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Westlake Legal Group > The North

Antony Mullen: Why Sunderland is backing Newcastle to be the new home of CCHQ

Antony Mullen is the Chairman of the Sunderland Conservatives and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on Sunderland City Council.

The rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle is best understood nowadays in footballing terms, but it has also been traced back to the English Civil War (in which Newcastle supported the Crown while Sunderland sided with Cromwell).

But in the debate about the relocation of CCHQ, there is no conflict: Sunderland is backing Newcastle.

With Number Ten actively in search of a new location which boasts good train links, a nearby university with leading maths and physics departments, and somewhere that is “well placed in political terms”, the Sunderland Conservatives are keen to highlight that our Tyne and Wear neighbour does not simply meet the criteria, but easily exceeds them.

Newcastle’s Central Station is well connected, with direct lines to cities across the country (including frequent and reliable services to both London and Edinburgh). The local Tyne and Wear Metro system operates throughout the city and connects it to the rest of Tyneside, as well as to Gateshead and Sunderland. The metro also runs to Newcastle Airport, which provides a further means of quickly getting from north to south.

On the university front, the city is home to two respected higher education institutions. Newcastle University, a member of the prestigious Russell Group, is a prime example of a truly civic university, engaging the local community in its activities and drawing in huge crowds for its Insights Public Lectures series. Newcastle’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics – which is in the UK top 10 for research impact – addresses the (perhaps unusual) requirement that the new Conservative HQ must have nearby maths and physics departments.

In addition, Northumbria University is also located in the heart of the city while Durham University, which is just 20 minutes away by train, also has excellent Physics and Mathematical Sciences departments.

As well as having high-ranking universities and transport connections across the country, Newcastle boasts a rich cultural heritage, outstanding architecture, a famous nightlife, and incredibly friendly people.

Despite this, though, the strongest case for Newcastle relates to the final requirement set out by Number Ten – that the new venue should be “well placed in political terms”.

An office in the centre of Newcastle would bring the party machine closer – geographically and culturally – to our new supporters in Blyth Valley, North West Durham, Bishop Auckland, Redcar, Sedgefield, and Darlington. Moving as far north as Newcastle would show those voters who recently turned to the Conservatives, feeling betrayed by Labour, that we are with them for the long term, not just the parliamentary term.

Indeed, to move the party’s head office to Newcastle would be to park our tanks firmly on Labour’s lawn. Their northern headquarters, Labour Central, is also based in Newcastle. Having ours there too would not only show that we are serious about keeping our new north east seats, but that we intend to take those that Labour just held on to, like Sunderland Central and Wansbeck, at the next election.

If that wasn’t reason enough, a Newcastle-based campaign HQ would have a front-row seat when it comes to other important elections, like fighting to keep control of Northumberland County Council and the Tees Valley mayoralty.

Yet coming to the North East would not simply be an opportunity to enjoy what the region offers, but a chance to recognise what it cannot offer.

My Association was not able to suggest our own city as the new CCHQ location because it fell at the first hurdle. Sunderland is not very well connected to the rest of the country by rail. While there are direct services to York and London, Sunderland’s residents must travel to Newcastle to get trains to other northern cities. To travel from Sunderland to neighbouring Durham by rail isn’t an option: instead, an hour or more on a bus will get you to the centre of Durham, but two or more buses are required to travel elsewhere within the county. This is just a snapshot of how badly the North East, like other part of the north more generally, needs further transport investment.

Moving CCHQ to the North East would not just be a tokenistic gesture, but a commitment that the Conservative Party will live with and share in the problems that so many of us outside London face. Our proposal is both an invitation and a challenge: come and enjoy all that we have to offer – including the rail links and world-leading physics research – but take the opportunity to address what some north east towns and cities sadly lack.

The case for Newcastle is clear: it is close to the seats we must retain to keep our substantial majority at the next election and relocating here would highlight the party’s commitment to our new supporters in the region. Choosing Manchester or Birmingham, which both already enjoy hosting Conservative Party Conference biennially, would be a (predictable) step in the right direction, but choosing Newcastle would be a bolder move still.

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

Eddie Hughes: Yes, let’s move CCHQ resources to the regions. But do so authentically.

Eddie Hughes is MP for Walsall North.

Last month’s produced the largest Conservative majority since 1987, ended the Brexit impasse and saw the emergence of Blue Collar Conservatism – now the true voice of hard working people up and down this country. It’s vital that we demonstrate that we are worthy of the trust that these voters have placed in us.

With this in mind, one proposal being considered is the idea of slimming down the Conservative Party’s Central Office (CCHQ) in London and moving its resources to the regions. But this must go beyond mere symbolism. If we are going to set up a CCHQ in the regions we must do so in a manner that does not patronise nor condescend to those we are seeking to serve.

We can learn a number of lessons from the BBC’s decision to relocate large parts of its operation from London to Salford in 2011, in an attempt to create more specialised content and to boost their approval ratings in the North.

