A new report suggests "refreshingly realistic" ways for the Conservatives to regain a foothold in the northby Nick Randall / July 22, 2013 / Leave a comment
Michael Howard once claimed during his leadership of the Conservative party that, “I would love to win seats in Newcastle and Liverpool, and other big cities in the north, but we can win the General Election without doing that.” The publication of ‘Access All Areas’ by new Conservative campaign group Renewal repudiates any such complacency in Conservative ranks.
The collection of essays recognises that despite gaining twenty-three northern seats and increasing its vote at the 2010 general election the Conservative Party continues to significantly underachieve in northern England. Such underperformance threatens the Conservatives’ ability to secure a parliamentary majority in 2015 and beyond as it did in 2010.
The essays correct much of what often passes for accepted wisdom in Conservative ranks about their underperformance in the north. For example, Margaret Thatcher isn’t an entirely satisfactory scapegoat for Conservative difficulties. Northern results were robust in 1979 and 1983 and the Conservative electoral malaise truly set in at the 1992 election, after she had left office. Similarly, the north of England is not wholly inhospitable to Conservative ideas and values. Surveys suggest that the north is not an impervious citadel of social democratic values and that ideological differences between voters in the north and south of England have been narrowing in recent years.
The authors are also refreshingly realistic in the solutions they advocate. It is recognised that a Conservative revival is a long-term project that must encompass rebuilding relations with northern voters, renewal of grass-roots organisations and restoring a Conservative presence in local government in northern towns and cities such as Newcastle and Sheffield, where they currently lack a single elected representative. The authors are also quick to identify a host of policies that could empower northern cities and benefit northern voters.
However, with less than two years to go before the next general election it is legitimate to doubt whether any meaningful Conservative revival can be engineered. Indeed, Renewal’s initiative provokes a strong sense of déjà vu. When he became leader David Cameron pledged himself to restoring Conservative credentials as a One Nation party, with an appeal in all parts of Britain. Yet this, like many other aspects of his modernising agenda, remains at best incomplete, at worst annulled. The coalition government’s austerity measures have re-toxified…