KEN LEE reports from a draughty church hall in south London where … nothing much was learned
Leila Ben-Hassel is the new councillor for Norbury and Pollards Hill, following yesterday’s ward by-election, where the Tory vote collapsed amid the current Brexit shambles at Westminster, and division and dissent among the local Conservative Party.
On a day of March winds and wintry rain, three out of every four electors did not even bother going to the polling stations, hardly a ringing endorsement for any of the political parties and what they have to offer.
The Labour candidate, in her brief acceptance speech, dutifully paid tribute to her predecessor, Maggie Mansell, whose death had led to the by-election being called.
Norbury and Pollards Hill council by-election, Mar 14, 2019
Leila Ben-Hassel (Labour) – 1,379 (64.5%)
Tirena Gunter (Conservative) – 324 (15.2%)
Mark O’Grady (Independent) – 162 (7.6%)
Rachel Chance (Green) – 91 (4.3%)
Malgorzata Roznerska (Independent) – 72 (3.4%)
Guy Burchett (Liberal Democrat) – 70 votes (3.3%)
Kathleen Garner (UKIP) – 40 (1.9%)
Number of voters: 2,145. Turnout: 25.3%
Perhaps the most notable thing about the count was the presence of the council chief executive, Jo Negrini, looking tanned and relaxed after a few days sipping cocktails on the beach in the south of France. Negrini had jetted back from the Cannes – at Council Tax-payers’ expense – to preside over the election count, and trouser her five-figure fee, as the Returning Officer.
The low turn-out reflected the absence of much in the way of voter engagement during the month-long campaign, in which Croydon councillors once again performed their time-honoured function of being the country’s highest paid, publicly funded leaflet deliverers.
On election day itself, as far as the Tories were concerned, barely half a dozen Conservative councillors were seen on the streets making even a routine effort to “get out the vote”.
Ben-Hassel polled almost two-thirds of all votes cast, in line with expectations and close to the level of support once enjoyed in the ward by Mansell.
But the Tory vote-share, in the past standing at around one-quarter, slumped to just 15 per cent, as candidate Tirena Gunter was effectively hung out to dry by her local Conservative Federation chair and other disgruntled Brexiteer types.
Norbury and Pollards Hill is a two-seat ward in the north of the rock-solid Labour constituency of Croydon North. The Norbury public clearly has little appetite for Brexit: Kathleen Garner, the perpetual UKIP candidate, attracted a mere 40 votes, finishing last of the seven candidates.
Norbury and Pollards Hill borders Chuka Umunna’s Streatham parliamentary constituency.
The recent shift towards “independents” of one kind or another, and a grumbling and growing dissatisfaction with the established political parties was underlined in the Croydon ward where the two separate independent candidates between them collected 11per cent of all votes cast.
Expressing the votes as a percentage helps to spare the candidates’ blushes somewhat: Mark O’Grady and Malgorzata/Margaret Roznerska between them still got fewer votes than the number of customers in the Norbury Tavern expected tonight. And yet local resident O’Grady still finished third of all candidates, performing better than the Greens and LibDems.
Ben-Hassel’s victory maintains Labour’s 41 councillors in Croydon Town Hall, a 12-seat majority over Tim Pollard’s increasingly disunited Conservatives.
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