The BBC’s plans to better serve its audience in the North, by having northern people creating television shows that would appeal to a northern audience, appear not to have been realised. The 2017 National Audit Office report found that a total of 894 members of the existing London staff had been paid relocation allowances worth a total of £16 million – with just 39 people from Salford having been recruited to work at the new Salford based HQ. What’s the point of re-locating if you’re still almost exclusively employing people from London and not the area you’re moving to?

Dominic Cummings is thinking along the right lines. His blog proposed an unorthodox approach to the recruitment of new staff for Number Ten. I’m not suggesting that we adopt the same approach for the regional CCHQ office, but it would be appropriate to experiment with new ways of identifying talented people who may not naturally apply for such roles.

A similarly unorthodox approach has been adopted by a number of leading organisations, keen to move away from restricted talent pools, often exclusively made up of students at Russell Group universities with at least a 2:1 degree. Instead, they are choosing to focus on school leavers and unearthing the hidden talent that already exists in the labour market.

The publisher Penguin Random House, for example, has removed the ‘degree filter’ from its recruitment process, so that academic qualifications no longer act as a barrier to talented people entering the industry. Job applicants are encouraged to demonstrate their potential, creativity, strengths and ideas.

The advertising firm J Walter Thompson (JWT) has enacted an innovative recruitment process, moving away from its reliance on university leavers as its default source of talent. JWT has adopted a ‘blind CV’ recruitment, which will no longer be looked at until the candidates are whittled down to a much later stage. Instead, applicants are now asked to answer six questions which demonstrate their skills and suitability for the job, and their answers are used to assess them for interview selection. This has led to JWT focusing on candidates’ skills and talents rather than academic opportunity and achievement.

What surprised me most of all is how forward-looking our Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) has become. The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) recently ranked MI6 in the top 75 UK employers who have taken the most action on social mobility. In a bid to attract talented individuals who might not otherwise consider themselves to be suitable candidates, MI6 has launched a new recruitment programme aimed at increasing the number of female, ethnic minority and working class recruits.

Rather than focusing on academic credentials, candidates are being judged on the suitability of their skills to the role with job adverts focusing particularly on their problem-solving abilities, enthusiasm, team spirit and their determination to make a positive impact. MI6 continues to work hard to broaden its appeal and has committed to create a workplace that is representative of the country it serves. The Conservative Party would do well to follow its lead.

If we really are becoming the Party of Blue Collar Conservatives, capable of representing and reflecting the voices of hard working people up and down this country, our Party must be the change that we want to see.

The Prime Minister gets it. He has said many times that former Labour voters have “lent” us their votes for this election. So if we are to deserve their continued support, we need a wholesale upheaval of CCHQ, not just short-term, virtue-signalling tampering.

In December 2019, the Conservative Party took down the so-called Labour red wall across North Wales, the Midlands and Northern England. If we get this right, we have a once in a generation chance to obliterate it forever, to put the Labour Party into the dusty history books and to put in its place a Party that truly cares, understands and is equipped to improve the lives of so many people.

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

David Skelton: How Johnson can cement the Tory position in the North

David Skelton is the author of Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map. He founded Renewal, dedicated to broadening Tory appeal.

In many ways, I’m still pinching myself after the results in the North East last Thursday. My home town of Consett, once blood-red seats like Blyth Valley, and the heart of Tony Blair’s leadership in Sedgefield all voted Tory.

Places that saw being Labour as being part of their cultural, as well as their political identity, emphatically turned their back on Corbyn’s Labour. Friends and members of my family who once almost used “Tory” as a swear word started saying positive things about Boris Johnson a few months ago and could barely hide their distaste for Jeremy Corbyn and his brand of politics.

For years, Labour had been drifting away from their once core vote, taking these voters for granted and ignoring the region. Now they are reaping what they sowed and the North East has excellent MPs who will fight hard for the region, like Rick Holden in Consett and Dehenna Davison in Bishop Auckland.

 Now we have to make sure that what could be a temporary realignment in the North East becomes a permanent and lasting political transformation.

Labour’s heartland voters have been drifting away from them for years, knowing that the party had long ago stopped embodying their values or even sharing their concerns. It was the Brexit vote that crystallised this. The referendum was the first time in a generation that voters in places like Consett and Blyth had been able to make their voices heard on the national scale. The response of the party that was founded to ensure working class representation was to snobbishly dismiss the vote and call for a re-run. Little wonder that voters responded to Labour’s sneering disdain with a clear rejection in many North Eastern seats that Labour once saw as their fiefdoms.

The challenge now is to ensure that this wasn’t a one off loaning of votes and instead turns the North East blue for a generation or more. As I set out in my recent book, Little Platoons, our goal should be to bring about fundamental economic transformation to towns that have been long forgotten and ignored by politicians of both parties. The mission of the Government, once Brexit is achieved, must be to tackle the regional imbalances that means the City of London has GVA per head of £300,000 and County Durham has one of £16,000.

