The Public Gallery: Who will Croydon be sending to Westminster in 2015?


By - Thursday 12th September, 2013


In the first of a new weekly column on Croydon’s political sphere, Tom Black casts an eye over the town’s runners and riders for the next General Election


Grassroots ‘outsider’ campaign won Croydon Central selection for Sarah Jones

Croydon Central will undoubtedly be Croydon’s biggest battlefield in 2015. It’s the borough’s only marginal, as Croydon North is a safer Labour seat than Dennis Skinner’s armchair and Croydon South would elect a head of cauliflower with a Conservative rosette. Central’s incumbent Conservative MP, Gavin Barwell, won a majority of just under 3,000 in 2010.

Under even the smallest possible national swing required to get Labour a majority at the next General Election, Croydon Central turns red. It’s therefore a must-win for Labour, and given its history as a bellwether seat and the current state of the polls, it looks like they stand more than a good chance of taking it from the Conservatives.

Jones’ commitment to grassroots activity evidently played well with the local party

Their choice of candidate, therefore, was an extremely important decision. The instruction from Labour’s NEC to impose an all-women shortlist attracted some controversy, and left some local ‘big beasts’ such as Tony Newman and Gerry Ryan unable to stand,  while also sparing us the spectacle of a Pelling selection campaign. The race was well-documented – a good thing for local democracy, in my view – and ultimately, former civil servant Sarah Jones won.

Running as she did against several established councillors, Jones ended up benefiting from her position as an outsider. She was and is a fresh face, who (speaking personally) comes over well. This undoubtedly helped her campaign, which involved visiting every member of Croydon Central CLP at home. This commitment to grassroots activity evidently played well with the local party, as it helped her see off candidates who had received endorsements from senior local Labour figures. If you ask me, if her campaigning zeal can be translated into a full-on mobilisation of Croydon Central CLP come election-time, Gavin Barwell (far from a bad campaigner himself) will have a tough fight on his hands.

Barwell isn’t going anywhere – until 2015, at least

‘Will Gavin Barwell go South?’ was the pithily-phrased question on many Croydon politicos’ lips for several months. Barwell faced questions about his intentions for months, after making statements which seemed to imply he’d consider a move to Croydon South. Earlier this year, however, he clarified (numerous times) that he’d only been interested in changing seats when it appeared that the boundary review, in its first draft, would move two-thirds of his current seat into a new one. The second draft, drawn up with some better knowledge of Croydon’s natural dividing lines (though a debate as to how logical Croydon’s constituencies are is definitely one The Public Gallery will be exploring) undid much of this change, and regardless, the Coalition stopped pursuing the boundary reforms in the summer of last year.

There was still one obvious benefit for Barwell were he to want to move to Croydon South – it’s a safe seat. He’d be there for life, free to pursue the career in high office that he is so often tipped for. But when the boundary review was seemingly slaughtered on the altar of abandoning Lords reform, any possibility of Barwell having a locally-defensible reason to move south disappeared. Since then, he’s been quick to refute any further suggestion that he move south. It seems he will be in Croydon Central for as long as the voters will keep him there.

The UKIP Factor

The next election will contain a great many unknowns, one of the biggest being the impact UKIP’s rise in popularity will have on the makeup of parliament. The Eurosceptic party is not polling well enough to secure any seats – though a freak, Caroline Lucas-esque victory for Farage is not off the cards in somewhere like Boston and Skegness – but their spoiler effect against both main parties, particularly the Tories, may swing some marginals this way and that. In Croydon Central, a strong showing could take crucial votes from Barwell and deliver the seat for Labour. Barwell’s position on the left of the Tory Party makes him a prime target for right-wing UKIP leaflets and talking points.

‘Let’s get in the ring and dance’

Peter Staveley, the Chairman of UKIP’s Croydon branch, is to be their candidate in Croydon Central. In Croydon North, Winston McKenzie seems a prime candidate for the party after his strong showing in the November 2012 by-election there. The man who has held up his own involvement with UKIP as a refutation that the party is racist would be an obvious choice for a seat as diverse as Croydon North, though his way of dealing with racial issues through Muhammad Ali metaphors might be lost on some voters.

Not Boris, not Barwell, but… Bailey?

After months of speculation, the Mayor of London informed us mere mortals that he will not be seeking to stand for Croydon South at the next General Election. Richard Ottaway is to retire, and the seat’s massive in-built Conservative majority makes it very attractive indeed for any Tory looking to get into parliament for the long haul. Those of us who’ve been keeping an eye on Boris’ career path over the last few years would remind readers that one should take any denial of anything by Boris Johnson with a lorryload of salt, but Tory sources point to the fact that Boris is not on the Conservatives’ internal approved candidate list. And, more to the point, he hasn’t even applied to be on it. With Croydon South’s selection process ending in November, it looks like London’s ‘classic legend’ blonde bombshell will not be exploding anywhere in our fair borough.

