This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 08/09/2017.
What Croydon’s politicians had to say about the general election result
In the wake of the most unpredictable election result in the last few decades, it is really interesting to compare the views on the outcome of the vote by different political parties in Croydon.
The gains made by Labour on the ballot were unexpected and led to many questions regarding Theresa May’s future as prime minister as she lost her majority, instead of capitalising on her 20 point lead in the polls preceding the election – a record high for a Conservative government that had not been seen since the 1980s.
One of the crucial votes on 8th June was Croydon Central. The Conservatives were defending a 165 majority from 2015. The seat was won comfortably by Labour on the night by 5,600 votes, and early reports from the count suggested that this would be the case. Croydon found out a little while before everyone else that Theresa May was not going to receive her landslide.
Despite my numerous attempts to get in contact with the Conservative party in Croydon, including councillors and candidates, all of them declined my invitation for an interview. I was able to meet representatives from the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, and Labour.
Stuart Collins, Labour councillor for Broad Green ward since 1993, was surprised at how well his party did and is supportive of Jeremy Corbyn: “I was pleasantly surprised about just how good Jeremy Corbyn was at rallies, and how good he was at promoting our manifesto. He came across with quite a lot of dignity and seemed very sincere about his policies. His key factor was that he appeared to be a straight talking, honest politician.”
Councillor Collins praises the role of social media in Labour’s successful campaign. “Jeremy Corbyn and the leadership team showed that the social media via Twitter and Facebook is a massive tool because it gives people the chance to watch videos from the past to scrutinise the government.”
Collins laments the press’s treatment of his leader Jeremy Corbyn: “I also think that the media did him no service, especially the right wing media, in trying to paint him as an ogre.”
Gill Hickson, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Croydon Central, believes that the Conservatives are putting their party’s interests before the country. “The hypocrisy of the Tories having a go at Labour’s manifesto, saying that they haven’t got a magic money tree to pay for everything… However, they managed to find a £1bn slush fund to give the DUP, keeping the Tories in power”, she said.
Collins is worried about the current arrangements between the Conservatives and the DUP. He believes that the DUP is influencing the Conservatives: “They’ve realised that they’ve got the Conservative party over a barrel. My concern is that they will hold them to ransom. Their unpleasant ideas could be conceded by the Conservatives.”
Despite UKIP performing worse in this election compared to the previous one, Michael Swadling, the UKIP candidate for Croydon North, is cautiously optimistic about the Brexit negotiations led by Theresa May. “I don’t trust Theresa May, but she is proceeding correctly at the moment. Clearly we don’t have a lot of detail, but I don’t think that we should at this stage”, he reiterated.
On the issue of local government funding, Gill Hickson is not optimistic about the future of funding for Croydon and is worried about the actions that the government will take in the future on Brexit. “To pay for all of the health service and education, we need money, and Brexit is going to affect all of those budgets, and how much money we will get. This could even get worse as the Brexit process continues. I hope that the government will come back from the brink and stop this hard Brexit.”
Collins meanwhile believes that the increased presence of Labour MPs will help to counter extra spending cuts. “Now there are two Labour MPs in Croydon arguing against austerity cuts, so we hope to deliver affordable housing. We can also make sure that we get a good deal from local government in terms of funding. Also, deliver on things like improvements to Fairfield Halls.”
However, Swadling believes that austerity has not been used in the UK, and that Croydon is not unfairly funded by central government: “I am not sure that there is an unfair deal for Croydon. If we get more money, another council will get less money. This country is not in austerity, that’s a lie, that’s a fallacy; we have never used austerity in the last 20 years. Austerity means that you spend less than you earn. We spend more than we earn and we are getting further into debt every year.”
In the aftermath of the election, several party leaders resigned from their posts, including the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. Farron appeared to resign mainly due to his religious beliefs on homosexuality. Hickson wants Vince Cable to lead her party in time for the next general election: “As Labour has veered to the left and the Tories to the right we need to occupy that centre ground. We need someone like Macron who will get those policies and put them across well, but in the short term I realise that we’ll need someone like Vince Cable in charge for a couple of years.”
Another leader who resigned was the UKIP leader Paul Nuttall, after the appalling UKIP performance across the country. Michael Swadling believes that the new leader of UKIP has to embrace libertarian values and be friendly towards the media: “I like David Coburn and Bill Etheridge for their libertarian views. Peter Whittle has not pushed the line so much to be fair, that may be because he is Deputy Leader and he has a slightly different role. He is probably the most media-friendly, and he has a good platform as one of the London GLA members.”
On the lacklustre performance of Theresa May, this is what the respective parties had to say: Stuart Collins attributes the collapse in May’s majority to the lack of meaningful policies in the Tory manifesto and, on the other hand, Labour’s positive aspirational manifesto across the age spectrum. He believes that the issue of Brexit wasn’t a top priority amongst the electorate: “On the doorstep, there were very few conversations about Brexit. Most people were talking about the triple lock on pensions, and most people were talking about young people’s futures, student loans and the dementia tax. I think that it was a poor manifesto produced by them.”
Gill Hickson explains the reasons she believes that Theresa May lost the general election: “Her core voters are older people and she attacked them. The triple lock on pensions was a Lib Dem policy brought in by the coalition government. Many people don’t realise that there are lots of pensioners in poverty. So I think that Theresa May tried to abolish the triple lock on pensions due to Brexit because the money would be tight, and she’d have to make savings ahead of those negotiations.”
Asked why the Liberal Democrats failed to make an impact in Croydon, Gill explains that there were target seats that needed help: “We had to sacrifice Croydon because when you are a small local party your time has to be spent on target seats.” She went on to state that this decision on the part of Croydon Liberal Democrats was vindicated: “We decided to focus getting Tom Brake elected again in Carshalton and Wallington, and that was the right thing to do because it was successful.”
According to Swadling, Theresa May wasn’t convincing on the campaign trail: “It was a lousy campaign, and the policies weren’t thought through. People don’t like to be told who to vote for, and Theresa May underestimated Labour. She demanded people vote for her.”
Swadling admits that some of UKIP’s supporters from the last general election defected to the Labour party this time, suggesting that they have faith in Corbyn’s election position on leaving the EU and the single market. This statement rang true as Labour’s vote went up by 9% while UKIP’s went down by 9% – not scientific, but an indication that many voters defected to Corbyn’s party. “Our strongest area in Croydon last time and this time was New Addington. That area was more likely to swing to Labour than the Conservatives.”
Swadling asserts that his party is ready to challenge the Conservatives if they waver on delivering Brexit. He believes that UKIP can exploit Theresa May’s failings if she doesn’t deliver the full Brexit that her manifesto promised to do: “If we leave the EU and we don’t have control over our own laws, fisheries, borders and trade, those four statements will be hung around her neck and hung around their necks as they lose successive elections. If they do not deliver what the British public voted for, they are fundamentally undemocratic and you will see a resurgence in UKIP the likes of which we have never seen.”
All three politicians whom I spoke to were relatively upbeat after the general election result. Croydon’s next election will choose the council in May 2018, and we will have to wait and see how my interviewees feel then.