The second dispatch in our series of reports on key marginal constituencies comes from Croydon Central, a key London battleground currently held by the Labour.
Croydon, London’s most populous borough is a town of contrasts, with three parliamentary constituencies: solidly Labour Croydon North, solidly Tory Croydon South and the battleground in the middle: Croydon Central.
Croydon Central feels like a microcosm of the capital: a mix of both inner and outer London, rich in diversity with Tudor suburbs, affluent homes in leafy areas, working-class council estates. With the population continuing to grow and expected to exceed 400,000 by 2021, there are heightened worries about the strain this will have on local public services.
In 2015, in a bitterly fought contest, the Conservative incumbent, Gavin Barwell, won by just 165 votes against his Labour opponent, Sarah Jones. Two years later, on the back of the Conservatives’ ill-fated manifesto, changing demographics and a slump in the Liberal Democrat and Green vote share, Jones was able to take the seat with a 5.1% swing and a majority of 5,652.
Jones, who was promoted to Shadow Housing Minister is running for re-election. The Conservatives have chosen Mario Creatura, a local councillor and former Head of Digital to Theresa May at Number Ten. Both are lifelong Croydon residents and emphasise their local connections on the doorstep and in campaign literature.
Whilst 54% of Croydon voters opted to remain in the European Union, the result in Croydon Central was more split, with 50.3% voting to leave. Jones has the endorsement of the People’s Vote Campaign and Creatura faces the prospect of a split pro-leave vote with the Brexit Party candidate.
An encouraging sign for the Conservatives is that their message of ‘Getting Brexit done’ seems to be resonating in parts of the constituency, like New Addington and Fieldway, home to large council estates that voted heavily to leave the European Union, but traditionally favour Labour. Many are saying that they will vote Conservative for the first time in their life.
The Labour vote on the doorstep feels very soft, with concerns voiced about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the party’s economic policies coming from both remain and leave voters. This was demonstrated in a recent council by-election in Fairfield ward in the centre of Croydon, which saw Labour hold on, but with a 10% drop in their vote share. The reason: many of their voters turned to the Liberal Democrats.
This is a constituency which certainly looks winnable for the Conservatives and is key to Boris Johnson’s path towards a healthy majority. But for Jeremy Corbyn to have a shot at Number Ten, Croydon Central is exactly the sort of constituency he needs, and changing demographics, along with tactical voting may help him take that step forwards.