The Public Gallery: Labour in the lead in Croydon Central as Zone 4 united front falters

By - Thursday 6th November, 2014

The politicians were never going to play nice for long on Zone 4 Croydon, writes Tom Black

O’Connell and Barwell write to Boris about Zone 4 Croydon

Gavin Barwell MP and Steve O’Connell AM have written to Boris Johnson about the Zone 4 Croydon campaign, requesting “a meeting with TfL Director Sir Peter Hendy and you [Johnson] to seek your support for a review of the zone boundaries”.

The letter will send ripples through the 2015 parliamentary campaign for Croydon Central. Getting the Mayor of London (Conservative or otherwise) on-side would be a great coup for the campaign and increase its likelihood of success (although, as the Tramlink extension to Crystal Palace showed, Boris’s public support for something doesn’t always translate into actual support). But this will undoubtedly be seen as an attempt to steal a march on Labour, as getting Britain’s most popular Conservative involved with the campaign would potentially see Sarah Jones bounced out of the public eye by a mess of blonde hair and banter.

Would a bipartisan approach to the mayor, involving a letter co-authored by Barwell’s Labour counterparts Steve Reed MP (Croydon North) and Sarah Jones, not have been more harmonious? It would certainly look less like politicking. I asked Gavin Barwell’s office, which circulated the letter, whether Reed and Jones were approached to be co-signatories of the letter. The answer was no. Sarah Jones, they said, was not approached as “she is not an elected representative of the people”. On Steve Reed, however, they reiterated that Barwell and O’Connell’s initial press release on the re-zoning proposals said they “look[ed] forward to working with Steve Reed to progress things further”.

The reasoning behind not including Jones seems blunt but at least logical, but why then not invite Reed to approach Boris with them? “The letter”, Barwell’s office replied, “was an attempt to move the campaign forward in a direction that, based on Sarah Jones’s previous comments, we believed Steve Reed would not support”.

Cracks in the Con/Lab alliance were bound to occur

Asked to elucidate on what “Sarah Jones’ previous comments” meant, Barwell’s office said that they felt that Jones had indicated she was not in favour of building alliances with other boroughs who would benefit from a renewed look at the boundaries of zone 4. This view did not really fit with Jones’ recent interview with London Live, in which she appeared to suggest that a geographical case could be made for a number of boroughs.

Last week, I said that cracks in the apparent alliance between the Conservatives and Labour over ‘Zone 4 Croydon’ were bound to appear. I will admit that I didn’t expect them to show themselves so quickly. While both parties have agreed to let the Croydon Guardian take the public lead on a campaign that everyone acknowledges Labour initiated, it does appear that a bigger fig-leaf for partisan bickering will need to be found in time.

At time of writing, Boris hasn’t replied to Barwell and O’Connell’s letter.

Ashcroft poll shows Labour lead in Croydon Central

Lord Ashcroft, the former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, has been setting himself up as an independent pollster for some years now. One gap in the market that he seems keen to exploit is marginal constituency polling – national support is one thing, but the 2015 election will be won and lost in a comparatively small number of seats that could swing either way. It makes sense to poll them for a picture of how the country looks to be going.

Ashcroft’s latest marginal poll looks at a long list of Conservative-held marginal seats – the ones that Labour need to win in 2015 if they want to have a hope of forming a government. As Labour’s national lead appears in danger of being completely eroded at present, the figures in this week’s marginal poll will make good reading for Ed Miliband.

Closer to home, the figures for Croydon Central will make very good reading indeed for Sarah Jones. Once likelihood-of-voting is taken into account, 36% of Croydon Central residents are likely to vote Labour, while 31% say they’ll vote Conservative. These figures change to 39% and 33% respectively when voters were asked to think specifically about which party’s candidate they would back in Croydon Central itself. The third place party in 2015 is now all-but-certain to be UKIP, who polled around 20% on both questions.

Ashcroft is Conservative but his data is seen as credible

Despite how good the raw figures look for Jones, Ashcroft does describe the six-point Labour lead as “the smallest I have yet found in a seat the Tories are defending from Labour in London”. The data will have been a difficult read for Ashcroft, who was an early mentor for Barwell in the 1990s. It’s worth pointing out that while Ashcroft remains a Conservative, his polling has earned plaudits from respected observers and is generally not seen as in any way biased. As with any up-and-coming polling company, there’s a degree of uncertainty as to how accurate Ashcroft’s findings will prove to be in 2015, but his polls are popularly seen as credible.

If Labour has a six-point lead in Croydon Central at a time when its popularity is dipping across the country, what does this mean for its chances in the constituency next year? There seems to be only one sensible guess at present.

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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