WALTER CRONXITE has got some new batteries for his Casio calculator and what he’s worked out adds up to bad news for the sitting MP in Croydon’s marginal parliamentary constituency
If you are unlucky enough to get cornered by Gavin Barwell, you are likely to learn of the Croydon Central MP’s woes. He thinks that he is going to lose his parliamentary seat to Labour’s Sarah Jones next May.
But Barwell isn’t sharing his grief just to elicit some pity from those around him. It’s a ploy calculated to get the message out to Conservative voters which his boss, David Cameron, has started to put out there: if they dare to vote for UKIP, then they will get Labour.
But Barwell’s concern also reflects how the national opinion poll figures really do point to a victory for Jones.Predicting elections these days is much more difficult than when psephologist Professor Bob McKenzie operated his simple two-way swingometer. In today’s five-party system in England, never mind in Scotland or Wales where the nationalists are on the march, there are so many flows and counter-currents among voters that simple swings just don’t give the best guide to where the votes will fall and who will be the first past the post.
Opinion polls taken in individual seats by Lord Cashcroft, Barwell’s former boss, do assist in judging where things are going.
Cashcroft polls published this week showed that Labour is continuing their London success, as seen in the May local elections, with very strong showings in the two latest seats in the capital that were analysed. That will have further unsettled Barwell, who was stunned by the extent of Labour’s gains in Croydon, and particularly in his own constituency in May.
Intriguingly, although Cashcroft pays for polling in Tory marginals, he has not yet published anything for the seat of his former aide, Barwell. Have Cashcroft researchers really not yet polled Croydon Central? Or have they done some polling and withheld the figures so as not to embarrass Barwell too much?
Barwell’s problem is that he is being chased out of the seat by as many as one-third of those who, in 2010, voted Tory but who now, according to national polls, are looking to UKIP. The Conservative bleed to UKIP is much more severe than Labour’s.
National polls suggest that the “charms” of Nigel Farage are winning over three Tory voters for every two Labour voters that express the intention to vote UKIP. That 3:2 ratio may well be worse for the Tories in southern England.
In Croydon Central, this might mean a notional net loss to Labour of about 3,000 votes, although UKIP’s weaker showing in Greater London may mean a lesser loss of support.
But Barwell faces an electoral conflict on two fronts. In the centre ground, there are disillusioned LibDem voters who may be looking for another party to support, and that is unlikely to be the Conservatives.
The LibDem vote is not huge in Croydon Central. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats thought their prospects so poor in Croydon in 2010 that their election expenses in the Central constituency came to the grand total of £0.00.
There are, though, 6,553 LibDem votes up for grabs, or 13.2 per cent of the vote, based on the last General Election. The LibDems in Croydon are in a weak position, without any councillors, nor even many candidates from May who managed to accumulate a respectable level of support. That suggests that there is little campaigning infrastructure – the “party machine” – to support the candidate, James Fearnley. James who?
Fearnley was selected as the parliamentary candidate in May, though no one among Croydon’s LibDems bothered to inform Inside Croydon. If they announced it to other local media, no one bothered reporting it. Fearnley is an activist parachuted in from Southwark, where he is the vice-chairman of the local party in Simon Hughes’s constituency. The defence of that MP’s vulnerable seat might be enough to distract Fearnley from any serious Croydon campaigning.
And the LibDems face a rout at the polling booths next May. Fearnley’s task will be to retain his deposit by gaining 5 per cent or more of the vote – something like 2,500 votes in an anticipated 50,000 turnout, where people who previously may not have bothered to vote are animated enough by the “UKIP effect” to turn-out, despite the growing disillusionment with what is on offer from the Lib-Lab-Con consensus.
In which box an estimated 3,900 former LibDem voters write their “X” on the ballot paper next May will be crucial to the outcome in Croydon Central. National opinion polls suggest that in Labour will get 1,500 more of these now foot-loose voters than the Conservatives.
Barwell’s plight in this respect will not have been helped by Cameron’s announcements this week on Europe and immigration, aimed at appeasing worried MPs and activists on the right of his party. Cameron’s populist statements about withdrawal from the EU and immigration controls were targeted firmly at Tory voters in Rochester and Strood who are wavering over whether to take their vote in the parliamentary by-election to UKIP with Mark Reckless, as so many Tories in Clacton did with Douglas Carswell.
But those are just the sort of policy positions certain to drive a wedge between the ConDem coalition, and persuade former LibDem supporters to cast their votes for Labour, tipping the balance in tight marginal seats such as Croydon Central.
Indeed, the squeeze on the LibDem vote was almost as important a factor in Labour winning Croydon Council in May as the dreadfully negative campaign run by the local Conservatives and the loss of voters to UKIP.
