As one of the most marginal constituencies in the country, Croydon Central is one of 12 that are expected to decide the general election. In the past four elections, the area has passed from Conservative to Labour and back again. It lies between Conservative-held Croydon North and Labour-held Croydon South. Key issues for the constituency include a shortage of school places and worsening NHS services. The fifth most diverse Conservative seat in the UK, it is home to 18,000 black and 10,000 Asian voters. Only 65 per cent of eligible voters turned out in the 2010 general election.
The northern part of Croydon Central is ethnically diverse, with many of the constituency’s black and Asian voters residing here. Whilst the majority – 54 per cent – of Croydon Central residents are white, it remains the fifth most ethnically-diverse Tory-held constituency.
The constituency has been a notable beneficiary of the coalition government’s job creation policies, with claims for job seeker’s allowance falling by 50 per cent since 2010. However, the percentage of people in employment – 63 per cent – still lags behind the national average of 73 per cent.
Incumbent Conservative MP Gavin Barwell won with a 5.8 per cent majority (2,969 votes) in 2010. His predecessor, Andrew Pelling, was the subject of controversy in 2007 following allegations of assault. Pelling was subsequently suspended from the Conservative Party. He was not charged and successfully sued the Mail on Sunday for libel before standing as an independent, only to be defeated by Barwell. Since 2010, there have been 288 fewer reports of crime, though there were 608 fewer reports over the same period in Croydon North.
The overcrowding of accident and emergency departments is another key issue in Croydon Central. This was highlighted by an incident in January of this year, when an overwhelming demand for emergency care led to Croydon University Hospital needing to draft in additional resources from elsewhere. Labour were quick to seize on the incident, with Croydon North MP Steve Reed saying that such problems were an example of the ‘crisis’ faced by the NHS under the coalition government. Recent studies suggest that Croydon University Hospital is among the worst in the UK for rates of personal recommendation by staff, at just 47 per cent. At least one patient is known to have waited over a year to begin treatment.
With a turnout of 65 per cent in 2010, the challenge for candidates in Croydon Central will be to mobilise voters, particularly young people. Student Katie Monaghan explained that she did not feel she knew enough about the election to vote, but that social media could be enough to motivate her. Speaking to the Croydon Advertiser, Di Burgun, 67, said: “I have never been so undecided. I usually would never vote Conservative, but I like what the Tories are doing.”
Croydon North is considered a must-win seat for both the Conservatives and Labour if they are to form a new government on May 8.
Conservative – Gavin Barwell
Labour – Sarah Jones
Labour candidate Sarah Jones said that the Tories are guilty of failing to invest in housing and employment in the area. Croydon also has the largest shortfall of school places in London. As a working mother of four, Jones says she is particularly passionate about this issue.
Lib Dem – James Fearnley
Liberal Democrat candidate James Fearnley is a relative newcomer, having only been elected as Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Croydon Central in May 2014. Fearnley, who works as a communications consultant has said it is difficult to reach people “without the financial backing from trade unions or big business that the other main parties rely on”. He said the Lib Dems “rely on volunteers to take our message out to the doorsteps,” adding that housing, particularly for young people, is of great importance to him and the party.
Green – Esther Sutton
UKIP – Peter Staveley
UKIP candidate Peter Staveley said he has been surprised at the amount of interest he has received. In reference to his campaign he said candidates were each doing “10-15 hustings and numerous interviews and if nothing else, that will help UKIP’s standing in Croydon.”
UK Progressive Democracy – Martin Camden
No information about this candidate was available at the time of publishing.
TUSC – April Ashley