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.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.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.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.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.
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