The story so far: in a series of stunning scandals and maladministration, a curiously non-ideological one-man Labour dictatorship in Croydon reduced the largest London borough to bankruptcy. Considerable opprobrium lighted upon this individual, his crazy schemes and disgraceful neglect of residents; but Croydon looks demographically fairly safe for Labour, not least because Tory voters are fairly widely spread across the vast borough, whereas Labour votes are nicely concentrated geographically, sufficient to hold the council and 2 of the 3 parliamentary constituencies.
Meanwhile in Croydon South, the only constituency held by the Tories, the hyperactive and "creative" MP Chris Philp came up with a wizard wheeze to solve his perennial local problem. The Labour council was forever approving planning applications his core voters hate. So, reckoning that a borough-wide elected-mayoral system would be a lot less wasteful of Tory votes, and might conceivably come up with a Tory majority, he organised a campaign + referendum to switch to the executive mayoral system (the same system just cancelled by Bristol voters: these enthusiasms come and go). Philp's Croydon referendum campaign, bitterly opposed by Labour - despite official Labour policy being in favour of elected mayors - succeeded by a huge majority. Hardly surprising: the Borough was by then bankrupt and the scandals had achieved unusually wide currency, local and national.
The Tories then selected their current leader - i.e. leader of the Minority on the council - as Mayoral candidate, simply on Buggin's Turn. He's a nice enough chap (always the most damning thing you can say about a person) but has the charisma of a potato, and no more than the usual local profile enjoyed by a councillor, i.e. virtually zero outside his own patch.
Labour, having recovered their wits after the crushing referendum result, suddenly discovered they were, after all, in favour of elected mayors, and pulled a serious stroke by selecting a genuinely well-known and genuinely local candidate: career politician Valerie Shawcross. She'd been Leader of the Council many years ago; a Deputy Mayor in the GLA for many subsequent years; has a superb grasp of London politics; is fairly moderate and well liked, as these things go; and has completely clean hands as regards the recent Croydon Labour scandals. Her campaign (notable for a complete absence of the colour red!) was excellent and of course Boris is a gigantic ball-and-chain just now. What made her prospects even better was that Mr Potato and the Tories ran a very poor campaign, with truly lame leaflets etc.
But she lost! In an election-night count that went on for 36 hours(!), with recounts, the Tory won by less than 2%. As they say around here, inability to count is what got Croydon in this mess in the first place ...
Philp's gamble, which must have seemed like a slam-dunk only a year ago, will have cost him some sleep over the past three weeks. But it's come off. Couldn't happen to a nicer chancer.
(Sorry, that's, errrr, chap )