The Public Gallery: No green peace for the left

By - Thursday 17th April, 2014

In a three-part bonanza edition, Tom Black casts his eye over willfully odd candidate selections, conflict on the left and an increasingly uncertain election result

Just how few Conservatives are there in Thornton Heath?

It’s no secret that all political parties have their ‘less-than-winnable’ areas. Since I started TPG last September, I must have mentioned it a dozen times. Both major parties often deploy ‘paper candidates’ in wards they are simply not going to win. Labour will be unlikely to do much to halt the coronation of Mario Creatura or James Thompson in Coulsdon West and East respectively, and Emily Benn probably won’t encounter much resistance in her campaign for West Thornton.

But the rise of Croydon’s new younger councillors-to-be is not relevant to the news that the Croydon Conservatives are standing the controversial ex-policeman David Osland in Thornton Heath. Yes, the man who called upon officers to sue the family of Stephen Lawrence over their accusations of racism is standing in one of Croydon’s most diverse wards.

The obvious points about this have been raised already this week. A party that has enough trouble engaging with BME people is not going to do itself any favours selecting a figure many African Caribbean voters hold in contempt. But there’s a slightly more boring observation to be made here – what state is the Thornton Heath local Conservative Party in?

For Osland is not merely a controversial ex-policeman with no link to Thornton Heath. He’s a retiring councillor, having represented Coulsdon West for many years. So – to reiterate – the Conservatives have nominated someone who is not only comically ill-suited to the ward, but has explicitly stated he no longer wishes to be a councillor. Was there really no-one - no-one - else?

As I’ve said ad nauseam, there’s nothing wrong with a paper candidate here or there. But in nominating Osland, the Conservatives appear to have inadvertently revealed quite how few members they have in Thornton Heath.

Conservatives on Twitter have recently grown fond of accusing others of ‘taking the electorate for granted’. In Thornton Heath, it appears the Conservatives have done exactly the opposite.

Concerning sense of entitlement among the anti-Green left

The news that the Green Party of England & Wales is to stand a full slate of 70 candidates in Croydon’s local elections broke some time ago, and was covered in one of my first TPGs this year. Now, they’ve launched a manifesto, and the response from the broad left in Croydon has not exactly been one of solidarity. ‘Why,’ they seem to cry, ‘how dare they stand against Labour? They ought to have made a pact with us to get the Tories out.’

It sounds reasonable, and indeed it is – electoral pacts have a long and noble history in this sceptred isle. But the Greens, as a party, are suspicious of Labour, seeing them as far too close to the Tories on many issues. And on the incinerator, their flagship issue, the Croydon Greens are quick to point out that the Labour council in Merton supports it, whatever Croydon Labour may say. (That being said, comparisons with other incumbent councils may not be in the Greens’ interests. Anyone keen enough to Google how the country’s only Green council is getting on in Brighton & Hove would discover a world of surprises and thoroughly blue-and-yellow looking policies.)

The treatment of the Greens has been more than a little ugly. In our democracy, all are welcome to stand and represent the views they feel are not being represented. Some have tried to suggest that the Greens won’t get any councillors elected. That’s probably true. But it’s not remotely relevant – they have a right to stand in them.

It may be undeniable that the consequence of this is left-wing vote splitting, but I can’t help but think the answer is not raised-eyebrows and subtle bullying – it’s a Labour Party that represents more of the issues that attracted left-wing voters to the Greens in the first place. Those now sneering at the Greens, or accusing them of ‘only being in it for the councillors’ allowances’, would probably have a lot less to worry about had we not had ten years of Blairism, the war in Iraq, and Labour’s acceptance of privatisation.

Evening Standard tells us Labour have a lead across the capital, but might not make it in Croydon

Croydonians not cool enough to be reading a copy of the Croydon Citizen on the train were excited to come across a reference to our borough on page 2 of Monday’s Evening Standard. Clearly someone in the Standard offices read my TPG of a few weeks ago about national polling and Croydon, and decided to lend me a hand with their rather more plentiful resources, and has done a London-specific poll. I’m fairly sure that’s what happened.

Anyway, the general gist of the article is, as the title suggests, that Labour has a polling lead in London. But Croydon is listed as one of the boroughs where the London-wide swing from Conservative to Labour – 2.5% – is not enough for Labour to take back the town hall. Even with a London-wide poll, the usual caveats about exact relevance to Croydon apply. Voters in Kensington & Chelsea happy with their Conservative council may not be the best indicators of general feeling across a much more split borough like Croydon.

But the poll will be welcome news to the Tories, who are already pleased by the news of the somewhat cackhanded and borderline-authoritarian arrangements within the local Labour Party – and the disputes they are causing. Whatever happens, it’s encouraging to see a point raised by a TPG commenter – David White, two weeks ago – being backed up by the statistics. David pointed out that Labour have never taken over the council with the national polls as low as they are now. They might be nominally in the lead, but the swing is what’s important when you’re trying to unseat a government in either the town hall or Westminster.

You can read the Standard‘s article here.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • David White

    An interesting, and unusual, feature of Croydon is that nearly all the wards are currently “safe”, either for the Conservatives or for Labour. All therefore turns on the small number of marginal wards. Basically if Labour can hold Addiscombe and win Waddon they are likely to win control of the Council. If they fail in either of these the Council will remain Conservative.

  • Stephen Mann

    Tom, there was an interesting poll for London Poverty Alliance a few weeks ago that, although very small data set, shows the more local picture which the London-wide one does not. For instance off this one would assume Enfield is a Labour hold where as actually off the LPA poll due to local circumstances there is actually a neck and neck race (which mirrors activity on the ground). As with all polls sampling errors and data sets come into play but very interesting none-the-less!