STEVEN DOWNES on the non-existent General Election campaign across most of south London
Yesterday evening, I made one of my occasional appearances on a recording of Metroknobbers, the south London hyperlocal podcast organised by Jason Cobb, who writes on matters Lambeth with BrixtonBuzz, and Darryl Chamberlain, of 853blog.com, who concerns himself with events closer to the Meridian.
The talk was much about how deeply dull the General Election is turning out to be for many south Londoners. As a consequence of the first-past-the-post voting system and through accident of geography and house prices, many of us are disenfranchised, living in a “safe” Labour or Tory seat where how we vote matters little, and so are pretty much consigned to a deeply dull General Election.
There’s virtually no campaigning going on at all in Lambeth, nor in Greenwich, Woolwich and Eltham, where the parliamentary incumbents, or their party-picked successors, are all a bit of a shoo-in, allowing them to spend the next month campaigning largely for other party members in other, winnable, marginal seats.
Between the three of us, it turned out during the Metroknobbers discussion that only we here at Inside Croydon have we the frisson and excitement of the sort of key marginal to get Peter Snow’s Swing-o-Meter twirling in Croydon Central.
The disappointment of m’colleagues in their uncontested democratic elections was evident. You can hear the episode in full here. The disengagement with the electoral process was tangible.
And meanwhile yesterday, less than a mile away from Inside Croydon Towers, another example of the non-contested General Election was taking place with the “launch” of the Croydon South campaign for Labour’s Hon Emily Benn. Inside Croydon did request a press release and photos from the event, but so far…. zilch, apart from the group shot, lifted from Twitter, of the candidate and a cast of dozens taken on the sunny afternoon.
So much for campaigning zeal in Croydon for the 2015 General Election, then.
The launch event did not even take place within the constituency which Benn is contesting (we use the latter word in its broadest sense). It was staged at Ruskin House, the local Labour Party headquarters, which happens not to be in Croydon South. By all accounts, it was very much a family affair, attended by former cabinet member Uncle Hilary and several other relatives of the late and widely admired Tony Benn.
New readers can catch-up here. The Hon Emily’s father, Stephen Benn, wasted no time last year in re-activating the hereditary Stansgate peerage of which his father had spent nearly four years of his life battling to rid himself. To his lasting credit, Tony Benn preferred to be an elected parliamentarian, rather than being foisted on the people simply because his father had been granted an honour.
As the daughter of a Viscount, Emily Benn is granted an honorific (or so we’re told by someone who possesses a copy of Debrett’s), though she probably doesn’t use it when working as a City banker. It does, however, make her much posher than Chris Philp, the Tory candidate who will win the Croydon South seat, and who although he is a millionaire, is what some call “self-made” and is therefore very much “new money”. Emily, meanwhile, is New College, Oxford.
Emily describes herself as “a Benn, not a Bennite”, which some may choose to interpret as meaning she’s prepared to utilise the family name to further her political career, but not embrace all of her grandfather’s principles.
In 2010, somewhat precociously at the age of 20, Emily Benn stood for Labour in an unwinnable south coast seat, and managed to reduce her party’s share of the vote. Last year, after some shuffling of Labour candidates, she was elected as a Croydon councillor in the safe ward of West Thornton. Later, she was selected as the parliamentary candidate for Croydon South. Not that there was any other real volunteers for this thankless task.
The odd thing here is why – having already endured the thankless task of losing a very lose-able seat five years ago – Benn is bothering to endure that experience once again. Some suggested that, had she wanted to venture beyond Croydon, she might have found a safe Labour seat.
However moribund Labour’s campaigning in Croydon South might appear this time, it is already far more active than in 2010, when all Croydon Labour’s efforts were directed at getting the late Gerry Ryan elected in Croydon Central.
Croydon South 2010 General Election result
Liberal Democrats 12,866
That’s clearly still a priority in 2015, with Sarah Jones the candidate in the winnable marginal against the “Don’t Mention the Tories” Gavin Barwell. But Emily Benn is at least standing in a parliamentary seat which now has one council ward – Waddon – which has three Labour councillors, while the Labour constituency party’s family firm of chairman Andy Bagnall and secretary and treasurer Jo Milligan, appear to have some campaign plans which do involve the candidate being allowed to canvass in the constituency, unlike what was supposed to have happened for Jane Avis, the candidate five years ago.
When the British runner, Roger Black, went into the 1996 Olympic 400 metres final, he knew the best he could manage was to finish second to Michael Johnson. The question at hand was how close could he get to the world record-holder. So it is for Emily Benn in Croydon South.
Philp is the inheritor of 15,000-vote majority from the arch-expenses claimant, Tricky Dicky Ottaway. In 2010, the Tories’ closest rivals, buoyed on a wave of Cleggmania, were the LibDems. This time round, Benn will have failed if she does not get Labour into second place, and she should be aiming to reduce the Tory majority by half.
There’s a number of factors in play here, including national polling figures, demographic change, and the utter collapse of the LibDem vote generally and the apparent reluctance of their local activist candidate, Gill Hickson, to bother with any real campaigning. Approached recently by another website and asked to self-record a 30sec promotional video for them to broadcast, Hickson declared herself too busy…
Peter Underwood, as the Green candidate, could also benefit by managing to save his deposit this time, after his party polled less than 1,000 votes in 2010.
Benn was not helped by her own Labour council’s mishandling of the Purley Pool situation at the turn of the year, but she may be able to turn that to her benefit, claiming credit for getting the council to reverse its decision to close the pool.
And with UKIP’s Kathleen Garner eating into the Tory vote share, while Philp and most Conservative activists from Purley and Coulsdon are being deployed to try to save Barwell’s bacon in Croydon Central, the borough’s newest MP may be sent off to Westminster with a much reduced majority.
Our friendly psephologist, Walter Cronxite, has scribbled down some figures of what he believes the result in Croydon South might be on May 7:
Conservative 22,350 (40 per cent)
Labour 14,700 (26 per cent)
UKIP 10,200 (18 per cent)
Liberal Democrats 4,350 (8 per cent)
Greens 3,700 (7 per cent)
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