BELLE MONT, our Sutton reporter, on a development today which could alter the political make-up in south-west London for years to come
The Regressive Alliance is alive and kicking in Sutton, where UKIP has opted to keep their General Election deposits by not putting up any candidates in the two parliamentary seats on June 8.
The deadline for candidate declarations was today, and the Kippers’ decision not to contest the seats could lead to the end of LibDem Tom Brake’s 20-year parliamentary career as the MP for Carshalton and Wallington.
Brake was the only LibDem in London to be re-elected at the last General Election in 2015, but the arch-Remainer with a slender 1,500-vote majority in a pro-Brexit area now looks doomed. The major beneficiary of UKIP’s absence from the ballot papers is likely to be the Old Etonian heir presumptive to a baronetcy, Matthew Maxwell-Scott, the Conservative candidate who was runner-up two years ago.
On that occasion, UKIP finished fourth, polling 7,000 votes – more than enough if most of them vote Tory to unseat Brake this time around.
And that last vote was long before what has become known as #SuttonBinShame, the chaotic handover of the borough’s bin collections by the LibDem-run council to contractors Veolia, which started badly in April and has just rumbled on ever since, creating an nasty niff around Brake’s election chances.
Brake’s association with a £275,000 “gift” to a church in the constituency, handed over by Viridor before that company got planning permission from the LibDems to build the industrial-scale incinerator at Beddington Lane, is hardly going to help the MP’s assumed environmental credentials, as there are two other candidates, one Green and another independent, who will nibble away at his core vote by campaigning strongly against the LibDems’ local record.
Having lost the Sutton and Cheam seat to the Tories in 2015, to lose Carshalton and Wallington in 2017 will be a body-blow to the Liberal Democrats who have controlled the local council for more than 30 years. Without the resources of the two MPs, Sutton LibDems’ well-oiled campaign machine could start to mis-fire, with local elections just 12 months away.
The consequences will likely affect Croydon, too: the two boroughs are conjoined for the London Assembly elections, where last year Tory Steve O’Connell only clung on to his seat thanks to the voting in LibDem-backing Sutton.
According to a report by the New Statesman yesterday, Brake is hopeful that Labour and Green supporters might vote for him to keep out the Tory. That’s what many might describe as “wishful thinking”.
Yet Brake suggests he might even get votes from Tory Europhiles. “The south of the seat, which is richer and where we vie with the Tories, mostly voted Remain,” he told reporter Dave Hill. “Whether they will transfer their allegiances for a general election which the prime minister has made all about Brexit, I don’t know.”
While the LibDems, Greens, Plaid, SNP and some Labour supporters have been squabbling over the merits, or otherwise, of a “progressive alliance” – electoral pacts of covenience in key seats to halt the Tories and unelected Prime Minister Theresa May – the open secret that is Blukip is being realised in south-west London.
Blukip – a much-denied arrangement between the Tories and UKIP – was first floated in 2015, with the anti-EU party running less-than-energetic campaigns in some seats. In places like Croydon Central, this was often the difference that helped the Conservative candidate get in, ensuring that the EU Referendum would be held.
Since that Brexit vote last year, UKIP has become a party without much of a cause, and also without a millionaire donor, since Arron Banks closed his wallet.
So running a second parliamentary campaign in the space of two years is an expense which Sutton’s Kippers can probably do without, especially if they get a more favourable result in a constituency by not contesting it.
In Sutton and Cheam, Paul Scully won the seat for the Tories from LibDem Paul Burstow with a healthy-looking 4,000 majority in 2015, when UKIP finished fourth, just hanging on to their deposit with 5,000 votes. UKIP’s decision not to contest that seat seems only likely to aid Scully in extending his parliamentary career.
And the word on the streets is that the LibDems have already pretty much conceded Sutton and Cheam as lost, redirecting most of their campaign resources next door to try to salvage the increasingly beleagured Brake.
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