If we can be seen to have delivered this profound change for the better then we can not only hold on to the seats we’ve gained, but also gain newly marginal North Eastern seats such as Wansbeck, Stockton North and Sunderland Central are brought into play as well.

It’s heartening that the Government has already committed to big infrastructure spending in the North East and they should not be half-hearted in their ambition. Northern towns were amongst the biggest sufferers from the catastrophic Beeching cuts and subsequent cuts to transport. This meant towns like Consett and Stanley, with substantial populations, have had to rely on over-priced buses (it costs over a fiver return to get from Consett to Durham) and often poorly serviced roads. The government should ensure that North Eastern towns are no longer treated as an afterthought when it comes to transport links and should consider ambitious plans to use rail and light rail to link up the towns of the North East.

Many of the towns in the North East that voted Tory are also still suffering from many of the economic and social consequences of de-industrialisation. Skilled, dignified work that people were proud of was often replaced with low skilled, insecure work. We should look to re-industrialise some forgotten towns and bring about an economic revival with an ambitious industrial strategy that encourages and incentivises industrial investment. This should include declaring those towns that have been stagnating the most in recent decades as “prosperity hubs” and allowing them to do whatever it takes, including through the tax system, to encourage industrial investment and become specialist hubs for various industries.

These towns should also be at the centre of a vocational education revolution, with schools and colleges working with employers to deliver a robust education based on skill and vocation. Employer-partnered vocational centres of excellence should also be based in these Northern towns. For example, a centre for advanced engineering could be established in Sunderland, in partnership with Nissan.

Finally, the Government should take measures to improve the vibrancy of Northern town centres, many of which have become scattered with charity shops, bookmakers, and discount outlets. The focus on out-of-town retail and business parks should be reversed and measures taken to ensure that town centres again become community hubs, as well as places to shop, work and run a business.

Labour has abandoned the patriotic and communitarian values of the North Eastern voters who once made up the party’s core vote, in favour of an urban hipster socialism. And Labour’s reaction to their defeat last Thursday suggests that they are disinclined to learn lessons. This creates a real opportunity for the Conservatives to make the most of diminished loyalty to Labour throughout the North East and to turn the region blue for many years to come. The kind of measures I’ve suggested should be accompanied by pro-worker policies, such as a higher minimum wage and lifting the National Insurance threshold.

We successfully campaigned as the ‘workers’ party’, and gained a clear majority of working-class voters. Now we must govern as the workers’ party. In doing so we can bring about economic and political transformation to a long-ignored part of the country.

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

James Frayne: Tories need both policies and cultural strategies to bond with their new voters

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

The Conservative Party has a Midlands and Northern working-class and lower-middle-class base. But the Party is still culturally Southern posh, with practically no activist base in the North of England.

The Government was elected by people it doesn’t know well, while the Party represents seats most senior Conservatives couldn’t place on a map.

Over the last few years, I can think of only a tiny number of people who endorsed the pivot that delivered the Party’s great victory. Most Conservatives in Westminster thought the future lay in creating an offer to the young professional class in cities. This was, we were told, the politically sophisticated approach. But here we are. How should the party meet this challenge?

Above all, by becoming the party of labour – in its genuine sense. Let’s strip away the extremely serious but short-term political issues of Brexit and Corbyn’s extraordinary unpopularity. What binds together those working class and lower middle class voters that moved to the Conservatives is this: they work hard – they really labour – and they want to see that labour fairly rewarded.

For many years – certainly since the end of Gordon Brown’s time in politics – they haven’t felt the Labour Party has represented those that labour like them. Instead, they think Labour worries mostly about people that don’t work. The Conservatives have been the beneficiaries of that.

Just before the election, I watched some old YouTube videos of Tony Blair just before he became Prime Minister in 1997. That was the first election I followed, but I’d forgotten what it was like. I was staggered by Blair’s language. Ruthlessly focused on job creation, economic growth, fair taxes, and fair working conditions, it sounded culturally totally alien to the modern Labour Party’s obsessions with identity and rights. He spoke about looking after the livelihoods of those that labour and who worry about paying their bills.

Those that Blair successfully attracted to the Labour Party have vanished, even from the constituency he represented. If the Conservatives decide seriously to become the party of labour, it will set in train a series of other decisions that will improve lives in these areas and reap electoral rewards.

What does this mean in practice? Let’s separate the cultural from the policy-specific.

Culturally, it means that the Party should constantly think about four things: labour should be fairly rewarded; those that labour should be able to provide adequately for their families; those that labour should be able to live locally; and that those that labour should live in pleasant places. In summary, the Conservatives should obsess about ensuring those that live in these newly won constituencies can work and live in their areas – with their families – and feel safe and happy as they do so.

