WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, on viral election posters and what the latest opinion polls suggest will be the outcome for this part of south London next Thursday
Might Stormzy win the election?The past week has seen Jeremy Corbyn judged to have overcome Paxman and win Channel 4’s Battle for No10, to have charmed and disarm more middle-of-the-road viewers at primetime on The One Show, and then trump the unelected Prime Minister by turning up at last night’s leaders’ debate, when Theresa Mayhem was nowhere to be seen.
We all know that opinion polls carry hefty health warnings, and at 39 per cent to the Tories’ 42 per cent, Labour still won’t win the election, but by any comparison the Corbyn-led party has made remarkable strides in closing what was a 21-point gap in the five weeks since Mayhem called her snap election – the one she’d always said that she wasn’t going to call.
YouGov’s polling suggests a hung parliament – with the Conservatives having more MPs than any other party, but not with the “working majority” that May sought when calling the election. And nor would Labour suffer the wipeout which many of the right, and in the Labour right-wing, seemed to want.
In this bit of south London, according to that polling, it could prove to be a case of win-some, lose-some for the Tories, with gaffe-prone Gavin Barwell set to lose Croydon Central to Labour’s Sarah Jones while the Conservatives are predicted to take Carshalton and Wallington from the FibDems’ Tom Brake. Perhaps Brake’ll end up with some cushty directorship at Viridor before the Beddington incinerator fires up next year.
In Croydon Central, YouGov predict a “Lean Labour” win, meaning that it will again be a very tight outcome, but they are leaning towards a Conservative loss. They are probably influenced by the parallel polling conducted in London, where Labour has polled 50 per cent (up 9 per cent) and the Tories at 33 per cent (down 3 per cent).
Barwell clung on to the seat in 2015 by just 165 votes. Or, as Stormzy is said to have put it, less than your dad’s got Facebook friends.The unofficial Stormzy poster has gone viral on social media since it first appeared earlier this week, even prompting coos of appreciation from a leading member of the Glee Club who was wheeled out as a warm-up act at Barwell’s campaign launch before the last General Election.
“He nearly dropped his fried chicken on to his Bible when he saw it,” was how one observer put the immediate response to the Stormzy poster.
For his own part, since the polls were published last night, Barwell has failed to respond to questions about whether he has been working on a sequel to his 2016 memoir, How To Turn A Tory Seat Into A Marginal, though it is sure to be a popular read for those who enjoy fantasy fiction or suffer from insomnia.
If Barwell is unseated next Thursday, it could well be more to do with the changing demographics in Croydon, the young vote and Stormzy, the Croydon-born international grime star, than anything Jones has done in her campaigning.
In spite of all the muck that has been thrown at him by a generally hostile media (including elements at the usually left-leaning Grauniad), and some of the right-wingers in his own party, Corbyn’s image-defying television appearances, the prompt apology when he has made a mistake, and his meeting with and getting endorsements from leading music performers who are widely admired among voters under-30, have all helped to fuel the enthusiasm which was so evident among “Corbynistas” and which won him two Labour leadership campaigns by wide margins.
Yet while Steve Reed OBE and, possibly, Jones, could surf a wave of Corbyn-inspired support all the way to Westminster next week, they have been going out of their way to try to pretend that their party leader does not exist.
Reed is the former vice-chair of the Blairite Progress group who last summer took part in the “chicken coup”, an attempt to bring down the party leader. Jones last year led a tour of Croydon for Owen Smith, the charisma-bypass who was served up as the failed leadership challenger to Corbyn.
“Part of the reason Labour started this election campaign so far behind the Tories is because of the disgraceful and undemocratic manner the Blairites and many in the Parliamentary Labour Party, including Steve Reed, have behaved towards the leader and the members who elected him,” one Croydon trades unionist told Inside Croydon.
“They really should be ashamed of themselves, the damage they have caused to our party.”
The past month has seen Jones, Reed and the Lambeth councillor parachuted in to represent Labour in Croydon South, Jennifer Brathwaite, avoid almost any reference to Corbyn, who began his election campaign on the streets of Croydon.
A fund-raising dinner for Jones, with arch-Blairite Tessa “Bunga Bunga” Jowell as the guest of honour and attended by leading figures from Croydon Labour, including council leader Tony Newman, saw the entire evening pass without anyone mentioning the “C” word.
During a 90-minute election hustings at St Joseph’s College in Upper Norwood last week, Reed managed to mention Labour policy just four times, and Corbyn not at all.
Brathwaite’s campaign leaflet, replete with multiple references to her work in Lambeth – where she is overseeing the eviction of many council tenants from their homes, to make way for property developers – does not mention Corbyn once.
But then Jones’s bigger, glossy leaflet also fails to mention her party leader by name.
And while millions of voters around the country watched Monday’s and Wednesday’s TV events, interacting on social media and supporting their leaders, perhaps tweeting their best lines, the Twitter timelines of Reed, Jones and Brathwaite contained not a single word about Corbyn’s performance.Maybe in the case of Jones, she has learned from Barwell’s 2015 campaign, when he avoided mentioning that he was a Tory. After May’s shambolic performance over the past fortnight, with the U-turn on the Dementia Tax, the 7p-a-child school breakfasts and her vanishing act from the TV debate, Barwell might want to avoid mentioning his association with the Nasty Party again.
Whatever the reasoning of Reed and Jones, it is going to make for some uncomfortable meetings after June 8, when Corbyn calls in all the Labour MPs for a chat about how they see their role in Westminster’s biggest opposition party with him as its leader.
Corbyn’ll probably wish he’d had Stormzy as a candidate. As would many of the voters of Croydon.
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