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Who comes out on top in battle of Croydon's election leaflets - Labour or Conservatives?

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WHILE most people were out enjoying the pleasant weather this Bank Holiday sadly I was not one of them, trapped as I was in my house by the avalanche of election leaflets posted through my letterbox over the weekend. Still, I had something to read while I waited to be rescued. I live in Fairfield ward, which covers parts of east and central Croydon, Old Town, Park Hill and the eponymous, ever-so-slightly outdated but loveable, arts centre. While the election campaign has been underway for weeks, with lots of coverage in the Advertiser, the leaflets that landed on my doorstep were the first contact I have had from the council hopefuls courting my vote. Having had the weekend to read them (at least the ones that weren't put in the recycling bin before I got to them - sorry Ukip) I have reviewed them using a completely scientific, and absolutely not just made up while writing this paragraph, three tier rating system – vote-winner, undecided and, lastly, deselected. As it happens, only the Labour and Conservative fliers appear to have escaped being binned. As they are the big two both in Fairfield and in Croydon, it seems a good place to start, but as other leaflets drop through the door I will subject them to the same scrutiny. Candidates Labour's three candidates – Patsy Cummings, Clive Fraser and David Wood - feature prominently on the front page of the leaflet, which begins with the admirable promise to work "tirelessly" on residents' behalf "regardless of which party you may support". The rest of the page is filled with biographies about each. Using just the information given, only one – David Wood – has a background specifically in Fairfield (he grew up in Park Hill, where he moved nearly 30 years ago after his father, Wilfred, was made Bishop of Croydon). It might not sound like a big issue – and to most it's probably not – but having a candidate with a connection to the ward they are standing in is a constant source of point-scoring by both of Croydon's main political parties. Strangely, while David and Patsy appear to have written about themselves, Clive's biography is in the third person. All three candidates are pictured in front of a bush that only the most observant of readers (so likely no one) would notice was in the Fairfield. Aside from the front page, the candidates don't get much of mention in the rest of the leaflet, save for a section called "What local residents said about Labour's Fairfield team". It's a good idea sadly wasted because the "residents" are two active Labour party members and Manju Shahul-Hameed, a serving Labour councillor for Broad Green. Neither David White, who represented Labour on the GLC, or Bart Konechni, a schoolboy who helped select the party's candidate for Croydon Central, is identified as being connected to Labour. It's misleading and raises the obvious question as to why three "average" residents could not be found to give endorsements. In contrast to Labour's leaflet, Conservative candidates Vidhi Mohan, Helen Pollard and Susan Winborn appear to be in a competition to see how many areas of Fairfield they can be photographed in (I count six). Don't get me wrong, I prefer it to a bush, but it seems more than a little forced, especially when the poses are the same and only Vidhi appears able to smile. Helen's less-than-impressed face is forgivable, given that the photos must have been taken after she was deselected by party members in Heathfield (only to be parachuted into Fairfield after the personal intervention of a very senior Tory) – information strangely absent from her biography. She does get extra credit for managing to look professional while being pictured showing off two rubbish bins though. Verdict:Conservatives - Vote-winner– Does what you would expect from an election leaflet, cheesy photos included.Labour - Undecided– If you're going to include endorsements, be up front about who they are from.The U word Politicians generally spend far too much time talking about other parties and not enough about their own, and these leaflets show both parties are preoccupied by the threat of Ukip. The Tories point out that Croydon has "always been a two-horse race" so "if you don't want a Labour council, the only way to stop that is to vote Conservative" (just in case you didn't understand the horse racing reference, it includes a helpful diagram…of two horses). "On doorsteps some people tell us they are angry about the direction the EU is taking the country in and they are tempted to vote Ukip in the European elections as a result," the leaflet adds. "But if you vote Ukip in the local election, you won't be giving the EU a bloody nose, you'll be giving one to yourself!" (This seems to imply that Croydon Tories are happy for you to vote Ukip in the European elections, then). And, if that wasn't clear enough, it adds, in big purple