Thinking about policies, what does this mean? That taxes should be as low as possible, so people can keep more of their money; the welfare system should reward those that work hard more than those that choose not to (those that can’t work are a separate case and should be treated very generously); corporate taxes should be as low as possible, particularly in less affluent areas, to encourage investment; local schools, colleges and universities in less affluent areas should be prioritised to ensure the local workforce is well-educated and highly skilled; the tax system should not make it harder for people to buy houses locally (throughout their lives, not least as they downsize); crime and anti-social behaviour should be tackled robustly; and high streets should be re-purposed to provide entertainment, not just consumer goods. There are clearly many more, but here’s a start.

The manifesto floated ideas that will help tackle these challenges. It was well thought-through and perfectly targeted. But there were areas that the party dodged, for understandable reasons. They ultimately avoided serious welfare reform and the introduction of a contributory model; their tax policies were quite timid, particularly for businesses; education and skills policies need greater detail; and policies to boost local high streets also now need serious attention.

But the job now is not to win an election but to improve these areas and keep working class voters for the longer-term. They should therefore treat the manifesto as the guiding light, not the final blueprint.

But it won’t be enough simply to enact policies. The Conservative Party needs to build an infrastructure to help them build an advocacy and fundraising framework across the Midlands and North. The experiences of Dominic Cummings and Danny Kruger will be crucial here. Cummings because, with his uncle, he personally built business support for the North East Says No campaign against a Regional Assembly in 2004. He created a small-c conservative network somewhere with few activists. And Kruger because of his extensive experience working with independent, voluntary groups who engage in social policy.

The Conservatives are going to struggle to simply recruit activists like they do in the South, with meetings in nice pubs and summer parties in donors’ gardens. In the Midlands and North, above all, they will need to harness business support and non-state social activist groups.

But this in turn takes us back to culture. If the top of the Party is still essentially Southern posh, how will it make the right decisions? Actually, the adviser class is remarkably provincial. At Number 10, Dominic Cummings, Munira Mirza, and Lee Cain all come from the North of England. Elena Narozanski’s spiritual home lies in the East Midlands. Across the departments, a number of advisers like Alex Wild come from the provinces.

But the Party will also need to create a federation of think tanks, campaigns, politicians, businesspeople, and voluntary groups who both understand these newly-won areas and who have a desire to improve lives here. The scale of the challenge is vast, but ultimately it’s a “good problem” to have. And the Conservatives have shown they’re capable of appealing to these voters.

One last thing: if the Conservatives don’t deliver Brexit then all of the above is irrelevant.

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

As of last week, the Tories are Britain’s working-class party

People will be picking through the aftermath of Thursday’s seismic election result for a long time to come, and perhaps no aspect of it more than the transformation of the class composition of the Conservative voter base.

The Tories led Labour in every social grade, and their lead was bigger amongst C2DE voters than their ABC1 counterparts. The class correlation with voting Labour, which has been weakening since 1997, has apparently finally disappeared altogether. Meanwhile the Opposition’s strongest results were amongst voters who earn between £40,000 and £70,000 a year, whilst the Conservatives enjoyed bigger leads amongst the <£20,000 and £20-40,000 groups than the £40-70,000 and £70,000+ groups.

All of this means that comparisons between Boris Johnson’s victory and Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 win are misleading. The Conservatives did have success wooing working-class voters in the Eighties, but Thatcher took office on the back of a commanding lead amongst the middle classes.

The Government clearly grasps the implications of this, namely that holding together the Party’s new coalition will require quite a different policy offer to what the Tories have typically offered in recent decades. This is doubly true if, as the evidence suggests, there is still scope to even further expand the Conservatives’ reach in old Labour heartlands.

A more left-leaning Toryism, which has already matched Thatcher’s high-water mark in Wales with room for growth, could also narrow the alleged ‘values divide’ which is so often trotted out to justify pushes for Scottish independence or ‘devo-max’.

It also poses an acute challenge to Labour, namely how to win back working-class seats lost to the Conservatives without exposing themselves to challenges from the Liberal Democrats or the Greens in their liberal, urban modern heartlands. It isn’t an impossible task – the Tories hold their new conquests alongside swathes of their traditional seats, after all – but it doesn’t yet look as if their current leadership contenders know how to meet it.

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

Ben Bradley: Voters tore down the Red Wall because they were sick of Labour talking down to them and holding them back

Ben Bradley is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Mansfield.

Last week saw an historic Conservative victory, not just in terms of its scale but also its geography. The ‘Red Wall’ of Labour seats across the Midlands and North of England crumbled to dust as the election night coverage announced ‘Conservative gain’ over and over; Darlington, Bishop Auckland, Redcar, Blyth Valley, Ashfield, Bolsover… too many to name.

It was an incredible night and a result that really shouldn’t be a massive surprise. It’s something that those Conservatives who already represent and understand some of the issues and viewpoints from these communities have been predicting. We’ve been calling for a ‘Blue Collar Conservative’ revolution and a focus on the issues that matter to those working class towns outside of the Westminster bubble. This time we had a manifesto that dealt with those issues; investing in public services, tough on crime, prioritising the NHS, directing the cash to infrastructure for the regions.

