CROYDON IN CRISIS: The latest opinion polls suggest that despite bankrupting the borough, Labour could increase its number of councillors in May’s Town Hall elections. STEVEN DOWNES reports
Inside Croydon’s mole in the lawns of Croydon Tories’ suburban Purley headquarters reports complete despair among Jason Perry’s crack campaign team last night, after absorbing the full implications of YouGov’s latest and astonishing opinion poll results.
In the middle of the Partygate implosion of lying Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, with MPs defecting and Brexiteer backbenchers invoking evocative phrases from the darkest days of the Second World War, YouGov’s latest figures give Labour an extraordinary 32 per cent lead in their latest poll.
That kind of voting, if carried through to polling day in the Town Hall elections on May 5, would see Val Shawcross elected as the borough’s first executive Mayor by a 3-to-1 majority which would see her powering to victory without needing second-preference votes.
And that kind of voting would see Jason Perry, the Conservatives’ deeply dull candidate for Croydon Mayor, also lose his councillor seat in true-blue South Croydon ward, while 10 other Tory-held council seats would be lost in potentially the biggest Labour landslide ever seen at Croydon Town Hall. It would be as if Tony Newman, Jo Negreedy and 2020 had never happened.
While the running of the council after May 6, under a directly-elected Mayor, will see the borough’s councillors with a significantly different role, if the Conservative group at the Town Hall were to be reduced to a mere 18 councillors as the latest polling suggests (the Tories won 29 council seats in 2018), it would be a crushing and possibly mortal defeat from which they may never recover.
After eight years of a failed Labour administration that crashed the council’s finances, there had seemed to be an open goal for Croydon’s Tories.
Conservative optimism was boosted, too, immediately following Shawcross’s selection as Labour’s Mayoral candidate, when her campaign team quickly featured many figures familiar from discredited ex-leader Tony Newman’s omnishambles of a council: the likes of “Thirsty” Clive Fraser, Ollie “Shitshow” Lewis and Maddie “Anonyvoter” Henson, some of the very people who bankrupted the borough.
But a London-wide poll was a warning of what was to come.
YouGov’s Greater London poll put Labour on 55per cent, up 7per cent when compared to their showing in the 2019 General Election.
The Tory vote share in London was down 9 per cent, to 23per cent, with the LibDems on 9per cent and the Greens on 7per cent.
No wonder the capital’s Tory MPs got nervous about the partying in Downing Street during lockdown when such a poll showing would see eight of them losing their parliamentary positions, according to research by London Communications, leaving just 13 Conservatives in London’s 73 seats – including Croydon South’s Chris Philp, whose 12,000-vote majority would be slashed to less than 3,000.
Even with Philp’s majority, at the 2019 General Election, the Conservatives were 18,283 votes behind Labour across Croydon’s three constituencies. Labour doubling its lead over the Tories, according to this poll, would give the Conservatives no chance in May’s Mayoral election.
Yesterday’s new nationwide YouGov poll represents a swing of 17per cent from Conservatives to Labour since the 2018 local elections. That’s close to matching the calamitous Tory collapse in 1971 (at the nadir of Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath’s unpopularity) when Labour almost took the council on a 17.6per cent swing.
That sort of swing in May 2022 would see Shawcross elected with more than 60per cent of first preference votes.
On May 5, for the Mayoral contest, Croydon’s voters will have a first preference vote and a second preference vote – as has been the case in the London Mayoral elections. The winner is declared only when they have more than half of all votes cast. In theory, the top two candidates in the first preference count will go into a second round of counting, where the second preferences of voters who chose less popular candidates are redistributed.
Croydon’s local elections electorate is up by 2.4per cent since 2018 and with the novelty of the Mayoral election on May 5, turnout could edge up towards 40per cent.
With the polling figures as released yesterday by YouGov, Shawcross looks set to capture 67,250 of the 111,000 first preferences cast – 60.5per cent – with Tory candidate Perry on a measly 24,500 (22per cent).
That would represent a humiliating 3-1 defeat for the Blues.
This would be particularly demoralising for the Conservatives, who backed the campaign to change the council’s governance system as a way back to power with a borough-wide vote.
Early… well, very early… indications from what doorstep canvassing has been going on since the new year are beginning to suggest a serious case of “buyer’s remorse” among Conservative voters over that party’s rush to fix Perry’s selection to be their Mayoral candidate.
