Four million conversations: but what was their message?

John BragginsJOHN BRAGGINS, pictured left, strips away some of the data to show that Tory MP Gavin Barwell had one of the biggest vote swings against him in the whole of London in last week’s General Election

The headlines from Croydon on Thursday night – or more accurately, Friday morning – were of the Conservatives holding the marginal seat of Croydon Central. On a night full of surprises for all parties, London proved a more fertile ground for Labour than any other region. But if London was good for Labour, why was it that Croydon Central failed to fall?

Let’s look over the figures for Croydon first. Croydon North remained one of the safest seats for Labour with a swing of 4 per cent Con to Lab and a 40 per cent lead over the Tories. Croydon Central ‘s swing was just under 3 per cent to Labour and Croydon South just 0.5 per cent to Labour.

LibDem logoThroughout the borough the Liberal Democrat vote almost disappeared, with Croydon South being the highest percentage Lib Dem vote of 6 per cent, but even that represented a massive loss for the LibDems of 17 per cent from 2010.

UKIP performed as you might expect – reasonably well in Central and South with 9 per cent and 10 per cent respectively, but they polled just half of that in North, where the electorate is far more diverse and less appetite for UKIP’s policies.

But a look beneath the figures for the ultra-marginal seat of Croydon Central shows a slightly different picture, and that is down to one man – Andrew Pelling. Last time, in 2010, Pelling stood as an Independent and gained 6.5 per cent of the vote, but given his previous position as the Conservative MP, the vast majority of his vote would have come from those who normally vote Conservative.

Labour's Croydon Central candidate Sarah Jones: knocking on doors was not enough for Labour

Labour’s Croydon Central candidate Sarah Jones: knocking on doors was not enough for Labour

The true result in 2010, therefore, would have been more accurately Con 46 per cent to Lab 33 per cent.

On those figures, it would be hard to think of Croydon Central as anything more than an outside bet for Labour, so to come within a whisker of winning the seat was undoubtedly one of Labour’s best performances of the evening.

Labour won four seats from the Conservatives in London and the swing in each was less than Croydon Central’s 6.5 per cent: Ealing Central and Acton 4.2 per cent; Brentford & Isleworth 2.2 per cent; Enfield North 3 per cent and Ilford North 6.3 per cent.

The Conservatives put huge resources into holding Central, but nothing compared to Labour’s army of more than 500 volunteers on the day and a committed team that identified and got their vote out and succeeded in squeezing the LibDems down to their deposit-losing vote of 2 per cent. A campaign team that almost overturned the odds. No comfort to Sarah Jones and her team, but politics can be a cruel game, just ask Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

If Labour wants to win Central next time then it faces a huge task. The demographics of the seat make the traditional appeal of Labour less relevant in many parts of the constituency. And as this is what the Americans call a “bellwether” seat – one which Labour will need to win to form a government – knocking on more doors won’t be the answer. Labour managed to hold conversations with 4 million voters in the six-week campaign but what Labour had to say didn’t seem to make much difference.

The person who led Labour to three successive victories had a message for them yesterday: “The Labour Party has to be for ambition as well as compassion and care. Hard-working families don’t just want us celebrating their hard work; they want to know that by hard work and effort they can rise up, achieve. They want to be better off and they need to know we don’t just tolerate that, we support it.”

Gavin Barwell must be hoping that message falls on deaf ears.

  • John Braggins worked for the Labour Party for 10 years leading up to the 1997 General Election. He was head of local government for Labour from 2000 to 2002 and senior press officer for the newly formed Greater London Assembly
  • 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

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This entry was posted in 2015 General Election, Andrew Pelling, Chris Philp MP, Croydon Central, Croydon North, Croydon South, Gavin Barwell, Sarah Jones MP, Steve Reed MP and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Four million conversations: but what was their message?

  1. The example of Croydon Central is one that Labour would do well to heed as it recovers from the fatal mistakes that were the appointment of Ed Miliband as its leader and a return to traditional working class values. The south of England is now politically an unbroken swathe of Tory blue, which Labour will need to break up if it is ever to form another government without the help of the Scots, who are heading for semi-detachment at the very least.
    Labour will need to sell itself as a modern, social democratic party where every member has an equal say in who leads it and what policies it adopts.
    In the past five years the party has retreated to a 1945 persona, which may have been hugely popular then, but is now irrelevant to the daily lives of a huge majority of the electorate.
    England and Wales need a healthy left of centre political presence to balance Tory right of centre ideology. The Labour Party is the obvious choice, but politics like nature, abhors a vacuum, so if Labour veers further to the left someone else will fill the void.

  2. Rod Davies says:

    Although I had hoped for a different outcome and was at times swayed by this hope, realistically it was always going to be a tough nut to crack for Sarah Jones.
    If anyone has attended any of the community consultation events over the last decade, it cannot have escaped how entrenched many views are towards the changes Croydon has experienced and the nostalgia for the past, primarily anything pre-1990. Croydon Central is also a profoundly divided constituency and is a constituency of sharp contrasts.
    Of course we all can walk or drive past the high density developments in the centre and shake our heads at the rate of change, and the threat of thousands of inward migrants increasing the demand on public services. And we can recognise that London has signally failed to construct sufficient housing to service its economic expansion.
    Equally, we can visit West Croydon and with dismay note the decayed fabric of the place, and the gaps left by the riots. As too we can pass through the increasingly run down areas adjacent to the town centre.
    But most of us, the electorate of Croydon Central, it is another world, oddly distant from our quiet and clean residential streets. We are most probably either working and lower middle class residents of long standing, possibly having retired a decade and more ago, or we are reasonably well off professionals. We share nothing of the life experiences of those in the central town areas. We have benefited from council largesse that has revitalised our local shops.
    Are the majority honestly going to vote for anything that might endanger our security and advantage?
    The town centre is where Croydon’s money is made, or it is a conduit through which we pass to earn money. This money services the suburbs and without the town centre facilities the rest of the borough falls.
    Croydon Central is almost a microcosm of London, with the densely populated and socially disadvantaged centre voting for Labour, while the leafy suburbs vote Conservative. And why should it change?
    Perhaps encouragingly a lot of people did vote for Labour, and the incumbents campaign based upon past performance, rather than party loyalties, did not seem to fare that well. Like the Prime Minister, Gavin Barwell did not secure a resounding victory. He crept in with a handful of votes, and he could just have easily lost his seat.
    Over the next five years there is a major challenge for both Barwell and Jones if they intend to stand next time. Both have to connect more effectively with the others camp. Next time the SNP monster will have diminished, and it is unlikely that UKIP will recommend that people vote Conservative. The Greens and LibDems may well have gained ground. And importantly the older traditional Conservative voters will have reduced in number due to the inevitability of life ending.
    So I would say we have an interesting time ahead as Labour and Conservative parties attempt to win our hearts and minds

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