Over the weekend a journalist described Mansfield to me as “the first blue brick in the red wall”. I have to say I love that analogy, it plays to my ego of course, and is something I’m hugely proud of. There are lessons to learn from Mansfield, as well as from North East Derbyshire, Stoke, Walsall and Middlesborough that were won in 2017, and now of course from the many other seats like them that have voted blue for the first time.

Since I was elected in 2017 I’ve been at pains to try and explain the difference between Labour voters in Islington and in Mansfield. It’s not ideological up north, it’s historic. It’s not socialism that drove the Labour vote, but industry. You’ve only got to watch an episode of Peaky Blinders to get the gist of why Labour was born as a movement; protecting workers, fighting for better conditions. Some of the leaders of that movement were socialists, but the workers were largely just trying to improve their lot. To put food on the table. It was about them and their families, not some wider ideology. So many people in places like Mansfield spent their whole working lives in highly unionised industries, where you couldn’t get a job without joining up to the union and paying in to the Labour Party. That was just how it was. “We are Labour round here”.

It made sense in many ways, to back the “party of the workers” when you felt your conditions were poor. It wasn’t an ideological commitment to socialism, it was about improving life for you and your family, about getting on and a sense of community. It was an innately conservative stance, actually, wanting to be rewarded for your work and aspiring to a better life for your family, very similar to the message we now hold at the centre of our Conservative Party.

From an ideological perspective if you’re going to be a socialist you have to be able to afford it! You have to have enough money already to not be concerned about the state taking more away. You have to be able to afford to rise above the control of an oversized state and to extricate yourself from the things that will impact on your freedoms. If you’re scrapping around to put food on the table, the idea of having more taken from you to fund others when you are the one grafting 50 hours a week is horrifying. It’s not pro-worker, it’s hitting the workers the hardest.

Labour doesn’t get that any more. It looks down on working people rather than helping them up. It calls for an end to aspiration and self-improvement. The message is “don’t save or train for a new job or buy a house. There is no point. You are too downtrodden and the rich elites will never let you.”

If you’re struggling, you want hope, not misery. A hand up not a hand out. You don’t want to be told that the whole system is rigged against you, you want to see that there are opportunities to be seized and a chance to make things better. Labour in places like Mansfield have spent decades harking back instead of looking forwards. When I stood in 2017, my Labour opponent, the MP of 30 years, said “it will just remind people about what Mrs Thatcher did”. As it happens I think people were sick of being reminded. It was before I was born! People want to move on and are fed up with politicians blaming people instead of acting. There’s only so long you can moan about the past when you’re failing to do anything to take us forward. People want hope, not misery. That’s why the red wall has fallen. It was a wall built to hold people back. Where once there was a wall, we need to build a ladder.

Even Brexit falls in to that argument, too. These communities voted to Leave, just to be told they were wrong, thick, racist. That they were condemned to misery and failure as a result, and that Labour refused to deliver it. Lecturing instead of listening. We’re hearing the same narrative now from left-wing figures; ‘‘the right-wing MSM have duped these working class people, they can’t think for themselves and they’ll regret it’’.

So far, Labour haven’t learned from their mistake. They are responding in the same way they responded to defeat in the referendum, and without accepting the blame for their failures they’ll only repeat the cycle. They have to look at themselves. They need to understand these reasons that they lost, not just blame the media and ‘stupid voters’. If they keep saying ‘our message was right but people didn’t understand’ or that is was just solely about Corbyn and not about their wider offering, they will struggle to recover.

Don’t get me wrong: we’ve not turned everyone in the North East in to hardcore Tories. For many it was a tough thing to vote blue; for many we were the least-worst option. The good news is that we are saying the right things, but we are not trusted. No politicians are trusted right now. Come the next election Brexit will not be there, Corbyn will not be there. It remains to be seen if we’ll face a competent Labour Party or not.

Either way, we have a point to prove and we have to repay the people who have put us in to power. They have done so off the back of our message, our Blue Collar Conservative promises to back our public services and invest in these places that have so often been forgotten. The proof will be in the delivery; in showing whose side we are on. We have to show a tangible difference and improvement, and we have to restore some faith in Government and politicians. If we deliver, if we get this right, then this could be an incredible few years for our country.

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

Neil O’Brien: There are still weeks to go, but for backbenchers like me, campaign 2019 feels much, much better than 2017

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-11-17-at-21.08.02 Neil O’Brien: There are still weeks to go, but for backbenchers like me, campaign 2019 feels much, much better than 2017 YouGov The North south SNP Scunthorpe Rother Valley Polling police Philip Larkin Peterborough Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls NHS New Labour Midlands Liberal Democrats Law and order Labour immigration Highlights Great Grimsby General Election Fiona Onasanya MP Don Valley Daniel Finkelstein Culture crime Conservatives Columnists Caroline Flint MP Campaigning Brexit Alasdair Rae

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

The Midlands sky was November grey, and there was the smell of a coal fire from somewhere. I was out delivering leaflets in a council estate in my constituency. Moments after popping one through the door of a bungalow, I heard a door being flung wide open behind me.

