Croydon’s fake news problem

By - Monday 5th June, 2017

Conservative activist John Broadfoot doesn’t recognise some of the claims being made in the campaign for Croydon Central

Image public domain.

The majority of those in Britain with an interest in politics watched the results of the US Presidential election with a degree of horror. Not just the result, with Hillary Clinton being beaten by Donald Trump, but more importantly the suggestion that a lot of votes were swung by people reading news stories that weren’t true. Even worse is the suggestion that some of those stories originated from the Russian security agencies.

The reason that fake news is so beloved of dictators and despots is that democracy relies on a degree of trust from its citizens in the news. If Putin wants to get involved in Syria for example, he can just do it, and pump out whatever images and news stories he wants through the press he controls. If a democratic government is to do the same, or take any difficult decision over pensions, planning, tax rises or spending cuts, it relies on making its case through the media, submitting it for forensic analysis by critical journalists. Only if enough people accept what they read and see will the Government be able to command support to make the change.

Trust in news therefore, like a free press itself, is a key pillar of a functioning democracy. With a General Election underway, especially in a battleground as closely fought as Croydon Central, it must be incredibly tempting for political parties to obfuscate, scare-monger and otherwise mislead the electorate to try and secure a short-term electoral advantage. They must however resist this urge, for the long-term benefit of democracy in general, and in Croydon in particular.

Why would the NHS spend money on a new A&E at Croydon University Hospital if there were any danger of the hospital closing?

Sadly, based on the campaign so far, not all parties have been able to resist.

The campaign started with the Labour Party, including candidates Steve Reed and Sarah Jones, along with the GMB Union, staging a protest about the suggested closure of Croydon University Hospital. This despite the fact that the NHS denied any plans existed to close the Croydon University Hospital. Indeed, the NHS is spending more than £20 million on a new A&E for CUH, which is currently under construction. Why would it spend this money if there were any danger of the hospital closing?

This Labour/GMB “protest” was apparently based on details from a South West 5 Year NHS Draft Plan produced in October 2016. However a closer look at that Draft 5 year Plan on Page 28 clearly states that any standard review of hospital reconfiguration would be subject to public engagement and consultation. The exact words about the routine hospital review on Page 28 of that Draft 5 year NHS Plan clearly states:

“The time taken for public engagement, consultation,(for such a standard review), decision making and implementation suggests that this (consultation) is likely to fall outside of the Five Year Draft Plan(Oct 2016) Period. As a result no provisional capital or revenue costs for reconfiguration are reflected in our financial modelling.”

So not only are there no plans or money to close any South West hospitals in the next 5 year period, but even outside that period there is nothing to suggest any future closure at the CUH at all. Any reconfiguration discussion would have full public consultation/ engagement before any such decision might be taken.

I’m a Conservative, but I would have exactly the same view if Gavin Barwell made claims like these about Sarah Jones’ policies

Sarah Jones has followed this up with a leaflet titled ‘Stop Tory Cuts to our schools.’ The suggestion of the leaflet is a new national funding formula will result in funding to local schools being cut and teachers losing their jobs. The trouble is, this isn’t an uncontested claim.

Jones’ leaflet appears to be based on the NUT-backed ‘’ website, which indeed suggests that virtually all schools in Croydon will face serious cuts – you can see it here, with Oasis Academy Shirley Park highlighted as an example. But according to government figures, Croydon’s schools are set to benefit enormously from the new funding formula, with every secondary school in Croydon Central receiving a large increase in funding, and 18 out of 25 primary schools seeing an increase too. Two different interpretations of (apparently) the same figures – yet Jones’ campaign is only referring to one of them.

I’m a Conservative, but I would have exactly the same view if Gavin Barwell made claims like these about Sarah Jones’ policies. There is a real risk that if the general election campaign continues in this way in Croydon, debate will be poisoned and trust in our politicians diminished at the worst possible time for our town. Croydon is progressing so quickly, but there are still a lot of difficult and controversial decisions to be made. Getting those decisions right, given the balanced political nature of Croydon, will involve MPs and councillors of different parties working together. It will also require us as citizens to have access to information and facts that we trust, so that we can properly hold our politicians to account. The more misleading information is put out by the parties in this general election campaign, the harder all that will be to achieve.

  • John Gass

    “Why would the NHS spend money on a new A&E at Croydon University Hospital if there were any danger of the hospital closing?”

    The author should spend a few minutes reviewing how the pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, spent vast sums of money at their site in Sandwich, Kent. Not only were they seemingly always erecting another vast building block, they were also having public roads redesigned to accommodate their expanding needs as they recruited more staff. They did this up to within a year or two before suddenly and completely unexpectedly closing the whole site, leading to thousands finding themselves suddenly unemployed, with the local economy having to confront the fall-out of this seismic event. The impact on the community was huge.

    So please don’t tell us that £20m buys us a guarantee that CUH won’t be closed; it’s a naive argument that really doesn’t prove anything.

    • Stephen Collingwood

      A few years ago the NHS spent a great deal on the A&E unit at the Lewisham Hospital and its immediate closure was only prevented by successful lobbying by the local staff and the people in Lewisham. The NHS seemed unconcerned about the loss in its recent investment.

  • Steve Lawlor

    Because, even if a hospital were in danger of closing, you don’t just give up. You do the best you can to keep it from NOT closing. You campaign to keep it. Or you do if you are a non-conservative.