Two years ago, WALTER CRONXITE correctly predicted the 40/30 seat result in the Croydon Council elections. Last year, he said Croydon Central was “too close to call”. So, will he be right in his prediction of tomorrow’s Croydon and Sutton London Assembly vote?
Labour has only once mustered a serious challenge for the Croydon and Sutton London Assembly seat. Twice they have been third and once they just pipped the Liberal Democrats to second place.So the prospects for Marina Ahmad overcoming Tory Steve O’Connell at the polling stations across the two boroughs tomorrow were never great, and while eagerly pursuing a campaign which required a 3per cent swing from the Conservatives, the evidence on the ground suggests that Labour will narrowly miss out on unseating the Kenley councillor from his cosy City Hall sinecure, which has seen him trouser more than £500,000 in the last eight years.
It was only at the last London Assembly election, when Labour’s Louisa Woodley had an energetic campaign, George Osborne had just issued his omnishambles Budget and Labour under Ed Miliband (remember him?) was polling the equivalent of a 39per cent national share of the vote in local elections that the Tories came under a real challenge in Croydon and Sutton. But while Labour got its highest ever number of seats – 12 – on the London Assembly, Woodley was not one of them.
Woodley reduced O’Connell’s majority dramatically from 42,665 to 9,418 on a massive 9.25 per cent swing.
But in 2016, Labour is polling just a 30 per cent national share equivalent in local council by-elections, 9 per cent lower than four years ago. It is this statistic above all others which has had Jeremy Corbyn’s aides managing expectations for their party ahead of tomorrow’s results night for local elections around the rest of the country, in Wales and Scotland.
But come Friday, when the London count begins, the capital can be expected to deliver some positive news to the Labour leadership, thanks to the strong campaign for Mayor mounted by Tooting MP Sadiq Khan.
Riding on the coat tails of a very strong showing for Khan (who is 14 per cent ahead in opinion polls after second preferences) may give a huge momentum to the Marina Ahmad vote in Croydon and Sutton. By the same token, O’Connell may suffer because of the “nasty”, divisive and racist campaign run by the Tory Mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, which has been condemned by LibDems, Greens and even a former chair of the Conservative Party.
Labour’s great success in London in last year’s General Election (unlike the rest of the country) also suggests a good result locally.
Demographic change also means that Labour’s prospects improve every year in Croydon. It is just that this may be a year or two too soon for Ahmad.
It is doubtful that more than 1-in-30 of the voters have been spoken to personally by any political party in the huge Croydon and Sutton constituency which straddles five parliamentary seats and runs from Worcester Park to the borders of metropolitan London, and down to Caterham in the south.
The Liberal Democrats, who have long controlled Sutton Council, have been notably subdued, even in their Sutton heartland. In Croydon, their campaign has been non-existent. LibDem election rallies have been held in the front rooms of activists, as in the case of one meeting last month involving St Vince Cable, who must be wondering how far his stock has fallen since being a member of Her Majesty’s Government until just a year ago. He’s probably attended livelier whist drives at a Darby and Joan club.Their campaign has been so lukewarm that their candidate, Amna Ahmad, hasn’t even bothered to update her personal campaign website from when she was contesting the Streatham parliamentary seat in Lambeth a year ago.
Maybe she is banking on getting respectable “support” simply because she shares the same surname as her Labour rival, and hoping that some voters might put their cross in the wrong box at the top of the ballot paper. Which sort of overlooks the fact that modern ballot papers do have handy little party badges next to each candidate’s name, so there’s less likelihood of such confusion.
UKIP’s candidate is Addiscombe resident Peter Staveley, who is beginning to make a bit of a habit of standing for election and then announcing that he’s not really bothering to campaign because he has more important things to consider. In this case, the “more important thing” is next month’s EU referendum, though if Staveley and UKIP really can’t be bothered to contest the London elections, it is reasonable to question how many of their supporters will bother to turn out to vote.
It has only been in the past week that the hard-pressed local newspapers have turned their attention to the election. The only quasi-hustings to be held attracted just 35 people, most of them being party hacks.
