The Public Gallery: The eve of Election 2015

By - Wednesday 6th May, 2015

With nineteen hours until the polls open, Tom Black takes a final look at Croydon’s three elections

Head-to-head debate an undoubtedly ‘lively’ evening

On Saturday evening, I had the honour of chairing a debate between Sarah Jones and Gavin Barwell in the race for Croydon Central. After more than a dozen debates, many with five or even all seven candidates on the platform, the Citizen‘s head-to-head event was an attempt to provide a chance for cross-examination of the two frontrunning candidates.

Well, cross-examination certainly occurred – along with a lot of other things, some unexpected. The audience, which judging by volume and content of heckles was leaning pretty heavily in a Conservative direction, was mostly passionate and engaged throughout. However, on more than a few occasions, I had to wield some pretty hefty rage to calm things down after unacceptable heckles or barracking. This was mainly directed at Sarah Jones, though Gavin Barwell did face one contingent of questioners who seemed determined to ask him questions then not allow him to answer. While both Barwell and Jones were capable of seeing off various sharply-worded questions and interventions across the night, a number of direct attacks on Jones – including an instruction to ‘shut up’ during her concluding speech – cast something of a shadow over the evening.

But that shouldn’t put you off listening to the debate – the actual discussion that took place was eye-opening and encouraging, with my particular favourite section being the open debate on education. Members of the public and the candidates alike got passionate and engaged about their views, and that was great to see. You can listen to the debate or download it as a podcast here.

Episode 3 of The Public Gallery

On Sunday night, I hosted another edition of The Public Gallery on Croydon Radio. It was my third, and featured poll analysis, pre-election predictions, and a post-debate ‘spin room’ featuring representatives of both the Labour and Conservative campaigns in Croydon Central, along with Citizen editor-in-chief James Naylor. You can listen to it here. It was my first show riding solo, so the tech goes a bit wrong at the start – stick with it for about thirty seconds!

North and South near-deserted as the sprint to the finish begins in Central

If you’ve been reading my columns during this election campaign, you’ve probably noticed that I’m running out of interesting ways to phrase ‘Croydon Central is going to be really close – the other two Croydon seats aren’t.’

I’m going to stop trying. I’m sure you get it by now. But what is interesting – though inevitable – is the lack of activity in either Croydon North or Croydon South as we enter the last forty-eight hours. Activists from all parties are flooding into Croydon Central, and even the candidates in the safe seats to its north and south are joining them.

The final week has been framed by a final Ashcroft poll, which has caused a stir in both campaigns.

The shock turnaround was questioned by Labour and welcomed by the Conservatives. I decided I needed a neutral party to have a look, so I contacted a friend, Andy Cooke, former professional analyst and still an amateur psephologist. Andy doesn’t live in Croydon, and is voting Lib Dem on Thursday, so he definitely doesn’t have a dog in this fight. His findings, presented below, make very interesting reading.

Constituency polls are particularly difficult to get right: demographics, locations, estimates on turnout wrong, and so on. On by-elections compared to Ashcroft constituency by-election polls, the average error on vote share has been just over 3% (ranging from spot on to 11% out). 

Some have identified questionable assumptions about turnout in the last poll – assumptions valid nationally, but not for Croydon. So skip all of that and look at the data before assumptions.

Ashcroft found that out of 1,003 respondents to his first question (the simple: “who will you vote for at the election?”) that 312 would vote Conservative – and 313 Labour.

Ashcroft has a second question – to tease out the effects of incumbency and tactical voting. This question got 335 saying “Conservative”. And 335 saying “Labour”. There was a personal vote boost one way… and a tactical vote boost the other way.

On the one hand, Conservative support does seem to (possibly) be a bit more sure, and more concentrated in demographics more likely to vote. On the other hand, Ashcroft found that the Labour campaign is more prominent on the ground, which implies a better get-out-the-vote performance on polling day.

Take out a coin. Flip it. Head, it’s Barwell. Tails, it’s Jones.

So there we have it. With mere hours to go, it really is all to play for. My thanks to Andy for running that analysis for me – you can buy his books, The Fourth Lectern and The Fifth Lectern, on Amazon. Written in 2011-2013, they predicted the rise of UKIP and the Greens with alarming accuracy, and feature plenty of psephological geekery like the above. And they’re both cracking stories.

I’m hosting an election night liveblog

Die-hard fans of the Citizen‘s political coverage will remember last year’s election night liveblog, which featured rolling coverage of the council results as they came in, along with gossip and predictions based on what was happening nationally. This year, I’m pleased to announce that I’m doing the same thing, but not in exactly the same way.

As the Croydon results are likely to come quite late in the night, there’s going to be a long period of not much really happening for Croydonians to take an interest in. Instead, I’ll be focusing on the national results as they come in, looking at seats that match Croydon Central’s profile and seeing which way they swing, looking at how London as a whole is voting, and so on. As we get closer to the Croydon results, I will of course provide whatever information that’s flying around the Fairfield Halls.

So check out the Citizen at 9:30pm on Thursday for the first of many live posts across the night, and don’t forget to keep refreshing. The Citizen‘s Twitter account will also be tweeting and retweeting whatever insights there are to be found about all three Croydon results. Not going to stay up? Don’t worry. When you wake up on Friday morning, just have a look at the Citizen homepage – as soon as the results are known, we’ll be going live with them.

Final thoughts

I talk about my poor track record of predictions more often than I talk about how close Croydon Central is, so I’m not going to bore you again with that. This election has become so unpredictable that it’s actually gone through ‘exciting’ and come out the other highly boring side. There’s nothing tangible to cling on to and work out a result from.

So – while I was tempted to take Andy’s advice and flip a coin – I’m going to take a deep breath, consider the way the wind is blowing, rifle through my memory for another cliché, and go with my gut:

I think that Labour’s Sarah Jones will win Croydon Central, as a result of Labour’s bigger and (theoretically) better get-out-the-vote operation on Thursday. I suspect that Gavin Barwell’s incumbency and personal vote will make Jones’ win a close one, but nonetheless I expect Labour to take the seat.

Whether I’m right or wrong, it’s going to be fun finding out , and I do hope that you’ll join me.

See you tomorrow.

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.

More Posts - Twitter