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.”
“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