A CAT has appeared among the pigeons in the Croydon political scene, following Ukip's success in county council elections outside London last week.
Local campaign experts are working hard to judge just what impact Nigel Farage's party could have when voters in Croydon go to the polls to elect a new council next May.
The need for careful examination has become all the more important as the expected polling day will be May 22, chosen to coincide with the European elections.
The run-up to polling day will see Ukip's key anti-EU policies getting maximum publicity, and there is a fear among the other main parties that the Ukip European election vote could have a knock-on effect locally.
There is no doubting already that Croydon's ruling Tories believe they will suffer most if this happens.
Both the Tories and Labour are adamant there is no chance of the traditional two-horse race in Croydon being usurped by a Ukip takeover or a sudden upturn in support for the Lib Dems or the Greens, who will be standing in all wards.
But council leader Mike Fisher is not dismissing what effect a Ukip surge in votes could have on his four-seat majority.
He said: "There is no doubt Ukip has an attractive message for some Conservatives in Croydon.
"What I will be saying to people at a local level about who runs the council is that there are only two choices – Conservative or Labour – and if you want to make a protest by voting for Ukip, you run the risk of ending up with a Labour council."
The other headache facing the Tories will be a common problem – the phenomenon of the anti-Government mid-term vote.
Cllr Fisher believes the Tories must work to combat this by emphasising their record since they came to power in 2006.
He said: "What it comes down to is trust from the electorate."
Cllr Fisher claimed council tax rises had been kept to a minimum, recycling rates had almost trebled, schools had continued to improve, and frontline services had been maintained while the council had been making substantial efficiency savings.
He said: "I am happy to pit our track record against anybody."
Conversely, it is the Tories' record that Labour leader Tony Newman believes will favour his party next May. He said: "We are keen to fight on Cllr Fisher's record, but we are putting a different interpretation on it."
Waddon will, as usual, be a key seat, on which control of the council could again hinge.
And Cllr Newman – who previously led the council before Labour's defeat in 2006 – is confident what he calls the "broken promise" of the ward's three Conservative councillors not to support plans for an incinerator in the area will rebound on them.
Labour will also attack the Tories' decision to spend £120 million on building the council's new headquarters in Fell Road.
On the potential threat posed by Ukip, Cllr Newman said: "It may sound like a cliche, but we are absolutely not taking any vote in Croydon for granted."
Labour successes in wards like Addiscombe and South Norwood in 2010 were influenced by the larger turnout, as the council elections coincided with the general election.
The party will be mindful that a reversion to the usual 30 to 40 per cent turnouts in local elections could affect majorities in the marginal wards.
It is probably why Cllr Newman is also keen to seen the election fought on local issues.
He said: "We are at a stage where, quite rightly, we have got to answer the question what we would do."
That agenda is likely to include looking for alternatives to incineration to dispose of waste, building more new housing, taking a pro-active role in job creation and insisting on the London Living Wage being paid not just to council staff, but to those work for firms with council contracts.
Ukip is looking to put up a candidate in every ward for next year's council elections in Croydon, writes Georgie Keate:
PETER Staveley, Ukip's prospective candidate for the 2015 general election in Croydon Central, believes his party can win the seat - despite polling just 997 votes in 2010. Mr Staveley, a transport consultant who lives in Davidson Road, Addiscombe, has high hopes for the party's future. Speaking about last week's results, where Ukip won 42 council seats nationally, Mr Staveley said: "This is a big moment for Ukip. It demonstrates that people are no longer content with the three main parties, who all have very similar policies and fail to represent their voters' interests." The 51-year-old says he has his sights on Gavin Barwell's Croydon Central seat at the next general election, even though the Tories polled nearly 19,000 more votes than Ukip in 2010. "There is every possibility that Ukip could win Croydon Central in 2015," he added. "If there is the same swing with the two most popular parties from 2010 as Eastleigh saw in their recent by-election, then we would have a 1,000 majority," he argued. On next year's local elections, Mr Staveley said: "We are gathering together a list to put one candidate in every ward. I am hopeful that there will be no overall majority in the next local elections and Ukip will hold the balance of power." Last November Winston McKenzie, the party's candidate in the Croydon North by-election, caused national outrage when he said gay people should not be able to adopt, while the party's views on immigration and Europe have been criticised by many. However, Mr Staveley said: "It's not immigrants we are against but the current immigration policy." "Winston McKenzie will be standing for Croydon North in 2015. He came from Jamaica and is black as they come so I don't see how we are racist." In response, Gavin Barwell told the Advertiser: "I think it is pretty arrogant to presume you will win an election, I certainly will not."
HOW THE ELECTION WORKS
ALL 70 seats on Croydon Council will be contested when voters go the polls in a year's time. Voting in London boroughs takes place every four years, unlike in surrounding districts where elections are held annually, with a third of councillors seeking re-election each time. In 2010, the Conservatives won 37 seats and Labour 33, with the Tories concentrated in the south of the borough and Labour in the north. Key wards next year are likely to be Waddon, Fairfield and Ashburton, where Labour will be mounting concerted campaigns to win, and Addiscombe and South Norwood, where the Conservatives will be seeking to wrestle back marginal seats lost to Labour last time round. The Liberal Democrats have little record of success in Croydon, while the Greens, led by familiar face Shasha Khan, will hope to benefit from the strength of anti-incinerator feeling.