Two south London council by-elections in the past week suggest the LibDems might have a chance of breaking Croydon’s political duopoly, reports our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE
Boris Johnson’s selection by the 0.15per cent of the population which comprises the stale, male and largely pale Tory members as their party leader and, therefore, Prime Minister, is likely to put Mario Creatura back in contention to regain the Croydon Central seat currently held by Labour MP Sarah Jones.
That, at least, is the likely outcome according to a Survation poll this week.
A Johnson premiership would improve the poll standing of the Conservatives at the expense of the Faragist Brexit Party, according to Survation’s numbers. It would also boost the polling of the Liberal Democrats. Conversely, if Jeremy Hunt wins his way into No10, the Brexit Party is predicted to get a boost, but LibDem support would be curtailed, with the national Tory vote share down to just 23 per cent, which would not be good news for Creatura’s ambitions of becoming an MP.
You can see why Croydon South MP Chris Philp bowed to the inevitable on Thursday and declared his support for Johnson in the Tory leadership race.
Before that, Philp had publicly backed Sajid Javid, resigning his job as Tory Party deputy chairman to do so.
Philp said that he felt Javid offered a modernising image that appeals to London voters. But he is likely now to pay the price in his political career for not backing the winner from the outset.
Johnson offers the prospect of the Tories getting the show back on the road in Croydon for both Creatura and for Philp. But at no stage did Philp think to ask his voters who they preferred him to support as the next Conservative Party leader.
Now that the 300-or-so Conservative MPs have whittled down the contenders to Johnson and Hunt (with strong suspicions that the former Mayor of London “lent” some of his supporters to the MP for South West Surrey, in order to block his rival Michael Gove’s chances), the privilege of having a vote on these two unappetising candidates for the next leader of our country is passed to the small band of mainly male, white and older residents who are Conservative Party members in Croydon and across the country.
Employing the Survation poll shares and Electoral Calculus, under Johnson the Labour majority in Croydon Central would fall from 5,652 to 3,579, close enough to make it a contest that the unctious Creatura could have a bash at.
In Croydon South, under a Boris premiership, the Liberal Democrats would emerge as the challengers, but would still be 6,554 votes behind Philp in what remains a safe Tory seat.
In many ways, such polling numbers will give hope to Croydon’s red-blue political duopoly of a return to normality, with their vice-like grip on the borough’s politics – and the council allowances that subsidise their operations – after the consternation of the European election result and ongoing shocking local elections outcomes.
It is a pitiful reflection on the state of the nation’s politics that the Tory leadership race is between a Johnson and a Hunt, and that the party which in Croydon in last month’s European elections collapsed to fifth place, on just 10.6 per cent of the votes, now appears likely to win more popular support thanks to picking “Bust-Up Boris” as its leader.
What’s also a bonus for the Tories in south London is that the recent LibDem surge seems likely to keep the Croydon and Sutton seat at the London Assembly safe from a Labour challenge.
The Croydon Town Hall leaders, Labour’s Tony Newman and Conservative Tim Pollard, will have been casting their gaze at by-elections in nearby boroughs on Thursday in Wandsworth and in Merton, and will have worked out (or in Newman’s case, have it worked out for him) that they perhaps do need to consider seriously a growing threat locally from the third party.
The LibDems enjoyed a spectacular result in Cannon Hill ward in Merton, taking a council seat in what had previously been a Tory-Labour battlefield.
At the May 2018 local elections in this 80 per cent owner-occupied ward, the Tories won back one of the three seats they had lost in 2014. But one of the Labour councillors resigned, causing the by-election, and the ward now has councillors from Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
The swing to the Liberal Democrats from Labour was 19.1 per cent. Yet the Tories managed to lose an even bigger percentage of their vote share than Labour. And this, remember, is before the LibDems get the probable polling boost provided by having a new national party leader of their own.
Significantly for Labour in Croydon, a significant factor in Cannon Hill was the hashtagged “Mucky Merton” complaints over the poor service standards of Veolia, the rubbish contractors. Merton, like Croydon, is part of the South London Waste Partnership in which Veolia’s performance has become a matter of mounting resident discontent.
Across in Furzedown ward in Wandsworth, Labour held on against a LibDem challenge, with the Tory candidate a long way back in third.
Confirmed polling nerd and Waddon councillor Andrew Pelling went on social media to suggest that the Cannon Hill result, if played out in Croydon, would see a council seat result of Lab 37 (losing four seats) Con 26 (-3) and LibDems 7 (+7).
Looking at 2018’s results, such LibDem gains would most likely be in Upper Norwood, central Croydon and Old Coulsdon.
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