A large and angry man appeared. “You can have that back” he said, thrusting the leaflet into my hands. And with that, he swung back into the house and the door thumped shut.

I went on my way. But moments later, I heard the door swing open again. It was the big guy again, and I braced myself for a free and frank exchange of views.

But this time he was in a more sunny mood.

“Sorry. I thought you were Labour,” he said. “Are you the Conservatives? Can I have another one of those?” He told me he was going to vote for us.

It gave me a little taste of what it’s like to be a candidate today for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.I don’t know what it is about life-long terrorist suck-up Jeremy Corbyn, or self-described Marxist John McDonnell, or police-hating Diane Abbott, or their two-faced approach on Brexit… but in many places where Labour might once have done well, they are now regarded with something approaching hatred.

There are still weeks to go till the election, but for backbenchers like me, campaign 2019 feels much, much better than 2017.

The ideas we are putting forward are more popular. The campaign feels better run, including on line. People massively prefer Boris Johnson to Corbyn. The question is whether it is enough.

As Daniel Finkelstein has pointed out, we have to win outright, while others can win even if they lose. Why? Because we will never team up with the SNP – while Labour are already dangling another separation referendum to cosy up with the nationalists. The Liberal Democrats can form a remain alliance with Labour – but not us. If we are going to win, it means pushing deeper into Labour territory in the north, midlands and south west, while holding off Lib Dems in the south east and the SNP up north.

The signs are encouraging. One set of constituency polls this week showed us holding seats in London, while another national poll showed us ahead among working class voters by a margin of nearly two-to-one (YouGov, 11-12 Nov).

For someone who got involved in politics when we were in the relegation zone in the mid 1990s, this is heady stuff.
We’ve already come a long way. Alasdair Rae at Sheffield has a neat chart which ranks constituencies in England from the most deprived on the left, to the most affluent on the right.

In 2001, we had no seats in the poorest 30 per cent, and Labour had most of the middle third. [See chart at top of article.] By 2017, the blue tide had already flowed into some areas Labour used to dominate. I hope this time it will surge further. [See chart at bottom of article.]

As we expand, the centre of gravity of Conservative voters has shifted and the Prime Minister has been the fastest to catch the mood. My leaflets this year feature our pledges of 20,000 more police, £450 million for our local hospital and funding for our local schools going up 4.6 per cent per pupil next year. Other than the fact that we also pledge tougher sentences for criminals, controlled immigration and securing our exit from the EU, much of this is the space New Labour used to occupy.

Rumours in the papers say that our tax policy is also going to be squarely focused on helping those working hard on low incomes. I think that would be the right approach.

It’s funny what pops into your head as we pound the pavements in the autumn rain.

For some reason I’ve been thinking about Philip Larkin’s poem, The Whitsun Weddings, describing his sun-drenched train journey from Hull in the north, down through the industrial Midlands to London:

“We ran /
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street /
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence /
The river’s level drifting breadth began, /
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet. /
All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept  /
    For miles inland, /
A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.   /
Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and
Canals with floatings of industrial froth…”

I feel like we as a party are taking the same journey, but in reverse, with the Conservative tide flowing up through the midlands and north.

Today the route from Hull, which goes via Doncaster, would take you past plenty of Labour marginals. Great Grimsby and Scunthorpe across the Humber. Don Valley and Rother Valley in South Yorkshire. Down through Bassetlaw, where sitting Labour MP and fierce Corbyn critic, John Mann has just stood down, then past Lincoln to the east, and down to London through Peterborough, where we hope to replace jailed Labour MP Fiona Onasanya.

I feel like we have a strong leader, good campaign, we stand for the right things, and people are sick of the delay and dither.

But will it be enough. Will our campaign work this time?

It might just.

Time to get back out there.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-11-17-at-21.08.55 Neil O’Brien: There are still weeks to go, but for backbenchers like me, campaign 2019 feels much, much better than 2017 YouGov The North south SNP Scunthorpe Rother Valley Polling police Philip Larkin Peterborough Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls NHS New Labour Midlands Liberal Democrats Law and order Labour immigration Highlights Great Grimsby General Election Fiona Onasanya MP Don Valley Daniel Finkelstein Culture crime Conservatives Columnists Caroline Flint MP Campaigning Brexit Alasdair Rae   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Neil O’Brien: There are still weeks to go, but for backbenchers like me, campaign 2019 feels much, much better than 2017

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-11-17-at-21.08.02 Neil O’Brien: There are still weeks to go, but for backbenchers like me, campaign 2019 feels much, much better than 2017 YouGov The North south SNP Scunthorpe Rother Valley Polling police Philip Larkin Peterborough Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls NHS New Labour Midlands Liberal Democrats Law and order Labour immigration Highlights Great Grimsby General Election Fiona Onasanya MP Don Valley Daniel Finkelstein Culture crime Conservatives Columnists Caroline Flint MP Campaigning Brexit Alasdair Rae

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

The Midlands sky was November grey, and there was the smell of a coal fire from somewhere. I was out delivering leaflets in a council estate in my constituency. Moments after popping one through the door of a bungalow, I heard a door being flung wide open behind me.

