By Matthew Barrett
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Perceptions of parties matter a great deal. As Tim Montgomerie noted last month, the problem of how the Conservative Party is perceived by the public has been mis-diagnosed by David Cameron and like-minded advisors. Instead of addressing the fact that many voters see the Conservatives as the party of privilege by looking at ways of promoting class diversity, Cameron tried to promote gender and racial diversity – fine, but only part of the problem. As Tim wrote: "Swapping a white lawyer for a black lawyer, or a rich City banker in a tie for a rich City banker in a skirt, wasn’t real change."
As part of the process of preparing for the next general election, the Party should be working on changing perceptions. Conservative HQ could start this process by putting Conservative MPs from grittier backgrounds, who aren't necessarily Oxbridge graduates or Home Counties professionals, on programmes such as Question Time, GMTV and Five Live, where they could articulate the Government's message with a more common touch. Consider the elected Conservatives who appeared on Question Time in February. They were Alan Duncan, Philip Hammond, Ed Vaizey and Ken Clarke – all Oxbridge-educated.
There are plenty of Tory MPs who were educated at comprehensive and grammar schools, come from areas like the North, or the Midlands (areas the Tories need to target at the next election), or who have had to struggle to make a living at times in their lives. The Party under-uses these voices. They could be key players in winning (and keeping) swing seats in those areas we lost in 1997 that weren't convinced to vote for us in 2010.
I've drawn up a twenty-strong list – The Grit List – of some of the MPs who Conservative HQ should be looking to put on programmes like the Six'o'clock News, and show that having an accent, or coming from a working class family, is no barrier to voting Conservative, or indeed, entering Conservative politics. I emphasise "some" – there are other good candidates for the Grit List. Their leader in the Cabinet is Justine Greening – of whom Tim will be writing more tomorrow.
(L-R: Sajid Javid, Paul Uppal, Kris Hopkins,
Alun Cairns, and Martin Vickers)
- Sajid Javid, Bromsgrove. Born in Rochdale to a bus driver father, Javid attended state schools in Bristol, and won a place at Exeter University. After graduating, Javid entered the "public school closed shop" of the City, but became the youngest Vice President in the history of Chase Manhattan Bank at the age of 25. Javid is a confident media performer, and has appeared on Newsnight several times. He now serves as PPS to George Osborne.
- Paul Uppal, Wolverhampton South West. Born and raised in the working class West Midlands town of Smethwick to Sikh parents of Kenyan-South Asian origin, Uppal attended a local comprehensive school before studying at Warwick University. Before going into politics, Uppal worked as a builder, cleaner, lawyer and an accountant, as well as owning his own business. Uppal is notable for being just about the only ethnic minority Tory MP with a significant number of minority constituents.
- Kris Hopkins, Keighley. A proud Yorkshireman, Hopkins served in the Army in Kenya, Northern Ireland and Germany, and was later elected to Bradford Council in 1998, rising to become leader of the council in 2006. Last year, Hopkins drew upon his Army experience to warn against glorifying military interventionism.
- Alun Cairns, Vale of Glamorgan. The son of a British Steel welder, Cairns became interested in politics growing up "in a deprived community near Swansea", and noticing those on benefits had an unfair advantage over low-paid workers. Cairns worked for Lloyds TSB before his election to the Welsh Assembly, where he became the Shadow Minister for Education and Local Government.
- Martin Vickers, Cleethorpes. Born, raised and educated in north-east Lincolnshire, Vickers worked in the printing industry before becoming involved in politics. Vickers has been a local councillor for more than 20 years, and a constituency agent for nearby MP Edward Leigh. In 2004, after years of study as a part-time student at Lincoln University, Vickers earned a degree in politics.
(L-R: James Brokenshire, Liz Truss, Marcus Jones,
Priti Patel, and Andrew Stephenson)
- James Brokenshire, Old Bexley and Sidcup. Brokenshire is an Essex grammar schoolboy with strong local roots. He first represented Hornchurch, a constituency with significant working class areas, winning in the 2005 election, before boundary changes forced him to move south of the river to Old Bexley and Sidcup, where he won an even bigger majority than Ted Heath won in 1983. Brokenshire is now the Minister for Crime and Security.
- Liz Truss, South West Norfolk. Truss was raised in a left-wing household, and educated at a comprehensive school in Leeds, before winning a place at Oxford. Prior to entering Parliament, Truss was the Deputy Director of the Reform think-tank. In Parliament, she has consistently argued for a more meritocratic approach to education.
