Eddie Hughes is MP for Walsall North.
Last month’s produced the largest Conservative majority since 1987, ended the Brexit impasse and saw the emergence of Blue Collar Conservatism – now the true voice of hard working people up and down this country. It’s vital that we demonstrate that we are worthy of the trust that these voters have placed in us.
With this in mind, one proposal being considered is the idea of slimming down the Conservative Party’s Central Office (CCHQ) in London and moving its resources to the regions. But this must go beyond mere symbolism. If we are going to set up a CCHQ in the regions we must do so in a manner that does not patronise nor condescend to those we are seeking to serve.
We can learn a number of lessons from the BBC’s decision to relocate large parts of its operation from London to Salford in 2011, in an attempt to create more specialised content and to boost their approval ratings in the North.
The BBC’s plans to better serve its audience in the North, by having northern people creating television shows that would appeal to a northern audience, appear not to have been realised. The 2017 National Audit Office report found that a total of 894 members of the existing London staff had been paid relocation allowances worth a total of £16 million – with just 39 people from Salford having been recruited to work at the new Salford based HQ. What’s the point of re-locating if you’re still almost exclusively employing people from London and not the area you’re moving to?
Dominic Cummings is thinking along the right lines. His blog proposed an unorthodox approach to the recruitment of new staff for Number Ten. I’m not suggesting that we adopt the same approach for the regional CCHQ office, but it would be appropriate to experiment with new ways of identifying talented people who may not naturally apply for such roles.
A similarly unorthodox approach has been adopted by a number of leading organisations, keen to move away from restricted talent pools, often exclusively made up of students at Russell Group universities with at least a 2:1 degree. Instead, they are choosing to focus on school leavers and unearthing the hidden talent that already exists in the labour market.
The publisher Penguin Random House, for example, has removed the ‘degree filter’ from its recruitment process, so that academic qualifications no longer act as a barrier to talented people entering the industry. Job applicants are encouraged to demonstrate their potential, creativity, strengths and ideas.
The advertising firm J Walter Thompson (JWT) has enacted an innovative recruitment process, moving away from its reliance on university leavers as its default source of talent. JWT has adopted a ‘blind CV’ recruitment, which will no longer be looked at until the candidates are whittled down to a much later stage. Instead, applicants are now asked to answer six questions which demonstrate their skills and suitability for the job, and their answers are used to assess them for interview selection. This has led to JWT focusing on candidates’ skills and talents rather than academic opportunity and achievement.
What surprised me most of all is how forward-looking our Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) has become. The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) recently ranked MI6 in the top 75 UK employers who have taken the most action on social mobility. In a bid to attract talented individuals who might not otherwise consider themselves to be suitable candidates, MI6 has launched a new recruitment programme aimed at increasing the number of female, ethnic minority and working class recruits.
Rather than focusing on academic credentials, candidates are being judged on the suitability of their skills to the role with job adverts focusing particularly on their problem-solving abilities, enthusiasm, team spirit and their determination to make a positive impact. MI6 continues to work hard to broaden its appeal and has committed to create a workplace that is representative of the country it serves. The Conservative Party would do well to follow its lead.
If we really are becoming the Party of Blue Collar Conservatives, capable of representing and reflecting the voices of hard working people up and down this country, our Party must be the change that we want to see.
The Prime Minister gets it. He has said many times that former Labour voters have “lent” us their votes for this election. So if we are to deserve their continued support, we need a wholesale upheaval of CCHQ, not just short-term, virtue-signalling tampering.
In December 2019, the Conservative Party took down the so-called Labour red wall across North Wales, the Midlands and Northern England. If we get this right, we have a once in a generation chance to obliterate it forever, to put the Labour Party into the dusty history books and to put in its place a Party that truly cares, understands and is equipped to improve the lives of so many people.