Various potential Conservative A-listers will be very interested in one of the Tories’ safest seats. One such figure is Shaun Bailey, Tory candidate in 2010 for Hammersmith. A London boy seen as a potential successor to Boris, Bailey has a solid background as a youth worker and represents a deal of what the Cameron-era Conservative Party wants to achieve – though his star may have begun to fall since his controversial ousting from his Number 10 advisory position. Last time, he was selected in an open primary, and if elected, the African-Caribbean Briton would be Croydon’s first ethnic minority MP. Charlotte Vere, who stood in Brighton Pavillion in 2010, would be the borough’s first woman (though would be joined by another if Labour win Croydon Central). Another A-lister, Vere is chair of the Girls’ Schools Association and a ‘reluctant champion’ of women who doesn’t call herself a feminist. This isn’t PoliticalBetting (though I do recommend that site for its insights more than any interest I have in gambling) but if I was to take a punt, I’d say Vere will be my next MP (I live in Coulsdon).

The Lib Dems are unlikely to come second again unless Nick Clegg single-handedly fights off a Spanish invasion of Gibraltar

Closer to home, Claire George-Hilley, a Waddon councillor and the target of a degree of ire from some of the borough’s commentators, is rumoured to be interested in standing. While the retiring Ottaway is not a Croydonian by birth (and had previously represented Nottingham North in the 1980s), Croydon’s other two seats are held by relatively local figures. Whether the Croydon South Conservatives will favour a local candidate remains to be seen. Historical patterns show, however, that central authorities in political parties tend to be keen on their own selected rising stars being selected for a ‘safe seat’. Were Hilley to stand, she may find the Cameron machine aligning itself behind a higher-profile figure from outside Croydon.

Labour’s selection choices for Croydon South remain unclear, though 2010′s candidate Jane Avis was unsuccessful in her bid for Croydon Central, making her an early frontrunner. The Liberal Democrats, who do not have a strong presence anywhere in the borough, actually beat Labour into third place at the last election, though this feat seems unlikely to be repeated in present circumstances unless Nick Clegg single-handedly fights off a Spanish invasion of Gibraltar. Tips and suggestions for potential candidates for both parties in Croydon South – or elsewhere in the borough – are welcome in both comments and email.

That’s all for The Public Gallery this week. If you’ve a story, angle or local issue you’d like explored, contact the Citizen or directly, and I’ll see what we can do.

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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  • bieneosa

    Great analysis, Tom!

    I’d like to draw your attention to the demographic profile of Croydon Central. Recent research published by Operation Black Vote highlights that the seat is one of 168 marginals where the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) vote could determine the outcome of the election. Of course, BME voters are not a homogenous block, but I think it should be part of the narrative when discussing the political landscape in Croydon. I’m sure that Gavin Barwell MP has seen the aforementioned research and, even prior to this, understands the significance of engaging effectively with BME constituents. It’s also worth mentioning, particularly in relation to Croydon, that new arrivals from the Commonwealth (estimated to be around 1 million nationally) will be able to vote in the election.

    Regarding Croydon South, I noted that Shaun Bailey was at Croydon Conservatives Annual Conference. It will be interesting to see how, following the incident you referenced, his career will progress in the Conservative Party. I wouldn’t be surprised if Claire George-Hilley throws her hat in the ring, and why not? She seems like a determined individual and she has a decent CV in terms of her work as a councillor and her role in Conservative Future. I think she may be just what Conservatives in South Croydon are looking for, and would like. But hey, this is all conjecture. I look forward to reading your next instalment!

    • Anne Giles

      It would be nice to have Claire, if she throws her hat in the ring. I am on the Executive Committee and have to attend a selection meeting on the 26th. We shall see.

      • bieneosa

        It must be a big responsibility and honour to play a part in selecting your next MP. Anne, for my reference, please could you let me know how many executive committee members there are?

        • Anne Giles

          No idea. I have never counted them.

          • bieneosa

            I have just been informed that you are one of 14 people who will do the initial sift through CVs to decide who is taken through to interview stage.

          • Anne Giles

            Thanks for the info. I have not been on the Executive that long!

  • juanincognito

    Interesting point about the BME vote. Would you be able to link the research Bieneosa? Thanks

    • Mario Creatura
    • bieneosa

      Juan,

      You may also like to listen to my show on Croydon Radio on 22 September when I will be speaking to Lester Holloway, who conducted the research. We’ll be discussing the implications of the research for Gavin Barwell MP and those wishing to take his place in Croydon Central.

