Dehenna Davison is MP for Bishop Auckland.
So much has changed since the 12th December 2019, but the reasons that so many people supported the Conservatives remain the same.
People didn’t just vote blue because they were fed up with Labour, they voted for us because they saw that we shared their values, and understood what is important to them. We must remember that people will only vote Conservative for as long as we continue to demonstrate this.
The Prime Minister showed this in his recent speech at the Conservative Party Conference, in which he reiterated his commitment to fixing the crisis in our care system. When it comes to health and social care, he understands that people want to be able to access it when they need it. It’s not just about emergency care for the broken arm that needs fixing, but the support of a carer that means you can stay in your own home for longer.
I was proud to stand on a manifesto pledge that promised to fix social care last year and was encouraged to hear that the Prime Minister still sees this as a priority after the year we have had.
However, as the party of the former ‘red wall’, the Government cannot presume, when it comes to areas like Bishop Auckland, that every older person is sitting on a house that can be sold to pay for their care. Just six in ten older people in the North East are homeowners, compared to eight in ten in the South West. We need to radically rethink what care looks like and how people pay for it. If we do this through the lens of the ‘blue wall’, we can earn people’s trust on health and care for a generation.
We also need to think about the money in people’s pockets. That doesn’t mean handouts, but making sure people who pay in feel like they are getting a fair deal. Of course, when it comes to pensions, most pensioners have some private savings, but the state pension remains the single most important source of income for older people in this country.
We must keep this firmly in mind when we think about the triple lock. Any changes to the state pension would have the greatest impact on pensioners on low and modest incomes in seats such as my own, and the underlying reasons for retaining the triple lock – to protect the value of the state pension today and for future pensioners too – remain as strong as they did before the Coronavirus hit.
As a blue wall Tory, part of my role is to hold a mirror up to the Government to make sure it understands that the needs, wants, hopes and aspirations of places like Bishop Auckland are as important as those in areas like Maidenhead and Uxbridge.
While it would be a mistake to over-generalise an area as diverse as the ‘blue wall’, it is fair to say that these are the places where many normal, hard-working people live. What matters to them has to matter to the Government.
Being elected Bishop Auckland’s first-ever Conservative MP was one of the proudest moments of my life. The swathe of blue seats in the former ‘red wall’ give us the opportunity to change the lives of people in areas like my constituency, and the country as a whole, for the better. I, for one, do not intend to waste that opportunity. If we address areas like health, care and cash in the right way, we won’t go far wrong.
The Prime Minister’s speech suggests that he knows what matters in seats like my own. The population in many of them is are ‘older’ than average: 22.7 per cent of my constituents are aged 65 and over, compared with a UK national average of around 18 per cent.
Older people’s wants and needs are not quite as niche as we might think, though. Research from Age UK shows that, like their families and communities, they want decent social care if they need it, a well-run NHS, and to feel they are getting a fair deal from the system they pay into.
Until last December, Bishop Auckland had been a safe Labour seat since 1935. If it’s going to stay blue for as long as it was red, the problems that people in the ‘blue wall’ face in accessing decent health and social care, or having enough money to get by, need to be our problems too. If we fix these problems, there is a good chance we can rely on the trust and support of our residents for years to come. So let’s get on with it.