Latest polls point to Tories praying for rain in Croydon Central

WALTER CRONXITE has got his abacus out again to examine the implications of London-wide polling results

Friday’s YouGov poll for the Evening Boris, dedicated just to London voters, gives a chance to provide another analysis on where the marginal Croydon Central parliamentary contest stands with just 11 days to go to the election.

It was some weeks ago, on the evidence of previous polls and feedback on the doorstep, that Gavin Barwell prematurely gave up hope of retaining the seat for the Conservatives, telling his campaign team that he felt his contest is lost.

Inside Croydon has been reporting his downbeat attitude since last autumn. A candidate who does not believe that they can win rarely secures victory.

Lord Cashcroft, Barwell’s political mentor and the funder behind some of the detailed polling which has predicted the Croydon Tory’s downfall, is fond of saying that polls are a snapshot, not a prediction. Likewise, bookmakers’ odds on political contests should carry a (wallet) health warning.

The bookies’ markets are usually based on the polls that we all see, rather than any research or insights of their own. The prices offered will reflect the bets that they have taken, balancing the liabilities that they have, all to ensure that at the end of the process, they are in profit.

Sights we won't be seeing in 2015: even Gavin Barwell's talking down his chance of winning at the General Election

Sights we won’t be seeing in 2015: even Gavin Barwell’s been talking down his chance of winning at the General Election

In a two-horse race, such as Croydon Central, you would expect the odds on the market leaders to be very similar, just either side of Evens.

Since last autumn, Ladbrokes have narrowed the odds on Labour’s Sarah Jones, their favourite to win in Croydon Central, from 8/11 on (that’s win £8 if you stake £11) to 4/7 on.

Few people, it seems, have been having bets on Barwell, as his odds have drifted from Evens to 5/4 to hold the seat.

The latest YouGov London poll has led the Tory-supporting evening paper to declare Croydon Central lost to Labour. But what is the current winning margin for Labour, what are the elements that point to a Labour gain and is it too early for Barwell to give up?

Using the London poll to calculate the shift of voters between the parties since the previous General Election in 2010 suggests that the result in a tight contest on May 7 will depend crucially on how the Croydon electorate has changed in the last five years, and how the value of Barwell’s incumbency works with the voters.

Barwell has been trying to emphasise what he regards as his personal “achievements” for Croydon, while downplaying his fervently loyal Conservative connections at Westminster.

Sarah Jones and her party leader, Ed Miliband, have been listening to Croydon residents

Sarah Jones and her party leader, Ed Miliband, have been listening to Croydon residents

And in any analysis of voting in Croydon Central, there’s also need to consider what has become known as “The Pelling Effect”, those at the last election who voted for the Conservative winner of the seat in 2005 who five years later stood as an independent. With Andrew Pelling now a Labour councillor, how his 2010 votes break between the Croydon Central contenders is an almost impossible call.

It is also difficult to judge with any precision the UKIP effect – how many previously Tory supporters might use their vote to support Nigel Farage’s party. Less predictable is the softness of the LibDem vote in Croydon, with those who were carried along on the wave of Cleggmania in 2010 this time likely to go red, or even Green.

Votes lost by Barwell to UKIP will prove to have as much significance in the outcome as any support won over by Jones.

UKIP in Croydon and Lambeth have had their problems of late, summed up in two words: Winston McKenzie. The internecine strife between McKenzie and UKIP’s candidate in Croydon Central, Peter Staveley, has been evident for a couple of years. Although McKenzie is standing in Croydon North, his negative impact has continued to seep into the more serious-minded Staveley’s campaign, such as it has been. 

The insurgent anti-European party have been surprisingly subdued in their campaigning across the borough, leading some to suspect that Staveley really wants Barwell to win. Staveley has been very busy at the national level, marshaling all the electoral nominations of UKIP candidates – likely a tough and time consuming job in a still small party organisation.

