WALTER CRONXITE reports on Labour’s slow, and candidate-less, start to campaigning in what is supposed to be a marginal constituency, as polls show the Tories likely to win in four key wards
Croydon Conservatives have got off to such a quick start in the General Election campaign in Croydon Central that Gavin Barwell leaflets have already found their way from the letterbox to the waste bin.
Labour, too, have been out knocking on doors, taking advantage of their much bigger membership, boosted by the “Corbynmania” of the past 18 months.
But their Croydon Central campaign is hampered by not yet having the name or pictures of a candidate to put on any leaflets they would want to put out.
The Labour Party nationally, still controlled by Blairites who were appointed to their jobs during the previous decade, is making sure that it handles the appointment of candidates in Tory-held seats. And despite their party leader’s entreaty at Labour’s conference six months ago to “prepare for a General Election in 2017”, there might be no official Labour candidates in any of these seats – including Croydon Central and Croydon South – until after next weekend’s May bank holiday.
It means Tory incumbents Barwell and Chris Philp will have been handed a fortnight’s head start in a race which, in 2015, was decided in Croydon Central by a wafer-thin margin of 165 votes.
After two low-profile years, Sarah Jones, Labour’s Croydon Central candidate in 2015, has re-emerged in the past week to lead canvass sessions.
Labour has given Jones and other losing candidates from 2015 first refusal on the 2017 candidacies. Inside Croydon understands that Jones has exercised the option to stand again.
She will do so knowing that if she can get an extra 83 voters from Barwell’s pile of 22,753 ballot papers, she could unseat the Conservative who has been MP for the constituency since 2010.
But pollsters Electoral Calculus have Barwell getting more than 50 per cent of the Croydon Central vote this time, projecting that Jones – or whoever Labour eventually gets round to appointing as its candidate – will lose the election on June 8 by 7,303 votes.
This is based on Labour’s dismal national polling, and on there being a similar polling day turnout to 2015.
But even the polling figures appear to be in flux, with Theresa Mayhem’s 21 per cent lead in the polls from last Tuesday, the day the unelected Prime Minister announced the General Election, being slashed in half according to opinion polls published in the Sunday papers.
May had even earned the ire of the Murdoch-owned newspapers by the weekend for allowing Philip Hammond, the dull accountant who occupies No11 Downing Street, to suggest that the Conservatives would increase income tax and VAT if re-elected.
And Labour is doing better in London than elsewhere across the country, so the result in Croydon Central could be closer than Electoral Calculus has projected.
But a Labour loss in a local council by-election in Harrow last Thursday will have shaken any belief that the party in London has some kind of immunity to its weakness outside the capital.
Croydon South, which includes the tree-lined suburban avenues of Coulsdon and Purley, is really much more like Surrey than gritty London, and there Electoral Calculus is predicting that Philp will win with the support of five out of every eight voters, with the Labour vote slumping to just 18.4 per cent. If turnout matches 2015, Philp would amass 35,911 votes and the Labour candidate, whoever that turns out to be, just 10,623, though still comfortably in second place.
Labour’s 2015 candidate, The Hon Emily Benn, last year resigned her Croydon council seat to take up a banking job opportunity in New York, and it is not known whether the grand-daughter of Tony Benn intends to conduct a transatlantic election campaign.
In Croydon North, Electoral Calculus has the Tories getting their highest ever share in this seat since it was first contested in its current configuration in 1997. The predicted 29.4 per cent Tory share would still see Steve Reed OBE winning by 21,364 votes on an equivalent 2015 turnout. A stronger Conservative challenge in north Croydon might, though, open up opportunities for the Tories in next year’s local elections.
Electoral Calculus predicts that the Tories will win the General Election in each of the four marginal wards currently held by Labour and expected to decide the outcome of the 2018 local elections – Addiscombe, Ashburton, New Addington and Waddon.
So by May 2018, there could well be commanding Tory majorities both in the House of Commons and the Town Hall.
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