      • bieneosa

        Here’s a link to details of the show: http://bit.ly/Intheloop21

        • juanincognito

          Thanks Mario and Bieneosa for the links. I shall try and remember to listen!

      • Mario Creatura

        Would be good to learn what the actual turnout is for the BAME vote in Croydon Central. The OBV report is crucial reading, and has some excellent suggestions, but unless I missed it the report doesn’t give the turnout of BAME per constituency, just that there is a high BAME percentage of the electorate in certain seats. We all know that electorate and turnout are two very different things, if high then that would double-underscore the importance of the report I feel.

  • Mario Creatura

    A great post Tom. Though I’ve got a few observations that may provoke some debate…

    In terms of the ‘safeness’ of Croydon Central. You’re right that the numbers suggest Gavin’s majority of 3,000 is not the safest seat in the country, but it’s important to remember the impact of Andrew Pelling on that number. A popular Conservative MP, Andrew became an independent contender running against Gavin in 2010. Many conservatives supported him out of loyalty, as well as the general protest votes that tend to go to independents. We have to ask where those votes will go now that Andrew has joined Labour and more crucially isn’t standing again. That’s 3,000 votes that need to be re-allocated. If we assume that most supported him because he was a Conservative out of loyalty and because of his profile, it’s reasonable to assume that some of those votes will feel betrayed because of the jump to Labour so will switch back their support to Gavin. There’ll be some casualties, but a conservative estimate would suppose that half to two thirds of Andrews votes could go back to Gavin automatically. Which could imply that were 2010 re-run without Andrew, that Gavin’s majority would be in the region of 4-5,000, not 2-3,000.

    Andrews popularity as an incumbent MP, with the five years of national and local publicity that goes with it, is matched and in the age of social media outperformed by Gavin who is (whether you agree with his politics) widely regarded as a very effective media performer. People like him. The ‘incumbency effect’ of a good local MP is generally regarded as adding potentially another thousands votes. These are rough estimates, but name recognition and the platform incumbents have make it harder to shift them.

    Then there’s the national polling. Ed Miliband is a drag on the Labour ticket. Sarah is a competent professional politician that knows how to campaign from her days working for the Labour Party, but even she will struggle to shirk the albatross of Milibland where half of Labour supporters don’t want him: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/exclusive-half-of-labour-supporters-unhappy-with-ed-miliband-new-poll-reveals-8809067.html If we assume most people vote based on the profile of the national leader, then that will harm Sarah and benefit Gavin. Cameron is generally regarded as being preferable to Miliband at running the country: http://conservativehome.blogs.com/thetorydiary/2013/02/can-tories-turn-2015-into-a-cameron-versus-miliband-presidential-contest.html

    In terms of issues, most voters support the Coalitions policy on welfare and on education. They are almost entirely supportive of the austerity economic package and that seems to be paying dividends with the economy slowly growing (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/mar/25/voters-cuts-coalition-poll). When Ed Balls concedes this is a good things, you know Labour nationally are in trouble: http://www.cityam.com/article/1378782400/osborne-has-defeated-ed-balls-uk-s-economy-still-fragile.

    UKIP are an unknown quantity in Croydon. In cities (and suburbs like Croydon) they don’t have as much of a support base as in southern Surrey, Shire seats or the Midlands. Their infrastructure in Croydon appears to be small and when canvassing support for them seems fragile at best. Amongst Conservative supporters the ‘I want to send a message to Cameron’ sentiment is fast replaced with ‘Oh, but I don’t want Miliband in Number 10′. That’s even if we falsely assume UKIP only take votes from the Conservatives. They don’t! Labour supporter John Rentoul used Lib Dem adviser Mark Pack’s stats to conclude that Labour have lost more votes to UKIP that from the Conservatives (http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2013/05/04/labour-lost-more-votes-than-tories-as-ukip-surged/), this may further dent Sarah’s vote-share to the benefit of Gavin’s campaign. But in reality, who knows. I can’t imagine UKIP’s funding to be high enough or activist base to be young enough to cover the whole constituency enough to make a large dent. We shall wait and see.

    So though we mustn’t be complacent Gavin has the economy slowly growing, the generally popular Coalition policies, the lack of Andrew running against him, the weakness of Ed Miliband vs Cameron, and his five -year-long positive incumbency profile/name recognition being higher than Sarah’s.

    Croydon Central may not be as easy a win for Labour as they ‘re implying.

    • Anne Giles

      How right you are, Mario.

