Should Gavin Barwell be worried about the ‘Corboom’?

By - Thursday 6th August, 2015

Robert Ward recently asked where the inspiring speakers of yesteryear had gone. Labour seems to have found one, but could Jeremy Corbyn really mobilise a party capable of changing Croydon’s political landscape?

Image public domain.

Watching from the sidelines, the race for the leadership of the Labour Party has become quite a show.

It didn’t start out that way. Once the nominations closed it looked like we had two Labour heavyweights, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, competing against a relative newcomer to the scene, Liz Kendall. At the time, Jeremy Corbyn looked like a make-up-the-numbers token far lefty. The bookies quickly installed Andy Burnham as favourite, with Cooper the main rival, Kendall in with a chance and Jeremy Corbyn nowhere.

How times have changed. Jeremy Corbyn is now the favourite, nominated by both the Croydon North and Croydon Central Labour constituency parties. Croydon South, first to nominate, went for the once-plausible Liz Kendall, now a 64/1 outsider.

The backdrop of the next election in Croydon will be very different to that of the last

Corbyn spoke in Croydon on Tuesday evening. I was there. The event spilled outside into the garden and attracted almost 600 people. When was the last time you heard of a political meeting doing that? It would make sense for Corbyn’s leadership rivals, and the Conservatives, to be worried.

But based on some of his recent tweets, Croydon Central Tory MP Gavin Barwell actually seems to find the idea of a Corbyn-led Labour Party attractive. He thinks his chances of holding on to his highly marginal seat in 2020 would be markedly improved by a Labour Party led by what he sees as the unelectable Jeremy Corbyn.

As Harold Wilson famously said, a week is a long time in politics. Five years is an eternity, but let’s look forward to the 2020 election. Imagine a Corbyn-led Labour Party and a George Osborne or Theresa May-led Conservative Party looking at the Croydon constituencies. The upcoming boundary review means that Croydon’s seats may change completely by then, but as we don’t know what that will look like, let’s use the current seats as a model for now.

We will have had the referendum on our membership of the European Union. (I’m assuming that ‘in’ wins.) The economy will probably have moved forward but whether the Tory government gets the credit or blame for whatever actually happens, who knows? Given that David Cameron is not expected to be prime minister going into the 2020 election, my presumption is that part of his legacy will be to carry the can if things are judged as not having gone well, in the economy or anywhere else. Let’s assume the economy is in good, but not great, shape. Locally, we will have a new Mayor of London and have held a Croydon Council election in 2018. (The bookies think that the former race is leaning Labour, the latter is an unknown quantity at this point.)

The big story across England in 2015 was the collapse of the Lib Dems, and where their voters went

Party strategists comparing the 2010 and 2015 general election results will note that across Croydon both Labour and Tory voters from 2010 generally stayed loyal, with Labour/Tory switching low. Tory loyalty was somewhat less as the growth of UKIP impacted them more than Labour.

The big story for 2015 across England was the collapse of the Lib Dems and where those 2010 Lib Dems went. The Tories gained their overall majority in large part by attracting 2010 Lib Dems in areas like the south-west of England where this won them seats. This was much less evident in London (where the Lib Dem vote has always been comparatively low in the first place) although there were some signs in the Surrey-bordering Croydon South.

Ignoring for the moment any Labour/Tory swing, for 2020 the recipients of those LibDem defectors (mainly the Tories in Croydon South, Labour in Croydon North, both in Croydon Central) will be hoping to hang on to them. The Tories will be hoping to attract back the UKIP defectors after my presumed ‘in’ referendum vote. A resurgence of the Lib Dems or a further UKIP surge are their flipside risks.

As before, Croydon Central is where the action is

Whatever has happened, neither Steve Reed in Croydon North nor Chris Philp in Croydon South are likely to be spending much time job-hunting before the 2020 election. These are both rock solid seats.

So, as before, Croydon Central is where the action is. Labour and the Conservatives were neck and neck in 2015, each with around 43% of the votes cast. Gavin Barwell edged it by 165 votes. Gavin will be hoping to attract back some of the 2010 tories who voted UKIP in 2015. Labour’s best hope is a UKIP surge damaging the Tories, and to attract some of those 2010 LibDems who voted for Gavin in 2015.

Using my Croydon model, let’s look at the numbers to estimate which is the most important. UKIP came third in 2015 with 9% of the vote, well ahead of the Lib Dems and the Greens, each with less than 3%. These UKIP voters are heavily – but not exclusively – weighted towards being former Tories. Even though the LibDems polled 13% of the vote in 2010, they split rather evenly in Croydon Central between Tories and Labour. This makes the state of UKIP very much more important for Croydon Central in 2020 than the fate of the LibDems.

What kind of voters would Corbyn attract, and how many live in Croydon?

So how might a Corbyn-led Labour impact Barwell’s chances? What kind of small-c ‘coalition’ would Corbyn try to build as leader? More to the point, how many members of that ‘coalition’ live in Croydon? Corbyn might attract a few more 2015 Greens, but he might also scare a few more ‘Kippers’ back to the Tories. It’s hard to say which way 2015 LibDems would go next time as their own leadership moves left, but Corbyn may appeal to some of the LibDems’ anti-establishment voters (though many left the party behind as a result of the coalition).

