Alphabetism is dominating Croydon


By - Thursday 17th September, 2015

Robert Ward takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the patterns that might, in a Dan Brown novel, dictate Croydon’s destiny


I have for some time felt left out by not having a handy scapegoat for my failures (they can’t possibly be my fault, can they?). It was whilst looking through the ballot paper for the Labour leadership (not mine, I was rejected as a supporter by Labour’s thought police, who must read the Croydon Citizen) that I realised that I may at last have found my excuse. I have been a life-long victim of alphabet discrimination. You see all four of the former Labour leadership candidates have surnames that begin with a letter from the first half of the alphabet (letters A to M inclusive). No wonder that a W like me, languishing at the end of the alphabet, never got a fair crack of the whip.

Worse still, looking back in history I found that of the more than twenty people who have held the post, only two, John Smith and Harold Wilson, came from my end of the alphabet. The Tories are just as bad. Margaret Thatcher is not only our only female prime minister, and also, as she preferred to point out, the only prime minister who held a science degree, but the only Tory leader of the twentieth century who is a fellow back-end-of-the-alphabetter. Doubly so, since she started life as Margaret Roberts.

Croydon Council is more egalitarian but still heavily biased, with forty-six ‘front enders’ or ‘alphas’ to twenty-four of us ‘back enders’ or ‘omegas’. The Tories are pleasingly ahead of Labour with 40% omegas to Labour’s 30%, although Council leader Tony Newman and Conservative leader Tim Pollard are both in ‘team omega’.

Nationally, all the main parties are led by alphas

I suppose that it was a bit much to hope for politics to be fair locally when nationally all the main parties are led by alphas – Conservatives (Cameron), Labour (Corbyn), Lib Dem (Farron, previously Clegg), Greens (Bennett, previously Lucas) and UKIP (Farage). This is perhaps not surprising when you find that the 650 MPs elected in 2010 were just short of being 70% alphas.

Turning to the Croydon Advertiser list of Croydon’s most influential people, the top ten are 70% alphas to 30% omegas. As are the top twenty and the top thirty. It is only when we come to numbers thirty-one to forty where we omegas are in the majority, by a similar ratio.

What of the various parts of Croydon, do they too suffer from alphabetism? It would seem so. The average annual household income for wards beginning with a letter from the first half of the alphabet is three thousand pounds higher than wards hailing from the latter half.

Had I been born Aaron Aardvark from Aberdeen would life have been so much easier?

I thought that perhaps I might find some support from the Fairness Commission, but by a majority of seven to five they are also skewed towards the dark side, with the chair and vice chair both being alphas. Is there nowhere I can turn for support?

The only ray of hope can be seen with our Croydon MPs who go ‘my’ way, with Chris Philp and Steve Reed outnumbering Gavin Barwell representing the ‘other half’. We also claim Steve O’Connell as an ‘O’ rather than a ‘C’ on the London Assembly.

I started out writing this as an ironic piece to show how the statistics don’t always tell the true story; that correlation does not imply causation; that selective quotation of figures to make a case is always suspect; but I am beginning to worry. Is secret alphabetism the next lurking evil to be unearthed? Do the alphas have a secret handshake to identify themselves? Had I been born Aaron Aardvark from Aberdeen, would life have been so much easier?

The real lesson here is that figures alone do not tell the story

Of course not, although the facts as I have stated them are, to the best of knowledge, correct. There is one obvious flaw in my reasoning, which although it is probably not enough to explain away all the observed bias, would probably be enough to make the question of whether alphas are unfairly favoured over omegas unproven. Anybody spot it?

But the real lesson here is that figures alone do not tell the story. We need to get behind the headline numbers and into the details to challenge any conclusions. This of course is far too difficult to do in a few hundred words, but if you are making public policy it must be part of building the case for action. Hence my disappointment when I almost always find that it is absent. Let’s hope that when the new political season opens this month, things will have changed. But I am not holding my breath.

The alphas are just too strong.

Robert Ward

Robert Ward

Engineer and project manager specialised in helping businesses make better strategic decisions and improve safety, quality and effectiveness. Conservative Party Councillor representing Selsdon and Addington Village on Croydon Council. He tweets as @moguloilman.

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  • Anne Giles

    I don’t believe this. With women it is different, because we change our names on marriage. I am Giles, was born Dennis (although my mother was a Turner) and my first husband was White. As far as income is concerned, we Giles’s are on a low income and own one small house), whereas my ex (a White) owns several properties and has a very good income. My mother, as a Turner, lived in a huge house with staff as a child, but when she married a Dennis she had far less money.

  • moguloilman

    The error in the reasoning is that the middle of the alphabet is not the middle of the distribution of surnames in the UK. Very few people have surnames beginning with X or Z for example. Median point is usually quoted as somewhere in the K’s, not between M and N.