The Conservatives have put O’Connell front and centre in their local (that is, Croydon) campaigns against Town Hall plans for housing in Shirley, the temporary closure of the Fairfield Halls, the cessation of free garden waste collections and a review of the public library service along the lines of Lambeth’s “bookish gyms”. These were all campaign gifts for the Tories, presented to them by the Labour leadership at Croydon Town Hall. None of the consultations or announcements could not have been delayed until after May. But the local issues are certain to increase voter participation among Tory voters tomorrow.
Over his eight years at City Hall, basking in the reflected glamour of Tory Mayor Boris Johnson, O’Connell has steadfastly kept a profile so low as to be subterranean. He is the London Assembly Member who had nothing to say about the incinerator or the Waddon flyover and contributed nothing to a series of transport consultations around his constituency. “It’s like being represented by the invisible man,” was the description from one constituent in O’Connell’s Kenley council ward. Not that O’Connell is entirely inactive: so far this year, he has found the time to tweet on 62 occasions about Crystal Palace FC. Over the same period, he has tweeted just 10 times about matters in Sutton.
Four years ago, Labour polled more votes in Croydon than the Conservatives, 39,665 to 39,181. In 2016, Tory local issue campaigning seems likely to switch that advantage around just a little.
It was in Sutton, the other one-third of the seat, where in 2012 O’Connell got the votes he needed to stumble over the winning line, with the Tories getting almost double the Labour vote (20,971 Conservatives v 11,069 Labour).
In 2012, 15,288 Sutton residents wasted their vote on the LibDems. Given the fall-out from the ConDem coalition, which saw them lose the Sutton and Cheam parliamentary seat last year, the LibDem vote may shrink further this time.
Labour does not appear to have campaigned in most parts of Sutton, hampered by not having any Labour councillors on Sutton Council. The shock of the failure to win any seats on that council in 2014 seems to have paralysed much of the usual Sutton Labour effort.
The London Assembly elections are unusual, in terms of British elections, since voters each get three ballot forms and the parallel ballots are each conducted under a different electoral system.
The vote for London Mayor uses a mild form of proportional representation, offering electors the opportunity to express a first and second preference.
The vote for the London-wide Assembly Members gives people an opportunity to support a party, rather than any individual candidate; the 11 seats are divided proportionately among the parties which register above a 5 per cent voting threshold, with candidates being appointed from a list drawn up by their parties. It is under this system that at least one Croydon resident seems guaranteed four years at City Hall: Fiona Twycross, who recently moved home to the borough, is first pick on the Labour list.
It is only the London Assembly’s 14 geographical constituencies, including Croydon and Sutton, which are determined by the old and familiar first-past-the-post voting method.
Marina Ahmad has therefore turned to social media to get her message across to LibDem, and Green, voters that in the Croydon and Sutton seat where there is such a strong two-party hegemony, a vote for any other party is wasted.It is unclear, however, how much of that message has reached voters who are used to seeing election landslides for Liberal Democrat candidates in local elections in Sutton.
Turnout is the other important factor. In 2012, that reached the heady heights – by the standards of anything other than a General Election – of 35.7 per cent. But that was for a battle between Ken and Boris, two politicians so well-known that they are recognised by their first names. Like Kylie and Madonna.
No one is arguing that Zac and Sadiq have the same pulling power, and that will affect the “undercard” in Sutton and Croydon, where the lower the turn-out, the better things are usually for the Tories.
Thus the prediction for the Sutton and Croydon result – to be declared on Friday afternoon up at Olympia – is:
Conservative 58,500 38.4%
Labour 53,000 34.8%
Liberal Democrat 21,000 13.8%
UKIP 10,400 6.8%
Green 9,000 5.9%
Others 500 0.3%
Swing Conservative to Labour 1.3%
There is one other election going on tomorrow, a council by-election in West Thornton ward. This was the ward which the local Tories “forgot” to include in their election literature in 2014, so slap-dash are they towards the north of Croydon. It is easy to predict that Callton Young, the Labour candidate chosen after The Hon Emily Benn opted for a career in merchant banking rather than turning up late for Town Hall meetings, will be a comfortable winner.
We also predict that the three candidates who all want to take us back to 1956 – whether from UKIP, or Coulsdon car driver Peter Morgan, or the latest wasted line on a ballot paper for Winston McKenzie – will fail to total 500 votes. Between the three of them.
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