CROYDON COMMENTARY: What’s the state of local democracy after last week’s local elections? Not great, according to PETER UNDERWOOD
As the dust settles on another local election campaign it’s time to start looking at what the results mean for the different political parties, and Croydon as a whole.
This election was the first contested on the new ward boundaries but little appears to have changed. New Addington apart, the north of Croydon has Labour councillors and the south has Conservatives. The wards across the middle of Croydon are still the closest between red and blue, although there is a hint that this line is moving slowly further south.
The make up of the council still doesn’t reflect the way voters voted.
Labour won the largest share of the vote but more people voted for other parties than for them. So to be returned with an overwhelming majority of councillors is clearly a failure in the system. Thousands of voters who did not vote for either Labour or the Conservatives are also still left without representation on the council.
Unfortunately this situation is not limited to Croydon and the archaic first-past-the-post voting system has led to odd results across the country.
The voting systems used in the London Assembly elections provide a much better reflection of the way people vote and the local election results have given further evidence of the need for reform to Council elections. The Electoral Reform Society has started a petition to bring in fairer systems for council elections.
So what of the state of the parties?
Labour have retained their position as the largest party in the council, with the largest share of the vote, and so are claiming this result as a victory. But, even though they increased their seat tally by one, their result could be seen as an underperformance compared to results across London and in previous elections .
With turnout much lower across Labour wards than Conservative ones, these results can hardly be claimed to be a ringing endorsement of the Labour council by the general public.
Similarly the Conservatives are claiming a positive result by retaining the majority of their seats but, for a party in opposition, they don’t show much sign of overtaking Labour.
From the start of the campaign, the Conservatives seemed to show little hope of winning the election. With the changing demographics across Croydon, have they given up hope of gaining control of the council any time soon? Or ever again?
The Green Party strengthened our claim to be the third party in Croydon. We were the only other party to stand in all wards across Croydon and we had a higher placed candidate than the Liberal Democrats in 21 out of the 28 wards.
However, there has been no Green breakthrough under the current voting system. Results elsewhere will give the Greens hope. To the north, Lambeth elected five Green councillors in place of Labour and to the south, the Greens have beaten the Conservatives in Redhill in recent years.
The demographic changes in Croydon are bringing more typical Green voters into the borough but the Green Party will have to do a lot more to attract voters fed-up with the red/blue duopoly in order to start getting councillors elected.
The Liberal Democrats were hoping that this election would signal their comeback. While they achieved good results elsewhere in some London boroughs, the results in Croydon would have been a big disappointment. The LibDems focused all of their campaigning in just two wards. In Crystal Palace they ended up falling well short of Labour and their best-placed candidate only polled a couple of hundred votes more than the Greens. In Old Coulsdon, despite a big personal vote for Gill Hickson, she polled less than half of the votes of the second-placed Conservative and her fellow LibDem was more than 250 votes further back.
With the Liberal Democrats struggling to hold on to neighbouring Sutton it seems likely that all of their efforts will be focused there in future and they may abandon Croydon as a lost cause.
The parties on the far-right fielded very few candidates at these elections and thankfully in Croydon they also received very few votes. None of the UKIP candidates got even close to 200 votes and the two BNP candidates couldn’t manage that number when added together. The view among some political analysts is that these voters have now moved over to support the Conservative Party. Worryingly there are signs that some Conservatives have also taken on the far-right’s vile and hateful views and I sincerely hope that decent Conservatives will make very clear public statements to show that those attitudes have no place in their party in Croydon.
So back to the overall picture. They say that if you do what you’ve always done then you’ll get what you’ve always got. Well, largely, that is what Croydon voters have done and the pessimistic side of me feels that we may be in for another four years of pointless tit-for-tat politics in the council chamber.
I hope instead that Labour may be emboldened by their victory and take a far more active role in opposing central Government cuts and put more effort into restoring our public services. I also hope that the Conservatives will take a far more constructive approach to their role as councillors and not just look for ways of trying to make Labour look bad.
As a Green Party member I know we have to up our game. We will have to keep pressing on core issues of improving transport and housing; tackling air pollution; and protecting our parks and green spaces. We also need to keep listening and get better at showing how we are acting on people’s other concerns. Success elsewhere shows that there is no reason why Greens can’t be elected in Croydon. It is up to us to convince you of that and up to you as voters to decide if you want to move to our positive, more inclusive way of doing politics.
For now, barring the usual by-elections, we are stuck with the council we have. We all now have a responsibility to hold them to account for their actions and keep pushing them to make Croydon a happier and better place for all of us.
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