A Strong Voice for Croydon Central - Gavin Barwell MP
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Further reflections on the recent election results
16/05/2012 22:49:00


Yesterday, London Elects published the results of the GLA elections on a ward-by-ward basis. If you're interested, you can see the data for yourself by clicking on 2012 Ward level breakdown here.

For nerds like me, this is manna from heaven - it allows you to see how well each party did in different parts of Croydon and to estimate what the result of a General Election or Council elections held on 3rd May would have been (it can only be an estimate for two reasons: first, some people might vote differently in a General Election or Council elections; second, the ward-by-ward figures London Elects have published don't include those who voted by post - they have published the postal vote data separately on a borough-wide basis and this shows that we did much better among those who voted by post than among those who voted on the day so you then have to make assumptions that the proportion of people voting by post and the scale of our better performance among postal voters were the same in each ward).

People completed three different ballot papers on 3rd May - who they wanted to be Mayor, who they wanted to be their local Assembly member and which party they supported for the top-up Assembly seats. These three different elections produced three different results:

- for Mayor, 47.7% of people across Croydon voted for Boris Johnson and 37.8% voted for Ken Livingston;

- for our local Assembly member, 39.8% voted for Conservative Steve O'Connell and 40.3% voted for Labour's Louisa Woodley; and

- for the London-wide top-up list, 36.3% voted Conservative and 38.7% voted Labour.

And these differences are repeated at ward level. It looks like Boris won the key marginal wards of Addiscombe, New Addington and Waddon; Steve and the Conservative Party generically didn't.

The question is which of these best represents each Party's likely performance in a General or Council election. It clearly isn't the Mayoral election - when canvassing you met lots of non-Conservatives who were voting for Boris and lots of Labour supporters who wouldn't vote for Ken. My instinct is that the votes for our local Assembly member are the best indicator.

On this basis, then, Labour narrowly won the borough-wide vote. They haven't done that before in a local election, even in the years when they have won the Council (though they did it easily in the 1997, 2001 and 2005 General Elections), so it looks, at first sight, like a very good result for Labour.

But when you look into where they increased their vote, the picture is less clear cut. Based on the local Assembly member votes, Labour would have won 37 of the seats on Croydon Council and the Conservatives 33, a mirror image of the current position. This would give Labour the same majority on the Council that they won in 2002 and a smaller majority than they won in either 1994 or 1998 despite them doing much better in borough-wide share of the vote terms than on any of these three occasions. Why? Because there was a big swing to them in the wards where they already have councillors in but, with the exception of Waddon, much smaller swings elsewhere (indeed in the Mayoral election, nearly all the Conservative wards saw a swing to Boris since 2008, which is frankly incredible given the change in the national political climate since then).

This picture is confirmed if you look at the results by Parliamentary constituency - Labour wiped the floor with us in Croydon North but we would have narrowly held Croydon Central. The same is true if you look at the proposed new constituencies - we would have comfortably won Croydon East and come very close to winning the ultra-marginal Croydon Central & St Helier seat. And this is on a day when we were seven or eight points behind in the national shares of the vote!

Labour activists have convinced themselves that they won a huge victory on 3rd May - Cllr Tim Godfrey tweeted "Tories massively on back foot" - but the truth is rather more mixed. Yes, Labour narrowly won the most votes across Croydon in the Assembly election. Yes, they would have narrowly retaken control of the Council. But they are only appealing to people in their core areas. We would still have returned two of the Borough's three MPs. And all of this was in a mid-term election prior to which the Government had endured a pretty miserable two months. If we get our act together, if we deal with the financial mess we inherited and get the economy growing again - and the signs this week are encouraging with the deficit already down by a quarter, unemployment down for a second month and the Government able to borrow at the lowest rates in its history - then we can approach the next Council and General Elections with confidence.