A large and angry man appeared. “You can have that back” he said, thrusting the leaflet into my hands. And with that, he swung back into the house and the door thumped shut.

I went on my way. But moments later, I heard the door swing open again. It was the big guy again, and I braced myself for a free and frank exchange of views.

But this time he was in a more sunny mood.

“Sorry. I thought you were Labour,” he said. “Are you the Conservatives? Can I have another one of those?” He told me he was going to vote for us.

It gave me a little taste of what it’s like to be a candidate today for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.I don’t know what it is about life-long terrorist suck-up Jeremy Corbyn, or self-described Marxist John McDonnell, or police-hating Diane Abbott, or their two-faced approach on Brexit… but in many places where Labour might once have done well, they are now regarded with something approaching hatred.

There are still weeks to go till the election, but for backbenchers like me, campaign 2019 feels much, much better than 2017.

The ideas we are putting forward are more popular. The campaign feels better run, including on line. People massively prefer Boris Johnson to Corbyn. The question is whether it is enough.

As Daniel Finkelstein has pointed out, we have to win outright, while others can win even if they lose. Why? Because we will never team up with the SNP – while Labour are already dangling another separation referendum to cosy up with the nationalists. The Liberal Democrats can form a remain alliance with Labour – but not us. If we are going to win, it means pushing deeper into Labour territory in the north, midlands and south west, while holding off Lib Dems in the south east and the SNP up north.

The signs are encouraging. One set of constituency polls this week showed us holding seats in London, while another national poll showed us ahead among working class voters by a margin of nearly two-to-one (YouGov, 11-12 Nov).

For someone who got involved in politics when we were in the relegation zone in the mid 1990s, this is heady stuff.
We’ve already come a long way. Alasdair Rae at Sheffield has a neat chart which ranks constituencies in England from the most deprived on the left, to the most affluent on the right.

In 2001, we had no seats in the poorest 30 per cent, and Labour had most of the middle third. [See chart at top of article.] By 2017, the blue tide had already flowed into some areas Labour used to dominate. I hope this time it will surge further. [See chart at bottom of article.]

As we expand, the centre of gravity of Conservative voters has shifted and the Prime Minister has been the fastest to catch the mood. My leaflets this year feature our pledges of 20,000 more police, £450 million for our local hospital and funding for our local schools going up 4.6 per cent per pupil next year. Other than the fact that we also pledge tougher sentences for criminals, controlled immigration and securing our exit from the EU, much of this is the space New Labour used to occupy.

Rumours in the papers say that our tax policy is also going to be squarely focused on helping those working hard on low incomes. I think that would be the right approach.

It’s funny what pops into your head as we pound the pavements in the autumn rain.

For some reason I’ve been thinking about Philip Larkin’s poem, The Whitsun Weddings, describing his sun-drenched train journey from Hull in the north, down through the industrial Midlands to London:

“We ran /
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street /
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence /
The river’s level drifting breadth began, /
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet. /
All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept  /
    For miles inland, /
A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.   /
Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and
Canals with floatings of industrial froth…”

I feel like we as a party are taking the same journey, but in reverse, with the Conservative tide flowing up through the midlands and north.

Today the route from Hull, which goes via Doncaster, would take you past plenty of Labour marginals. Great Grimsby and Scunthorpe across the Humber. Don Valley and Rother Valley in South Yorkshire. Down through Bassetlaw, where sitting Labour MP and fierce Corbyn critic, John Mann has just stood down, then past Lincoln to the east, and down to London through Peterborough, where we hope to replace jailed Labour MP Fiona Onasanya.

I feel like we have a strong leader, good campaign, we stand for the right things, and people are sick of the delay and dither.

But will it be enough. Will our campaign work this time?

It might just.

Time to get back out there.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-11-17-at-21.08.55 Neil O’Brien: There are still weeks to go, but for backbenchers like me, campaign 2019 feels much, much better than 2017 YouGov The North south SNP Scunthorpe Rother Valley Polling police Philip Larkin Peterborough Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls NHS New Labour Midlands Liberal Democrats Law and order Labour immigration Highlights Great Grimsby General Election Fiona Onasanya MP Don Valley Daniel Finkelstein Culture crime Conservatives Columnists Caroline Flint MP Campaigning Brexit Alasdair Rae   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Neil O’Brien: How to rebalance Britain’s unbalanced economy – by levelling up, not levelling down

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Even Brexit, it turns out, is about location, location, location. Ben Ansell, an Oxford professor, has found that in wealthier areas, where the price of a house averages £500,000, 70 per cent voted to remain. Poorer areas, where the average house price was £100,000, were an exact mirror image, with 70 per cent voting to leave.

