So the results are in. And a thoroughly fascinating few weeks we have had in Croydon leading up to yesterday’s local elections.
Croydon has no UKIP councillors, or councillors from any party other than Labour or the Conservatives. The LibDems and Greens have cause to be as disappointed by their polling yesterday as the ousted Tories.
The final outcome, of Labour having 40 council seats and Conservatives 30, is reckoned to be Labour’s best performance in Croydon elections, leapfrogging the results gained in 1994 because of boundary changes.
We tied up our live election blog at 9am, before the recount of the poll in Ashburton ward confirmed that Andrew Rendle, Stephen Mann and Maddie Henson had secured the biggest win of the night for Labour (to enjoy the full 11-hour version, note-by-note, half-guess by half-guess, click here and scroll to the bottom of the article first and work your way upwards through the updates).
But Labour’s win in Waddon, another three gains from the Tories for new(ish) councillors Joy Prince, Robert Canning and Andrew Pelling, was also mightily close and hugely significant.
What have we learned from the local election results in Croydon and further afield?
1, Winston McKenzie is an electoral liability, even for UKIP: The “Croydon Carnival” catastrophe earlier this week may have cost Nigel Farage’s party an even better outcome in the polling booths on Thursday. Imagine that, Mike Fisher…
But surely the time has come for someone to throw in the towel on former boxer McKenzie’s political career to stop him taking any further punishment? Can Farage ease McKenzie out without being accused of, err, being racist?
2, Croydon Council CEO Nathan Elvery has all the organisational abilities of … Winston McKenzie: The count was staged in the wrong venue and was under-staffed, the whole thing taking far longer than ought to have been the case. The returning officer, Elvery, should take full responsibility.
3, Might Nigel Farage choose uber-marginal Croydon Central for his bid to become an MP next year? It is unlikely, but not impossible.
UKIP’s best local election performances in the south of England yesterday came in Essex, but the UKIP leader has strongly denied that he will stand in Basildon or Thurrock. “They don’t need me,” he declaimed. “And besides, I’m from south of the river.”
It’s “sarf of the river”, Nige, but we wouldn’t expect a Dulwich College boy to know that.
Nonetheless, with its Con-Lab head-to-head marginal nature, Croydon Central might just fit the bill for the anti-politics professional politician. It would require Peter Staveley, UKIP’s chairman in Croydon Central and South, to stand aside, having been selected a year ago. By six other members.
Were Farage to home in on Croydon Central, with Lunar House for his regular anti-immigation photo-ops, it could be Gavin Barwell’s worst nightmare.
4, Gavin Barwell’s already worried. Very worried: In Croydon Central’s council wards, Labour won 32,269 votes, the Tories 31,015 votes, or 35.3 per cent Labour and 33.5 per cent Conservative.
And 17.5 per cent went to UKIP.
5, Barwell’s not the campaign genius he’d like people to think he is: Disgruntled and unelected Conservative candidates were grumbling that Barwell’s election strategy had left their party’s reducing resources too thinly spread. The “Margarine Strategy”, the ousted Tories were calling it.
Having boasted immodestly that he was supervising the local council campaign as a way of starting his own bid for re-election to parliament in 2015, Barwell focused much of the effort on regaining Addiscombe ward from Labour. The Tory vote in that ward was indeed up, but not enough to win the contest, and done possibly at the expense of council seat losses in New Addington, Ashburton and Waddon. Now five of Croydon Central’s eight wards are held by Labour. Top job, Gav!
6, Postal votes make on-the-day polling very difficult: Checks at three key polling stations through yesterday, with its thunder storms and showers, suggested a turn-out of less than 30 per cent. Local elections and a rainy day are a poor mix for a good turn-out.
Yet after the votes were counted, the ward turn-outs were consistently above 30 per cent, and in one ward more than 40 per cent.
7, Mike Fisher and Croydon’s senior Tories have to learn to take responsibility: The florid-faced one, Barwell and any other Tory who had some sort of role for the running of their campaign were all too quick to blame the voters for having the audacity of exercising their democratic right and voting for whom they wanted. This is not only deeply patronising, but also feeble: the Tories need to shoulder the blame for their own fate. Croydon’s Tories lost people’s trust over a whole range of issues.
Patrick Ratnaraja, who stood as a Tory candidate in West Thornton, said, “There is no point in just blaming UKIP for losing control of the council. The people of Croydon have not voted for us. It is time to ask ‘where did we go wrong?’ instead of blaming other parties.”
8, Winning the election was the easy bit: Labour leader Tony Newman and his team have really got their work cut out if they are to deliver on their various election pledges, with around 30 per cent funding cuts from the ConDem government coming down the tracks towards them in the next few months.
Challenging the management culture that pervades Fisher’s Folly among the council’s senior staff will make that even trickier. But one of our moles at council HQ was in touch this morning as the full picture emerged: “Oh joy!” he said.
“I am sure there will be some very senior officers in the council who are known as Phil Thomas’s ‘yes’ men, people like Tony Brooks, Steve Iles and Nathan Elvery himself, who will be running scared this morning.”
9, Being called “Benn” remains a positive benefit at an election: Emily Benn became the fifth generation of her family to win elected office. The 24-year-old granddaughter of the late Tony Benn, the former Labour government minister, topped the poll in West Thornton, ahead of some established Labour councillors, with 2,462 votes.
Notably, while Croydon’s Tories made much fuss about their “youthful” candidates in the election, even including one schoolboy standing in Norbury – who at least got 600 votes more than UKIP’s token Polish candidate – most of these “fresh bloods” were given impossible tasks of winning in Labour strongholds in the north of the borough.
Labour’s young bloods actually got elected, and Benn, together with Oliver Lewis after running a mature campaign in New Addington, and Stephen Mann in winning in Ashburton, will now take up their seats at the Town Hall.
10, Does the World Wildlife Fund need to apply “protected species” status to LibDems in Croydon? For all Tory bleatings about “it was all UKIP’s fault”, the outcome of the elections were as much due to the utter collapse of the LibDem vote share from 2010.
Those “I agree with Nick” days seem an age ago now, as clearly many who voted for what was the third party four years ago have returned to Labour since the coalition has been in government.
On a broader basis, the results last night offered little hope of any electoral success in Croydon at any time soon for the likes of the Greens, Communists or others. For the Greens in particular, they must consider other ways to ensure that their policies can win acceptance and be put into practice.