First, my commiserations to my colleagues who stood for election yesterday in wards we hoped to win but were not successful, in particular Tony Harris, Simon Hoar, Adam Kellett and Tony Pearson who were hard-working local councillors; and to Mike Fisher and his team at the Town Hall who have done a good job over the last eight years turning Croydon around, in particular in attracting Westfield and Hammerson to Croydon. Politics can be tough sometimes.
Second, congratulations to the Labour Party on their victory and to the new Leader of the Council Cllr Tony Newman in particular. Having lost himself in 2006 and 2010, he'll know better than most how we're feeling at the moment. I can assure him that I won't put party politics before what's best for the town - if I agree with what he is doing I will say so and if he wants help lobbying the Government he will have it. But if I think he is not acting in the best interests of the borough, I will say so - as he would expect and as I did when my own party was running the Council eg over proposed changes to parking restrictions and proposed library closures.
Third, on a bad night for Croydon Conservatives I was delighted to see Sue Bennett and Mario Creatura, both of whom work for me, elected yesterday. Sue has served as a councillor before in South Norwood from 2006 to 2010 and Mario will be a great addition to the Conservative Group.
Fourth, the results show - if anyone didn’t already know it - that I have a fight on my hands to hold Croydon Central next year. Conservatives candidates secured 33.5% of the vote in Croydon Central yesterday with Labour securing 35.3% of the vote. That means I need to secure a swing of just under 1% over the next year - perfectly do-able (indeed quite a few voters have said to us over the last few weeks that they would be voting UKIP this year, but would back me next year), but by no means inevitable.
Fifth, beneath the very disappointing headline result there were some grounds for optimism in some wards. In Addiscombe (where I ran our campaign) and Fairfield, we actually increased our share of the vote compared with 2010, a remarkable achievement. In Ashburton, our share of the vote was only down two percentage points - we lost because Labour did a great job squeezing the Liberal Democrat vote. But in Heathfield, Fieldway and New Addington our share of the vote was well down. It is no coincidence that these were the wards where UKIP did very well.
This brings me on to my sixth and penultimate observation. In the run-up to the elections, UKIP told people that if they voted UKIP they would get UKIP. Thousands of Croydonians who did not want a Labour Council believed them. They voted UKIP. And they got Labour. We will be reminding those voters of that in the run-up to next year’s General Election when the stakes are even higher.
Finally, we should not however blame this result solely on some Conservative-minded electors voting UKIP or Labour’s success in squeezing the Liberal Democrat vote. Our Council achieved many important things - getting the finances back on an even keel, trebling recycling, improving our schools, getting more police on our streets and most importantly attracting Westfield and Hammerson to the town. But inevitably we didn’t get everything right and we need to learn the appropriate lessons. We also need to look at how we select our candidates. We had lots of new, talented people interested in standing to be a councillor, including several from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, but we failed to select them in safe Conservative wards. As a result, we once again have a Conservative Group without a single Afro-Caribbean councillor. In a borough as diverse as Croydon, that cannot be allowed to happen again.
I'll be blogging in more detail about how the Conservative Party in Croydon needs to change in response to these results over the next few weeks.