Barwell should be pleased that the current London poll only sees 14 per cent of the 2010 London Tory vote going to UKIP, compared to the one-third of 2010 Conservative voters who, according to national polls last autumn in the frenzy of UKIP by-election victories and post-European election triumphalism, were looking to make such a switch.

The Conservative bleed to UKIP, though, remains much more severe than Labour’s, and especially so in London. The Standard’s poll would suggest that in Croydon Central that the Conservatives will concede 1,900 votes more to UKIP than Labour will. This is a real blow to Barwell’s prospects, when the seat will likely be decided by a number only just getting into four figures.

Has anyone spotted this man in Croydon? LibDem candidate James Fernley

Has anyone spotted this man in Croydon? LibDem candidate James Fearnley

The LibDems are also notable by their almost complete absence from the fray in Croydon. It’s hard to say whether that’s because they are demoralised after five years of supporting Conservative dogma, or just embarrassed. LibDem energies are being concentrated on shoring up the two LibDem incumbents in Sutton and Simon Hughes up in Bermondsey.

The London poll suggests that in Croydon Central that Labour will secure a vital 650 or so more of those disillusioned former LibDem voters. General Election media coverage has seen a modest uptick in LibDem polling lately, and this might go towards them retaining their deposit in Croydon Central by achieving the 5per cent of the vote benchmark.

A keener squeeze down to the 3 per cent LibDem share seen in the last Ashcroft poll in Croydon Central and in the recent Selhurst council by-election would see almost 1,000 votes shifting to Labour. This could prove a key factor in the final result.

The crushing of the Tory Party in that Selhurst by-election, down to just 11.6 per cent, emphasises just how significant a dynamic the demographic change could be. Croydon North used to return two Tory MPs, but in 2010 it was the 41st safest Labour seat in the country. Demographic change pays no attention to parliamentary boundaries.

The judgement on the value of this social change compared to the rest of Greater London is a very large makeweight in the calculation as to who will win. The changing demographics even in just the five years since the last election will likely cost Barwell a net loss of 2,100 votes to Labour, based on current trends (with many of Barwell’s former voters migrating to Croydon South or indeed to Surrey).

MPs in their first term, such as Barwell, typically benefit from a big incumbency boost. But the career politician has undermined this advantage with repeated errors of judgement, such as publishing an endorsement from a business woman who broke wage laws, there was Barwell’s “trusted” aide who raised questions about his boss’s competence when blurted that the MP is technologically challenged,  and his own public admission about a likely loss of his seat that prompted a kind public offer of a job reference from Lord Cashcroft. If a Premier League team was scoring so many own goals, the manager’s job would be at risk.

Gavin Barwell's campaign has been blighted by own goals

Gavin Barwell’s campaign has been blighted by own goals

But if you add to all that self-inflicted damage the widespread vilification and ridicule for pointless Barwell petitions – when even the Redhill-based Sadvertiser starts to take the piss, you must realise you’ve been rumbled – there’s a pattern about the Tory campaign in Croydon Central that points to one outcome.

Barwell’s incumbency is still likely to be worth 500 people who might have voted Labour but opt to stick with the candidate whose parliamentary office has worked on his political career, rather than constituency matters, the last five years.

And then there is the question as to what will happen to the votes of the 3,200 people who voted for Andrew Pelling in 2010. Pelling has recently tweeted that he is specifically canvasing voters who supported him to ask them to vote for Jones in 2015.

Barwell has emphasised the importance of this group of up-for-grabs votes, his leaflets and website including an endorsement from a Pelling supporter. Local newspaper letter pages have been used to send the same message.

In our calculations, we assume that Barwell and UKIP will be the top two recipients of Pelling’s previous 6.5 per cent share of the vote, bearing in mind that Pelling ran a Tory unfriendly anti-incinerator, anti-new town hall local campaign. We’d guess that Barwell will outperform Labour by almost 900 votes.

