Adam Afriyie is the Member of Parliament for Windsor and
Co-Chair of the 2020 Conservatives Economic Commission. He was Shadow
Minister for Science and Innovation from 2007 to 2010.
Yesterday I went to South Shields to support Karen Allen, our candidate in the by-election prompted by the resignation of David Miliband. We couldn’t have a better candidate. She was born and brought up in the area, and I even had the chance to meet her parents who were active on the campaign trail. Above, all she’s a dedicated candidate who is passionate about her area and the Conservative cause.
There was a wonderful spirit amongst the volunteers on the day, including Emma Pidding and Charles Heslop, President of the National Conservative Convention. It was great to have the opportunity to listen to the voters – they are not hostile, it’s just that they need to see us, hear more from us and find out what we’re all about once again.
Voters in South Shields want the same things as everyone else – they want jobs, a top-class educational system and more opportunities to better their lives. I spoke to a taxi driver about the issue of uncontrolled immigration. He wasn’t negative, but he did feel things were out of control and that politicians weren’t doing enough to help the situation. I spoke to stall holders in the market who just wanted the economy to pick up so they could make ends meet for themselves.
Even if we don't win seats like this now, or in 2015, our party must ensure the Conservative message resonates all over the country, not just in the affluent parts of the South of England. It’s in areas like South Shields that we should be making headway.
I don’t believe in no-go areas for the Conservative party. If we treat some areas of the country as a lost cause; if we make assumptions based on prejudice, we don’t deserve to win the next election. We must be unafraid to speak to and welcome voters of all persuasions, wherever they live.
It is the old-style politics of ‘your area, my area’ that’s our enemy; the old way of dividing the country into left and right. We must certainly never criticise voters for their decision to support others in the past – we must be strong enough to accept that perhaps it’s our fault that we failed to engage and convince them. I'm optimistic we can win over constituencies like South Shields in time, but only if we have the message and the confidence to engage.
Having spoken to one or two UKIP campaigners in South Shields, it seems to me that the only way forward is if we acknowledge the way people really feel about immigration and Europe, and gain enough credibility that they trust us to deliver the referendum after robust negotiations. If we're serious, we must bring the legislation that enables a referendum before parliament sooner rather than later. Even if Labour and Lib Dem MPs vote against it, the British people will know we’re serious. Otherwise constituencies like South Shields will never take us seriously.
I want the party to start loving business more, helping small and big business to prosper, hire staff and deliver the economic growth we need; particularly in the North given the previous levels of state dependency. I’m pushing for more help – in the form of lower taxes and fewer regulations – to boost businesses and industry in every area of the country. What we need is for new and established businesses to start taking on more staff – that way there’s a bright future not just for individuals but for the whole country.