Labour’s David Wood romped to an overwhelming victory in the Selhurst ward council by-election yesterday, winning 71.5 per cent of the vote to take his party’s 40th seat at Croydon Town Hall.
But fewer than 1 in 5 Selhurst voters bothered to turn out for the needless polling day.
That low turn-out makes some of Croydon Labour’s somewhat excitable immediate claims – that the by-election result meant that they are “looking good” to win Croydon Central from the Tories at the General Election in May – appear at best wishful thinking, and at worst a little desperate. Selhurst is not even in the very well-canvassed Croydon Central constituency.
David Wood – Labour – 1,517 (71.5%/+19.4%) HOLD
Tirena Gunter – Conservative – 246 (11.6%/-2.0%)
Tracey Hague – Green Party – 148 (7%/-1.5%)
Annette Reid – UKIP – 147 (6.9%/-5.6%)
Geoff Morley – Liberal Democrats – 65 (3.1%/-2.9%)
Turnout: 18.6% of 11,485 voters
The by-election was called following the death in January of the long-standing and much-respected Labour councillor Gerry Ryan. In his acceptance speech, Wood dedicated his win to Ryan’s memory.
Wood was able to make that speech just before midnight, which at least demonstrated that when there’s barely 2,000 votes to be tallied up, Croydon returning officer Nathan Elvery is capable of organising an election count; next, the £180,000 per year council chief will be invited to stage an impromptu party in a local brewery.
The Selhurst by-election took place on March 5, rather than wait until May’s General Election polling day, only because three UKIP members had demanded it. With UKIP candidate Annette Reid seeing her party’s share of the vote in the ward down by more than 5per cent from the local elections in May last year, the voters of Selhurst – where each vote cast yesterday could have cost the Council Tax-payers almost £10 – made their views on UKIP’s crass and insensitive behaviour well-known.
Wood’s 1,517 votes held up well compared to the roughly 2,000 votes that Ryan and the two other Labour councillors polled in the council elections 10 months ago.
But with all the parties pre-occupied with General Election matters, there was a sense that most were going through the motions for the by-election. The 9 per cent swing from Conservative to Labour (compared to May 2014’s results), can hardly be relied upon as an indicator of anything, one way or another. Nonetheless, Tory Tirena Gunter and LibDem Geoff Morley, representing the parties of the ConDem Government, polled less than 350 votes between them, which can hardly be good for morale among activists in those local parties.
Whatever UKIP thought they might achieve through their disrespectful actions in calling the by-election before Councillor Ryan’s funeral is anyone’s guess.
But the same absence of good judgement and the presence of reckless opportunism was on display again last night, when Peter Morgan – one of the tasteless troika who called for the election – distributed his own by-election result prediction under the rejoinder, “Do not share until result is known”, which rendered it a pretty useless piece of punditry to start with.
Morgan’s estimates were all wrong, under-estimating Labour’s vote considerably, while his over-estimation of UKIP’s vote was wrong by 100per cent. Morgan had UKIP finishing second, ahead of the Tories; in the real world, Morgan’s party came fourth, behind the Greens’ Tracey Hague.
Selhurst was one of three council by-elections held in London yesterday, all of them Labour wins, and all of them with increases in the vote share. But only in Croydon was Labour’s share of the vote up by nearly 20 per cent. Were the 9 per cent Tory to Labour swing repeated at the next council elections, then Conservative councillors in Croham ward might be getting nervous about retaining their council “allowances”.
If there was any identifiable trends, it was that the public’s backlash against the FibDems looks as fierce as ever, and that UKIP’s vote from last May has failed to stick – Nigel Farage’s party lost a seat to the Tories on Braintree council in Essex yesterday. If UKIP voters are drifting back to their former allegiances, that is good news for the likes of Gavin Barwell, the Croydon Central Tory MP.
The “Green surge” may also be little more than a trickle: in St Pancras and Somers Town ward, part of the Holborn and St Pancras seat which Green Party leader Natalie Bennett is contesting at the General Election, Labour increased its vote share as the Greens failed to displace the Tories from second place.
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