Why is the Citizen so left wing?

By - Friday 23rd October, 2015

Editorial team member Tom Black has started to wonder if there’s something about the Citizen that attracts those on the left

Image author’s own.

A spectre is haunting Croydon. The spectre of left-leaning community news magazines.

There are those who feel that the Croydon Citizen is a ‘left wing rag’.

There are those who won’t pick it up because they think that the temple logo makes it look religious. (Guys, it’s not. This is getting silly now).

There are even – shock horror – rumours that the Citizen‘s editorial team is seen by some Katharine Street Conservatives as ‘a bunch of champagne socialists’.

Maybe it’s the name. The Croydon Arms Manufacturer or South London Capitalist probably wouldn’t give off the same pinko vibe.

The Citizen: inherently left-of-centre?

Since the founding of the Citizen, we’ve believed that the ideas of ‘pluralism, not neutrality’ and ‘media as a force for change’ are the right way to run a publication like this. Are these intrinsically left wing ideas? Our entire operating model is based on publishing submissions from the general public – it’s the citizens what make the Citizen. Are we generally attracting more writers from the left of centre and beyond? And if so, why?

The immediate answer – that lefties are going to be more drawn to ideas of ‘people power’ and a ‘voice for the voiceless’ – is too simplistic. Was it not the Thatcherism of the 1980s that prided itself on the empowerment of the hardworking individual? And traditional capital-l Liberal thought, itself not a hard-left worldview, was a factor in the rise of the earliest newspapers – then the voice of the emerging middle class.

(Speaking of early newspapers, what you’re currently reading is not actually the first publication to call itself the Croydon Citizen. More than a century ago, a paper called the Croydon Citizen was established and operated for a few years. Its founders? Local trade unions. It was a workers’ paper. Maybe we’ve somehow inherited their reputation.)

What does it mean to be left wing, anyway?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to reach for a dictionary. In the context of Britain in 2015, I would humbly suggest that the broadest idea of being ‘on the left’ involves believing in at least some of these goals:

  • the pursuit of some degree of economic equality, directly and indirectly carried out by the state
  • social progressivism/permissivism
  • an enfranchised and empowered general public

The third of these goals is very definitely one that is actively pursued by the Citizen The second is less clear – while we have rules against hate speech, we don’t require all contributors to sign up to socially liberal values. But on the other hand, no-one has ever submitted us an article saying that gay marriage is an affront to Croydon’s moral decency, either.

But what about the first point? This is one where the Citizen‘s principles and rules don’t come into play at all. We don’t ban any kind of economic attitude, and our principles pass no judgment on the systems that mankind finds suitable for organising society and capital. Our contributors have, therefore, sent in a broad range of economic articles. We’ve published explorations of Help to Buy, alternatives to property development, proposals for a completely different local economy by a communist academicspecific Labour policies on the housing market, a report from this year’s Conservative conferencepro and anti arguments regarding landlord licensing, and endorsements of Saffron Square.

Maybe there’s a simpler answer – it isn’t

Perhaps the Citizen isn’t a monolithic politburo of left wing dogma after all. This is, bluntly, the paper that brought you a full page from UKIP in the run-up to the local elections, and hosted a debate where Labour and the Tories both had their say before this year’s general election. The array of arguments and positions put forward in the articles above speaks for itself.

Maybe the allegation is just a bit out of date? I crunched some numbers more than a year ago and found we had significantly more articles by Labour or Green supporters than by right wingers. One of our most-read pieces of content in the early days was a review of a mutually-owned restaurant, complete with musings that the venue in question “is a very strong argument for co-operatives, if not the full collectivisation of the restaurant sector”.

But during that same period, our most popular piece overall was the first of Tom Lickley’s excellent analyses of Croydon’s house prices. Our audience, it seems, is as diverse as our contributors. Certainly, the breadth of opinion discussed in the Citizen’s pages has grown at an impressive rate. To look at three regulars, all of whom are often found in our ‘politics and community’ section:

  • Robert Ward, a relative newcomer but now a keen regular contributor and ‘datablogger’, is an active local Conservative and has written about venture capitalism and much-maligned private landlords. Robert’s one of my favourite Citizen contributors at the moment, and I really recommend giving his stuff a read.
  • Liz Sheppard-Jones, once a contributor and now a member of the editorial team, is known for her reviews of local venues and organisations. What makes them so readable is the wider context she places them in – a restaurant review will contain thoughts on the slow pace of post-riots regeneration, while a ghost walk leads to thoughts on the impact of austerity on Croydon’s children. I don’t know whether Liz likes champagne or not, but she seems to like socialism.
  • …and Jonny Rose. Well, I don’t know what he is, but I’m fairly sure that he’s not a champagne socialist. Maybe a Baileys technocrat.

