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Westlake Legal Group > Newcastle

Damian Flanagan: What drives the Conservatives’ underlying problems? For answers, ponder our exile from the cities of the north.

So why am I even writing about this secretive group of no-hopers? Because they happen to be called “The Conservative Party” – and it currently runs the country. Also, I happen to be one of them, having recently taken over the running of the newly reformed Manchester, Withington Constituency Conservative Association.

The position of the Conservative Party not just in Manchester, but in cities across the North of England is so dire that it is probably beyond the imaginings of people in the rest of the country and certainly seems to be a blind spot for Conservative Campaign Headquarters. There hasn’t been a single Conservative councillor elected in Manchester for over 25 years, and until two years ago, the council was a hundred per cent Labour, with no opposition whatsoever – leading to zero scrutiny of any Council policies.

In the recent local elections,t he Conservatives sunk to a new low in Manchester, attracting just 6.5 per cent of the vote, half that achieved by both the Greens and Liberal Democrats, and barely 1/9th of the 58.8 per cent achieved by Labour.

The opposition to Labour in Manchester now consists of three Liberal Democrat councillors (who recently complained that the council was too “right wing”). There is also not a single Conservative councillor on the councils in Liverpool, Sheffield, Leicester, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Newcastle…

So why should people elsewhere care about this? If Northerners like Labour so much, shouldn’t they just be allowed to get on with it?

You could argue that the local elections were an aberration and that people were venting their frustration with the Brexit stalemate in Westminster, that two unrelated issues – local government and national government – were being conflated.

Yet the crisis over Brexit and the full-scale retreat of the Conservative Party from many cities in the north of England are profoundly connected.

Think back to the last time that the Conservative Party enjoyed thumping majorities of over 100 in the House of Commons and was able to act decisively. You have to go back to Margaret Thatcher and the 1980s, a time when the Conservatives still had MPs in urban constituencies in places like Manchester, had a considerable group of representatives on the council there and could appeal to voters in northern cities.

Since being rooted out of those northern cities in the 1990s, the best the Conservatives have been able to hope for are slim majorities in general elections, leaving them highly vulnerable to party divisions over Europe.

Having the vision and doggedness to produce policies that re-engage with the inhabitants of places like Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leicester, Tyneside and Newcastle has seemingly not been in the mindset of anyone in the Conservative Party. That needs to change urgently.

The fact is that the Conservatives have for over 22 years been incapable of ruling without the support first of the Liberal Democrats and now of the Democratic Unionists. Parliament has been paralysed, Brexit frustrated and finally the Conservatives went begging to Labour for agreement with their policies. All these things are intimately connected to the fact that there has not been a Conservative councillor elected in Manchester for 25 years.

Imagine, though, that the Conservatives were to declare their determination to win back these “lost” Northern cities, starting by setting up a permament office in Manchester and sending some of their best people to find out what exactly is going on and to find a solution to the ingrained antipathy to Conservatives. Supposing we were to make it a marquee policy that we will not, as Conservatives, accept the age-old, north-south wealth divide – why should we? There is no reason whatsover why the north should be poor.

Let’s commit ourselves as Conservatives to those neglected northern cities by taking radical measures: offering tax incentives for companies to set up there and moving government departments north – the relocation of sections of the BBC to Salford and the creation of Media City there has been transformational in the economy of that area.

Let’s commit ourselves to the end of failing, inner city northern state schools which trap many children in a cycle of ignorance and poverty for life, and demand that minimal standards are met instead, and that we will closely monitor and put in targetted resources to these areas until that happens.

Imagine if people in the North began to think of the Conservatives not as the “Nasty Party” only concerned with their own interests and support base in the south, but rather as the visionaries who lifted them, once and for all, out of relative poverty and offered unprecedented opportunities, rediscovering the entrepeneurial drive and world-beating heritage of these post-industrial cities.

In Manchester, the populace are constantly told, over and over, that the source of all problems are “Tory cuts”. It is a matter of almost existential, religious belief.

The local governments of such cities as Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle – cities which once led the world as centres of invention and industry – tend to focus on a culture of welfare. There is little sense that a spirit of enterprise, self-reliance and sense of public good is required to guarantee a prosperous future: it’s this compassionate and engaged Conservative vision that the North needs to rediscover.

As Conservatives, we need to support and nurture such a vision. But we are not going to manage it as a London-centric organisation that just views the cities of the north as largely unwinnable provincial backwaters.

The Conservative revolution that needs to begin in cities across the North should also transform the Conservatives nationally. The Conservatives cannot be merely a party of the South and the countryside: it must strongly engage with the interests and concerns of England’s northern cities.

Many people think the great irresolvable fault line in British politics lies between Britain and the EU or else on the border of the Irish Republic. But delve further into what exactly is causing the underlying weakness and reliance on coalitions in Conservative governments, and you will see that it is the long Conservative exile from the cities of the North which is a chief cause of what is stopping the UK advancing forward with decisiveness and unity as a nation.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Richard Wearmouth: Labour’s hard left Mayoral candidate is a threat to the north east

Cllr Richard Wearmouth is the Deputy Chairman of the North East Conservatives and the Cabinet Member for Regeneration on Northumberland Council.

