Our political editor WALTER CRONXITE peers over the borough boundary to see how campaigning is going for Thursday’s council by-election
Residents in Bromley’s Kelsey and Eden Park ward will be trudging back to the polls on Thursday, just six months after they turned out to vote in the local council elections.
Not unlike in Sutton, where a by-election had to be staged in Belmont, this democratic exercise – estimated to cost up to £20,000 – is taking place because a sitting Conservative councillor has decided to up-sticks and leave so soon after having sought elected office.
David Wibberley had only become the ward’s Tory councillor in May, but he has been cursed by a redundancy at work, such that he is having to move to Liverpool for a job. He has thus stood down in a seat that the Tories will win again on Thursday in a borough where the blues dominate with 50 of the 60 councillors (there are eight Labour members, mostly from the north of the borough, near Crystal Palace and Penge, and two independents in Biggin Hill).
Kelsey and Eden Park borders Croydon’s Shirley North ward at Elmers End and Monks Orchard, and includes the Bethlem Royal Hospital, Elmers End station, Elmers End Tesco’s, the Langley Park schools and Beckenham football club.
Although the political culture is very different between Croydon and Bromley, local party activists in Croydon will look keenly for any pointers as to how the political climate sits in this part of south London.
Gavin Barwell, who is talked of as a successor to the Beckenham MP Colonel Bob Stewart DSO, will take a particular interest in the result. He would do well to be seen on the doorstep on Thursday, to try to build bridges with the chairman of the Beckenham Conservative Association, Brian Cooke, who wrote to the press about his disgust with the Prime Minister’s Brexit offer and the role of her chief of staff. Certainly, it might be a better use of Barwell’s time than providing unconvincing Brexit PowerPoint presentations to Labour MPs in the House of Commons.
You can certainly expect to see Croydon councillors – Conservative and Labour, who between them are paid more than £1.4million per year in allowances to work for you – to be out and about in Bromley on Thursday, knocking on doors in their parties’ interest.
In May, Kelsey and Eden Park saw the Tories win with 45.7 per cent of the vote to Labour’s 26.8 per cent and the LibDems on 13.4 per cent.
This time around, the Tory candidate, Christine Harris, has strong local links having been the chair of a Langley Park residents’ association.
Despite Labour putting in a big effort and employing the usual bar charts to urge voters to treat this as a two-horse race between themselves and the Tories, their chances of squeezing the LibDem vote look limited. The LibDems have been running a higher profile campaign than they did in May, with their 2017 Beckenham parliamentary candidate, Julie Ireland, standing.
Both Ireland’s children went to the Langley schools but she does not live in the ward, so residents have been spared the usual LibDem leaflets with maps using big arrows to associate other candidates’ residences with somewhere as remote as Outer Mongolia.
Both the Tory and Labour candidates live in the ward.
Labour’s pro-EU Marie Bardsley is running on a platform which strongly opposes national cuts, though it’s not clear what power a borough councillor has over that.
She does not like the quality of the street cleaning and what she sees as unaccountable street cleaning contractors (she should try coming to Croydon). She also wants Tory Bromley to adopt Labour Croydon’s 20mph speed limit policy on residential roads.
As in May there are also Green and UKIP candidates (Paul Enock and Graham Reakes respectively).
The weather forecast for Thursday is rain but mild. Despite all the parties’ efforts, expect a disinterested response from residents and a turnout of less than 40 per cent.
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