Threat of UKIP sees Croydon’s Tories press the panic button

VOTE 2014: The Conservatives, who have run Croydon Council since 2006, have pressed the panic button over the UKIP threat to their control of the Town Hall.

Panic buttonThe local Tories sent out their distress signal in leaflets distributed across the borough and in a personal letter sent by the leader of the council, florid-faced Mike Fisher, in which they admit that if their traditional supporters vote for UKIP in the local elections on May 22, they will lose control of the Town Hall.

That’s the view already expressed by the ConservativeHome website, and it is backed up by an opinion poll conducted last week for the Evening Standard, which showed that the Tories across London are down to an all-time low of 26 per cent.

In Croydon’s key marginal seat of Waddon, in a letter sent mainly to people known to have voted Tory in the past, Fisher warns against supporting the three UKIP candidates standing in the ward. “If you give any of your votes to them in Waddon, all you’re doing is splitting the Conservative vote making it more likely that Labour will win all three seats,” says the desperate-sounding Tory leader.

Fisher’s letter might be a little confusing to some recipients, however. Waddon is in the Croydon South parliamentary constituency, where the rarely sighted “Sir” Tricky Dicky Ottaway is supposed to be the MP. The letter’s masthead declares that it is from “Mike Fisher, Leader of Croydon Council”, with a picture of the florid-faced one at the top.

Are Croydon's Tories undergoing some sort of identity crisis? The masthead picture looks more like Mike Fisher than Gavin Barwell

Are Croydon’s Tories undergoing some sort of identity crisis? Their Waddon letter’s masthead picture looks more like Mike Fisher than Gavin Barwell

Yet immediately beneath Fisher’s smug-looking mug-shot is the name of Gavin Barwell, the MP for a different parliamentary constituency…

Maybe Fisher and his campaign team really are losing their grip?

Or maybe it is a deliberate ruse by the Tories to avoid using the name of an MP still notorious for being caught in the Westminster expenses scandal?

Elsewhere, in leaflets distributed borough-wide, the latest Tory literature is far from subtle. Using UKIP’s lurid purple and gold colours, and very shouty capital letters, the Conservatives say: “Remember – a vote for any other party is a vote for a Labour council”.

Fisher’s Tories in Croydon have opted to campaign without a manifesto to put forward any policies proposed for the borough for the next four years, and increasingly they appear to be relying on negative campaigning.

They trot out some tired old artwork of a two-horse race, showing a photo-finish between a red and a blue horse. “Only the Conservatives can beat Labour in the council elections,” they say, without offering any positive reasons to vote Conservative.

Clearly, the staging of European elections on the same polling day in two weeks’ time, when the chance to vote UKIP is expected to motivate many to turn out, is causing Conservatives in Croydon considerable anxiety. “If you vote UKIP in the localelection, you won’t be giving the EU a bloody nose, you’ll be giving one to yourself!” they state. “You won’t get a UKIP or a Conservative council – you’ll get a Labour one.”

Peter Staveley, the local UKIP chairman, has his own response to the Tories’ panicked message: “Vote UKIP: Get UKIP”, using his own version of the two-horse race on his election literature in Addiscombe, presenting a bar chart stating “UKIP beat Labour here”, referring to a gain from Labour in Sevenoaks in 2013.

There is emerging some independent statistical evidence to suggest that Croydon Tories’ panic is well-founded. A Survation poll conducted for the Evening Boris last week has not yet been published by London’s evening paper. That might be because it has delivered up such bad numbers for the Tories in London.

The Conservatives are down to just 26 per cent in a poll of how Londoners intend to vote in the local council elections.

The lowest actual share of the vote ever secured by the Conservatives in London borough elections was 31.3 per cent in the 1994 local poll, which happened after the financial crisis when George Soros had forced the pound from its link with the Deutsche Mark.

The latest Survation poll puts Labour on 42 per cent, just above the kind of share of the vote secured in London in 1994 and 1998, years when Labour won and then held on to power in Croydon.

The same opinion poll has UKIP on 16 per cent.

Just as when the SDP-Liberal Alliance put paid to the left’s chances of electoral success, so UKIP now is compromising Tory prospects by splitting the right’s vote. No wonder Councillor Fisher is reaching for the panic button, because on these numbers, he faces losing some of his key operators from the Croydon Tories’ team.

