Labour takes aim at Ashburton as UKIP charge in Waddon

VOTE 2014: Our final assessment from the battleground wards in the Town Hall elections sees a surprising change in fortunes

As election day dawns and the overnight rains and morning mists clear, the deployment of the parties’ armies on the battlefield, and the prospect for their success, becomes clearer.

The run-down and ill-maintained Ashburton old library has been a rallying point for Labour's campaign in the ward

The run-down and ill-maintained Ashburton old library has been a rallying point for Labour’s campaign in the ward

Waddon has long been the Verdun of Croydon electoral conflict, with both sides wearing themselves down by assault and counter-assault in the key marginal ward. But this time Labour are trying to take the Conservatives by surprise with a flanking movement. Labour feel that Ashburton offers a second front that will be the key today to unlocking the Tories’ four-seat majority at Croydon Town Hall.

Ashburton is a ward that only eight years ago gave the Tories a two-and-a-half times the vote of that of Labour, with a 30 per cent Conservative lead. Yet today, Labour feels that with recent demographic changes and an above-average erosion of Tory support by UKIP, Ashburton is their main target for a three-seat gain.

American community campaigning guru Arnie Graf was drafted in early to help Labour in Ashburton. The amount of activist manpower dedicated today to pull off the shock result against the form book will be very significant. Labour’s serious intent was underlined by the 40 Labour campaigners in Ashburton yesterday. Even more effort is expected today, with professional campaigners from Labour’s London HQ leading the push to get Ashburton in the Labour column for the first time.

The Labour cause has even been assisted by the Conservative candidate selection in Ashburton, where two veteran councillors are missing from the ballot for the first time in more than 33 years: Avril Slipper has retired, while the often divisive figure of Eddie Arram was deselected.

Councillor Adam Kellett: told his deputy leader that he is "wrong" over Arena school plans

Councillor Adam Kellett: told his deputy leader that he is “wrong” over Arena school plans

The new Tory trio is both conflicted and divided. Gareth Streeter is employed as a professional PR spinner by Oasis, the organisation which runs several academy schools and which wants to build a new six-form entry secondary on Metropolitan Open Land next to Croydon Arena. That proposal has been publicly opposed by Tory Councillor Adam Kellett, who is on the same ballot form as Streeter.

Kellett and Streeter offer a good line in prejudice that appeals to some right-wing voters. Streeter recently tried to justify the Oasis-run Ryelands Primary getting a class of 10-year-olds to line-up according to their skin colour. “Inclusion is our raison d’etre,” was one of the lines offered by Oasis when the row hit the national press. Meanwhile, Councillor Kellett feels that Croydon could do without what he regards as the “left-wing” Black History Month.

But such views seem unlikely to staunch the flow of Ashburton’s Tory voters to UKIP, a flow that has been the subject of hysterical letters to ward residents from Conservatives desperately pleading with voters not to split the anti-Labour vote.

Ashburton has three UKIP candidates, one of whom is Robert King, who until very recently was the chairman of the Conservatives in Addiscombe. Passed over for new party members recruited by the local MP, Gavin Barwell and installed as candidates, King abdicated.

Another ex-Conservative is setting a challenge for the Tories in Waddon. Andrew Pelling, the former Conservative, then Independent MP for Croydon Central, is wearing a red rosette in this front line ward. Pelling is also a former London Assembly Member and a former leader of the Tories at Croydon Town Hall (as well as being a sometime contributor to Inside Croydon, we should state).

Andrew Pelling: Labour candidate in Waddon

Andrew Pelling: Labour candidate in Waddon

It is fair to say that Pelling is loathed by some of his former council colleagues and has been the subject of repeated character assassination attempts on social media. Labour must hope that Pelling will help draw enemy fire and pin down Tory resources in the Waddon campaign today to keep them away from Ashburton.

The Ashburton and Waddon battlefields have seen Labour deploy different campaign generals. Ashburton, the Croydon Central ward, has had James May working out of local party HQ at Ruskin House as its election agent, while Waddon, Croydon South’s most northerly ward, has had former councillor Andy Bagnall organising the line of battle from his bivouac near Purley. It is not yet clear who their Croydon field marshal, Tony Newman, regards as deserving of  a field promotion.

The Waddon Labour campaign has tried to make a merit out of disassociating itself from the bitter nastiness of the partisan culture at the Town Hall and the negativity of the Tories. They hope that this will tap in to a strong anti-politician voter sentiment, at least as far as that can be possible when Pelling has had 28 years as an elected politician in Croydon.

Labour have been positive about Waddon, have been measured in their criticism of the council and modest in their promises. “One Nation” Miliband-style language has been employed in seeking to make Waddon a “strong community”. Pelling has mentioned his experience in politics and past achievements in policing and transport for Waddon as the local London Assembly Member to court voters. Labour has pitched the merits of established Waddon residents Joy Prince and Robert Canning as candidates who have had successful careers outside politics.

Tory cabinet member Councillor Simon Hoar, by contrast, has spent his career mainly in politics, after being given his big break by working at City Hall as an assistant for … Pelling. The Tories’ trio in Waddon has been disrupted by the need to field a new candidate because the mercurial Clare Hilley opted to stand down after little more than a single term as an often controversial councillor for the ward, following her failed attempts to gag Inside Croydon’s investigations into the questionable conduct of her and her activist husband.

How local environment groups see Croydon councillor Hoar

How local environment groups see Croydon councillor Hoar

Some Conservatives feel that the need to call-up reinforcements has been a handicap, especially as the selection of Mark Johnson as Hilley’s replacement came so late. Despite his lack of any links with the ward, Johnson was chosen ahead of “Waddon Action Team” member Sophie Khan, who instead was shuffled off to stand in the safe Labour ward of Broad Green.

The Waddon Tories’ all-male line-up has looked as dull as much of their literature. Veteran councillor Tony Harris has a good local following and he looks likely to top the poll.

Both Harris and Hoar promised at the last election not to support an incinerator in or near Waddon – a promise quickly and easily broken. This time round, though, the incinerator issue has not been a hot one in the campaign, despite the presence on the ballot form of the Green Party, who have opted to concentrate their campaigning across the Brighton Road in Croham.

Nonetheless, the five or six hundred votes the Greens harvested in Waddon last time could erode Labour’s chances, where in 2010 (with a turn-out bolstered by the same-day General Election), Prince was less than 400 votes short of the tally of the least popular Tory, Hoar.

Today, Labour needs a miracle to win Waddon. Since 1976, Labour has only captured all three Waddon seats when they have been at least 15 per cent ahead in the national opinion polls. The Labour poll lead has been diminishing by the week over the past few months. Excluding postal votes, Labour just about won the popular vote in Waddon in the 2012 London Assembly elections, but on that occasion Labour was 12 per cent ahead in opinion polls. 

Yet our mole in the trenches with the Waddon Conservatives reports back that they, too, are uncertain about the result. Such uncertainty can only be because in 2014, the local elections are a rarity in British politics in that they involve more than just the two big guns.

The Tories’ letters to residents on the Waddon estate of former council houses, in which they warn of the dangers of voting UKIP, reveal the one way in which Labour might win this ward.

UKIP are running three candidates, with the same negative implications for the Conservatives as in Ashburton. They may not like the European reference, but UKIP may yet prove to be Marshal Blücher at florid-faced Mike Fisher’s Waterloo.

Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:

About insidecroydon

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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