- Marcus Jones, Nuneaton. Born and educated at state schools in Nuneaton, Jones was the leader of the first ever Conservative administration in Nuneaton's history – at the age of 34. Jones is a strong champion of localism, and is the Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Town Centres.
- Priti Patel, Witham. One of the better-known members of the 2010 intake, Patel was born in London to parents of Ugandan-Indian origin, and educated at a comprehensive school and the University of Essex. She started working at the old CCO in 1994, working her way up to being William Hague's press officer.
- Andrew Stephenson, Pendle. From nearby Cheshire, where he attended a local state school, Stephenson was elected to Macclesfield Borough Council in his early twenties, and was one of the first council “Youth Champions” in the country. In the summer of 2010, Stephenson was appointed Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party, with responsibility for youth.
(L-R: Simon Kirby, Jason McCartney, Esther McVey,
Robert Halfon, and Fiona Bruce)
- Simon Kirby, Brighton Kemptown. Educated at state schools in Sussex, Kirby earned a degree in Mathematical Modelling from the Open University. Kirby is a successful businessman, having helped found Brighton's independent radio station, Juice FM, and a pub, restaurant and nightclub chain. Kirby is a strong voice in Parliament for issues affecting older people.
- Jason McCartney, Colne Valley. A local lad, McCartney served as an officer in the RAF for nine years before becoming a reporter for BBC Radio Leeds and then a presenter on ITV's Calendar News & Sport. McCartney serves on the Defence and Security Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
- Esther McVey, Wirral West. Born in Liverpool and educated at local state schools, McVey's career before Parliament focused on broadcasting – she was a presenter on programmes including GMTV and The Heaven and Earth Show – which should make her the perfect candidate for shows like Question Time. McVey is Employment Minister Chris Grayling's PPS.
- Robert Halfon, Harlow. The very definition of a local champion, Halfon represents the constituency of Harlow – a mostly working and lower middle-class town where Mrs Thatcher's Essex Man is still very much in evidence. Harlow's energetic campaigning in Parliament on issues like reducing fuel duty, taking low-earners out of tax, and Conservative trade unionism are perfect examples of his ability to connect with Essex Man.
- Fiona Bruce, Congleton. Born in the Scottish highlands, but educated at a state school in Burnley, Bruce went on to attend the University of Manchester. Bruce won the Business Woman of the Year Award "Women into Business" for her community law firm, Fiona Bruce & Co LLP. Before entering Parliament, Bruce was a cabinet member on nearby Warrington Borough Council, giving her a strong background in local government.
(L-R: David Evennett, Andrew Percy, Tracey Crouch,
Mike Freer, and Jane Ellison)
- David Evennett, Bexleyheath and Crayford. Like Andrew Rosindell, Evennett is a Romford boy. Evennett attended a grammar school in Essex, and earned an economics degree from the LSE. Before entering Parliament, Evennett was a teacher and insurance broker – and was first elected in 1983. Losing after his seat was re-drawn in 1997, Evennett stood again in 2001 and won his seat back four years later. Evennett is now Michael Gove's PPS.
- Andrew Percy, Brigg and Goole. A former teacher (he "taught in some of the toughest schools in Hull") with very strong Yorkshire ties. The son of a foundry worker, Percy has rebelled against the Conservative whip on EMA payments, tuition fees and loan sharking.
- Tracey Crouch, Chatham and Aylesford. Crouch was born and educated in Kent, and after graduating with a Law degree from Hull University, she "accidently" started working for MPs in the late 1990s. In 2003, Crouch became Chief of Staff to the then-Shadow Education Secretary, Damian Green, and shortly after that became Chief of Staff to Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis. Random trivia: Crouch and Andrew Percy (above) worked together at McDonald's in Hull.
- Mike Freer, Finchley and Golders Green. Manchester grammar schoolboy who worked in catering and then banking and finance. First elected to Barnet Council in 1990, Freer became the leader of the council in 2006, and pioneered the sweeping free market reforms that saw Barnet called the "easyJet" council.
- Jane Ellison, Battersea. Born and educated in Bradford, Ellison attended Oxford, but started off her working life on the shopfloor of John Lewis, and stayed with the company for more than 20 years. Despite Battersea's regeneration in recent years, it contains some significant pockets of deprivation. When the riots hit last summer, Ellison played an active role in helping the community get back on its feet.