The Public Gallery: Were you still up for Kellett?

By - Thursday 29th May, 2014

After a long night last Thursday, Croydon Labour emerged as our new council’s governing party. Tom Black was there until sunrise – and beyond

Labour wins control of the council by 40 seats to 30

After weeks of a narrowing poll lead and an increasingly competitive campaign, the Croydon Council election proved to have a decisive outcome. The ‘Labour nightmare scenario’ – where Labour won Waddon and lost Addiscombe, thus cancelling out their gains and giving the Conservatives the town hall for four more years – completely failed to materialise.

So too did the ‘status quo result’ – Labour narrowly beaten in all the key wards, the Conservatives maybe losing one councillor in New Addington but maintaining a small majority on the council. The apocalyptic rain, hail and sleet during the voting did make this potentially more likely, as I was fervently pointing out to anyone who would listen.

The down-to-the-wire Waddon count. By this point in the early morning, the Conservatives had stopped watching the votes being counted – only the stoic Green candidate remained among a sea of red rosettes.
Photo by Stephen Black, used with permission.

But as it happened, turnout was not negatively impacted by the weather and nor was Labour’s vote. When candidates started to arrive at the count at 10pm, neither side was beaming with confidence. For a tense few hours, with no results to go on, there was a general sense from both parties that the Conservatives might have ‘just about hung on’. However, panic began to set in among the Conservatives at about 4am, and at 5:30am I had the novel experience of overhearing Conservative leader Mike Fisher grumbling, ‘the sooner this is over, the better’ as he stormed down a corridor.

In the end, the red team not only took Waddon (where former Conservative Croydon Central MP Andrew Pelling became a Labour councillor), it took the other seat in the split ward of New Addington (with UKIP consigning incumbent councillor Tony Pearson to third place) and – in Croydon’s own political earthquake – it took Ashburton, too.

Ashburton has never before been anything other than blue, and in the space of three years, Labour’s ‘Ashburton Action Team’ had brought the ward into play and won all three of its councillors. Andrew Rendle, (henceforth Councillor Rendle) said in a statement:

“The biggest thank-you must go to the electorate who put their faith & trust in us at the ballot box. I think all elected representatives of any political hue will agree this is a humbling occasion. We promise to be available and work hard for all residents. You have put your trust in us and we won’t let you down.”

A humbling occasion indeed, not least for sitting Ashburton councillor Adam Kellett, whose dramatic unseating so late in the day (Ashburton did not report a result until 8:30am or so) might qualify as Croydon’s own Portillo Moment this year.

In the end, Labour took the council with a majority of ten. But the Conservatives, it seemed, were not quite ready to lose graciously…

“Vote UKIP, get Labour,” say ousted Conservatives

There was much talk of ‘UKIP coming down the middle’ and ‘letting Labour in’. Indeed, Conservative councillors, candidates and activists were quick to take to Twitter and spend the next few days saying, ‘We told you if you voted UKIP you’d get Labour, and we were right.’

Ousted council leader Mike Fisher was louder than most, declaring in his de facto concession speech that he did not feel that Labour had ‘won’, but that UKIP had allowed Labour to win.

Glum-faced Conservatives, some of them newly-elected councillors, had accepted their fate by about 4am.
Photo by Stephen Black, used with permission.

Discussion of whether this is particularly sporting aside, Fisher and his colleagues were not being completely unreasonable. In New Addington, the UKIP vote definitely split the right in a very big way and Labour romped home. In Ashburton, the UKIP vote proved almost as important as Labour’s community-centred campaign, with Andrew Rendle only winning a seat by a slim eight votes. Waddon was also a close-run thing, with majorities of less than 170 for each of Labour’s victorious councillors. If just 450 or so UKIP voters had gone with the Conservatives across Waddon, Ashburton and New Addington, Labour might well have not won control of the council.

But they didn’t. And UKIP doesn’t just take votes from Conservatives, as the Eurosceptic party’s successes in the Labour heartland of Rotherham showed. It’s simply wrong for Mike Fisher and Gavin Barwell (the MP for Croydon Central who must now be concerned about holding on next year) to assume that UKIP has ‘borrowed’ Conservative Party voters. UKIP represents something far bigger than anti-Tory or anti-Labour sentiment. It is an anti-establishment vote, and all parties will struggle to combat it as the general election approaches.

What did Croydon’s voters do?

As mentioned above, turnout was not impacted by the bad weather and in fact was slightly higher than average – helped, no doubt, by the higher-profile European elections happening on the same day.

Amateur psephologist (and the Citizen election night live blog’s own Peter Snow) Dr Thomas Anderson has kindly provided an in-depth set of maps, showing how Croydon’s wards voted in the last few elections – including Mayoral/GLA elections:

The size of majority is indicated by the darkness or lightness of the colour – i.e. a very dark blue means a strong Conservative majority. On last month’s result, Anderson noted that “comparing it to the 2012 mayoral vote, most of Croydon looks similar – but Ashburton voting Labour really came out of nowhere.”

That’s Croydon for you. Broadly orthodox – but just that little bit unpredictable.

What’s next?

As early as 5am on Friday morning, when the result was still technically unclear, one cautious whisper could already be heard around the count:

“How is Labour going to deliver that manifesto?”

Labour’s manifesto, entitled ‘Ambitious for Croydon,’ was certainly not misnamed. Labour’s pre-election pledges included a commitment to ‘ensure every major new development has a fair share of homes that local people can afford to rent or buy’, the establishment of ‘free breakfast’ at Croydon’s schools and a plan to make Croydon into a London Living Wage borough by paying the living wage and only working with contractors who do the same.

This was just a smattering of policies from Labour’s detailed manifesto. Throughout the campaign, the Conservatives sought to trot out the age-old anti-Labour attack line, ‘but how will you pay for it?’. It doesn’t seem to have worked as a tactic, but now the dust has settled, it’s a question many will still want to ask. Katharine Street is abuzz with rumours and speculation that Labour is about to announce that it’s simply going to have to do what it wouldn’t talk about during the campaign – find savings in unpopular places.

You can read the whole of my election night liveblog, as it happened, here. Start at the bottom and scroll up.

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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