Three different people, with different approaches, different life experiences, and different priorities. I’m sure that they could find much to agree on. But it’s clear that they don’t move in lock-step to the tune of some left wing marching band. (I would like to join a left wing marching band: please tell me if you know of one).

So maybe I and others have been falling into the trap of so many on the self-righteous left: the assumption that ‘we’ have an inherent monopoly on community activism, challenging elites, and granting a platform to the marginalised. Perhaps there is a grain of truth to the idea that the magazine is or was instinctively more appealing to left-of-centre thinkers when it was launched. But I think that it’s safe to say that that period in the Citizen‘s history is over.

Whatever you think, join the debate

I hope, if nothing else, that I’ve shown here that pluralism is a damn good thing. It’s what allows us to put an article telling us that David Cameron has what it takes to see the country through the next five years in the same paper as an anarchist calling for the complete annihilation of party politics. And it gives us an appeal to people who want to speculate about how Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership might mean great things for Croydon, or how it might… not.

So get involved today. Write an article. Send us an idea to improve Croydon. The more voices that the Citizen can amplify, the better it will be as a publication. And, so the theory goes, the more chance we will have of finding ways to change things for the better.

Typical leftie drivel, I know.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Mark Johnson

    I think the Citizen is a little bit metropolitan liberal but that’s to be expected from the media in London. As a Thatcherite Conservative its not a branch of politics I identify with but many people do.
    I think the Citizen does a fantastic job at balanced thought provoking journalism. A million times better than the revolting extreme left Inside Croydon.
    Long may the Citizen continue to do what it does so well, educate us about Croydon.

  • Anne Giles

    And I am one of the Conservative writers. :-)

  • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose

    Whatever the plurality in contributor personal politics, I’ve always been impressed by how all of them are united in that they actually *do* stuff in Croydon. Any perfunctory armchair windbag can proffer an opinion in a blog or social media, but, frankly, that does *nothing* when it comes to materially changing Croydon.

    Long may the Croydon Citizen continue to host and encourage Croydoners that write well about Croydon and do well for Croydon :)

    • Y Bachgen


      • Anne Giles


        • Y Bachgen

          Well even from where I am from, we were told Croydonians.

          • Anne Giles

            I was only joking!

    • Y Bachgen

      It is a shame that the CEO of Croydon Tech Town should get the basics wrong.

  • Andy Ellis

    I was at the launch party of the Citizen. I have to admit that my first thought was “This is great, but I’m not sure that it will work”. Six months later I was delighted to find I’d been proved wrong. It’s up there with entities like Matthews Yard, The (late) Streetery, Platform Ruskin Square and Saffron Central. All of which are – and here I plagiarise from a previous comment by Jonny Rose – “actually *doing* stuff in Croydon.

    Tom Back makes a neat distinction between neutrality and pluralism. The latter attribute of the paper little better illustrated than by the centre spread of the October (print) edition. This epitomises what the Citizen seeks (and manages) to do: reflect the oft diverse thoughts of the citizens themselves.

  • moguloilman

    If the Citizen had a pinkish tinge that would be for me an argument to engage more rather than less. The purpose of discussion is to convert people of the opposite view to your way of thinking. There’s little point in preaching to the choir if you are looking for converts.

    And if you engage, once in a while you might even realise that it may be you that’s got it wrong.

  • Charles B.Wordsmith

    …and I’m a green capitalist with socialist principles and though probably unlikely to ever vote Conservative, I appreciate the wide range of articles from different contributors and the way the The Croydon Citizen genuinely seems to want to make Croydon a more interesting and better place to live and work in. Would a Left Wing Marching band have to prance around in chicken costumes with one wing missing, I wonder, and wouldn’t it just tend to go round in circles?