A Tory MP has urged David Cameron to include more northern Tories in his government, to counter claims that the party is dominated by white, southern men.
Eric Ollerenshaw, Tory MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to party chairman Baroness Warsi. In a phamplet published on Thursday he worries that the prominent Tories appearing in the media tend to conform to a stereotype which alienates northerners.
The party currently has a quarter of northern seats, but more than three quarters of constituencies in the south east. Ollerenshaw points out that while George Osborne and Nick Clegg are cabinet ministers in northern seats, he questions whether they are really "very northern", although he acknowledges that Eric Pickles is, indeed, very northern.
He also says the party needs to be careful with how the Tories outline their policies towards reforming the public sector - saying phrases like "pen-pushers" risk upsetting people living in the north, who are much more likely to be working for the state than people living nearer to London.
Obviously the PM must select his cabinet and Ministers on basis of talent alone but the fact remains that Ministers are most often the Party’s face on television and voice on radio and the image of a largely southern dominated and focussed party is reinforced.
Instead, we must make the most of the new intake of MPs from the North to help communicate our messages via the media. Tim Montgomery on Conservative Home has argued just this point very convincingly.
Ollerenshaw also urges restraint in language when talking about the trade unions, arguing:
There are more trade union members in the North than in the rest of the UK, probably in part because the public sector makes up more of the northern workforce as well as other traditional for established cultural reasons.
Ministers are set to explore a system of "regional pay bargaining", where payscales would vary across the country to the sometimes large differences in wages in the private sector. Ollerenshaw warns this could make the Tories even less popular:
The emerging issue of possibly introducing regional pay bargaining in the public sector will need to be handled with care. The Government will need to make its case carefully in the face of arguments that such a policy would bring about a brain drain from the North, remove money from the Northern economy and even institutionalise the North-South divide.
Ollerenshaw praises the government for introducing the High Speed 2 project, suggesting it shows the coalition is prepared to put its money where its mouth is on rebalancing the economy and narrowing the north south divide. But he calls for more autonomy for local authorities in the north, and urges those authorities to stop looking to the past and the legacy of previous Tory governments.
The Conservative Party needs to win more seats in the North of England, and defend the ones it won on narrow majorities in 2010, if it is to win an overall majority at the next General Election.
To do this it needs to address its image in the North and how this affects its communication of policies. The Party must also re-examine its campaigning strategy to make inroads into Northern metropolitan areas, which for too long have had little or no Conservative representation on local authorities.
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