How Croydon Conservatives failed Syed Kamall, but more importantly also Conservative voters.
One of the main (and last) sources of local news in Croydon, Inside Croydon, yesterday published its article setting out the woeful performance of the Conservatives in Croydon, and noting how our vote here under-performed the London-wide picture and that of neighbouring Sutton. The blame for this must squarely sit with those currently running the party in Croydon, who seemed to have entirely given up on the European elections.
Understanding what went wrong is not difficult – all political parties are keen to demonstrate to residents that they are out engaging with their communities all year round, and so you will find Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts filled with photos of elected representatives and other activists campaigning, plus the key messages they want voters to take into any elections. In this case, it’s clear to see what is missing.
In the run up to the European Elections last Thursday, the local Croydon Conservatives continued with their local campaigning, which according to their tweets focuses on local issues – visiting Shirley (Saturday 18th May), Park Hill & Whitgift (11th May), Old Coulsdon (4th May). Notably, I couldn’t find a single reference to any European issues or the European elections, except for a single tweet on election day:
This is however at least one message better than nearly all their elected representatives managed. Looking across the twitter profiles of Conservative councillors and other Conservative elected representatives in Croydon, hardly anyone tweeted about the European Elections – including most notably nothing from Croydon South MP Chris Philp, which in the circumstances might not be too surprising, except he also happens to be the party’s national Vice Chairman for policy! When a party’s elected representatives don’t even bother to tell people to vote, why would voters bother?
Passively failing to campaign in an election is one thing, but the local party took it a step further by ensuring no-one was available to go out and campaign on election day. The local party’s over-confidence in the ability of Number 10 to deliver on the Brexit vote and have us out of the EU by 31st March was clearly on display again, as they’d arranged to hold our Annual Dinner on election evening. The guest speaker was Home Secretary Sajid Javid MP, with attendees including Chris Philp MP (Croydon South), Mario Creatura (prospective parliamentary candidate, Croydon Central), Neil Garratt (Croydon & Sutton GLA candidate), Julian Ellacott (Surrey Conservatives Chairman), and (based on the event photos) a large number of Councillors and several prominent local activists. Many of those attending would normally have been expected to be part of a highly-organised ‘Get Out The Vote’ (GOTV) operation, knocking on doors of known Conservative supporters and offering lifts to housebound voters to support the election of Conservative representatives – or exactly what the local Party was doing next door in Beckenham:
The contrast between the efforts of the Conservatives and Labour in Croydon also couldn’t be starker. The twitter feeds for Croydon Labour, Sarah Jones MP (Croydon Central) and Tony Newman (Leader of Croydon Council) are filled with photos of them, other Councillors, and activists out pounding the pavements “Getting out the Labour vote” all across Croydon:
Labour’s efforts on election day (and before) were rewarded with them finishing first in Croydon’s popular vote (22,375 votes), closely followed by the Liberal Democrats (21,289) and The Brexit Party (20,728). The Conservative barely managed to reach 5 figures, with only 10,139 votes.
The Conservative Party constitution sets out that the object of a local party Federation like Croydon Conservatives is to “sustain and promote the objects and values of the Party… to secure the return of Conservative Candidates at elections”. Given the apparent complete failure to do anything at all in these European Parliament elections, the local party leadership should reflect and reassess their priorities. Having campaigned for friends in the local council elections earlier in May, I entirely appreciate that our voters are not in a very supportive mood, but it is bluntly the role of a local party and elected representatives to go out and campaign regardless.
A different approach by the Conservatives in Croydon would not have changed the London-wide result. But elections are an important time to speak to electors and gather data – data that would be useful in less than 12 months when London goes to the polls on 7th May 2020 to elect it’s new Mayor and GLA members, not to mention any snap General Election which is increasingly likely. A huge opportunity has been missed and wasted.
It also stores up problems for the future. As Lord Ashcroft has revealed in an article for Conservative Home, his polling shows the majority of voters who deserted us for The Brexit Party or Liberal Democrats don’t intend to return to vote Conservative at the next election. Ignoring this election has therefore lost Conservative votes that we would need in the future.
For Syed Kamall who sadly lost his seat last Thursday, this must also be a particularly difficult kick in the teeth – for several years his London office was located in Croydon Conservative’s premises in North Croydon. Apparently that buys no loyalty from the local party, so let’s hope he is more forgiving than I would be.