And could Corbyn perhaps attract 2015 Tory voters or non-voters sufficient to swing Croydon Central? This is where I step away from the numbers and express an opinion: I think that that is fantasy. Corbyn offers clarity and simplicity, but not practicality. The chances of that not being exposed over almost five years as leader of the opposition are not worth bothering with. Corbyn may mobilise some sections of the electorate that have been unreachable by Labour – or any major party – for years. He might well trigger a small recovery for Scottish Labour. But what he is very unlikely to do is win Tory-Labour switchers and moderate Lib Dems, both of whom seem to hold the key to a decisive victory in Croydon Central and marginal English seats like it.

In other words: Jeremy Corbyn might be able to attract 600 people to a meeting in Croydon. But how many of those people voted Conservative or Lib Dem in May?

All this will become more evident than ever if Corbyn does become leader of the opposition in September. It’s therefore likely that Jeremy Corbyn would not last to 2020, and Labour would be led into the next election by, say Liz Kendall, Dan Jarvis or Chuka Umunna. Then Gavin Barwell might have something to worry about. Until then, his tweeted pleasure at a potential Corbyn victory seems entirely logical.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager, started work on the railway but most of career in oil exploration and production. For the last fifteen years specialised in helping businesses improve their performance. Conservative Party candidate to represent Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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  • Bernard Dainton

    I think you’ve overlooked the damage the Euro referendum might do to the Tory party. It’s already clear that there are a lot of Tories who will never be persuaded to campaign to stay in, whatever concessions David Cameron can wring from Europe. The fewer concessions he wins the bigger that group will be, and it is quite possible that Cameron ends up promoting in against the majority of his party.. & therefore needing the Labour party to help him win his referendum. In such circumstances a Tory split is not entirely impossible…

    • moguloilman

      Thanks Bernard.

      How the euro-referendum turns out following my assumed ‘in’ result and its impact on the UKIP vote is indeed crucial. UKIP could wither away or there could be a resurgence as we have seen in Scotland.

      If there is an ‘out’ result then anything could happen.

  • Sean Creighton

    you Robert for confirming my opinion that many of the over 600 people at the
    Corbyn meeting were not all Labour or left-wingers. There were many
    non-party political community activists there as well.

    What I found interesting about Corbyn’s views were that
    he came over as someone determined to
    shift politics back to the centre ground that existed up to the mid- 1970s,
    up-dated to meet today’s challenges of inequality, tax avoidance, lack of
    manufacturing capacity, reduction in education opportunities, erosion
    of workers’ rights, the demonisation of the poor and immigrants, and climate
    change. This is Progressiveism in the late 19thC tradition that was capable then
    of bringing together Labour, Liberals and Radicals.

    his recent article in The Guardian arguing against Corbyn Alan Johnson was right
    to highlight the achievements of the Labour Governments up to 2010.
    he is forgetting a lot of adverse measures which alienated a lot of people from
    Labour (apart from the Iraq War) or made them despair of it, including: tuition
    fees, relaxation of drink and gambling laws, planning reforms that loosened
    local authority and communities control over developments, support for Ken
    Livingstone’s obsession with growing London as a global city, prevention of
    Council’s building housing from the sale receipts from the right to buy, and
    excessive bureaucratic control over funding regeneration programmes. All these
    have adversely affected the opportunities of many people before the world
    financial crash, and added to inequality, and damaged quality of life,
    well-being and health. These things have grown a lot worse under the Con-Dem
    Government from 2010 as a result of austerity, which the other three Labour
    leadership candidates all support in one form or

    the Corbyn meeting I was struck by the strong hand clap response to Corbyn’s
    remarks was particularly noticeable when he condemned the fee system. Hopefully
    many had read Gary Bell’s article on the inequity of fees in the same issue as
    Johnson’s. It reminded me of leading a history workshop at a secondary school in
    2010 during which 14/15 year olds expressed their dismay at the end
    of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, especially those who were
    concerned what this would mean for their colleagues who needed the EMA. They
    were also concerned about the potential adverse effects of student

    is taping into the wider concerns and aspirations of a broader range of people
    than simply objecting to the continued and deepening austerity measures, arguing
    how there is an alternative economic strategy, including high technology and
    green industries, linked to improving the quality of life. That’s what makes him
    different and why he is gaining more and more support.

    • moguloilman

      Hello Sean,
      On the attendance at the (open invitation) Jeremy Corbyn meeting I noticed one other person who is a Conservative supporter and two Labour Councillors, one of whom spoke from the podium. There were three or four more who identified from the podium that they were trade union officials and I spotted a couple of people who I know to be Labour stalwarts. I missed you in the crowd.

      The allegiance of the rest I can only guess from the enthusiastic response to some of the more obvious left wing statements. Inside the room that was perhaps 75% of the audience which was perhaps 60% of the maybe 600 total attendance, including those in the garden.

