ELECTION 2015: Crawley - a town where a few votes have made a huge difference

editorial image

Apathetic non-voters often claim one or two votes can’t make a difference to the result of an election – but Crawley has proved over the years that is definitely not true.

Weeks of hype, debate, baby kissing and election promises will soon be at an end when the country goes to the polls to decide who should take the helm of the good ship Westminster.

Thirty-seven votes was such a derisory amount it made headlines across the country – and less than two-thirds of the population had voted.

No matter how well the candidates have presented themselves or how many pledges have been broken or honoured in the past, it has been proven time and again that the winner will be the one whose supporters can be bothered to go out and vote.

Apathy is a word often bandied about as election time looms, and there are far too many people willing to waste the power of the ballot box because they don’t think their opinion will make a difference.

No one who has lived in Crawley for more than a few years should share that view.

Our town has seen some of the closest General and Borough Election results in the country.

The most famous went to Labour MP Laura Moffatt, who collapsed in tears of joy in 2005 when she snatched victory from Henry Smith by just 37 votes.

Despite staying professional and magnanimous in defeat, Henry could have been forgiven for feeling furious.

Thirty-seven votes was such a derisory amount it made headlines across the country – and less than two-thirds of the population had voted.

While Laura later had ‘37’ tattooed onto her left foot as a reminder of her victory, Henry was left to wonder how different things would have been if an extra dozen or so households had headed for the polling stations.

Henry’s time finally came in 2010 when Laura stepped down weeks before the election, leaving her replacement, Chris Oxlade, with what proved to be an insurmountable mountain to climb.

Not since the days when Nicholas Soames flew the Conservative flag in Crawley had the gap between the parties been so wide.

While the loss was no less devastating to Chris, a gap of almost 6,000 votes after being thrown in the deep end must have been easier to stomach than the 37 which snatched away Henry’s dream.

This year, though, looks set to be another neck-and-neck race to the finish line and both men, along with Chris Brown (UKIP), Sarah Osborne (Lib Dem) and Guy Hudson (Green Party), have been doing all they can to drive home the message – vote!

Wannabe MPs are not the only candidates to fall foul of Crawley’s love of close counts, there have been a fair few borough councillors who took their wards by the skin of their teeth.

In 2003, Lisa Noel took Southgate for the Conservatives by three votes – a feat almost matched by Vanessa Cumper in 2010 when she was named Tory councillor in West Green by 10 votes off a respectable 60 per cent turn out.

Chris Oxlade’s closest fight to date came in 2011 when he edged out Liam Marshall-Ascough in Ifield by 38 votes – a figure which refused to change no matter how many recounts were called.

As for Henry Smith, while he may hate the number 37, 22 must be one of his favourites. It was his majority in 2002 when he stood in Pound Hill North.

Given the runner-up was also a Conservative and there were two seats up for grabs, you can guarantee there were no hard feelings.

As well as these ridiculously close results, Crawley has seen election after election decided by less than 100 votes, often from embarrassingly low turn outs.

While some make the argument that a vote for an MP makes no difference on a local level, these were elections which could have changed who took control of the council which runs our town.

Like watching Crawley Town at the Checkatrade.com Stadium, voting in Crawley elections is never boring, even if things don’t go the way you want or expect.

And it’s easy to see why politicians have to bite their tongues when faced with the excuse: “I don’t vote, it doesn’t make a difference.”