Croydon’s boundary reforms: what you need to know

By - Tuesday 13th September, 2016

Tom Black explains what the parliamentary boundary changes could mean for Croydon

The 2016 boundary review, tasked with equalising the population in constituencies as far as possible and – controversially – reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600, has delivered its verdict on Croydon. After talk of four seats, and three-and-a-half-seats (sharing one with Sutton), the result is surprisingly muted. But what does it all mean? With leafy, prosperous Croydon South voting reliably Tory since records began, and Croydon North likely to stick with Labour even if Jeremy Corbyn eats a baby (which he may yet do), Croydon Central has always been the only seat of interest to lovers of a close race. Are Steve Reed (Croydon North) and Chris Philp (Croydon South) more or less safe then they were? Is Gavin Barwell, known to have been worried about his seat of Croydon Central taking on more Labour-voting wards, a political goner or a psephological phoenix? Take a look at the map above, then read on for the lowdown.

Croydon North, Croydon Central, and Croydon South are all staying. Hopes and fears of new names have proved premature. There will be no Member of Parliament for ‘New Addington & Selsdon’, nor ‘Coulsdon, Purley & Sanderstead’. ‘Thornton Heath & Norbury West’ will not be appearing in Hansard any time soon.

They’re all only going through minor changes. The short version is this: all three seats are roughly the same as the current ones, a few wards change hands, Croydon Central loses Shirley to Beckenham, and Croydon North loses Norbury to ‘Streatham and Mitcham’, and takes over Crystal Palace. And that’s it.

All three Croydon MPs will now have slightly different interests and concerns to represent

The ward-swaps within Croydon adjust the character of the seats. New Addington, a traditionally deprived area, joins Croydon South and immediately shifts some of Chris Philp’s focus as an MP from the interests of wealthy commuters. Purley moves to Croydon Central and gives Gavin Barwell the postcode with the highest density of millionaires in the UK. But in Croydon North, the arrival of Croydon Central’s Woodside doesn’t cause a similar splash. In the same way, leafy Heathfield heads to Croydon South and is likely to slot in fairly easily. All three Croydon MPs will now have slightly different interests and concerns to represent.

Croydon’s two safe MPs are safer than ever. Steve Reed remains in a job for life, assuming that he doesn’t get deselected for his opposition to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Chris Philp, already in possession of one of the plum seats of the Conservative Party, is working hard to publicly take on Southern Rail for their various failings. However, if these changes go ahead he could probably keep the seat if he became CEO of Southern, paid himself a £100 million bonus, and set fire to Coulsdon South.

Croydon Central is still ‘interesting’. Gavin Barwell was so concerned about the boundary review giving him more staunchly Labour wards that he mentioned it as a fear in his book. Of the seven wards that he will now represent, four voted Labour in the 2014 Croydon Council elections. One of these, however, is the ‘swing ward’ of Waddon, which tends to go with the borough and country as a whole, and Croydon Central voted Conservative in 2015 on its current boundaries, which contain five Labour wards out of eight. That will be small comfort, however, at a time when Barwell is in need of a metaphorical hug – Shirley, a leafy, very pro-Conservative ward in which Barwell’s own office is located, has been cleaved from Croydon’s seats altogether and tossed to Beckenham, and one of his new wards is Labour stronghold Broad Green. But on the other hand, he’s received the aforementioned safe Tory ward of Purley, as well as Croham, which is always more likely than not to stick with the Conservatives. It’s probably fair to say that Barwell hasn’t been knocked out immediately by these changes, but he and the Croydon Conservatives could definitely have had a better outcome. (UPDATE: Anthony Wells of UK Polling Report has calculated via various forms of dark psephological magic that Barwell’s small majorty in 2015 would be even smaller in his new seat: just 60, to last year’s 165.)