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Readers' Comments

On 21/05/2012 15:12:00 Andrew Pelling wrote:
I think it is interesting to compare this commentary with my analysis on http://insidecroydon.com/2012/05/16/blue-rinsed-sutton-highlights-reasons-for-boundary-changes/

Clearly both Gavin and I enjoy our nerdish tendencies when it comes to psephology.

Small caveats. The bigger Labour victories in the 90s were down to more helpful ward boundaries to Labour at that time.

The low interest rates are down to our central bank being allowed to print money out of thin air and buy government bonds directly and our economy lacking alternative investments that guarantee a better rate of return. Record low interest rates are not a sign of success but with rates so low government can invest to grow the economy with projects that will earn a higher economic return than the record low Gilt yields at which government could borrow, with some caution of course.

Gavin is being bashful about Croydon Central and St. Helier. The Conservatives won there with the Lib-Dems in 3rd place.

Labour's especial strength in the north, which Gavin notes, reflects both strong Labour support but it is also where Labour focused their campaign resource. Clearly seats like Waddon and Addiscombe will see greater attention from their spruced up electoral operation in the run up to 2014.

The results in Tory-leaning wards have Labour in second place in all cases, which will aid Labour campaigns there. In 2010 the Liberals were second behind the Conservatives in seven of their eight Croydon South wards and second in Heathfield in Croydon Central. Labour has a clear second place even in the former Lib-Dem held seat of Coulsdon East. A clear Labour challenge in these seats will pose a problem for any weak Conservative Councillors who are less than conscientious in their ward work. Previously these Councillors have relied on a split opposition vote to see them through with ease. These seats are still very likely to remain in Tory hands but there could be surprises. The Conservatives' weak vote in Fairfield also needs some Tory TLC - if that's not a contradiction in terms.

Gavin's piece seems to be partly aimed at his own party workers to cheer them up. They won the seat so I don't see much for them to be down in the mouth about really. After all 75 votes has been a satisfactory result in another election.

Nevertheless passing over a Labour win in Croydon as a whole is a little bit complacent as Labour have never got anywhere close to doing this before in a local election - see how much Labour have trailed behind the Tories in all thirteen of Croydon's local council elections ( the 2010 vote is flattered by the high turnout in the concurrent General Election). As Gavin's analysis hints at, Labour's extraordinary result was reliant on a focussed campaigning effort in North Croydon but Labour could not have won without being buoyed by improved votes in the south of the Borough where Labour had invested some time talking to voters from the summer of 2011 to Xmas 2012.

Tory vote lead in all local Croydon Council elections:

2010 + 4.9 %

2006 + 19.1 % (Conservatives recapture control of the Council)

2002 + 7.5 %

1998 + 9.3 %

1994 + 3.6 % (first ever Labour control of the Council)

1990 + 12.9 %

1986 + 16.3 %

1982 + 37 %

1978 + 30.6 %

1974 + 22.3 %

1971 + 7.6 %

1968 + 42 %

1964 + 6.2 %

Demographics, some Tory unforced errors on the Council like building a new town hall whilst cutting services and an improved Labour election campaigning organisation seem to be changing the face of Croydon politics.

On 22/05/2012 12:40:00 Gavin Barwell wrote:

I don't think there's much disagreement between us - it was a very good result for Labour in Croydon North, good but not spectacular elsewhere. Given it's mid-term, as you say there's not "much for us to be down in the mouth about really".

I will however pick you up on two points:

1. The 2002 local elections were held on the current ward boundaries. Labour would have won no more seats on 3rd May than they did then, despite a 4% swing in their favour - because the swing was mainly in the north.

2. I am as certain as I can be, given we don't have ward-by-ward figures for postal votes, that Labour would have won the new Croydon Central & St Helier seat on 3rd May if people had voted the same way as in the election for their local Assembly member. Based on the votes cast on the day, Labour won 36.4% to 31.9%. That's too big a lead to be over-turned by postal votes, particularly as in Sutton there wasn't such a big difference between postal votes and votes on the day.




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