Guy Opperman is MP for Hexham
We won this election because David Cameron refused to desert the centre ground of British politics.
Let’s face it, this election was Labour’s to lose. After five years of Britain’s first coalition government in decades, and after some very tough economic decisions, this was one of the most unpredictable
elections in British history. But beforehand, just about every pollster and pundit was clear about one thing: Ed Miliband was about to become Prime Minister. It has been decades since a governing party has increased their share of the seats in Parliament. Yet against all the odds last Thursday, David Cameron did just that.
The reasons are many. Despite Labour’s rhetoric, our campaign in the Northern marginals, under the stewardship of Lynton Crosby, was stronger than I’ve ever seen it. Our message was clear and concise. David Cameron undoubtedly was more trusted that Ed Miliband. George Osborne, and his Northern Powerhouse plan, set out a positive vision to which the politician that was Ed Balls had no answer. The Conservatives; remarkable victory on Thursday night was, however, more than just a sum of these tactical parts.
The Prime Minister was able to articulate a vision which sits comfortably with modern Britain. Firing up the engines of enterprise and aspiration and getting the economy moving and creating jobs – whilst at the same time protecting the public services that people care passionately about, such as schools and the NHS.
I know this because I heard it time and time again on the doorstep, and more importantly, it is what people voted for at the ballot box. My constituency is England’s last frontier, wedged between Newcastle and Carlisle, and sitting directly on the Scottish border. Here, in this most northernly of seats, the results of the Conservatives fighting a sound and sensible campaign in the centre ground were clear.
With a 9.4 per cent increase in vote share, Hexham recorded the second highest increase in the Conservative vote anywhere in England and Wales; my majority is now double that of 2010, at some 12,000 votes, and at its highest in 23 years. This in a North-East seat that Labour only just missed out on by 222 votes in 1997.
The figures undoubtedly pleased my campaign team, but they also tell a wider story. For the last four general elections, the Conservatives have won my constituency with an average of 42 per cent of the vote. This time we won with just over 52 per cent. It is not a coincidence to me that 1992 is often quoted as the ubiquitous example of the Conservatives running a moderate, sensible campaign from the centre ground.
At this General Election, my somewhat bruised and battered 2001 Honda Jazz has been a regular sight on the region’s roads, as I have travelled the length and breadth of the North, campaigning in one of
Labour’s last remaining bastions of power.
I spent the day before Polling Day campaigning in Carlisle, and then listening to David Cameron making the Conservative case at the cattle market on the outskirts of Carlisle, in support of John Stevenson.
John has been the MP for Carlisle since 2010, and was defending a 853 majority over Labour, though his chances had long been written off by the pollsters. As the Prime Minister spoke in Carlisle in an echoing hall on his last election campaign stop, his moral mission to provide the country with sound
leadership, and sound money, were clear for Carlisle, and the country, to see. It was an especially sweet victory, after all our campaigning efforts, to see John returned to Parliament on Thursday night with an increased majority of 2,775.
Labour’s failure to win in places such as Carlisle highlighted the fundamental flaw in Labour’s campaign. Labour’s problems run much deeper than Ed Miliband’s fondness for limestone carvings and mildly amusing comedians. Labour ran a campaign against a Conservative Party that simply no longer exists.
In Carlisle, Labour told voters that John didn’t care about opportunities for young people – just as John was organising his third Skills Fair in the town.
In Stockton South, Labour told people that James Wharton, the local Conservative MP, didn’t care about the NHS. Yet, it was James who was leading the campaign for £50 million to be invested in his local NHS hospital.
In my own patch, Labour put out a leaflet on polling day telling voters I was opposed to the Minimum Wage. Not only do I wholeheartedly support the Minimum Wage, but I have been a passionate advocate of the Living Wage for the past two years.
Nationally, Labour once again told voters there was just 24 hours to save the NHS from the Tories. It seems lost on them, if not on the country, that there have been eight Conservative Prime ministers since the NHS was founded in 1948 – and it remains rated as one of the best healthcare services in the world.
This wasn’t just a few cases of political mischief. Nationally, and in the marginals, Labour were shadow-boxing an enemy that only existed in their memories and the echo chamber of Twitter. As they did so, David Cameron and Conservative candidates were articulating our vision for an aspirational economy, which would secure our public services and help Britain fulfil its promise in the 21st Century. The Labour Party, like a poorly directed amateur dramatics society, continued re-enacting battles from the 1970s and 1980s, whilst the Conservative cavalry quietly conquered the marginals.
That is why it is vital that the Conservative Party never forgets our path our success. At our very core is a fundamental belief – one shared by the majority of the British people: a belief that it is the role of government to help to create the conditions where anyone, no matter from where they begin, to be able to get on and succeed in life.
It is now for us to take the big, difficult decisions in government that will allow the aspirations of the British people to be unlocked. The aspiration of people to buy their first car, to own their first home, to succeed in a job.
At this election, the Prime Minister has not just led the Conservatives to victory, but he has reclaimed for the Conservatives the land where elections are won, and majorities are made – the centre ground of
British Politics. That is where we won – and that is where we must stay.