    • Tom Black

      Phew! You like your long comments. I should apologise in advance for what will no doubt be a shorter reply.

      You provide some useful insights here, for which I’m grateful – I’d like the comments here to be an open forum for anyone who wants to have their say on how they think the situation will play out. Certainly, some of the things you’ve said will factor into my report next week and beyond.

      However, I’d like to pick you up on a couple of things, mainly about Croydon Central, but starting with a look at your citing of Rentoul on UKIP.

      Rentoul’s creds as a ‘Labour supporter’ don’t hold much water when he wants to make a point about Labour doing badly. He’s a Blairite of the Dan Hodges variety and will leap on any attempt to pull the party to the right (or as he calls it, the centre). (I tried to look at these stats myself, but your link was actually to a blog about the Xbox Kinect!) In brief, the situation I can gauge with UKIP is they do draw from Labour in the north of England a lot more than the Tories, because Labour have dominated many seats for generations thanks to the Tories’ toxicity. A socially conservative, right wing party that isn’t tainted by memories of Thatcher is a natural fit for disgruntled ‘Labour by default’ voters.

      In the south, however, it’s a rather different story. You’re right that Croydon doesn’t have a great many Shire Tories, and those it does have are mainly in the south – where any result other than a Tory MP would be a huge surprise. But I would not be so sure of the Tory vote holding up in Croydon Central – Gavin will gain an incumbency bonus but will also suffer as part of this deeply unpopular government. My favourite electoral saying is ‘oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them’. It happened in 2010 in a very clear manner, and I feel that the two results that are on the table at the moment are a Labour majority and a hung parliament with Labour as the largest party. The question is not ‘why will Tories swing to Labour’ (although, I hasten to add, it should be). It is ‘why will the Tories bother to vote for a man who hates them’.

      Cameron is despised by large sections of his own party. It is no surprise that the Tories have all-but-admitted their membership has dropped below 100,000. Leaders aren’t everything, but if I were a Tory organiser, I’d be very concerned about my GOTV operation in 2015. With gay marriage and a lack of credibility of Europe hanging around Cameron’s neck, many Blue Rinse Tories will, in my view, ‘sit this one out’ or vote for UKIP. You overestimate the power of ‘do you want Ed Miliband in Number 10?!’ as a repellent, I think – the Conservatives have a strong history of disloyalty if they as individuals don’t get their way. One only has to look at their record of kicking out leaders compared to Labour. Let’s not forget Iain Duncan Smith was chosen over the vastly more electable and gifted Ken Clarke, largely because Clarke was pro-Europe and therefore unacceptable to the membership at large. Those same people will be asked to leaflet, knock on doors and GOTV in 2015. I don’t believe the numbers required for a Tory majority nationally, or a huge Tory success in Croydon, will get off their sofas.

      Your point about Ed is valid – at present he is perceived as an albatross. But I believe that can change. His last chance to show he can deliver a real alternative is this conference season, and if Labour come out of it as a muddled force then I will start to revise my predictions. We shall have to reconvene after September on this one. But again, I would reiterate that it’s more important that a PM and government are seen as ‘worth chucking out’ than a Leader of the Opposition is seen as PM material. Jim Callaghan led Mrs Thatcher by 18 points on personal ratings 4 weeks before the 1979 election.

      Finally, speaking of ‘let’s chuck them out’, the Labour vote will be increasing at the next election. This much is obvious. But the point I’m making is that in 2010, a lot of nominal Labour supporters stayed at home or went to the Lib Dems, as they had done in 2005. Now, with no option other than Labour when it comes to removing Cameron from Number 10, they’ll ‘come home’. Not all of them, of course. Perhaps only half. Who knows? But that’s another reason I feel your maths for Croydon Central is a little optimistic (even if, as you rightly point out, the absence of Andrew Pelling from the ballot paper will lead to some redistribution). The right have loved to paint Ed as Red or whatever other witty, bathroom-graffiti-esque nicknames they’ve come up, but the fact is that Labour’s shift slightly toward the left has united them with a number of voters left out in the cold by the Blair-Brown years. The commitment to reverse the bedroom tax – expected at conference – - will be music to many people’s ears, including mine. Polling data on supported reforms is one thing, but a regular reader of UK Polling report (http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/) will be able to tell you that the real question – who do you want to form the government – is answered much less favourably for the Tories, and Labour are helped a great deal by their boundaries advantage.

      There’ll be more debates like this between us, I am sure. But the last thing to keep in mind is that, as you say, 1,000 votes is all that can be expected for a locally popular MP. The next election, including the fate of local MPs, will be decided by the national picture. That may not be right – I categorically don’t think it is – but it’s the way it is.