It’s exactly six months on, and a first glance at the 2010 General Election map should be enough to get any true blue heart racing. In a clear rejection of the Labour government, the country looks as if a tin of blue paint has been spilled across the South coast through the Midlands with streaks moving North.
This reflects the rural and Southern domination of the Conservative party in general, and the great success of the election in particular; winning 100 new seats and coming out as the country’s largest party both by popular vote and the number of seats. There should be no doubt that the result was a good one.
Firstly, Labour are all but extinct in Southern England (excluding London). The Tony Blair effect seems to have worn off and the future for Labour in this region will depend on what direction the party decides to take. If they sink back into a very left-wing unionised party, appealing only to their core vote, the South will be lost to them for a very long time. But it’s not all good news.
Whilst the Coalition Government is working better than I think anyone expected, the truth is that if we want a Conservative Government which has a working majority we need to win another 35-40 seats – but from where? It is the map which has the key.
What the map tells us is that the areas we aren’t reaching are almost all urban, Northern, and/or Scottish – but there is no implicit reason why the Conservative party shouldn’t be able to appeal to all three. Quite the opposite in fact. We need to focus on these areas and develop our policies which appeal and resonate with voters in these areas.
In my view, the map guides us to three major strategies:
1. We need to empathise more with the North. We forget that the Conservative governments of the 1980s were very successful in the North for several reasons such as policies encouraging council house sales and the sale of shares in public utilities, to name but two.
Basic Conservative principles still do resonate with voters in the North today, especially:
- controlled immigration;
- law and order;
- helping people become self-reliant.
It is to some extent a lack of empathy which has let us down in Northern constituencies. We need political leaders from the North, who can relate to the people. One way in which we can begin to achieve this is to support the idea of elected mayors. We may not win straight away, but a campaign involving local Conservatives will start to bridge the gap between people and party.
2. Cities are dynamic places in which to work and live, and whilst we should never neglect our rural heartlands, we need to get the message across that we are the natural choice for cities. We believe in:
- urban enterprise;
- urban development;
- investment in our cities.
In order to change the perception that the Conservative Party is a more rural based Party, we need to become more active in these urban areas. By promoting growth, economic stability and vibrancy in cities across Britain, we can work towards securing more support in the more densely populated areas at election times.
3. Scotland is a very different situation, and the answer is relatively simple: Something has to be done. If the Scottish Conservative Party were to become an independent party in its own right – or at the very least, far more autonomous with a separate identity from the national Party – they would then have a real opportunity to become more distinctive. They would have their own leadership, own ideas, own style and it would be an opportunity to create more tailored policies for Scotland. We should see the Scottish element of the Party not as a problem, but as a way of selling ourselves as a party that has a true commitment to localism, bar one which also retains a British identity.
The map is telling us something very important; if we are to form a majority Conservative government at the next election we need to learn from it and act now.