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.
Throughout 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.
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
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