To borrow a phrase from that giant among Croydon residents, Ronnie Corbett: “And finally…”. WALTER CRONXITE, our man in the public gallery with a Yorkie bar and a copy of Computer Weekly, offers his analysis of the local state of the parties following last week’s General Election
That’s how many votes Gavin Barwell secured – the highest number of votes for a Conservative parliamentary candidate in Croydon Central since 1979.
Barwell is a strong incumbent with the professional campaigning experience and the determination – some would say the lack of personal shame – to exploit his hold on the parliamentary seat to the full.
Even when Labour ploughed what seemed like endless resources into the seat and had more than 500 volunteers knocking on doors on election day, Barwell was able to get more voters to the polling station than Labour, more supporters than had been seduced by the local Tory machine in 36 years.
While the Conservatives in London saw their vote share up a paltry 0.03 per cent, Barwell was able to increase his percentage by 3.47 per cent. Labour in Croydon Central increased their vote by 9.13 per cent when across London their vote climbed by 7.6per cent, so you can see some of the effect of Labour’s heavy rate of campaigning in that outperformance in the increase in the vote in Croydon Central.
Yet Barwell was able though to move even further on. Thus the swing from Conservative to Labour in Croydon Central is below the London average by almost 1 per cent.
Unlike some of the national pollsters and other local pundits, Inside Croydon called it right in Croydon Central as being too close to call with a recount accurately forecast.
Turnout was higher than Inside Croydon’s expected 50,000, coming in at 52,491. This turnout was up on 2010 by 2,974 voters, reflecting how both main parties got their vote out in such a keen contest.
That Barwell has held on in the context of major Labour effort and very significant demographic change is evident in the seat moving from the 198th safest Conservative seat in 2005 to the 329th safest seat in 2015.
But the 2014 local elections may prove to be the high-water mark for Labour in Croydon for some time.
The demographic trend may start to run with the Conservatives as thousands of Yuppie flats are developed in the town centre, to provide homes for well-to-do executives who might be expected to vote Tory.
And the Tories’ promised boundary changes may leave Croydon with no marginal seats at all. Before the boundary changes were scuppered by the Liberal Democrats in the last parliament, the Sixth Periodic Review of Westminster constituencies was looking at putting in the very Tory, very high-turnout ward of Selsdon and Ballards into a new Croydon East seat, thus snuffing out the prospects for a Labour challenge if implemented for the 2020 General Election. It is clear that the Conservatives are determined to implement the boundary changes this time round, to reduce the Commons from 650 to 600 seats, and with a similar impact on Labour MPs in England as they managed to effect in Scotland this time round.
Amid all the talk in the past few days about the unfairness of the first-past-the-post electoral system, it is also worth noting that across the whole of Croydon, from Coulsdon to Norbury, the votes cast were:
Labour – 70,139
Conservative – 66,350
And just in case you’ve missed the results, the number of MPs returned to Westminster from Croydon are:
Labour – 1
Conservative – 2
Take from that what you wish about how democracy works in Britain in 2015.
Our mole at the Croydon Tories’ HQ in Purley tells us that local Conservative morale is much improved following last week’s results, and particularly after hanging on to Croydon Central. Whether that will be enough, though, to reverse the trend of ageing and declining membership, time will tell, and it is a situation which is unlikely to be helped if Cameron’s new Government quickly makes itself unpopular.
This is important because it is ordinary party members who stuff the envelopes and attend fund-raising functions, and twice now, at the 2014 local elections and this year, Croydon’s Tories have noticeably lacked foot soldiers for their campaign. Meanwhile, Labour nationally are claiming thousands of new members signing up since Friday – in somewhat belated realisation of what the next five years may have in store.
Despite their overstretched resources, and with so much energy focused on Croydon Central, the Conservative vote in Croydon South last week was also the highest Tory vote there since 1992. That may say much about the diminishing regard held for Richard Ottaway, the Tory MP for the constituency from 1992 to 2015.
The swing against the Tories’ new man, Chris Philp, was a very modest 0.59 per cent, though this may reflect how the seat was barely contested by Labour, for whom The Hon Emily Benn did at least claim second place as the LibDem vote from 2010 collapsed.
Now buttressed in the south of the borough, the Tories can concentrate on winning back the Waddon council seats which were lost 12 months ago, but where the new Labour councillors are being undermined by the decision of their own council to go back on its election promise to oppose the Viridor incinerator scheme at Beddington Lane. The council backing a Boris Johnson road scheme through a local park could cost Labour vital votes in Waddon at the next Town Hall election in 2018.
The Tories will also be targeting Ashburton ward in Croydon Central, where Barwell will undoubtedly repay his party’s efforts to support him by directing his parliamentary office resources to outdo the hard-working Labour councillors who won that ward for the first time ever in 2014.
Labour may seek their own local re-districting of ward boundaries in Croydon to aid their defence of these battleground areas.
But before the next council elections, 2016 will see us all traipsing off to the polls again, this time for London Assembly and London Mayor elections. With the continuing very low votes for Labour in the two Sutton parliamentary seats, Kenley Tory councillor Steve O’Connell seems to be a certainty to hold the Croydon and Sutton Assembly seat.
If Croydon’s Labour council does lose out in 2018, the councillors will only have themselves to blame – though doubtless their mantra will be to blame “Tory cuts”, which they appear readying themselves to implement.
When Inside Croydon suggested that Sarah Jones’s parliamentary campaign in Croydon Central would have been assisted by being able to tell a story of a new local Labour council with a strong positive reputation, and that she probably could have done without the PR dropped bollocks by the council over Purley Pool and school playing fields – both of which the Tories used against Jones in their campaign – the response of Tony Newman, Labour’s council leader, was to issue a vaguely incoherent tweet and tell Inside Croydon to “grow up”.
Not exactly the wit or debating skills of a Nye Bevan, Tony Benn or Dennis Skinner…
Croydon’s Labour leader put the following policy points of what he considers to be surefire vote-winners with the public, in this order of priority:
- White Ribbon council
- London Living Wage council
- Increasing affordable housing
- Freezing Council Tax
- Cleaning our streets
It is a lacklustre list that just goes to show that Newman, and Croydon Labour, still don’t get it.
What do Newman’s five first-year achievements amount to?
White Ribbon council: worthy but a tokenistic £6,000 contribution to a national campaign.
London Living Wage council: worthy but no broad appeal to the “aspiring” voters in Croydon who voted Barwell back in.
Increasing affordable housing: hardly any new affordable housing has been delivered in Year 1 of this Labour council, with an even lower completion rate than the previous Conservative council.
Freezing council tax: another “so what?” It may be an election promise kept, but given central Government restrictions on Council Tax increases, it’s not as if the council really has much discretion in the matter anyway.
Cleaning our streets: Newman’s council presided over the production of some tacky-looking T-shirts. But you would be hard pressed to prove that Croydon’s streets look any better now than they did in April 2014.
If that really is all Croydon Labour have got in their armoury, then they will need the new Government to make itself deeply unpopular in less than three years, or Newman will be losing control of the Town Hall for a second time in his career come 2018.
- Inside Croydon Events: for dates and links to what’s happening in and around Croydon, updated daily, click here
Inside Croydon: Named among best regional media campaigns, 2014.
- Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 729,297 page views in 2014.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org