- Norwood Society Talk: West Norwood – a place of change, May 15
- David Lean Cinema: The Invisible Woman, May 15
- Broad Green local election hustings, May 15
- Coulsdon West local election hustings, May 16
- Croydon RFC charity memorial day, May 17
- Coulsdon East local election hustings, May 19 (confirmed)
- St Giles’ primary school open morning, May 21
- David Lean Cinema: The Rocket, May 22
- David Lean Cinema: Dallas Buyers Club, May 29
- Croydon Tech City “summit”, June 6
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, June 15
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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