Croydon Central covers a wedge of the London Borough of Croydon to the east of central Croydon and is much more marginal than the other two seats within the borough, Croydon South (which is safely Conservative) and Croydon North (Labour). The northern parts are characterised by terraced houses and urban areas, with small council estates. Labour gains much support from in particular Addiscombe, Fieldway, Woodside and Ashburton. The southern area, largely Conservative, consists of suburban semi-detached houses, populated by commuters, surrounded by golf courses and parkland. The wards of Shirley, Heathfield and Fairfield give large Conservative votes. In the south east corner, there is a large former council estate, New Addington, with two electoral wards for the more than 10,000 rather isolated residents. The estate is largely white and there have been strong British National Party showings, although Labour has traditionally won the bulk of the votes on the estate.
Most of the office blocks and shopping centres of Croydon town centre, as well as the mainline railway stations are within this seat.
The constituency that preceded Croydon Central in this area, Croydon South (not to be confused with the current Croydon South constituency), had twice seen Croydon's only Labour MPs before the 1990s. David Rees-Williams had held the seat from the 1945 Labour landslide until unfavourable boundary changes in 1950. David Winnick won the seat in 1966 before losing in 1970 (he has been MP for the much safer seat of Walsall North in Staffordshire since 1979). Otherwise the seat had been firm Conservative territory.
Historically, Labour's strength in the area had been on the council estates, particularly New Addington. However, there were important demographic changes across Croydon that saw greater numbers of ethnic minorities and residents of inner London move to Croydon from the 1970s onwards, making the area, especially north west Croydon, more favourable for Labour.
In 1997, Croydon's seats were reduced from four to three and the displaced Conservative Members had to face one another for the right to stand in the new Croydon Central seat (Croydon North by then a Labour-held seat). The MP for Croydon North East, David Congdon, beat off Sir Paul Beresford, the MP for the former Croydon Central seat. However, three years after Labour had taken control of Croydon Council, Labour's Geraint Davies saw off Congdon with a majority of 4,000. He held the seat with a similar majority in 2001 but lost by just 75 votes to Conservative Andrew Pelling in 2005, with the Liberal Democrats and Green Party gaining some 7,000 votes between them.
The present seat was created in 1997 from most of the old Croydon Central constituency (losing Waddon to the new Croydon South) and part of the old Croydon North East constituency. It covers an area that was Croydon South constituency until 1974 when part of East Surrey was incorporated into a new Croydon South constituency, following the creation of the London Borough of Croydon in 1965.
Following their review of parliamentary representation in South London, the Boundary Commission for England made minor changes to Croydon Central. Part of the South Norwood ward was transferred to the Croydon North constituency, while parts of the Croham, Selsdon and Ballards, and Waddon wards were transferred to Croydon South. These boundaries were first contested in 2010.
If the changes had been implemented at the 2005 General Election the seat was likely to have been retained by Labour. In the boundary changes over 3,000 electors moved into Croydon South and 2,500 electors into Croydon North.