With a little more than a month before the Town Hall elections, ANDREW FISHER, pictured left, sifts through the shifting opinion polls, nationally and across London, to see what we can learn about how people might vote in Croydon
Croydon is a politically divided borough.
The southern, Surrey end is a Tory stronghold, while the northern part, with London postcodes, is solidly Labour. Which political party controls the council has in the past pivoted on which party can claim the most marginal wards around the centre.
In recent years, the centre of gravity has shifted. Labour regained the Croydon Central parliamentary seat in 2017 on a large swing, having missed out in 2015 by just 165 votes. Labour’s Sarah Jones held Croydon Central in 2019 with a slightly increased majority, despite the national swing against Labour.
The Town Hall has been held by Labour since 2014, and was comfortably retained in the 2018 local elections.
London polling suggests Labour is 30 points ahead of the Conservatives across London – and it looks like that consolidation of the capital is continuing unabated.
In the local elections on May 5, Labour should be expecting big gains across the capital – with the Tory flagship borough Wandsworth (which the Labour narrowly missed taking in 2018) and Barnet firmly in party strategists’ sights.
On a uniform swing across the capital, even the South Croydon ward seat of the leader of the Conservative group, Jason Perry, would be at risk, as Inside Croydon has previously reported. Perry is also the Conservative candidate for the new position of executive Mayor – which will be elected for the first time this year.
Extrapolating from London polling – and national polling where Labour also leads – things look hopeless for Perry and Conservative hopes in Croydon.
But Croydon has its own dynamic due to the chronic maladministration of the Labour-run council – albeit in circumstances where the perennially underfunded borough has faced severe and debilitating cuts in its central government funding.
A recent YouGov poll showed Londoners understood the structural bias against outer London boroughs in the government’s funding, with 35per cent believing inner London is treated better, 13per cent outer London, and 25per cent thinking the two areas get the same level of support. This is a message that whoever becomes Croydon’s Mayor needs to be sending to government as they negotiate a better deal: Croydon gets only half the funding per citizen than neighbouring Lambeth.
Conservative election leaflets put criticism of Labour front and centre – omitting to say much, if anything, of what they will do in the future, and of course failing to explain why they voted through the last few Labour budgets that they now criticise.
The Conservatives’ own record in running Croydon was hardly glorious either – with a massive overspend on new council offices, as well as poor value for money contracts with Axis housing maintenance, introducing the white elephant of Westfield to the town centre, and the incredibly wasteful Croydon Urban Regeneration Vehicle, the joint venture between property developers Laing and the council.
And that’s not to mention how the then Conservative group leader, Mike Fisher, was forced to resign in disgrace over the “Wadgate” allowances scandal, or the fact that when they last had control of the Town Hall in 2014, they left the council saddled with a £1billion debt.
Jason Perry was a cabinet-level councillor throughout this period, too.
However, despite the London-wide polling trends, the Conservatives could see a revival in Croydon.
Writing in The Times this week, Opinium’s Chris Curtis says the national swing may be overstated because Labour is already dominant in London, and the swing to Labour in London since 2019 is only at about half the rate of the national swing.
Another factor in the Conservatives’ favour is that turnout is lower in local elections – and that lower turnout means those who vote tend to be disproportionately older voters, and older voters tend to favour the Tories.
The changed electoral battleground of a mayoral contest means that every vote across Croydon counts. For years, Conservatives and Labour pocketed their safe seats, and didn’t battle much for scraps in the safe seats of their opponents. Both parties put most of their efforts into just five or six marginal wards.
In 2022, every vote in every ward counts in determining who will be the next Mayor.
In the 2019 General Election, where turnout was higher, Labour comfortably won the popular vote across Croydon. But in the London mayoral election last year, where turnout was lower, the Conservatives narrowly won in Croydon.
YouGov polling also shows there’s a lot to play for: 34per cent of Londoners say they plan to vote Labour, 17per cent Conservative, and 8per cent for the Liberal Democrats and 6per cent for the Greens.
But a significant number, 17per cent, say they “don’t know”, with election day less than six weeks away.
That’s why the fight is on to control the narrative.
While the Tories emphasise the Labour Town Hall administration’s failures, Labour can rightly argue many of the problems originate in Whitehall.
The trump card may be that in Val Shawcross, Labour has the more credible candidate for Mayor – a former deputy mayor of London, who was previously a Croydon council leader, and the only one this century who emerged with her credibility intact. Shawcross also has the advantage that most of those most influential in Labour’s failures have either gone or are standing down before the May 5 election.
Whatever happens over the next few weeks, in Croydon it is looking like a hard-fought election.
- South Norwood resident Andrew Fisher has worked as a trades union official, researcher and writer, and from 2015 to 2019 as Labour’s Director of Policy under Jeremy Corbyn. He is the chair of the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party. Fisher is also the author of The Failed Experiment – and how to build an economy that works, and in a personal capacity now writes regular columns for InsideCroydon.com
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