      On his appeal I can understand it as being similar to the late 1960s, indeed he and I are around the same age and I suspect we have marched in some of the same demonstrations (Vietnam war and Palestine).

      He is, as Labour often are, good at identifying problems, some real and significant, some wildly exaggerated and some imaginary. Where he misses is in solutions. Such things as the magic money tree in new guises and statements of the blindingly obvious like the need for more manufacturing and the taking up of the opportunities in green and new technology.

      It will be interesting to see how the Labour leadership vote goes. I suspect Corbyn himself knows he is not a leader. He is comfortable in his ideological purity rebelling from the sidelines but is imo unable to build the alliances and make the compromises that leadership requires. His hope is to make a good showing and influence the direction of whoever the new leader is.

      He has certainly made things more interesting, and I am glad he is on the ballot paper because this debate is one that the Labour Party needed to have. We shall see how it turns out.

      • Sean Creighton

        If Corbyn becomes Leader it will be a refreshing change from those politicians who are are more concerned with their own self-importance and egos. His is used to working with broad coalitions of people and therefore may ensure a more collective style of Shadow/Cabinet leadership. It is being argued that he has no experience: ministerial, local government or trade union. Cameron had no such experience either. I saw the secret of Corby’s appeal back in the early 2000s when he attended as local MP the AGM of a local community project. This event was not the usual boring type AGM but a real celebration of the range of work and the achievements of the incredible diverse range of well over 200 people using it. This included an asylum seeker who arrived with no English and presented the report of her ESOL group in English – her first ever public speech, to great applause. Corbyn’s brief talk was about the value of the project. He stayed the whole time just chatting with lots of people, comfortable and with no airs and graces.

        • moguloilman

          Hello Sean,
          He has indeed made things interesting, and he is not without his charm. At the moment though I think the media has become fixated on him such that the others are struggling to get any air time.

          His policy is generic socialism of the sort that has blighted much of South America yet he is not being challenged on the practicality and the detail. Losing his temper on Channel Four when challenged on the Middle East is the closest we have got.

          It is also true that Cameron’s experience was limited. Similarly Tony Blair’s only ever job was Prime Minister. Whether Corbyn could bring a different style, but still effective leadership I just don’t know. Doing it for close to five years is a big ask.

          Of his working with broad coalitions I have no evidence, that is not to say that it doesn’t exist. I see a man comfortable in his ideological but impractical purity.

          Right now the Tory government is probably happy with the distraction, the media are happy filling the silly season and Corbyn’s leadership opponents are hoping that given time it will blow over before the actually voting.

          I am beginning to get fed up with it.

        • Anthony Miller

          “If Corbyn becomes Leader it will be a refreshing change from those
          politicians who are are more concerned with their own self-importance
          and egos”

          Stop it my sides are splitting. Whatever you say about his politics one thing he hasn’t got is a small ego…

  • Anthony Miller

    “How times have changed. Jeremy Corbyn is now the favourite, nominated by
    both the Croydon North and Croydon Central Labour constituency parties.
    Croydon South, first to nominate, went for the once-plausible Liz
    Kendall, now a 64/1 outsider.”

    How do they come up with these numbers? If you ask me no one knows. The big unknowns in this contest are the number of affiliates who will vote and the number of registered supporters who will vote. Big changes since last time. MPs votes are now the same weight as mine. Affiliates votes are now the same weight as mine. Under the old system an MP’s vote was worth 0.12 per cent of the total electorate, a party member’s vote was worth 0.0002 per cent and an affiliated member’s vote was worth 0.00000943 per cent and you affiliate to multiple organisations and be a member too. However, even if you affiliated to the maximum that still added up to only half a vote. If you do the maths the affiliate votes are a lot more powerful this time. You can affiliate through organisations like the Fabians and the Coop not just the TUs. Really though the new system gives a lot of power back to the TUs which New Labour took away in favour of “ordinary members” … so that’s why people are partying like it’s 1999 …or 1983. What I want to know is will the NEC publish the voter category breakdown or will it, as the Standard reported, conceal this information?

    • moguloilman

      I always quote odds numbers from Betfair, which are from matched bets laid between gamblers with opposing views on the likely outcome.

      It would certainly be interesting to see a breakdown of the different voting groups but I am not sure the Labour Party would see value in publishing it. The leader will be then the leader who has won by the rules.

      • Anthony Miller

        “but I am not sure the Labour Party would see value in publishing it”

        They published it last time. I see no benefit in concealing such information it will inevitably leak anyway and no one’s ever happy how the leader is selected. The Collins
        Report on
        Reform under the rules of which the leader is being elected said “The federal structure of the party should be retained. Trade unions and other affiliates should continue to have a collective constitutional role inside party structures, but on a more transparent basis.” And “Preserving the principle of collective affiliation, but on a more transparent basis, is a fundamental part of the package of reform proposed here” So why not tell us how each section of the federal voters voted? People can argue about the system forever but at least if the system is transparent everyone knows what they’re moaning about.