Like a disclosing tablet, the EU referendum highlighted the different economic experiences of different places over recent decades: booming London and the most prosperous home counties voted to Remain, as did Scotland, the next richest part of the country. The reviving cores of our large cities did likewise. But smaller towns and cities, the countryside and coastal places voted overwhelmingly to Leave, as did Wales.

In response, Boris Johnson recently set out his ambition to “level up” poorer areas in a fantastic speech in Manchester. It’s the right thing to do – and it makes political sense too. The 2017 election saw us losing ground in wealthier-but-Remainy areas, and gaining former Labour seats in the midlands (and north) which we’d never gained before. We have huge potential to win in seats where people have felt taken for granted and left behind for many decades.

The economic case for levelling up is clear too. There are no G20 countries which have a more regionally imbalanced economy than the UK and are also richer than the UK. Conversely, all large countries that are richer per head than the UK have a more balanced economy.

In other words, a more balanced economy is a stronger one. In a highly unbalanced economy, resources like land and infrastructure end up overloaded in some parts of the country, and under-used in others, which is costly and wasteful. Given that workers (particularly lower skilled people) don’t simply move away from their families in the face of local economic problems, having greater distances between unemployed workers and job opportunities may well compound problems matching people to job opportunities. There might even be compounding mechanisms: if some areas have high unemployment that can lock in patterns of worklessness.

But to bring about a more balanced economy, there are two big lessons that the Prime Minister must draw from previous successes and failures.

First, the crucial thing is to attract private sector employment – particularly jobs that are knowledge and investment-intensive. The work of academics like Enrico Moretti and think tanks like the Centre for Cities shows how gaining “brain jobs” in the private sector has a much bigger multiplier effect than just moving public sector jobs to an area.

Tax breaks for inward investment can be very effective in attracting in new investment, which is why most other countries offer them. Within the UK, probably our most successful ever regional intervention was Margaret Thatcher luring Nissan to Sunderland with a mix of investment tax breaks, lobbying and the offer of cheap land (an old airfield). It’s now one of the most successful plants in the world.

When people think about regeneration, they often start with plans for a new tram or shiny cultural facility, which tend to be popular, and can indeed help growth in areas that are already motoring along. But such investments aren’t going to do much for areas where the economic engine has rusted up and needs restarting. Detroit famously built a fancy monorail intended to fight its economic decline: but in a city where every factory was gone it remained largely unused, drifting through a city that looked like it had been bombed flat. Without private sector investment, there’s no demand for it or anything much else.

Second, different things work in different places and a different set of policies are needed for our towns than our city centres. During the 1970s and 1980s the “inner cities” were a byword for decline. But in recent decades capital cities and the centres of other larger cities have outperformed other areas, right across the world. The shift from a manufacturing to a professional services economy (plus the growth of universities) revived the centres of our cities.

There are still many problems to solve in our cities, but the places that have struggled the most in recent decades have been rural areas, smaller towns and cities, and the outer parts of large cities (even outer London). Places on the coast and places without a university have suffered particularly badly from a brain drain. Labour have tried to capitalise on their discontent with glossy ads like their film “our town”.

What to do for towns is even trickier than helping big cities grow. Though there are trendy small towns from Hebden Bridge to Hay-on-Wye, simply copying ideas from big cities, like “culture-led regeneration”, is often a recipe for failure in small towns.

Improving connections between city centres and towns might help – Tom Forth has highlighted just how bad we are at this in Britain. The Prime Minister’s new fund to help regenerate town centres is a good move and will make them more attractive. We should do things like re-examine funding historic funding formulas for government spending on science, transport and housing, which are still heavily geared towards supporting London and other areas that are already growing fast. And we should offer devolved economic powers to counties, not just big cities.
The more we can use free market mechanisms to help poorer towns, the more likely we are to succeed.

Looking at Britain as a whole, chronically low investment rates are a big part of our long-term productivity problem. We should cut taxes on business investment across the whole country, and make the UK’s capital allowances among the most generous in the world (at present they’re among the least).

But to level up poorer areas we should go further, and have even more generous tax breaks for investment there, where the problem of low investment and low productivity is most severe. We should also empower the Department for International Trade to take part in the same aggressive tax competition for inward investment that countries in Asia, the US, and our neighbours in Ireland do so successfully. And we should use those tools to encourage inward investment into poorer places.

More generous capital allowances would help lagging regions anyway, even if introduced across the board. While manufacturing accounted for around a quarter of productivity growth nationally since 1997, it provided 40–50 per cent of productivity growth in poorer regions like Wales, the West Midlands and North West. Manufacturing requires roughly twice as much capital investment as the rest of the economy, so an investment-hostile tax system hits poorer places harder.

Ever since the referendum, there’s rightly been renewed focus on how to help poorer places. Helpfully there is decades of evidence about what does and doesn’t work. If we can join up an energetic new Prime Minister with the bit between his teeth, plus a new agenda for left-behind places, then we can really get things moving.

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WATCH: Burnham promises ‘almighty fight’ if Johnson tries to scrap HS2

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