Reflections on the Croydon council elections 2018

By - Thursday 10th May, 2018

Just a few days after the local elections took place, a chance to review and re-assess…

Photo public domain.

Local politics is not for the faint-hearted. Pavements are pounded, doors are knocked, strategies and tactics are earnestly discussed. Data is analysed and hundreds of doorstep conversations, plus six months of work, are all judged in a single day.

After a restless night’s sleep, my election day started early with a campaign breakfast and twelve hours spent ‘getting out the vote’. After a quick shower and change, it was off to Trinity School for the count.

Boxes are ferried in from polling stations in short order; Addiscombe and Shirley polling stations are just around the corner, so within ten minutes of the polls closing, black boxes are being emptied on to counting tables. This is where the rubber meets the road – a first chance to see real votes. Local activists and politicians cluster round to get a glimpse of how the night might end.

Conservatives and Labour tend to be interested in marginal wards; Greens and Lib Dems in areas where they can build their base

Different from general elections, in which ward-level voting is not published, local elections – by their nature – have an additional published level of detail to feed the data analysts. More subtle information, down to the layer below wards (polling districts), can be gathered to help with future campaigns. All political parties have their target wards in which they are particularly interested to gather more data from, which are not always the same areas. The Conservatives and Labour tend to be interested in the marginals, the Greens and the Lib Dems, looking to build a base, may be interested in completely different wards.

My interest was obviously in the ward in which I stood, Selsdon and Addington Village, and in the marginal ward where I had worked for two general election campaigns (and this local one), Addiscombe East.

Addiscombe East ballot boxes were the first to arrive. One feels a surge of optimism when a rush of Conservative votes appears, a sinking feeling when a tranche of Labour votes follows, confusion when you see voters spreading their votes between other parties with very different aims. That it was too close to call was obvious right from the start.

It’s a strange feeling to see your name on so many ballot papers… each vote was gratefully received

Over in the other hall, ballot boxes start to arrive from my own ward. It’s a strange feeling to see your name on so many ballot papers for the first time. Selsdon and Addington voters had two votes, so each one that voted both for me and my fellow Conservative candidate, Helen Pollard, was gratefully received. Some people only voted for one candidate. When, rarely, that candidate was me, I felt a curious mix of pride and humility.

After the local boundary review, the Croydon Conservatives felt that they were starting from a base of 28 councillors. The old Fairfield ward was a mix of a strong Conservative area mixed with a larger, more Labour-leaning area. Taken together, we had won all three councillors in 2014; but separated, we now had one broadly Conservative area returning a single councillor, with a much more difficult area for us to win now returning three.

Going into election day we had hopes of winning the council but knew that that was a challenge. Anything less than twenty-eight councillors would have been a serious disappointment, anything more would be progress from where we started, although failing to win the council would be a tough pill to swallow. Labour’s strategy had been puzzling. The Labour campaigners seemed to be working some areas that made no sense to me. The downside would be that it was us that had it wrong, in which case we might lose a few seats.

As the night rumbled on, Addiscombe East was on a knife edge

Early declarations were from seats safe for both parties. Seats that we would have to win to take control of the council were not looking good. Addiscombe East continued on a knife edge. The night rumbled on.

Eventually my ward was declared – and I had been elected. I felt pleasure at the result, mixed with concern both for other colleagues still waiting and especially for those who already knew that all of their efforts had come to nought.

Successful candidates were whisked into a room with a team of cheerful council officers. A photographer snapped pictures of our 4am faces and it was on to a cheery briefing, to collect an induction pack – and go back to the count.

I had watched the ballots with fierce concentration. I was confident that there were no mistakes large enough to make a difference

A provisional result from Addiscombe East showed the ward returning one Labour councillor and a Conservative, Jeet Bains. A recount was called but I had watched the ballots through with fierce concentration. I was confident that there were no mistakes large enough to make a difference. I went home and flopped into bed.

Now a day or so further on, still feeling a little disoriented, I am disappointed that we did not win the council, but proud of a campaign with which I can find no fault. The results show that our assessment of the political lie of the land was right, albeit that we are still in opposition.

The good news is that we have a strong and able team, with a great mix of old faces and new. It is time now to reflect, listen again to what the voters think, and come up with new policy ideas. In politics, as in life, it’s not how many times they knock you down that counts, it’s how many times you get back up again.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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