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.
The 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.
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.
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:
- NEW ADDINGTON’s Royston Vasey “are you local” campaign
- 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
- 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
- David Lean Cinema: Blue Velvet, May 10
- Croydon Ecology Centre seeds and seedlings sale, May 11
- 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
- St Giles’ primary school open morning, May 21
- David Lean Cinema: The Rocket, May 22
- Greek Myths: stories and mask-making, May 27
- Howard Marks: Scholar, Smuggler, Prisoner, Scribe, May 29
- David Lean Cinema: Dallas Buyers Club, May 29
- Tales from Ancient Greece, Upper Norwood Library, May 29
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, May 31
- Stitch Pitch quilting workshop, Upper Norwood Library, June 2
- Croydon Tech City “summit”, June 6
- Lakes Playground Action Group fun day, June 14
- 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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