Tory-type policies are almost equally as popular in the North as in the South. That’s the conclusion of a new YouGov survey for The Times. 83 per cent of voters in the North support the Tory pledge to cut net immigration to the tens of thousands, for example. 79 per cent of Northern voters support the £26,000 benefit cap. 63 per cent support Help-to-Buy. 94 per cent back George Osborne’s increases in the income tax allowance. Earlier polling by Policy Exchange found similar support in northern England for a centre right agenda.
There is, therefore, clearly a Conservative policy agenda that should be winning support from Northern voters, but the YouGov/Times poll also finds that the same voters who like Tory-style policies don’t much like the Tory Party. You would probably expect the North to prefer Labour and even the ‘sell out’ Liberal Democrats, but they also prefer UKIP. Only 21 per cent of Northern voters think the Tories understand their part of the country. That contrasts with 57 per cent for Labour, only 25 per cent for the Lib Dems (clearly tainted by Coalition) and 30 per cent for UKIP.
57 per cent of people in the North told YouGov that they don’t know anyone or only one or two people who vote for or support the Conservative Party. 39 per cent say they would never vote for the Conservatives. It’s almost as if the Conservatives are becoming alien to Northern culture.
That’s certainly the fear expressed in the main leading article in The Times. It warns the Conservative Party that, without decisive action, the North could become as barren for it as Scotland already is. It offers the Tory leadership some clear advice:
“The party needs to develop a brand of popular conservatism that resonates with ambitious people who want to better themselves and their families. It needs to tackle the perception that it is a party for the rich, with little understanding of the lives of anyone else. It should have a front bench drawn from a far wider range of social and geographical backgrounds. Mr Cameron is too inclined to take advice from a narrow social circle and not inclined to repose trust in those with a broader experience of life. Changing the Conservative Party’s perception among northern voters will not be easy, but Mrs Thatcher had the words to describe the choice ahead of it. There is no alternative.”
I’m hearing that William Hague is beginning to move into more of an election mode – increasing his political activities now that we are just eighteen months away from an election. He certainly offers a little balance to the Cameron-Osborne ticket. Although the Chancellor represents a Cheshire seat and has fought hard for investment in northern infrastructure he simply doesn’t seem very northern. The Tory leadership recognises the problem and that’s why the last reshuffle saw promotions for the likes of Esther McVey and Kris Hopkins.
There are no easy solutions to the challenge, however, other than hard work. Whether it’s building more support among ethnic minorities, in urban Britain or throughout the North, the Tories just need to be ever present – attending events, appearing on radio phone-ins, promoting local candidates and targeting policies.
The poll also found a big problem for Labour in the South but my hunch is that the anti-Tory bias in the North is in danger of becoming part of Northern identity – which is why the Scottish parallel should worry Tory strategists. What a shame that the A-list of candidates from those early Cameron years were so much about gender, ethnicity and sexuality rather than class, background and local identity. Faulty polling from the 2005 period encouraged the wrong kind of modernisation, leading to years of wasted positioning. It can’t be said often enough: the Tory problem is one of empathy and probably of class, too. Read more about the YouGov/Times research here.