Complacency and bad weather: the key to predicting the Croydon North by-election?

By - Friday 16th November, 2012

Croydon North is a safe Labour seat, but so was Bradford West

For all the coverage of the Croydon North by-election, observers would be forgiven for thinking that it was just another ordinary plea for votes, like the general or local elections in 2010. But they’d be wrong. There really is all to play for in the run up to Thursday 29th November, and the candidates are all too aware.

Malcolm Wicks will be a hard act to follow, a great local MP who was loved by his constituents. Turning the constituency into a deep shade of red took him 20 years of hard graft. Party activists from all sides recognise his charm, wit and passion for Croydon and he will be missed by many. But electorally how much of an impact could Malcolm no longer being the candidate have on who their next MP is?

A hard act to follow: Malcolm Wicks MP

The ‘incumbency’ effect is touted constantly – the idea is that the person currently in the job has an innate advantage over the challenger. When you’re the sitting MP you have the resources of your office to demonstrate your track record. Every time you help a constituent the theory goes that they’ll react more warmly to you in future

and will be more likely to support you as a result. Over five years of sorting out problems, appearing in the papers and speaking in Parliament and it’s perfectly logical to assume that you’ll have an advantage over a relative newbie. The fear in the Labour camp will likely be that there’s absolutely no evidence that this build up of personal support will automatically pass to Brixton’s Steve Reed, their candidate for Croydon North.

In fairness the odds of a Labour victory are stacked heavily in Steve’s favour – Malcolm’s legacy has left him with a notional majority of around 16,000 votes. But the thing that will be playing on Cllr Reed’s mind, and the minds of his senior party activists, is just how soft these numbers could be.

The turnout in 2010 was 51,676 or 60.6% of eligible voters. Not bad for a generation that is supposedly the most apathetic ever. How many of these votes do you think were people who were voting for Malcolm instead of ‘the Labour Party’? Regardless of that immeasurable observation, turnout is going to be a huge obstacle in Steve retaining a Labour majority in Croydon North. There are quite a few reasons why this is a bigger issue than it first appears.

It’s important to remember that a by-election is not the same as a general election – it’s unpredictable and subject to chaotic external factors. There isn’t the same national media hype, there are fewer posters and TV ad campaigns. If you don’t read a local paper it’s entirely possible that this by-election will pass you by. Almost a year ago on December 16th 2011 in the London constituency of Feltham and Heston, Seema Malhotra held it for Labour with a turnout of 28.8% of the vote – that’s the lowest turnout for a by-election since 2000 where in West Bromwich the turnout was a mere 27.6%.

Grey skies, blue result? Cold weather historically favours the Conservatives

The Police Crime Commissioner elections were yesterday, just two weeks before Croydon North goes to the ballot box. The Electoral Reform Society have projected that they are set to trump Seema’s result with a turnout of just 18.5% of eligible voters. They also tellingly reveal that local election turnout averaged at 25.2% in Metropolitan councils in 1998. What does this tell us about Croydon North? More likely than not, the turnout will be low, at an average of 30-40% lower than the 2010 numbers. That’s a potential reduction in the total vote in Croydon North of around 13,000 votes.With a 2010 Labour majority of 16,000, this could be a big problem for them. Who these votes come from will therefore be what determines the result of the election. If only it were a simple one to predict.The Conservatives are working Croydon North hard, canvassing is going very well and residents are responding warmly to their candidate – local boy and charity worker Andy Stranack. Born in Mayday hospital with cerebral palsy, this Christian charity worker gave up his policy job with Croydon Council to work on a local estate to make a real difference on the ground. His gritty, true story is selling well on the doorstep and is confounding preconceived expectations of what a Conservative should look and sound like.

But he’s not the only candidate that should be putting the willies up Lambeth professional politician and Council leader Steve Reed. They come no scarier to Labour than Lee Jasper, a former senior advisor to Ken Livingstone and now the Respect party candidate for Croydon North. George Galloway has already been in town, pledging to target the black and Muslim vote. Could his victory in Bradford West be replicated in Croydon? They’ve a strong chance – in Bradford West Galloway secured a 36.6% swing away from Labour, an impressive feat that came as if from nowhere. The demographics and politics of Croydon are vastly different to Bradford, but if there’s anything we’ve learned in the last year it’s never to underestimate a determined Gorgeous George.

Historically, cold weather favours the Conservatives whose supporters mythically vote come rain or shine. If this has any bearing on reality then late November is far from ideal for a Labour win. Combined with the possibility that Labour supporters will take Croydon North’s ‘safe seat’ status for granted and the fight to be the next MP for Croydon North may not be quite so clear-cut.

The truth is when it comes to Croydon North the Labour vote is being squeezed. The Conservatives are working it hard and have a superb local candidate; Lee Jasper is rallying hundreds to his cause including backing from The Voice and Rev Jesse Jackson and looks set to split the Labour vote. The other candidates are also working hard to offer alternative choices on November 29th – with such a low turnout expected they could have a much bigger influence on who eventually wins than any of us can predict.

If this wasn’t a by-election then it could be a very different story – but it is, and there really is all to play for.

May the best candidate win?

Mario Creatura

Mario Creatura

Mario is a lifelong Croydon resident. He works for Heineken as their Public Affairs Manager. He has previously worked in Parliament as a researcher for Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central. Mario has been a Conservative Councillor for Coulsdon West on Croydon Council since May 2014.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - LinkedIn