Political editor WALTER CRONXITE on a schedule change that probably won’t do anything to increase turn-out in Selsdon Vale and Forestdale
Election candidates for the Selsdon Vale and Forestdale ward by-election, their agents and supporters, had their carefully planned campaign schedules thrown into disarray yesterday when the council decided to bring forward deadlines for postal ballots.
Voting by post became much more popular during the covid lockdown, avoiding the need to visit the polling station on election day. The political parties try to time their campaigning so that their messaging reaches votes likely to vote by post at the same time as their ballot papers arrive.
But all those plans were wrecked yesterday lunchtime when the candidates and their agents were told by the council’s electoral services department that, to avoid any adverse impact from planned strike action at Royal Mail, the despatch of the postal votes was being brought forward by 48 hours – with ballot papers being sent out by first-class post today.
“No bloody consultation with the candidates’ agents,” one seriously unimpressed local politician told Inside Croydon.
The email from the council’s electoral services said, “You may be aware that the postal service is due to be affected by industrial action in the coming weeks, with strikes due to take place on Thursday 20 and Tuesday 25 October.
“To mitigate the impact of this on the by-election the main batch of postal votes has been brought forward so that they are dispatched first class on Tuesday 18 October, and there will be a covering letter in each postal vote pack which will advise electors to return their postal votes quickly to avoid disruption, and reminding them that they can hand their postal vote in to one of the polling stations on 3 November.”
In charge of elections in the borough is the Returning Officer, who also happens to be the council chief exec, Katherine Kerswell. Earlier this year, Kerswell managed to make Croydon even more of a laughing stock, if such was even possible, when she oversaw the seemingly ever-lasting election count.
Then, some of the delays and issues with the count were thought to be because of the drastic reduction in experienced staff working at the count, and also the much-reduced staffing in electoral services. Sources at Fisher’s Folly suggest that staff shortages, including some due to illness, are again part of the reason for the early despatch of postal votes.
In Selsdon Vale and Forestdale, an area that straddles two parliamentary constituencies, the change to the scheduling of postal votes is likely to hit the Tories hardest. Voters will be considering where to place the X on the ballot paper at a time when the havoc caused by Thick Lizzy Truss and KamiKwasi Kwarteng has the Conservatives at record lows in the opinion polls.
And Labour has already sent out a letter deliberately targeting postal voters. Because of the relative remoteness of the polling stations, encouraging residents to register for postal votes is seen as a sensible measure for “GOTV” – Get Out The Vote.
Two schools in the area which would usually be used as polling stations have not been booked for the by-election, so the ward will have just two places for voters to visit to cast their vote in person.
As one Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon, “This will hurt turnout badly, especially in the Tory Selsdon Vale area, where voters now have to go to the rooms underneath Sainsbury’s in Selsdon. Voters would usually walk to Greenvale school on Selsdon Vale.
“The other polling station is Forestdale Forum, a bit inconvenient for Courtwood Lane residents who usually go to Courtwood School on their doorstep. The long walk uphill along Old Farleigh Road is a turnout destroyer.”
Early indications suggest that the Greens have been very active on behalf of their candidate, Peter Underwood, while there have been few leaflets delivered so far by the Tories and no activity at all from the LibDems. Andrew Pelling, once the MP for part of the area, has cut a lonely figure out delivering leaflets for his own independent campaign.
Croydon Labour’s Blairites, with their callow candidate from Broad Green, Tom “Expunge” Bowell, have resorted to delivering a leaflet which attacks national figures such as the Prime Minister and the Croydon South Tory MP, Chris Philp.
And while Philp was at the centre of the Mini-Budget clusterfuck, and was sacked from his Treasury job as a consequence, Labour’s literature is careful to avoid mentioning how they bankrupted the borough.
Some sources have suggested that Labour’s slogan in Selsdon Vale and Forestdale is “Tom’s Mum says Vote for Tom”, although we have not been able to confirm this.
“The election is all about courting the 66per cent of voters who voted Tory in this ward in May,” according to one source on the campaign trail.
And they dismissed recent national polling numbers and Truss’s obvious unpopularity by adding, “It’s fair to say that Tories held seats like these at the depths of Thatcher’s unpopularity.”
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