Published:

OllerenshaweEric Ollerenshaw OBE MP, Member of Parliament for Lancaster and Fleetwood.

Last October, ConservativeHome covered the launch of Amber Rudd MP’s report on localism in the planning process. Amber’s report was the first in a series of papers being put together by some of the Forty Group of MPs.

Today I have published my contribution for the Forty Group’s on the North-South divide. This is a more in depth study of a subject on which I wrote a short article for ConservativeHome in June last year.

That there is a North-South divide is clear. And that divide grew under Labour.

Why does it matter? Firstly, that gap creates a sense of unfairness and disunity. But in more utilitarian terms it is a story of untapped economic potential. Plus, we must not rely on just one region or a very few sectors to drive our economy; the financial crash of 2008 has demonstrated the need for a rebalanced economy. Diversifying UK plc and doing more to spread growth more evenly around the country is important for future stability.


Labour failed to address the North-South divide for a number of reasons, namely:

  1. They were too focussed on the City and the Financial Services sector;
  2. Had redirected their political and campaigning priorities towards the South;
  3. Failed to invest adequately in proper infrastructure when funds were available;
  4. Failed to address training and skills needs, especially those of young people;
  5. Wrongly focussed on public sector growth and employment;
  6. And, crucially, because their regional approach was too top-down in nature.

The Conservative Party must learn from these mistakes if we are to make an impact on the North-South divide. As such we need to:

  1. Rebalance the economy away from a fixation on financial services;
  2. Ensure we invest adequately in our infrastructure so as to assist private enterprise growth;
  3. Continue the investment in training and retraining, especially with an expansion of apprenticeship places, and by revolutionising our school system;
  4. Be sparing in using the public sector as a tool for long term growth and instead use available public funds as a tool for leveraging in private sector investment and growth in the North;
  5. Set out to achieve change through a bottom up, localist policy agenda;
  6. Reassess and enhance our political priorities, messages and campaigning resources in the North.

The good news is that the Government is largely on the right track, for instance with a new localist approach and a strategy of infrastructure investment.

ConservativeHome readers might be most interested in the section of the report assessing how the Conservative Party still needs to do more to campaign competitively in the North. It is clear that in much the same way as Labour could not win an election without winning more seats in the South, so the Conservatives cannot win an election – at least not win with a working majority – without winning more seats in the North of England.

The table below shows the number of seats each Party won in the North, South and Midlands since 1979:

 

1979

1983

1987

1992

1997

2001

2005

2010

2010 New Boundaries

North

                 

Con

63

69

64

53

17

17

19

42

38

Lab

99

89

96

107

139

139

133

104

98

LD

2

6

4

3

5

6

10

11

8

Other

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

Total

164

164

164

163

162

162

162

157

144

South

                 

Con

206

224

228

209

120

120

141

191

191

Lab

51

29

26

45

116

113

89

48

42

LD

3

7

6

7

28

31

33

30

26

Other

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

1

1

Total

260

260

260

261

264

264

264

270

260

Midlands

               

Con

56

69

66

57

28

28

34

64

63

Lab

43

30

33

43

73

71

64

39

33

LD

0

0

0

0

1

3

4

2

2

Other

0

0

0

0

1

1

1

0

0

Total

99

99

99

100

103

103

103

105

98

The Party is still lagging behind its position in the North compared to 1992, the last time it won an overall majority. By comparison, the Conservative’s electoral position in the Midlands is back to 1987 levels. (The vast improvement in the Midlands can perhaps be put down to the lack of a Lib Dem presence in those regions.)

As recent articles on ConservativeHome have argued, we need to campaign better in the North. Part of it is about presentation – we need more MPs representing the Party on television and radio who look and sound different from the archetypal ‘Tory, public school educated white southerner.’ Tim has rightly made the case for more Northern candidates for Associations to choose from in future and Matthew Barrett has called for a 'Grit List' of MPs to get on TV more. However, we also need to think long-term and finally lay the ground work for winning some council wards in major Northern cities.

> The report will be uploaded here later this morning.

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