The Public Gallery: Too close to call

By - Thursday 16th April, 2015

Tom Black is beginning to miss the calm of the silly season as Croydon Central turns into Florida 2000

Stats genius brands Croydon Central ‘the closest seat in the country’

Nate Silver, the famed American statistician who made his start predicting the performance of baseball teams and exploded into the complex world of predicting America’s presidential politics in 2008, has set his sights on predicting the outcome of the UK’s general election this year. No mean feat, as everyone by now knows it’s the closest election in living memory.

While Silver was pretty much spot on with his prediction of the 2008 and 2012 US elections, he flopped a little bit when he first dabbled in the UK’s 2010 election. Critics said he wasn’t adequately prepared to predict for a 2.5 party system, and he was, like many, taken in by Cleggmania and the Lib Dem surge in the polls. Silver predicted a big increase in Lib Dem seats. He wasn’t the only one who looked very wrong on election night.

This time, however, he’s taken a longer view and has teamed up with Election Forecast, whom I have mentioned in the past on my radio show. Election Forecast is UK-based, as well as respected and experienced. Silver’s predictions will probably be much closer to the final result than they were last time.

Why so close, and why so potentially unpredictable?

Why am I telling you all this? Because he and his colleagues reckon Croydon Central is the closest seat in the country.

As you can see on his interactive map – which is nigh-on pornographic for psephologists – Croydon Central is currently predicted to get a 40.3% vote share for Labour, and a 40.0% vote share for the Conservatives. There are lots of close races at this election, but right now, Croydon Central appears to be the closest. For a seat with a relatively negligible third-party vote (it’s rare today for the combined total of the Labour and Conservative vote to reach 80.3%!), it’s an unusually close contest.

Why so close, and why so potentially unpredictable? The answer is, as I’ve said before, tied up with the so-called ‘Pelling votes’. Thanks to Mr Pelling’s independent candidacy, Croydon Central had a unique scenario last time: no other seat had its incumbent MP standing as an independent in 2010. The respectable 3,239 votes Pelling received make it very hard to accurately determine where those voters will go this year, if they vote at all. It makes Croydon Central closer than ever, on an unpredictable backdrop of factors like a rising UKIP and Green vote, neck-and-neck polls, and a campaign yet to feature a decisive ‘win’ for either the Conservatives or Labour.

Incidentally, if Mr Silver gets a taste for UK politics and fancies job-swapping with me, I’d be very happy to spend the next nineteen months saying “yup, it’s going to be Hillary” over and over again. Call me, Nate.


You can’t move for hustings at the moment in Croydon. Even tonight, as millions tune in to watch the so-called Challengers’ Debate on the BBC, Barwell and Jones will be facing off at the Croydon Citizens (no relation) accountability forum, which will see them asked to make certain actionable and measurable commitments. There are plenty of other events going on, run by residents’ associations, schools, debating societies and community groups.

Can’t make it to any? As promised, I’m going to start doing live tweets from hustings around the borough, starting with this Friday evening’s, which takes place at the Croydon Park Hotel. And, of course, the Citizen‘s own live debate between Barwell and Jones is at 7:30pm on Saturday 2nd May at Matthew’s Yard.

I’m going to livetweet hustings in both Croydon South and Croydon North

I’m also aware that TPG has been somewhat light on material about the safe seats of Croydon North and Croydon South. While the electoral contest in those seats is not exactly a close-run thing, the voters in those constituencies deserve a degree of scrutiny of their candidates that has been hard to provide thus far – Croydon North in particular has been unusually quiet in terms of campaign activity, even for a safe seat.

In the spirit of Peter Underwood’s piece on the ‘wasted votes’ fallacy (as he would put it), I’m going to attend and do a livetweet from at least one hustings in each constituency. Watch this space – and the @CroydonCit Twitter account – for more details.

Photo by Croydon Conservatives, used with permission.

Boris backs Barwell

Boris Johnson was back in Croydon last week – apparently he can’t get enough of the place (though he did struggle to name the best thing about Croydon when I spoke to him last year). Striding around the Croydon Central constituency with his usual bumbling purpose, his visit was in support of Gavin Barwell. They even had posters indicating the highly personal nature of the endorsements. While critics were quick to point out that they do not mention the word ‘Conservatives’, it should also be noted that they are blue, feature the Tory logo, and have a massive picture of Boris Johnson on them. It’s unlikely even the most disengaged voter will confuse Barwell for a Communist Party candidate.

While big beasts dropping in on marginal seats is business as usual for an election, it’s obvious Boris does actually like Gavin. The visit was not the first clear endorsement for Barwell that has come from the Mayor of London. It’s known that the two are indeed close, at least professionally, and Boris takes every opportunity to praise him to the rafters. In the past few years, Barwell has been singled out for praise by Boris at events like the Croydon Partnership announcement, local election campaign visits, and of course a star appearance at Barwell’s own American-style campaign launch. If you really do plan to base your vote on who Boris Johnson wants as Croydon Central’s MP, it’s clear he means every  word he says about the incumbent.

Photo by Croydon Labour Party, used with permission.

Izzard backs Jones

From the Mayor of London to a man who wouldn’t mind having his job some day. The comedian, trendsetter and marathon man Eddie Izzard took North End by storm yesterday, speaking to shoppers alongside Labour candidate Sarah Jones. In an experience that Boris will be able to offer his sympathies over, it became difficult for Izzard to move more than a few feet at a time before being mobbed by requests for selfies.

Looking very striking in lipstick and a skirt-jacket combo that Hillary Clinton would kill for, Izzard made the most of his lightning visit and visibly gee’d up the local Labour activists flyering alongside him. With Croydon Central now far too close to call, Jones and her team will be hoping Izzard’s visit boosts their momentum as both campaigns knuckle down on the doorsteps.

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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