WALTER CRONXITE, political editor, sifts through the runes from the Selsdon Vale and Forestdale ward by-election
Fatima Zaman retained the Selsdon Vale and Forestdale council seat for the Conservatives in yesterday’s by-election, as the reputational damage done to Labour locally by Tony Newman and his numpties saw them beaten into third place.
“This is a disastrous result,” one experienced party activist said of Labour’s performance.
Labour candidate Tom Bowell polled just 372 votes in a ward which is split between Tory Croydon South and the Labour-held Croydon Central parliamentary constituency – a result which will sound alarm bells in MP Sarah Jones’s office and at Labour’s London Region.
With their party at more than 50per cent in national opinion polls, this was a stark demonstration of just how badly damaged the Labour “brand” has become in Croydon, following the council’s financial collapse two years ago.
The Greens’ Peter Underwood leapfrogged Labour to finish in second place with one-quarter of the votes cast.
Zaman, paraded by the Tories as a “local mum” despite her living in Addington Village, polled 46per cent of the vote – down by 19.3per cent on what the Conservatives managed in the same ward in May’s borough-wide local elections.
That is surely a signal to the Tories that the crashing the national economy into recession by Croydon South’s gormless MP, Chris Philp, is also a factor for voters.
“We were just lucky that he didn’t pop his head up on Question Time last night until the polls were very near to closing,” one relieved Tory activist confided to Inside Croydon this morning.
The count was conducted at the Braithwaite Hall this morning, and took little more than an hour and a half to tally the two thousand votes that were cast yesterday. Turn-out, on a wet November day, had been 30per cent, down from the 40per cent seen in May.
When the by-election was called, Inside Croydon predicted that despite the stonking lead for Labour in the national polls, the Tories would still get around half of the votes cast (using the average of the votes for the two councillors, for both of you psephologists out there). And so it proved.
Labour’s Bowell polled just 17.5per cent – the same as his party colleagues had managed in May. Croydon’s voters are clearly not ready to forgive Labour for the mess that they left behind at the Town Hall.
“‘Tom’s Mum says vote for Tom’ clearly didn’t cut it as an election slogan,” one demoralised activist said, after an uninspired four-week campaign which included a “national campaign day” at which MPs Jones and Steve Reed even turned out to try to help Bowell’s cause.
In fourth place was former MP Andrew Pelling, standing as an independent, with 7.9per cent of the vote, while the LibDems’ George Holland, despite barely bothering to do any campaigning, saw their vote up by 3.4per cent since May – because the LibDems didn’t even have a candidate in this ward six months ago.
Underwood, for the Greens, saw their vote share up 8per cent, to 24.9per cent, still some way back from the Tories in what would conventionally be regarded as a safe Conservative ward.
“This result should send a message that Greens can compete anywhere and more and more people are choosing brighter, greener politics,” Underwood said following the result declaration.
The Greens’ credibility as a political force in Croydon has undoubtedly taken several steps forward as a result of their winning two council seats in the borough for the first time back in May. Underwood’s campaign was also boosted by visits from significant numbers of canvassers from around the country, and helped by the experience and know-how of a former Labour parliamentary candidate acting as his election agent.
“I am so pleased and honoured that so many people in Selsdon Vale and Forestdale voted Green on Thursday,” Underwood said.
“I met so many people during this campaign who were fed up with the old parties and their old politics. People were glad to have the chance to vote for a person and a party they could trust to work for them and our area.”
The response to the Labour result among insiders was one of considerable concern.
“If Labour drop from second to third place in a local by-election at a time when the Tories nationally are imploding, then this is a disastrous result,” said one activist.
“Lots of people in Croydon still associate Labour with the bankruptcy of the council.”
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