The Public Gallery: New battlegrounds, deprivation and my chat with Ed Miliband

By - Thursday 8th May, 2014

Tom Black may have spoken too soon in claiming there were just two wards of interest in this election. This week he re-assesses the evidence, and reports on a new Citizen reader – the Leader of the Opposition

Ashburton and Fairfield campaigners insist it ain’t over ’til it’s over

Have I been too quick to write off the rest of Croydon in TPGs-gone-by? Perhaps.

I don’t mean ‘write off the rest of Croydon’ in the way Tony Newman means it when he’s gesturing furiously at Mike Fisher. I mean it’s possible there may yet be more than two wards where this election can be won and lost.

Fairfield Labour’s Patsy Cummings. An impressive candidate, and not somebody you put up for a ward you don’t think you can win

Waddon and latterly Addiscombe have dominated coverage since time immemorial, along with the oft-forgotten but vital New Addington – currently Croydon’s only ‘split ward’. But those are not the only places where the parties are putting up a fight. Croham, while likely to remain Tory, is ‘taken seriously’ by Labour and has a number of candidates from parties espousing everything from anarchy to national socialism.

But there are two wards where the campaigns don’t match received wisdom. Fairfield and Ashburton have both been the target of intense campaigns from Labour, despite the historic blue trend they share. Fairfield contains the town centre and therefore attracts attention, and Labour’s team is not to be sniffed at. Experienced local government operators and financial experts with community-organising experience aren’t the ones you put up as paper candidates or sacrificial lambs.

Levels of campaigning activity, too, are breaking the mould. In this week’s In The Loop, Croydon Radio presenter Bieneosa Ebite spoke to candidates from both wards and found Ashburton Labour’s Andrew Rendle bullish about his party’s chances. Labour is putting more than token resources into Ashburton and hitting the Tories hard in a ward which looks relatively blue.

There’s a tendency for the media to try to ‘sex up’ approaching elections by making them out to be closer or more exciting than they really are. Croydon certainly remains a knife-edge borough, but the jury is out on whether the campaigning efforts outside of New Addington, Waddon and Addiscombe will make much of an impact on our town’s next council.

Why the link between deprivation and voter turnout is troubling for Croydon

Journalists at East London Lines have been investigating the link between voter apathy and deprivation. In short: if you are poor or struggling, are you less likely to vote? Or, perhaps more alarmingly, are those who don’t vote more likely to see their areas decline? The answer, concerningly, was found to be almost always yes.

Graph by Hajera Blagg & Taku Dzimwasha.

The opposite is also true, which suggests a direct correlation. What makes this data particularly interesting is its use of Croydon as a source. The ELL investigators found that Fieldway – the borough’s most deprived ward – had the lowest voter turnout in Croydon. Selsdon and Ballards, which had the lowest deprivation score (i.e. the least deprivation), had a very high turnout indeed – the borough’s best, in fact.

I was consulted as part of ELL‘s report, and you can watch me giving some of my thoughts here. The project as a whole is well worth a read, particularly the study of Tower Hamlets. That East End borough is ‘the exception that proves the rule’, with many high-deprivation wards also boasting a high turnout.

What does this mean for Election 2014? For a start Waddon, the seemingly key ward (electorally speaking), has a pretty high deprivation score (upper twenties) and a relatively low (for Croydon – and yes, I was impressed too – we’re a democratically-minded bunch) voter turnout at 60%. This bears out the ELL conclusions. If turnout remains the same on 22nd May, it’s difficult to say who will benefit more.

Labour, fighting to gain the ward from the Conservatives, seeks to reach Waddon’s sizeable relatively-deprived and therefore potentially receptive electorate. The pattern of deprivation versus turnout, on the other hand, seems to suggest these poorer voters are the ones less likely to actually vote. In a ward such as this, where Labour’s campaign relies on a message along the lines of ‘the Conservatives have let you down, Labour will restore prosperity’, that’s worrying news for the red team.

