The Public Gallery: 2018 election special

By - Tuesday 3rd April, 2018

The situation one month before Croydon goes to the polls to elect a new council

London-wide polling suggests the shockwaves of a Labour earthquake will be felt in Croydon

There are reasons to be cautious when treating London-wide polling as an indicator of how a specific borough in London will swing. The results across the capital will not be copy-and-pasted by voters into each council. There are parts of the capital where the latest figures from Queen Mary University of London’s research (LAB 54%, CON 28%, LIB 11%) just aren’t going to be recreated like-for-like. For example, in spite of media excitement over Kensington and Chelsea council, it is highly unlikely that there are enough Labour votes in the right places to turn ‘K&C’ red. Equally, Lib Dem-run Sutton, with its small Conservative opposition and no Labour councillors whatsoever, is unlikely to see a 54% Labour vote, much less an 11% Lib Dem one.

What polling data like that collected by Queen Mary can help do is gauge the direction of travel of public support. In 2014, when the London-wide result was 43% for Labour and 30% for the Conservatives, Labour ended up winning 40 of Croydon’s 70 council seats. The London-wide lead in voteshare that delivered this was 13.1%, while in Croydon specifically, Labour had only a 2.5% lead. The February 2018 polling suggests Labour is on course for a 26% lead across London, double that of 2014. If Labour similarly doubled their popular vote lead in Croydon from what it was in 2014, they’ll get a 5-point lead on 3rd May. As Dimitra Rizou has superbly illustrated on the cover of this month’s Citizen, the fortunes of Croydon Labour and the Croydon Conservatives are hugely dependant on the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May.

All this talk is largely a blunt instrument and may seem to unnecessarily ignore local factors like the fact there are potentially now six battleground wards thanks to new electoral boundaries, but there’s something of a stark truth about Croydon’s local elections: our voters ignore local factors too. The town hall has been a bellwether for how the country is swinging ever since it became electorally competitive: Labour took control in 1994, three years before they would take power nationally under Tony Blair. The Conservatives took the council back in 2006, four years before they would enter government under David Cameron. In 2014, Labour won the council just a year before Cameron would win a surprise Conservative majority nationally – but in that same election, Labour cruised to a 9-point lead in London, matching the mood Croydon had reflected within the capital.

With the national polls now a dead heat but London polling showing us those absolutely stonking leads for the reds, the hope for Croydon’s Conservatives surely lies in hoping Croydon matches the country more closely than the capital this time. It looks doubtful – at last year’s snap election, former Conservative councillor Gavin Barwell ended his stint as an MP when he became an unexpected casualty of the even more unexpected Labour surge, which pushed the party to 54% in London as a whole, and earned Barwell’s opponent Sarah Jones 52% of the vote in Croydon Central. Croydon Central is the parliamentary seat containing most of the battleground wards in this local election.

Battle of the grown-ups?

Tony Newman, leader of Croydon Council and of the town hall’s Labour councillors, was leader of the opposition in 2014. Today, Conservative Tim Pollard holds that post, and is taking a different approach to some of the more boisterous methods pursued by his predecessors. Pollard’s strategy, exemplified by his speeches at council meetings and in blogs and articles in recent months, has been to play the ‘grown-up in the room’. While he and his local party have certainly not shied from political rough-and-tumble, the tone has been more measured than what we saw from Mike Fisher and Tony Newman in 2014.

It’s not for me to say whether it’s a credible approach or one that will work, but it seems to have rubbed off on Newman as well, with both men and their parties agreeing on a lot more than you would expect, and order at council meetings being a little easier to maintain. ‘Westfield Is A Good Thing And Should Happen Quickly’ is one example of an area of total agreement between Croydon Labour and the Croydon Conservatives – where they disagree (with varying degrees of respect) is which of their parties is best placed to speed things up.

It doesn’t make for exciting headlines, but it may make for better politics in Croydon. Let’s see if the present slightly more respectful tone survives the result, whatever it may be. You can read Pollard and Newman in their own words in this month’s Citizen.

Live results on the night

As veteran Citizen readers will recall, in 2014 I attended the count of Croydon’s ballots and provided live updates throughout the night as our new council was elected. I’ll be doing the same thing again this year, so check out the Citizen website at from about eleven. Be warned: no results came in until around 4 a.m. last time, so we may be in for a long night, landslide or no.

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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  • Anne Giles

    I like my sleep, so will wait till I wake up at 7 a.m.

    • Mark Johnson

      As a candidate in one of those marginal I doubt I or many of my fellow candidates, Conservative or Labour will be back home to sleep by 7am Anne.

      • Anne Giles

        That’s OK.