Let’s hope that we can all just remember that we’re Croydon till we die

But what about us voters? Have we had our communities arbitrarily shuffled around in the pursuit of balanced seats? Are we, like the poor denizens of the proposed ‘Mersey Banks’, going to need to take a ferry to visit our MP? In short, no. And neither will the good people of Liverpool, either, because Mersey Banks has mercilessly been ditched. Croydon’s seats were already a relatively natural set of communities. South takes in an older, whiter and more moneyed set of areas than North, while Central is a slightly more mixed bag. These changes remain true to that principle, with all three of Croydon’s new seats containing areas relatively naturally linked to one another – even Crystal Palace, officially coming over from Beckenham, blurs into the Norwood area of our own borough.

The most interesting impacts will be long-term. The three seats are keeping their current names, which may mean an interesting knock-on social effect in Crystal Palace: once it’s wholly part of a Croydon constituency, will its trendy residents welcome this assertion of Croydon identity, or reject it? Is ‘political gentrification’ more likely now than ever, or will things go the other way? Will the ‘Save Shirley’ campaign find its new MP, Bob Stewart, more or less supportive of their battle against Croydon Council? Will Chris Philp start to campaign for a tram extension from New Addington down into the far southern reaches of his constituency? Only time will tell.

Croydon has got its own boundary review coming up. Details are sketchy, but some overlarge wards and some too-small ones are going to be reconciled. The local Conservatives want to cut the total number of councillors by ten. While this move wouldn’t have an immediate impact on these parliamentary changes, the timing means that the political map of Croydon could become a little complicated. At a time when the borough’s identity is under the microscope, let’s hope that we can all just remember that we’re Croydon till we die.

It may not actually happen. You may be feeling like you’ve heard all this before, and some of it is certainly familiar: a previous boundary review was published in 2013 and an attempt was made to get it through parliament. Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats changed their minds about supporting it, allegedly as a tit-for-tat measure because they were angry that David Cameron campaigned against AV in the 2011 referendum on the voting system. In these uncertain times, with many MPs bearing large Brexit-shaped axes in need of grinding, and of course fifty of them about to see their seats wiped out arbitrarily, there are pitfalls ahead for this year’s attempt. As the changes are a manifesto commitment for the Conservatives, the reforms’ rejection is unlikely. But so was Brexit.

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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  • angus h

    Regarding Crystal Palace – it still doesn’t fall wholly within Croydon. Its natural boundary stretches down as far as Norwood Park, Gipsy Road & Dulwich Wood Park, half a mile into Lambeth and Southwark respectively.

    • Tom Black

      Thanks for the comment, Angus – you’re right. What I’m referring to in the article is the local government ward of ‘Crystal Palace’, which is one of many official designations of an area that don’t actually match up with the notoriously sprawling (and multi-boroughed) Crystal Palace area, as you say.

  • Mark Johnson

    Just looked at Croydon Central wards election results from 2014. Gives Gavin a 768 vote majority. No idea how anyone can reach a majority of 60. My guess is with Gavin’s popularity he would get at least 1,500.

    Long term redevelopment of West Croydon could see Broad Green go Tory in 10-15 years if the Tory machine works Broad Green well.

    • Tom Black

      You make a point, Mark. A few eyebrows have been raised nationwide at Wells’ figures: he’s not releasing exactly how he’s done it, but it involves some approximations that get closer to the 2015 vote totals, rather than simply relying on the 2014 locals. He’s very experienced at this sort of thing, but there’s always an element of voodoo as ward-level data isn’t released for general elections.

      If Labour continue on their current trajectory, or even if things get a bit better for them before 2020, Barwell is pretty safe in any scenario. He’ll have to campaign and he’s by no means in a safe seat, but the national mood will be much more solidly with the Tories in 2020 than it was in 2015, if we are to take a guess this far out.

      On Broad Green, yes, it’s likely to be an area that changes fairly dramatically if gentrification kicks off at speed. The question will be whether that brings in more hipster types who wouldn’t be seen dead voting Tory, or suits and yuppies who know which party will keep corporation tax down…