Who will the Sun and Mail readers of Selsdon be voting for on May 22?

Who will the Sun and Mail readers of Selsdon be voting for on May 22?

If voters were going to vote entirely in line with their Euro election preferences in the local council elections, then all Conservative-held wards in Croydon would be at risk of losing seats to UKIP, as would the Labour-held wards Fieldway and South Norwood.

According to sources close to the UKIP campaign, they have strong hopes of scoring well in the local elections in wards close to those where they did very well in the Surrey county council elections last year.

Coulsdon West sits next to Banstead, Woodmansterne and Chipstead ward where UKIP won 33 per cent of the vote in 2013; Croydon’s Selsdon and Ballards ward lies next to Surrey’s Warlingham, where in May last year UKIP secured 32 per cent.

If Croydon voters who turn out to vote UKIP in the European elections on May 22 also vote for UKIP in the local elections, then one Tory councillor could lose their seat in Selsdon and Ballards. At the last two local elections, the Tory councillor with the poorest personal vote in the Daily Mail and Sun-reading heartlands of Selsdon has been Phil Thomas, the man to whom Fisher has turned to “mastermind” the local council campaign.

The Survation/Evening Standard poll suggests that any UKIP seat gains in Croydon seem more likely in wards currently regarded as marginal between Labour and the Conservatives, such as Waddon or Addiscombe. This judgement was also expressed by Chris Madel, of the London Communications Agency, in BBC London’s review of Croydon’s local elections.

The ConservativeHome website, the go-to place for Tory MPs wanting to catch the latest political trends, has already conceded that Croydon is a lost cause. This may be an element of expectation management. But while Labour suggest some bleeding of their voters to UKIP as a means of voting against the political Establishment, for the Tories, that flow of lost support appears be arterial.

This also explains a much more positive mood among Croydon Labour figures in the past week. They are citing significant demographic changes on the electoral register in Fairfield and Ashburton, both former Tory stronghold wards, and both wards where the Tories have de-selected sitting councillors.

One senior Labour figure was even so bold this week to suggest that they could win 40 of Croydon Town Hall’s 70 seats. Meanwhile, sources in the Tory campaign has admitted that their group is “very worried about Ashburton”.

Labour’s “Action Team” has made a great effort in Ashburton ward, an electoral division that they have not contested seriously before. Being in the marginal parliamentary constituency of Croydon Central, with a general election coming in 12 months’ time, Ashburton has been given higher priority than the traditional Labour/Tory battleground ward of Waddon, which sits in Croydon South, with its seeming unbeatable 16,000 Tory majority.

The Labour council candidates in Ashburton and Fairfield also have the added support when campaigning of a parliamentary candidate in Sarah Jones; in Croydon South, Labour has no prospective parliamentary candidate to knock on doors in Waddon.

There is little doubt that winning back control of Croydon Council would be a fillip for Labour nationally, with Ed Miliband on his visit to New Addington this week describing the borough as “a key pointer to the General Election”. It could be that Mike Fisher might not be the only Croydon Tory reaching for the panic button.

Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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8 Responses to Threat of UKIP sees Croydon’s Tories press the panic button

  1. It seems no ward or constituency is safe now that UKIP have declared themselves ‘The Peoples Party’…………..time for change……time for UKIP. Vote UKIP on May 22nd…….for common sense politics! That’s my view anyway……..

  2. davidcallam says:

    I wouldn’t vote for UKIP personally; I think they are fundamentally wrong about Europe and I don’t like some of the loony tunes they seem to gather. But I understand why some Croydon people find them attractive as a protest vote, given the woeful performance of the Tories in office and the staleness of the Labour leadership.

  3. mraemiller says:

    I have received an equally imaginative leaflet from the Labour party informing me that it is only a two-horse race and “only Labour can win here” and other cliches about the FPTP system that are wheeled out every election – well, you can’t say you weren’t given a choice.

    Ironically of course it is the fact that Europe insists we use proportional representation to select MEPs that gives UKIP much of their funding and power. A lot of their cash comes directly through the European Union via their elected MEPs. This makes the scale of their operation much more viable.

