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Croydon backs the mayoralty


By Vincent Carroll-Battaglino

Last week, Croydon’s governance referendum resulted in an 80 per cent vote for the mayoral system. Thus, all three London boroughs that held such poll this year got the same result.

On that evidence, where they don’t have it, voters plump for a mayor, and where they do, they vote to retain it. Of course Croydon’s situation most closely resembles Hackney’s in 2000 – a bankrupt local authority forced by the Government to seek a way towards strong leadership and out of dire straits.

From what we know about the causes of the section 114 issuing, the failures are fewer than Hackney’s historical case. But the political lie of the land is more dangerous for the ruling Labour Party. Like many other outer London boroughs, Croydon used to be blue (Blairite heyday excepted). Unlike most that became red since 2010/2014, the Borough remains competitive. While Labour has ridden off into the distance in Enfield, Ealing, Merton, and Redbridge, in Croydon the margin remains surmountable. The introduction of the mayoral system makes Croydon the most “in-play” borough for the 2022 elections.

Most wards are pretty safe here, but adjusted for the number of candidates in a ward, the Conservatives were only 4,420 behind Labour across the Borough. Going into the first election after which Labour presided over bankruptcy, the Conservatives would have to like their chances in a borough-wide poll – at least compared to any other year. True, the five by-elections in Croydon all went to the incumbent party, but they were all very safe. Much will depend on what has happened to the Borough’s demographics in the last four years.

The mayoral system will make taking some kind of control much easier for the Conservatives in Croydon. No doubt that’s why they campaigned strongly for it (there is no ideological predisposition: Tower Hamlets Conservatives campaigned for a return to leader-and-cabinet in their borough). But as I’ve written before, the mayoral system is something of a red herring. You still need support within the chamber to make policy.

The Conservatives would need to gain six seats (and the mayoralty) to be assured of a majority on the Council. The most likely candidate wards for this are Addiscombe East (a two-member ward currently split with Labour), Addiscombe West (three-member, 700-1,100 behind) New Addington South (two-member, 200-400 behind), and Waddon (three-member, 500-600 behind).

Gaining six seats from this crop while losing none is a significant challenge. If the Conservatives only do half the job and get the mayoralty but not the chamber, we could be in for interesting and unstable times in an already weary borough.