While the latest announcements by his own party leader are doing nothing for Barwell’s prospects of re-election, at a local level, Barwell’s own remarks in the local press attacking the conduct of the Conservatives’ council election campaign can only reduce the enthusiasm of local councillors, and some former councillors, to support him. Given the MP’s intimate involvement in the council election campaign, from using letters from his parliamentary office to try to recruit new party members, to his use of a council-funded anti-violence charity to engage young voters, there are some Tory council candidates who now see Barwell as a significant factor in the Town Hall election defeat.
Barwell also faces the effects of demographics, which has relentlessly changed Croydon North from two Conservative seats to become Labour’s 41st safest seat in the country. This demographic change does not halt at the gates of Addiscombe, Ashburton and Woodside wards on the northern top of the Barwell’s parliamentary constituency, either.
In the five years since he was elected to parliament, Barwell may have suffered a net loss of 2,100 votes to Labour, based on current Greater London demographic change rates.
Barwell will also know that Labour are doing very well in the rest of London. Opinion polls in Enfield and in Brentford and Isleworth, conducted by Lord Cashcroft and published on Thursday show healthy leads for Labour compared to seats with similar Tory majorities outside Greater London. This momentum for Labour in London is likely worth another 1,000 votes for Sarah Jones.
Are there any upsides for beleaguered Barwell? Well, there’s about £500,000-worth of public money, spent on staffing his Westminster and constituency office over five years, which like many incumbent MPs who are more concerned with their own careers than their constituencies, he has been utilising at every opportunity. That will probably slow Jones’ momentum by a little more than 1,000 votes.
And Croydon Central has another fascinating facet to confound the old swingometer, and that’s the “Pelling factor”.
The previous Conservative MP for the constituency, Andrew Pelling, stood against Barwell as an independent in 2010. Pelling drew 3,200 votes four years ago, it is assumed mostly from regular Tory voters who remained loyal to their constituency MP. Many of those seem likely to vote Conservative once more.
Barwell appears to think those Pelling votes need to be wooed. Extraordinarily, in his early campaign literature, Barwell even included a quote from Pelling (though, true to form, the quote was used completely out of context so as to mislead as to the true intention of the comment).
Barwell is shrewd enough not to take all those Pelling votes for granted. Long-time Conservative voters, who have experienced the sensation of voting outside party lines once, might be just the sort of people who this time around will consider a protest vote again.
Whoever it was that said of betting that “the house always wins” (was it Mike “#WadGate” Fisher?), must have had in mind the odds which bookmakers Ladbrokes are offering on the Croydon Central election, with challenger Jones at odds-on and the incumbent MP at evens.
The bookies blame the Pelling factor. “One of the reasons that this seat is so difficult to predict is the impact that former Tory MP Andrew Pelling had on the 2010 result,” Matthew Shaddick, Ladbrokes’ head of political betting, said. “He stood as an independent but if the 6 per cent of voters who backed him then return to the Conservative fold, maybe Barwell can hang on.”
Both Barwell and Pelling went to the same minor public school, Trinity. There is one other Old Mid-Whitgiftian upon whom Barwell could rely for an endorsement and who was also a candidate in Croydon Central last time around. Step forward John Loony, also known as John Cartwright, formerly of the Monster Raving Loony Party, who was so warmly welcomed as a member of the Croydon Conservatives.
Loony/Cartwright could try to get all his 192 voters from 2010 to support the Trinity side of what will still be a Whitgift Foundation-dominated battle next May – Sarah Jones went to Old Palace, where her mother was headmistress.
An election victory based on Loony votes might just sum up the plight of Barwell. Otherwise, by a margin of around 1,500 votes, Croydon looks likely to have its first woman MP next May.
Based on the latest opinion polls and the other assumptions outlined above, I predict the Croydon Central result next May as:
Labour 18,750 (37.5%)
Cons 17,150 (34.3%)
UKIP 8,300 (16.6%)
LibDems 2,600 (5.2%)
Greens 2,100 (4.2%)
Others 1,100 (2.2%)
- Walter Cronxite, Inside Croydon’s tame psephologist, correctly called the council election as 40-30 seats to Labour in May
Coming to Croydon
- Wandle Park wildflower meadow project, Oct 19
- St John’s, Shirley, charity concert, Oct 19
- South London Jobs Fair, Fairfield Halls, Oct 21
- David Lean Cinema: Mood Indigo, Oct 23
- This Was The World and I Was King, Spread Eagle, Oct 23-25
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, 2.30pm, Oct 25
- David Lean Cinema: Ilo Ilo, Oct 28
- CODA’s Wind In The Willows, Charles Cryer, Carshalton, Oct 29-Nov 1
- David Lean Cinema: Belle, Oct 30
- NHS free health fair, Central Parade, New Addington, Oct 31
- MOPAC policing meeting, Surrey Street, Nov 4
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 4
- St Giles School opening morning, Nov 5
- Grange Park bulb-planting event, Nov 8
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Nov 14
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 17
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- Coulsdon Yulefest, Dec 6-7
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Dec 7
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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