Depending on who you question, there could be any number of reasons as to why the Conservatives are perceived to perform poorly in the north of England. Answers may range from historical issues concerning mining communities, to the belief that we are nothing more than posh toffs who don’t know how much a pint of milk costs.
If you look at information provided by the Electoral Commission, it seems that as of the 2010 general election not all is grim up north. In North West and North East England, constituency results show that significant numbers of Conservative voters exist.
In this case ‘significant’ means 1.32 million Conservative votes to Labour’s 1.8 million (not forgetting of course the Liberal Democrats at 988,000). When considering only the votes of the largest parties, the share breaks down as Lab 44%, Con 32% and Lib Dems 24%.
If a week is a long time in politics, a whole year must be an eternity. The five years between elections in 2010 and 2015 will see the political landscape change significantly. Even if things remain broadly familiar on the surface, those subtle nuances will almost certainly cause headaches amongst campaign managers from every party. The image of the Conservative Party as nasty/posh continues to endure. It is this very image of the Party that causes the biggest issues.
Polling has suggested that a larger percentage of people support the removal of the spare room subsidy than would have been suspected. It also suggests that there is reasonable support for the overall cap on benefits as well. So if the image problem was solved, would an increasing presence of small “c” conservatism (yes, even in the north of England) become an asset to the Conservative Party?
The party is in a Catch-22 situation: it will remain consistently hard to appeal in the north if high calibre individuals have nowhere to be successful. Even if the hierarchy of the Conservative Party suddenly turned entirely northern and working class, it would make little difference. The Party could be as northern and as supportive of the working class as it wanted, but the electorate want more than that. What good is a high profile northerner if they’re not amongst the north? Something the Party needs to work on.
Hope is not lost. Perhaps the most effective weapon will be one of time. The onus shouldn’t be purely on that of the Party, it needs to be the very northern folk who have to push hard. If it becomes too much of a top down exercise, people will refuse to see it as organic and will neither trust nor accept it. The key change will be when “Task Force Tory” stops operating as an insurgency against the overwhelming forces of the Labour party in the north.
Whilst widely dismissed as a bit of a waffler, Russell Brand did at least have a point in terms of people wanting a revolution. Change for the sake of change is not good, but mixing things up every now and again can’t harm things, it keeps us all on our toes. In the areas of the North where Labour are strong, it’s not just the political party that is a concern.
Wherever Labour is strong, you’re sure to find the unions not too far behind. In some cases you might even say that the unions lead the way. Some see the combination of Labour and trade unions as very dangerous, especially when both have for so long had excellent political freedom of movement in the north. Some people may even welcome challenges to this ingrained political nepotism.
Activity to increase support in the north, needs to be more about appealing to the mind and not the heart of a person. The 1.32 million Conservative voters in the north would certainly appreciate a greater focus, though certainly not as some form of pity case. No matter how big a number 1.32 million is, it isn’t anywhere near as big as it could be.
It’s not completely grim up north for the Conservatives, but the solution is not a quick fix. Rush and it will fail. Any increase in membership and success in the north, mustn’t be whisked away to help the heartlands, it would need to be reinvested back in the north. Thing’s won’t be easy, but who likes doing things because they’re easy? Many enjoy doing things because they’re worthwhile.