Next month, voters in North of Tyne face a clear-cut choice. Do they opt for a Conservative mayor with a track record of partnership for the good of the region? Or do they elect an unknown Corbyn activist with no relevant experience whatever?

‘North of Tyne’ is England’s latest devolution deal, offering greater control on jobs, schools, homes, and the wider economy. It covers over 800,000 people across Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland. Crucially, the mayor’s job brings control of a £600 million budget for economic development, as well as a high-profile ambassadorial role for one of the economic jewels in the northern English crown.

Conservative candidate, Charlie Hoult, is a businessman who built up a marketing business in London to 400 staff before he returned to Newcastle to run the family firm: a business park he has helped transform into a hub for 150 creative businesses. He also founded tech network, Dynamo, to grow the wider North East economy, representing the region’s 42,000 IT workers. Dynamo started NE Futures UTC, a new £13 million state secondary school in Newcastle for 600 students, and the £30m National Innovation Centre for Data – emerging from discussions Hoult led with then-chancellor, George Osborne.

He is a well-connected pragmatist who can work with government and businesses to deliver the beacon projects we need in core sectors like advanced manufacturing, medical science, digital and finance. Hoult is campaigning under the banner of ‘Projects not Politics’, referring to £100m of projects he has already initiated. He was led to this mantra by Ben Houchen, the Mayor of neighbouring Tees Valley, who told him that 75 per cent of his role is project delivery and must operate above politics.

This election may look a battle of red on blue, but Houchen, in an all-Labour council area, has proved it is possible for a Conservative to win, particularly with second choices at stake in the supplementary voting system in place. Labour’s North of Tyne candidate is Jamie Driscoll, whose job is Newcastle’s Momentum chief organiser. He has just 10 months as a city councillor. In February, he defeated Newcastle City Council’s centrist leader Nick Forbes, to secure the Labour candidacy.

Driscoll’s campaign leaflets present him as a man of experience and a friend of business. His online election biog says he was a “project manager and company director in the electronics and IT sector”. A quick bit of research shows that Driscoll was indeed director and company secretary of a firm, Floppidog.com, listed more than 15 years ago and it is unclear if it ever even traded. More recently, Driscoll was the sole director of Pits and Politics Festivals Ltd, formed specifically for a two-day hard-left ‘festival’ in 2018.

What we do know about Driscoll’s most recent past is that has spent the last few years homeschooling his children. This may be laudable, but it will offer scant assurance to voters of North of Tyne that he has the front-line business experience needed to be Mayor.

The question voters will want to ask is: what has Driscoll actually done in his career that qualifies him to control a £600m economic development budget? When it comes to ideas, Driscoll has been more expansive. His self-published little red book, The Way of the Activist, offers insight into his world view. It includes absurd claims that “money is literally created at the stroke of a keyboard. We can never run out”, or that “nine times out of ten, owners contribute absolutely no work to the production process”.

Hard-working company founders in this region find this view of their contribution completely insulting. I fear international investors, reading this, will take fright and look elsewhere, cutting off a vital source of regional growth.

Driscoll condemns “big corporations that don’t pay their taxes” and features tech giant Amazon in his campaign video as the bad guys. Yet The Way of The Activist is printed, you guessed it, by none other than Amazon. This is one of a series of Driscoll ironies, which have left him regarded as something of a charlatan, even inside his own party. Like many left-wingers, he seems happy to compromise his own ideological position to maintain his lifestyle. He lectures in Facebook videos about climate change, for instance, while driving a gas-guzzling 4:4 Land Rover Defender to conferences. As for Driscoll’s stance on Brexit, don’t ask. ITV’s Joe Pike did – and the YouTube of his car-crash interview went viral on political blogs nationwide, for all the wrong reasons.

I can’t be alone in worrying about uncosted and untested policy plans from the hard-left Labour man. Fantasy and unwanted proposals include a new ‘people’s bank’ and a ‘green energy company’. These smack of totalitarian grandstanding. Both would take the new mayor into high-risk sectors that could absorb the entire mayoral budget without targeting core priorities: jobs, skills and rural growth. Surely the new Mayor should leave speculative investment to the private sector and, instead, use public money to pump-prime projects and leverage partner investment.

Untested policies from a novice Labour candidate are raising ever-louder concerns North of Tyne. Alongside uncompromising hard-line Momentum politics, voters have good cause for concern about their future. We don’t want our region to become a test bed for the radical left, and nor do our region’s voters.

We must keep pressing the positives for our region. We are winners, are already winning – the region just ranked at number one for digital business growth, above even London. As Charlie Hoult has said, let’s build up from where we are – not risk a return to the slow lane.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com