Cllr Mike Jones is Leader of the Conservative Group on Cheshire West and Chester Council
The Conservative Party is back in government and this creates a striking opportunity for us to improve our political position in every part of the country.
In Cheshire of course we have become a major centre for banking, the horse racing industry and car manufacturing whilst remaining keenly conscious of the proximity and challenges of for example Lancashire , Cumbria, Durham and the major cities. We are also deeply aware that voters cannot be taken for granted, that we fight here the Wirral, Warrington, Bolton and parts of the Midlands in hyper-marginal terrain whose social make up is as varied as modern Britain offers.
As David Willetts once argued, some parts of the South are more like the Midlands and the North than other parts of the South, which is why we need a whole nation approach. No wonder then that we believe that the lessons of the (re)winnable marginals are the stuff from which long term Conservative strength will be forged rather than in the security of our very biggest Conservative strongholds.
Parts of the country need special attention from our new government if we are to unleash all of its potential: Kent plays a vital role in bridging our home and global markets but also faces distinctive challenges of social concerns and public service reform. Hampshire is an economic powerhouse with Essex the new base for ground-breaking public service mutuals and developments in the creative industries.
Dorset, Poole and Bournemouth are pioneering the pooling of social care budgets while Wiltshire champions rural and manufacturing industries and Oxfordshire a world class university.
Meanwhile, the South West is under pressure from the vagaries of European Commission policy as only we are in the North West.
If the party is to improve its position and become a truly national or whole nation party, it has to understand the issues of the North and those other parts of the country that face similar issues. The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is vital. Greg Clark’s Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is a good step forward – albeit one that needs to go further and faster.
Sajiv Javid’s plans to refresh trade union laws are crucial to deliver the very important market flexibility. And the new duty to protect us from extremism is a helpful intervention by Theresa May.
But we need to do more.
We need to be better at giving Conservative voters who work in the public sector the support they deserve. We should be proud of the fact that many value and treasure many parts of the public sector. We need to engage more creatively with Asian and other ethnic minority entrepreneurs and business leaders, to extend even further our links with those who share our values. We need to be better at getting behind our coastal communities and while savings are crucial we need to be able to find the best approaches from around the world to doing more with less when it comes to the needs of the elderly.
Under my leadership of Cheshire West and Chester Council we have pioneered community budgets and by driving the philosophy and policies of prevention and early intervention, we have saved millions of pounds. We have gone further than the old ‘Total Place’ programme had even dared to dream about.
As we take stock after the election I want to argue for a ‘Conservative local government council for the marginals’ and, with regard to social care and coastal communities, a new enhanced Conservative focus on public sector innovation. I want to argue for a strategy that sees us reach out for more votes rather than just relying on the core vote. Moreover our message needs the energy and the edge that comes from not being able to rely locally on certain victory at each future local and general election.