Osborne's Autumn Statement was a nod to the north

Littered throughout the speech were references to northern towns and how they will benefit from the coalition's policies.

George Osborne wants to create "a job-rich recovery for all" and it was very evident from the Autumn Statement that the Chancellor is well aware of the electoral challenges his party faces at the next election. Littered throughout the speech were references to northern towns.

On job creation:

"But they now expect the total number of jobs to rise by 400,000 this year. And this is being felt right across the country - since 2010 the number of jobs in Carlisle and on the Wirral, from Selby to South Tyneside - have all grown faster than in London."

On housing:

"So this week we are announcing a billion pounds of loans to unblock large housing developments on sites in Manchester and Leeds and across the country."

On fuel duty:

"I've had further representations from many Honourable Friends, from the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, to the Member for Argyll and Bute, and of course, the Member for Harlow who is such a champion of the people he represents."

These references are important. If the Conservatives are to stand any sort of chance at the next election, then broadening the appeal of the party to people living in cities and towns in the north and the midlands is absolutely critical.

A recent YouGov survey showed that an overwhelming majority of voters in the north support Conservative policies - cutting net immigration, the benefits cap, Help to Buy. But when asked which party they would consider voting for, one in four said they would NEVER consider voting Tory. Looking at the marginal seats that the Conservatives will be targeting, you start to see the problem. Bolton West, Oldham East, Wirral South and Rochdale to name just four are in the Tory cross hairs.

Broadening the appeal of the Conservatives beyond their south eastern heartlands is not going to be easy. There's no such thing as a silver bullet or a quick fix solution to the fact that the Tory vote has been dwindling for decades. But the Tory Party has shown itself over time to be thoroughly capable of adapting to broaden its base.

People often criticise the Chancellor for putting politics above economics. Yesterday's speech shows that you can combine a sensible economic approach - bringing down the deficit, weaning us off our debt addiction, creating the conditions for businesses to thrive - with a nod to one of the most significant political challenges facing the Conservatives - appealing to voters in the urban north.

Nick Faith is head of communications at Policy Exchange

The Anthony Gormley 'Angel of the North' sculpture overlooks the match between Gateshead and Esh Winning on May 2, 2013 in Gateshead. Photograph: Getty Images.

Nick Faith is Director of Communications at Policy Exchange

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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