letters on a yellow background (see what they did there): "Remember – A vote for anyone but the Conservatives in the local election is a vote to have a Labour council!" Labour's election pamphlet puts across basically the same (but obviously opposite) point. While it doesn't hammer it home with quite so much gusto, it is clear the party have considered the permutations. "Quite a lot of Conservative voters are telling us they intend to vote Ukip," reads the leaflet. "Others who like some things about Ukip are voting Labour in the local elections as they realise this is the best way to defeat the Tories and send a message to them locally and nationally," it adds, adopting the old adage about friends and enemies. Overall both approaches turn me off. It might make political sense to remind people about the implications of voting a certain way, but I choose a party's record and policies ahead of being manipulated into a wider game of ensuring a particular side doesn't get in.Verdict: Both sides deselected.The promises Labour has been quick to pounce on the Conservatives for choosing not to release a manifesto. Tory leader Mike Fisher's reasoning is that people prefer a short list of key policies rather than an in-depth tome of promises and pledges, so leaflets like this provide the best indicator of what they intend to do if re-elected. The Tories are proud of their record over the last eight years, so unsurprisingly that is what they have decided to run on. They pledge to keep council tax frozen until at least 2016, "protect" key services such as recycling, green waste and street lighting, and continue to invest in schools, roads and regeneration. It's all fairly standard stuff and, to be fair, in a number of areas they have delivered results. While I am not a fan of this sort of campaigning, the leaflet includes a table contrasting "ten good reasons to vote Conservative" with ten not to vote Labour. While it's somewhat selective with the facts, it makes some effective points about school results and recycling rates. Westfield and Hammerson features heavily and while that is understandable, the leaflet does contain one pretty outrageous claim. "A Labour council would jeopardise this important regeneration scheme because they're not trusted by business," says the leaflet. It's an accusation they have also made on social media and it's pure scaremongering. Would mistrust of Labour really derail a massive project that already has outline planning permission, is backed by two huge retail developers and looks set to be subject to a compulsory purchase order? Or are there a dozen other things more likely to get in the way? Besides, the Conservatives appear to forget that Park Place, a similar project, collapsed on their watch not that long ago. They make another questionable claim when it comes to police officers. The leaflet mentions the 117 extra officers allocated to the borough when the Mayor of London closed or reduced hours at five of the borough's six police stations last March (though doesn't reference that last bit). Twice it states these additional officers have been delivered "this year" ("…to add to the 117 officers we have added to Croydon's strength this year" & "This gave us 117 extra police this year"). In fact the target is 2015 and, according to the latest Met figures, Croydon had 704 full-time equivalent officers in March this year compared to 622 in March the year before, when the changes were confirmed (an increase of 82). Labour's election pledge is that they are "ambitious for Croydon" and, while you might argue about how "ambitious" their vision is, the leaflet makes it quick and easy to see where their priorities lie, even if the detail isn't there. It's not in the manifesto either, but Labour would say at least they have one. Among the points with some substance is a guarantee to introduce one hour free parking and a pledge to make Croydon a living wage borough. The rest are well-meaning (crack down on anti-social behaviour, keep Croydon's streets clean) but the difficult to escape question when reading the leaflet is "how?". Like the Tories, Labour promises to freeze council tax until at least 2016, though it's claim about the opposition hiking rates to record levels is spurious given its own record. Verdict:Labour - Undecided– The policies sound good on paper but there are big questions about the detailConservatives – Deselected– If you're that confident about your record, why resort to scaremongering? I intend to do a fourth and final section about fact-checking, but there are several points made in both leaflets that require more in-depth investigation. So, for now, I will hold off giving my final verdict. In the meantime, what have you made of the campaign leaflets you've received so far? Do you read them or do they go straight in the bin? If you have spotted something worth looking into, let us know below.

Who comes out on top in battle of Croydon's election leaflets - Labour or Conservatives?


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