After the longest election campaign in British history, with millions spent on red, blue and purple posters, it’s still too close to call. Nationally and, as WALTER CRONXITE reports, here in Croydon’s very own marginal battleground seat
Pay your money, you take your choice. Nate Silver, the American pollster who we’re told always gets his election predictions correct, updated his call for Croydon Central overnight before the polls opened, and put Tory Gavin Barwell 2.3 per cent ahead – the equivalent of little more than 1,100 votes.
But Silver may not have included Croydon’s outraged Crystal Palace football supporters in his testing sample, following the latest gaffe from gaffe-prone Gav.
The spanner in the works over the Croydon Central campaign was thrown on May Day by Lord Ashcroft. After having had Labour’s Sarah Jones ahead in every marginal constituency poll since October, a week before the real election, and Ashcroft’s expensively acquired numbers suddenly showed Barwell, the Belize-based Lordship’s former employee, ahead by 4 per cent.
That seems to be the direction of travel: Election Forecast has Barwell up by 2 per cent and the Guardian also gives the seat to Barwell. Ladbrokes are hedging their bets, with Barwell as the favourite at 4/6 on and Jones at 11/10 against.
The result is still far too close to call for Barwell’s gobby fac totum to be ordering in the champagne for an election night celebration just yet.
“There’ll be a recount,” one local Labour source was adamant after the final day’s canvassing. “We never believed it when Ashcroft put Sarah 6 per cent ahead, and we don’t trust his figures now when he us 4 per cent behind.”
Pundit Mike Smithson and John Braggins both took the view that there was something not quite right about Ashcroft’s final “snapshot” of the situation in Croydon Central. The doubts arise from his assessment of what those who voted for the LibDems in 2010 will do: as the support for the coalition’s junior partners vanishes, Ashcroft has the LibDems in Croydon Central opting to go blue, rather more than red.
Londoners who voted LibDem in 2010 are seen by the poll as being more than twice as likely to switch to Labour than to the Conservatives. This compares to the near level pegging in these LibDem switchers seen in Ashcroft’s local Croydon poll. Using the YouGov London poll as the guide on these LibDem switchers would eliminate Barwell’s 4 per cent lead in the Ashcroft poll.
With the 3,000-plus voters who supported the former Conservative MP, Andrew Pelling, when he stood in 2010 as an independent, mostly expected to return to the Tories – that’s 6.5 per cent of the vote – the outcome of today’s election in Croydon Central could turn on UKIP supporters who opt to vote for Barwell.
Barwell’s campaign has avoided whenever possible mentioning that he is anything to do with the Conservative Party, and Peter Staveley, supposedly the UKIP candidate, has admitted he’s not even bothering to campaign against the Tories. Last year, Croydon Conservatives could not admit that their defeat in the council elections was their fault; they blamed UKIP for letting in Labour. Crucially, as the Standard reported yesterday, from having 20 per cent of the Croydon Central vote in polls last October, UKIP go into election day reckoning on just 10 per cent of the vote.
Like 2005 (75 votes) and October 1974 (164 votes), the result in Croydon Central looks like being decided by a handful of votes.
With the expected result so close, Labour will trust that their superior number of party activists blessed with a younger average age than the Tories will get their vote out to match any success that the Conservatives typically gain in the postal ballot and the benefits of Barwell’s incumbency has. Some indications suggested that Barwell could be 2,500 votes ahead on postal votes already.
But Barwell may yet have misjudged how to exploit his incumbency after inexpertly over-claiming on his “achievements” as an MP and being too brazenly cynical in some of his campaign literature like the “Dear Neighbour” letters.
At the margin, the ballot will be decided by better Labour organisation and the area’s demographic change. With the LibDems also running an absentee candidate (James Fearnley was last spotted canvassing in Rotherhithe, for the benefit of his own local party’s candidate, Simon Hughes), if Labour manage to squeeze the LibDem vote down from 2010’s 13.2 per cent to something like 3 per cent, then we may be in for a long night.
Jones and her team will also have to address the challenge from Esther Sutton, the Greens’ widely admired local candidate.
If Barwell does lose, he will have taken what was the 198th safest seat for the Conservatives in 2005, when the Conservatives trailed nationally by 2.8 per cent, to losing when the Conservatives nationally enjoy a small lead.
It’s too close to call. But there will be some at his former workplace, Conservative Central Office, who will be asking tough questions about how Barwell managed to allow things ever to get so close.
- The Croydon constituency declarations are expected around 3.30am. With correspondents at all three Croydon counts, and in Sutton, plus national updates, join us after 10pm tonight for Inside Croydon’s unique take on Election Night
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