The Conservatives held their selection meeting on the Sunday night immediately after the Mayoral referendum result was confirmed on the Friday morning.
While this swift coronation of the Tory opposition’s Town Hall leader as their choice to run for Mayor gave Perry two months’ campaigning head start while Labour laboured through its selection process, they have done nothing with it.
Although Perry has been a councillor for what was once Croham ward for nearly 30 years, he remains virtually unknown among Croydon residents. A lengthy essay, presumably which he penned himself, for the in-house website Conservative Home, comprised around one-thousand words but had not a single idea for how he would run the council differently.
Perry’s article displayed a troubling lack of political imagination, as he seemed to think that all he and his Tory foot soldiers need to do is to remind the Croydon public of the Labour council’s bankruptcy. Yet Perry himself carries the serious baggage of being discredited by having voted in 2019 and 2020 for Labour council budgets that crashed the Town Hall finances.
While Tory MPs have been putting in their letters of no confidence in Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, Conservative voters have been sending letters of concern to MP Philp asking for urgent explanations of how the party managed to pick such a Town Hall insider with all the charisma of a plastic window salesman.
Although that really ought not come as any surprise: selling plastic windows is Perry’s family business – motto: “Perfect for the Conservatory Installer!”
Yet the ignominy for Perry might not end with the Mayoral election.
Curiously, as well as being the Conservative candidate for Mayor, Perry has also put himself forward as one of the Tory candidates in South Croydon ward, where he has been a councillor since 1994. Maybe even Perry himself, before any of these YouGov polls came out, didn’t fancy his own chances of being elected as Croydon Mayor?
On the kind of massive swing predicted by YouGov, Perry and his two veteran ward colleagues – Michael Neal and Maria Gatland, the former IRA gun-runner – will all lose their council seats, perhaps by as many as 1,000 votes, with Labour’s trio of candidates taking 50per cent, and seeing a red flag planted at the top of Croham Hurst for the first time in the borough’s history.
With these poll figures, also gone will be another eight Tory councillors – in Addiscombe East, Park Hill and Whitgift, Shirley, both North and South, and one of the two seats in a dead-heat contest in Addington Village and Selsdon.
The Labour high tide will crest over the Shirley Hills and reach all the way to the bucolic Addington Village. For the first time ever, Labour members will be able to walk from Crystal Palace to New Addington Parade on territory represented by their party.
Notables among the Tory casualties losing their council seats could be former parliamentary candidate Jeet Bains, scrutiny stalwart Robert Ward and sometime Downing Street aide (in the days of Theresa Mayhem’s premiership) Jason Cummings.
“Lord” Gavin Barwell, still a guiding light to many Croydon Tories, is not known for his late-night social media activity, but the former Croydon Central MP was clearly animated by the momentous events of Wednesday this week when he tweeted long after midnight this morning, “Here’s a prediction: with no Corbyn, Brexit no longer an issue, Partygate and a cost of living crisis, the Conservatives are not going to win the next election easily whoever their leader is and whoever that leader’s advisers are.”
The Labour landslide in Croydon as predicted by YouGov would be so debilitating for the Tories that they might never recover.
The party’s income from having just 18 councillors contributing to party funds from their Council Tax-funded allowances would be significantly reduced.
Indeed, so desperate might the situation be that the rump of Tories left at the Town Hall might have little alternative than to select Barwell’s former gobby factotum Mario Creatura as their new leader. In other words, a disaster heaped upon disaster.
The YouGov figures, of course, are a reflection of the extraordinary times in which we live, and the events of the last couple of weeks…
In an era when an hour is a long time in politics, were the parliamentary party to dump a Prime Minister who has become deeply unpopular, and untrusted, even among Conservative supporters, that might just turn the tide for Perry and his chums, although to what extent by May 5 will depend on the quality of campaigning by both sides between now and then, as well as their respective “Get Out The Vote” operations on the day.
And there is another footnote of caution here, as you might expect. Were Labour to win such a large majority of councillors as predicted by YouGov’s figures, it might give the dullards and Blairites among the re-elected Newman’s numpties some hubristic sense of justification for the actions that led to the council’s financial collapse.
Which would mean it would be up to the new Mayor, elected to represent the whole of the borough, to show the more shameless ones the real need to change how they, and their party, behaves. And that might just prove to be the toughest task of all.
Read more: Croydon votes 4-to-1 in favour of having directly elected mayor
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Read more: Tories go for more of the same as Perry wins by three votes
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