Just an hour and a half to go before the polling station close in Croydon North, Rotherham and Middlesborough. twitter.com/MSmithsonPB/stâ€¦
— Mike Smithson (@MSmithsonPB) November 29, 2012
Can Bradford West be repeated in Croydon North?
Ever since Lee Jasper was selected as the Respect Party candidate in the Croydon North by-election, there has been a lot of speculation on the internet about the prospects of Respect repeating its triumph of Bradford West, where George Galloway was elected MP in a previously safe Labour seat. So: Can Respect win the by-election in Croydon North? Will Ken Livingstoneâ€™s former adviser join George Galloway on the green benches?
Superficially, there are similarities: Croydon North (unlike Central and South) is demographically more like inner London than the outer suburbs. There is a lot of social deprivation, and London Road (in the west of the constituency) was hit hard by the riots of August 2011. There are substantial ethnic minority populations: according to the 2001 census (albeit now slightly out of date), the population of Croydon North was 51% white (comprising 44% British and 7% white other), 24% black, and 19% Asian. George Galloway explicitly stated at the start of the campaign that Respect would target Muslim and black voters. The odds on a Respect victory have gone from 25/1 to just 5/1 within just a few days (in Bradford West it started at 33/1).
But there are differences: the politics of Croydon, particularly in local elections, are fixed in a 1950s-style time-warp, with only Labour and Conservative represented on the local council (the Lib Dems have never had more than one elected councillor at any one time), and Labour has a firm grip on all eight wards in the north. More significantly, the ethnic diversity of Croydonâ€™s population is well-mixed. London in general, and Croydon in particular, do not suffer from the ethnic and religious tensions which are more common in some northern towns such as Bradford, Burnley, Blackburn or Oldham. In Croydon one does not see the phenomenon of exclusively Asian neighbourhoods or schools in one place, and overwhelmingly white neighbourhoods a short distance away (with all the corresponding tensions, suspicions and resentments which may develop from such contrasts).
In other words, there is simply not enough political space for a party like Respect to get a foothold. On the ground, Labour and Conservative posters are proliferating in shop windows and in private homes, but it is noticeable that the Respect posters are the same few in the same places that have been there for several days. Lee Jasper, accompanied by a small group of activists, has been vociferous on his open-top campaign bus, but his campaign team seems to comprise people from other parts of London.
What, then, is the likely result in Croydon North?
The Labour candidate, Steve Reed, is a forthright and abrasive campaigner. His selection as Labour candidate in preference to a well-liked local Croydon resident, and his controversial record as leader of Lambeth Council, have attracted adverse comment among some political activists, but such factors are unlikely to be of great concern to most ordinary Labour voters. He should expect to see the Labour share of the vote to go up in the way one would normally expect in a mid-term by-election. I expect Labourâ€™s share of the vote to be 60% to 70%; a bad result would be anything below 60%.
Andy Stranack is an atypical Conservative candidate who is disabled, lives on a low income on a deprived estate, and is mild and softly-spoken in coming across to people. He is undoubtedly the second main candidate in the constituency, and should be able to hold the Conservative vote up more solidly than might otherwise happen in this type of constituency â€“ 15% to 20% is likely.
Lee Jasper for Respect is a vocal, articulate and enthusiastic campaigner who has long experience of dealing with young people in community projects in inner London. He would, if anything, be a more worthy MP for any constituency than George Galloway. But Respect has not gained any substantial traction in this campaign. The widespread publicity for his candidacy may enable him to get 3rd place, but he will not get more than 15% of the votes and is more likely to be closer to 5%.
If anyone deserves to benefit from a radical, non-Labour, Bradford-style protest vote, it is not Respect, but Shasha Khan of theGreen Party. He is a tireless, intelligent local campaigner who has been very active pursuing several issues. He got a big personal vote in the local elections in 2010, and deserves to be miles ahead of Respect and other parties. But it is normal for the Green Party to be squeezed in parliamentary by-elections, and Shasha may be struggling to hold his deposit.
The other big character in the by-election is the eccentric and ubiquitous Winston McKenzie of UKIP. He is likely to get a bigger result than an ordinary dull white UKIP candidate would in this sort of constituency, but his campaign has suffered some damage from confused and controversial comments on gay marriage and gay adoption.
The Liberal Democrat candidate is Marisha Ray, who can only be described as completely uninspiring and totally devoid of charisma. She came across in hustings as wooden and monotonous. She deserves to come no higher than a poor sixth in the by-election; it is only the residual core Lib Dem vote which gives her any chance of coming higher than sixth place or of saving her deposit.
These four â€“ Respect, Green, UKIP and Lib Dem â€“ may all be close together and may all be scrambling to hold their deposits. Respect may have a good chance of being ahead of the others in claiming the bronze medal position, but there is no realistic prospect of Respect coming second let alone winning.
There are six other minor candidates in the by-election, including the veteran hardline National Front candidate Richard Edmonds. John Cartwright (known on PB as JohnLoony) is standing for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party; he should be insulated from the danger of coming last by the appearance of a candidate from the â€œnine eleven was an inside jobâ€ party.