More generally, the whole set of findings is disturbing for everyone in Croydon. If those already marginalised in our society feel they have nothing to gain from voting, they will continue to be under-represented. As Hammerfield looms and debate rages over affordable housing and rising rents, the one group who must make their voices heard is Croydon’s less well-off.

I spoke to Ed Miliband in a small room in New Addington

Ed Miliband’s ‘campaign launch’ in Croydon this week was a rallying cry to local Labour activists and an opportunity to announce Labour’s proposals on empty properties. I was there. After a well-delivered speech and a Q&A that saw Ed at his relaxed best (I know I would say that, but he’s very good at public meetings), I was able to grab a few minutes with Ed himself, along with the Advertiser and Croydon Radio.

Photo by US Embassy London. Used under Creative Commons licence.

Readers of my earlier interviews may have noticed I like analysing handshakes. Ed’s is a firm but unremarkable affair. After nervously nodding every so often as Rachel from the Advertiser asks her set of questions, I ask Ed about Labour’s priorities for the railways. This week on Marr, he ruled out ‘a return to British Rail’, but said there were other options open to a future Labour government when it came to state influence. What does that mean for the creation of new infrastructure, such as relief for the often-overcrowded and congested line north of East Croydon?

“Well, there’s a number of issues there,” he says immediately. “We’ve got to invest properly in our infrastructure.” Reassuring. “My starting point,” he goes on, “is we have to get value for the fare-paying rail passenger, and that’s not the case at present. We have the most expensive railways in Europe.” So what about specifics? If you don’t believe that Ed Miliband has a stonewalling face, you’re wrong. “We’ll announce our plans at the right moment,” he says firmly, “but what I want to do is get a much better deal when it comes to fares.”

We talk briefly about the upcoming constitutional questions for the UK – if Scotland stays in the union, is there a clear case for a change in the way powers are devolved, including south of Hadrian’s Wall? “We’ve set out plans for further devolution in Scotland, and what we’re saying in the Better Together campaign is consistent with what we’re saying in London on cost of living,” Ed says with an earnest nod.

“There’s a real lesson here,” he continues with a gesture to Croydon Labour’s Tony Newman, seated to my left. “I’m proud of our councillors and council leaders. You can’t solve the problem of youth unemployment without partnering with local authorities. For example, enforcing the minimum wage is done by a few people at the HMRC – it’d be much better to get local authorities involved in doing that. Similarly, you can’t solve the problem of private landlords and substandard accommodation without working with councils.”

That’s all we have time for. I get up and find myself unable to resist the temptation to tell Ed that, speaking personally, I voted for him to become leader and that he ought to keep up the good work. “Much appreciated,” he says with a grin, and takes a copy of the Citizen as I offer it to him.

“Fantastic!” he proclaims as he thumbs through the paper. But I bet he says that to all the girls.

Andrew Stevensen deserves 10/10 for effort in Broad Green

Finally this week, a tip of the hat to a political innovator. Andrew Stevensen is standing in Broad Green and has made a twenty minute video that shows him driving around the ward, explaining what’s going on where and what he’d like to do about it.

It’s unlikely Andrew will be elected – he is standing as a Conservative – but he deserves credit for bringing this idea to Croydon. We’d be better off if more of our councillors started doing it.

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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  • Andrew Rendle

    Interesting article Tom.

    It is interesting to point out that the Conservatives were asked to put up a candidate to debate about Ashburton with me on Croydon Radio. They wanted Vidhi Mohan to talk about Ashburton even though he is not standing in the ward. To their credit Croydon Radio told them to offer a candidate that the voters of Ashburton will actually see on their ballot paper.

    The Conservatives refused to send a local candidate to the broadcast with no explanation.

    Not putting up a candidate to appear on Croydon Radio shows the Tories have run out of ideas, but worse than that they treat the residents of Ashburton with contempt and take your votes for granted. In stark difference I was able to speak about how Labour has been talking to residents for over three years and highlighted the work Maddie, Stephen and myself have had done. Labour Party candidates in Ashburton seek to earn your trust and hopefully with that your vote. Unfortunately the Conservatives feel differently.

    It now appears that even the party leadership in Croydon don’t trust them……… So how can you?