Andrew Smith is a Conservative Councillor in Westminster and a consultant for Cicero Group. He writes in a personal capacity
The North is the key battleground in the general election. The path to delivering a Conservative majority runs through a ‘red wall’ of Leave supporting Labour seats, running from North Wales through the North West, Yorkshire and the North East.
As someone born and brought up in Bradford in Yorkshire who came to political consciousness during the years of Eric Pickles’ leadership of Bradford City Council, I know that that the Conservative message can have a strong appeal to towns and cities of the North.
Many of these areas have faced real economic hardship due to economic change. One of the reasons for the strong Leave vote in many of these seats was the sense that these areas had been left behind. Once proud industrial heartlands have suffered from the loss of skilled jobs.
Our Conservative approach needs to be focused on offering a different future for these areas. As well as the promise to deliver on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, we need to show how our approach to the economy can help to support growth in the North.
Conservative support for rebalancing of the economy and revitalising areas which have suffered from industrial decline is showing signs of success. Just one example is Rotherham’s Advanced Manufacturing Park. Now home to world-beating research and production, from firms such as McLaren and Boeing.
In his speech to the CBI this week, the Prime Minister set out how he wants to build on that success. He set out a positive vision of how a future Conservative Government can deliver for the North, through investment in public services, and better connectivity through fast broadband and 5G.
Transport infrastructure, unlocking investment was at the heart of Boris Johnson’s success in London. Now as Prime Minister, he made it clear that he wants to deliver the kind of investment in regeneration that he delivered as Mayor of London across all areas of the country.
He spoke about Northern Powerhouse Rail, which promises to transform the economy of the North though highspeed rail connections between the economic centres of the region. Hopefully with a station for my home city of Bradford.
Investment in buses and local road improvements were also part of the offer. This is spot on, as buses are too often neglected in the national policy debate. Investment in better bus service would bring huge economic benefits, especially in areas outside of London.
One issue which Johnson didn’t mention but needs to be part of our offer to the North is HS2. As someone born and brought up in Yorkshire, I been a long-term supporter of the project. While the scheme might be unpopular in the Chilterns it has strong support amongst business and the public in the North and the Midlands. It is a shame that uncertainty about its future is likely to linger with the publication of the independent review of the scheme delayed until after the general election.
The message from the North has been clear: both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail are important for the future of the region. It seems that the Prime Minister agrees, and hopefully a clear commitment to both these schemes will make it into the manifesto.
He was able to set out this optimistic vison of supporting growth across the UK through investment in public services and infrastructure thanks to Sajid Javid’s plan to boost to investment spending while balancing the books on current spending.
Johnson’s “categorical assurance” that Javid will remain as Chancellor if we win the election is also good news for voters in the North. The Chancellor is northern-born, with a clear personal commitment to delivering investment which will boost economic growth.
Using low interest rates to fund investment to unlock the potential of the Northern Powerhouse was at the heart of his policy platform during his run for the leadership and clearly will continue to be a priority for him in the Treasury. I hope that we will see more of the Chancellor during the campaign explaining how his sensible economic plans can help support investment to boost productivity, while at the same time maintaining the Conservatives’ record of fiscal discipline.