ELECTION COUNTDOWN: Over in Sutton, the political party which controls the council is sending out distress signals ahead of the May 3 vote, as BELLE MONT reports
Liberal Democrats have clung on to power in Sutton over the years by persuading Labour voters to lend them their support to keep the Tories out. Labour voters have been doing that in Sutton for so long, they haven’t so much lent them their votes, as had them out on long-term lease.
But eight years after the LibDems at national level entered into the austerity-enabling coalition with the Conservatives, and with #SuttonBinShame, a LibDem fraudster councillor and the Beddington incinerator becoming toxic topics on the doorstep, there’s indicators of significant shift in attitude among Sutton’s voters.
Sutton’s LibDems message to Labour voters to lend them their votes is a practice known among political operators as “squeezing the vote”. It’s the curse of the First Past the Post system that voters do get driven to choose between just one incumbent and one challenger.
This squeezing was vital to MP Tom Brake in his holding Carshalton and Wallington parliamentary seat in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections, while fellow LibDem MP Paul Burstow was losing his seat in Sutton and Cheam to Tory Paul Scully.
In Sutton and Cheam last year, Labour’s vote for local candidate Bonnie Craven was up 9.4per cent, almost in line with Labour’s 10.8 per cent increase from 2015 in Greater London. Significantly, without a LibDem incumbent in the constituency (indeed, so underwhelming was the campaign of candidate Amna Ahmad, it was as if the LibDems did not have a candidate at all), their vote share fell by 7 per cent. Freed of the squeeze in Sutton and Cheam wards, in 2018 Labour thinks it can win back some presence on a council where it has not won a seat since 2002.
In Carshalton and Wallington last year, the squeeze was easier to conduct against Labour’s Momentum candidate from Haringey, with Ermine Ibrahim’s Labour vote up only 3.43per cent, the fourth worst Labour performance in London. Worse performances by Labour came, tellingly, in other Tory v LibDem contests in south-west London.
Now, Sutton’s LibDems are out with a video on social media targeted at Labour voters urging them to vote Liberal Democrat to keep the Tories out.
Clearly the LibDems are worried.
Scully’s Croydon-based public relations company the Nudge Factory has put out research saying that Sutton Liberals could lose their majority on the council. This despite the LibDems in Sutton having 45 council seats to the Tories’s nine, and without a single Labour councillor from the last local election in 2014. This landslide result reflects the way First Past the Post rewards the leaders in a poll. In Sutton in 2014, the LibDems won 83.3 per cent of the seats on just 35.7 per cent of the vote.
The Liberal Democrats losing overall control of Sutton Council on May 3 seems unlikely but swings from LibDems to Labour will open the door to a lot of Tory gains. It would take a huge LibDem to Labour swing to deliver more than a handful of seats to Labour.
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