The Public Gallery: Eve of Election Special

By - Wednesday 21st May, 2014

On the eve of what promises to be the closest election ever, Tom Black takes a one-off, earlier-than-usual look at the campaign’s most sensational event – and puts the whole election in context. The polls open at 7am tomorrow

#UKIPcarnival – simultaneously the best and worst thing to happen in Croydon this year

The announcement that Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, was to arrive in Croydon for a ‘mini-carnival’ with BME candidates sent shockwaves through the Croydon political establishment.

Well, not really. But when it became clear that there was to be a steel band involved, the world and his wife came down to visit.

Michael Crick, Quentin Letts and Dan Hodges were just three of the journos who stood awkwardly with the rest of us outside the Whitgift Centre, eager to see what the most infamous politician of the moment would have to say to the people of Croydon.

Michael Crick’s face says it all.
Photo author’s own.

But sadly, it was not to be. The steel band stopped playing after ten minutes (when its members realised they had been booked to play for UKIP). “They’re a racist party,” said one defiant young drummer, his arms firmly folded.

This was a recurring theme. Two young women, claiming to be from Romania, confronted the various UKIP candidates present about their leader’s views on having Romanian neighbours. Shouts of ‘racist’ and ‘Nazis’ were commonplace, but the event only really got exciting when Winston McKenzie, the daddy of bombastic Croydon politics, arrived on the scene.

The questions piled in. Is he homophobic? “I have nothing against gay people!” he shouted. Is UKIP racist? ‘Something about the Tories’ was essentially his response, as I remember it. Would he be happy living next door to Romanians? “You are making everything about race. I will not answer any more questions about race.”

“I just don’t know what to do,” said an exasperated UKIP aide into her phone. “They’ve surrounded him and he’s just talking and talking.”

He certainly was. After an hour, it was announced (quietly) that Farage was not, in fact, going to come down, citing safety concerns. To me, it seemed fairly obvious that the last thing the UKIP leader wanted was to insert himself into this damp squib of an event (the steel band was now long gone, and there was literally nothing else that made it like a carnival). Winston was asked how he felt about his leader’s no-show.

“Why would an international leader come down to a place that’s unsafe and… has turned into a dump?” he cried, pointing out the closed shops on North End, ending with a flourish toward Allders. So that’s UKIP’s leader in North Croydon, Winston McKenzie, saying that Croydon is a dump nowadays. Alright then.

The event went viral almost immediately, and you’ll doubtless have read the stories and seen the pictures, so I’ll leave it there. What impact will it have on UKIP’s vote tomorrow? Well, actually…

Ignore the postal votes at your peril

…it might not matter too much. One of the ironies of the Croydon Conservatives’ drive over the last decade to get their core vote signed up for postal voting is that this year’s postal votes – most of which have now already been cast – are coming from traditional Tory voters. Elderly people in particular will have popped a ballot in the post box weeks ago rather than needing to go out and vote on the day.

The problem for the Conservatives is that many of these ‘true blue’ voters are looking a little more purple these days. Canvassers on the ground in Croydon’s key wards are reporting that a lot of erstwhile Tory voters are now proudly announcing they’ve already voted for UKIP by post. If UKIP’s reputation in Croydon does take a knock, it might not dent its vote too much in the key wards – much of it will have already been cast.

Croydon in context

Thanks to the kind efforts of amateur psephologist Dr T.W. Anderson, TPG this week is able to present a set of charts containing the stats that may be vital to tomorrow’s election. First is a reminder of Croydon’s recent elections – with the electoral results divided into ward level wherever possible. Click on the chart to expand.

Darker red means stronger Labour, lighter blue means weaker Conservative and so on. The most interesting aspect of this chart is the 2012 London Mayoral vote, the last time Croydon’s wards went to the polls. Two years ago, Labour had a soft lead in Waddon and in New Addington. Apart from crucial Waddon, Conservatives were strong wherever they were elected to the council but were not making inroads outside their currently-held wards.

A lot has happened in the last two years and without the appeal of Boris (or indeed of Ken), voters tomorrow will have a different set of motivations.

Next, we have a look at how many candidates each party has stood in each ward.

As we can see, only Labour, the Conservatives and the Greens have managed to put up a full slate everywhere in the borough. The Lib Dems have made a decent effort, as has UKIP, but anti-fascists will be pleased that the BNP is barely a presence in these elections. That being said, its full slates in Fieldway and New Addington may provide cause for concern to some.

At the polar opposite end of the spectrum, the far-left Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has a token presence in the north west of the borough. In Broad Green, voters of a particularly left-wing persuasion will be able to choose between it and the Communists, or vote for both if they fancy splitting their three votes.

Perhaps most encouraging is that there are no wards in the borough where voters have fewer than five parties to choose between. If Croydon’s two party system is ever going to come to an end, it might just do so this week.

Finally, here’s ‘Croydon Council in Context’, a look at how the areas around Croydon tend to vote. Do we follow the same trends as our neighbours? Apart from Fieldway (sometimes called ‘the rogue left-wing holdout of Southeast London’), I think we do. Take a look:

The campaign is over – the result is in your hands now

Well, that’s it. I’ll be back tomorrow with a TPG in its regular slot with a reminder to vote. Also – don’t miss our official, live election night coverage from the count tomorrow night! See you then.

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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