So based on the shift of voters predicted by the YouGov London poll, the effects of demographic change, Barwell’s incumbency value and the destination of former Pelling voters, we can say that if the Croydon Central election was held today, the result would see Jones winning by 1,100 votes or 2.2 per. cent

Labour 19,250 (38.5%)

up 1 % from autumn 2014

Cons 18,150 (36.3%)

up 2 % from autumn 2014 analysis

UKIP 6,700 (13.4%)
LD 3,200 (6.4%)
Greens 2,050 (4.1%)
Other 650 (1.0%)

Ashcroft polls have put Barwell further back, most recently trailing Jones by 2,000 (4 per cent).

The dull national campaign may yet catch alight in the last 11 days. And polls can get things wrong. In 1970, Ted Heath won an unexpected victory after the Tories were 12.4 per cent behind in one poll. And there was no UKIP then.

UKIP is the joker in the 2015 pack when guessing voter intentions, especially as so many UKIP sympathisers are reticent to declare to pollsters.

Here in Croydon, local Tories hope that their disadvantage may be overcome by getting more of their voters to the polls than Labour does. They may even pray for rain, believing in the old myths that steely blue-rinsed Tory voting pensioners are more determined to vote than supposedly fair weather Labour voters.

That such divine intervention may be required is a sign that Jones is a justifiable odds on favourite.

  • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2015 General Election, Andrew Pelling, Croydon Central, Gavin Barwell, Peter Staveley, Sarah Jones MP and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Latest polls point to Tories praying for rain in Croydon Central

  1. Mary Wolf says:

    I fear your informant has misunderstood the campaign that Andrew Pelling may be running. People in Waddon who voted for Andrew in the Council Election will look in vain for Sarah Jones’ name on the ballot paper in the General Election. Waddon is not in Croydon Central, it is in Croydon South – but what might it do to the Tory majority in Croydon South if those voters put their cross against the name of Emily Benn, the Labour candidate there…….. Is Andrew perhaps up to something that could just bring a surprise result?

    • No misunderstanding, Mary.

      We understand that Andrew Peling, in common with most of Croydon’s councillors, of both parties, have spent the majority of his time over the past month in campaigning for his party’s candidate, rather than on council-related business. And while some of that time may have been, in Pelling’s case, spent delivering leaflets in Waddon as part of what passes for The Hon Emily Benn’s Croydon South campaign, it is in Croydon Central where most of the canvassing action is.

      It’s the one marginal seat in Croydon, and as far as Labour and the Tories are concerned, the results in Croydon North and Croydon South are already determined.

      That’s democracy in Croydon in 2015.

  2. My guess is that Gavin Barwell is downplaying his chance of winning so that, if he pulls it off, it will be seen as a great success.

    Don’t forget that Labour failed (narrowly) to win Croydon Central in 2005, even though the party nationally secured a 66 seat overall majority. True there have been demographic changes since then, but they haven’t all been one-way. A lot of new upmarket apartments have been built in central Croydon. For example there are already a significant number of voters registered in Saffron Square.

    Like other Labour Party supporters I feel encouraged when I see opinion polls predicting a Labour victory in Croydon Central. But we must resist complacency. I am sure Sarah Jones and her supporters will be working for every last vote up to the close of polls.

    • mraemiller says:

      I agree.

      I think most of Pelling’s support in 2010 was Tory, so the hill is probably bigger to climb for Labour than most people imagine.

      That 2010 election also gives us a useful insight into the power of incumbency pull. Pelling showed that if you spend £20,000, you can get your deposit back if you are the incumbent.

      Gavin will almost certainly be spending to the limit (hopefully not above it again) and no Tory shoeleather is being spared… There are no electoral commission limits on man or woman hours

  3. Duona says:

    After the Hustings on Monday finsihed, Peter Staveley the UKIP candidate, said he’s not going to “waste his time and money” canvassing against Gavin ..is this the Blukip pact, the Tories are denying, in action already?

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