    One practical thing that the mainstream parties could do to scupper UKIP is to cut the election deposit for standing for the European Union Elections. While it costs only £500 to stand as an MP it costs £5000 to stand as an MEP. The result of this is that while UKIP can just about afford that, any independent really “alternative” candidates cannot. Thus what UKIP has done is to attract lots of people to its party by putting up election deposits and superficially saying that when these people get into power they wont impose a whip – believe that when I see it.

    By imposing such a high financial threshold on candidates standing for the EU elections the mainstream parties are more or less forcing independent candidates and their supporters to band together into one party. UKIP isn’t just a sub-BNP-right-of-the-Tories-party …it is a band of the dispossesed. Those who cannot afford to stand any other way. Mainstream parties need to wake up to the fact that simply spouting “it’s just a two-horse race” doesn’t force people to vote Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat any more. The electorate have got wise.

    Winning majorities have consistently fallen since the 1930s to below 60% and the number of people voting for 3rd or other parties has increased from 5-10% in the 1950s to 20-25% today. People are too well-informed today to fall for “the system means you have to vote for us” any more.

    • prometheus47 says:

      I don’t think those members of the electorate planning to vote UKIP can claim to have “gotten wise”.

      A brief glimpse of their people, policies and values would be sure to turn off any voter who possessed wisdom.

      • mraemiller says:

        I didn’t exactly say they had got wise …but anyone who thinks they will only steal votes off the Tories may be fooling themselves.

        I suspect that as with Andrew Pelling in 2010, they will pick up disillusioned voters from across the political spectrum and in the local elections make very little impact on who wins only to how many votes the main contenders get due to the FPTP system. It will be interesting to see how many MEP seats they get this time round.

        Before the rise of UKIP, many people voted BNP as a protest vote (in reaction to the expenses scandals etc) simply because the BNP seemed one of the few parties able to stump up the £5,000 deposits in the EU elections.

        The BNP did very well out of the EU, too, until the inevitable squabbles over what happened to all the EU money. Where there’s muck there’s brass. The leadership of UKIP may be far right and their political supporter may be the xenophobic but they are carefully positioned to collect generally disillusioned voters and I have found they have many supporters who would otherwise imagine themselves on the left – mad as that may sound.

        The glue keeping all these fractious elements together is that UKIP has so few seats at local level that it doesn’t need to and can’t effectively whip its councillors. When and if it starts to reach a critical mass of elected officials in any area it’s going to need to start exerting control over its minions or risk schisms and I think that’s when it will all go…

  4. padsky1979 says:

    I’ve lived in Waddon for over a decade now since coming back to the area after university (grew up over border in wallington) and am increasingly disillusioned as to Croydon politics.

    We have an absentee landlord for our Westminster MP. I grew up with the activist Tom Brake as my local MP. I knew who he was, he cared for his area and fought for it. In fact, he continues to, fighting for the survival of St Helier Hospital, a vital resource given the deficiencies of Mayday.

    Waddon has been betrayed by a Conservative MP, who has such a safe seat based on the rich Conservative voters of South Croydon and Purley that he doesn’t need to care about an enclave that doesn’t vote for him and which would make more socio-economic sense in Croydon North.

    I vote because I don’t have the right to moan if I don’t. However with the FPTP system, it really doesn’t matter one way or the other.

  5. east1956 says:

    An old chap shoved a Tory letter through my door today with strapline that states: “If you want something done about the traffic on Lebanon Road, you need to vote for all three of your Conservative candidates on 22nd May”.

    It goes on to state, “Your Labour councillors have done nothing to address the problem”.

    As you read this letter it isn’t obvious that the Tories have been in power in Croydon for years (Odd that!).
    It is clear that they are terrified that Labour will win and are trying to persuade UKIP and LibDem voters to side with them.

    But it has been claimed locally that Cllr Thomas blocked a plan to stop traffic turning into Lebanon Road not long ago.

    Now that is odd as the local Conservatives are campaigning on reducing traffic flows – so why stop it going ahead. Unless of course the tories want to pull it out of the hat after the elections to keep residents sweet for the general election next year.

    If you are a resident of East Croydon a community website’s just been launched, maybe a collective voice at last

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