A website called Croydon News has recently appeared, advising its readers that Croydon’s Labour-run council is doing a terrible job: fly-tipping is rife, its planning policies are “hated” and the massive scheme to bring a Westfield shopping mall to Croydon town centre would have fallen apart in its incompetent hands but for a “last-minute intervention” by the (now former) minister for London Greg Hands and Croydon South MP Chris Philp.
Both of the latter politicians happen to be Conservatives. This provides a further clue to who is behind Croydon News, although it’s far from made clear immediately. Only when you scroll down to the foot of the home page or individual posts do you learn that Croydon News is “promoted by Ian Parker on behalf of the Croydon Conservative Federation” – the same Ian Parker and the same Croydon Conservative Federation that generate the website of Croydon Conservatives, which is entirely candid about its political affiliation – unlike Croydon News.
Is this sharp practice by Croydon’s Tories? A fair question, to which a chorus of “no”s seems an unlikely response. That said, it is far from unknown for political parties of more than one variety to produce campaign materials that look very much like unaffiliated sources of news and information or, indeed, for individual politicians to produce leaflets that look very much like the output of an Independent candidate, only revealing that he or she belongs to a particular party in the small print.
Perhaps there’s an issue here about just how very, very small the small print is. However, Conservative activist Stuart Millson, who runs the site, thinks not. He concurs that “political parties of all colours publish unbranded content” and confirms my vague recollection of the name Croydon News being used on newspaper-style campaign material in the past. He draws my attention to a Croydon News Facebook page, saying that this too carries “the legally required imprint showing that they are intended to promote Croydon Conservatives”. Look carefully and you will see.
Meanwhile, there is other news from Croydon. It is that Labour has a ten seat majority on the council; that recent opinion polls suggest that Outer London as a whole has been swinging towards Labour; that demographic change in Croydon is helping the Labour cause; and that even changes to ward boundaries in Croydon might, if anything, help Labour more than the Conservatives. Don’t expect to read any of that in Croydon News.