Eddie Hughes is MP for Walsall North.
On Monday evening next week, we will have the introductory meeting of the Blue Collar Conservatism caucus. More than 120 Conservative MPs have signed up so far to be part of this great movement, and I’m hoping to have the opportunity to make the following pitch.
Don’t move from London to another metropolitan bubble. Moving from London to, for example, Manchester, would be nearly pointless
The news that CCHQ is going to move out of London is excellent. The goal has to be to make it more representative of Conservative voters, and more in tune with ordinary people. However, the risk is that it moves from London to, say, Manchester, which is incredibly similar – a large metropolitan area which is very diverse, has lots of graduates, and is politically unlike its surrounding areas.
Indeed, in political terms, we would be moving from the single largest urban conurbation in the UK where we have roughly three-in-ten seats (21 out of 73 so 29 per cent) to the second largest conurbation where we have one-in-three seats (9 out of 2, so 33 per cent).
Telling our new voters that we are changing, and so we are moving out of London to the city most like London in the whole of England risks being seen as patronising and illustrating a lack of understanding. Manchester is more like London than most of the Conservative seats in the country, including the new seats we gained in the last election.
If we are going to change the adviser network, we need the Conservative Research Department and comms team to move.
As an MP, you meet a lot of advisers. Some of them are great and genuinely helpful and conservative in every sense, and unfairly get a lot of flack. Others seem less conservative and more about networking in the London social scene than applying conservative principles and policy expertise to get the right results. The Conservative Research Department (CRD) and comms teams have to move when CCHQ moves. There is no need for a policy or comms presence in London outside Number 10 and the existing special adviser network.
Moreover, we need to ensure that those coming up as advisers are people that are not trapped in a metropolitan bubble, but are focused on the issues our voters, who tend to be in small cities, towns and rural areas – whether in the South, Midlands or North – are focused on.
So the new CCHQ seat needs to be in a town or small city.
The heart of the Labour core vote is the large metropolitan areas – Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Birmingham, London. These areas tend to have higher number of graduates, smaller numbers of SME businesses, and more ethnic diversity, all key drivers of the Labour vote. As noted above, simply moving from a large metropolitan base to another is likely to keep CCHQ stuck in a metropolitan mindset.
With this in mind and writing as an MP from one of our recently-acquired Blue Collar seats, the new CCHQ office has to be somewhere that is not a large metropolitan area. Suggestions I will put to the Blue-Collar Conservatism caucus are as follows:
- Stoke-on-Trent. All three MPs are now Conservative (up from none in 2010). With 2 trains an hour less than 90 mins to London, it fulfils the criteria. It is an hour from Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Warwick universities and has Keele university nearby.
- Derby. While only one of two MPs from Derby are now Conservative, 9 out of 11 in surrounding Derbyshire are Conservative. It also has two trains an hour from London and gets there in 90 minutes. It is close to Nottingham university and not too far from some others (e.g. Sheffield is an hour away, ditto Warwick and Birmingham).
- York. While York itself is Labour, North Yorkshire has 12 MPs and only 2 are Labour and 3 are 2017 or 2019 gains. It is just over 2 hours from London but several hundred miles away. This would be close to York and just a half hour train from Leeds and hour from Newcastle.
The point of this list is to not be exhaustive. It is to point out that simply moving from one large metropolitan region in the South to another one in the North is not what is necessary. If we are trying to ensure that CCHQ in future is more representative of the typical voter, and if we are trying to send a signal, we need to make sure we choose a small city or town to base ourselves in, not just move from London to another large metropolitan area.