The Conservative Party's campaign organisation is "very bad" at putting in the long term investment needed to win parliamentary seats in the north of England, one of the party's MPs in the region has said.
Hexham MP Guy Opperman told party activists on Monday that it was no use targeting constituencies in places such as Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool if it could not even get local councillors elected. The Tories do not have a single councillor in those three cities.
"The party machine needs to invest, we have raised lots and lots of money, we don't necessarily invest in councillors, the ground war long-term. We're very bad at that, we need to think long-term," he said.
And he suggested senior party figures needed to think years ahead not days. Opperman said: "One cabinet minister once said to me: 'of course we think long-term, at least two weeks is what we think about'."
Opperman, who was elected in 2010, pointed to the 2012 Liverpool mayoral election, where the Conservative candidate finished seventh, as an example of how the party needed to focus on coming second before it could think about actually winning. "Think of a bad result then double it," he said of the vote which was won by Labour. "I didn't even know there were six others parties standing."
He also joked that Tories were so thin on the ground in the north "we occasionally hold our meetings in a lift". The backbencher was speaking at a conference in central London organised by the modernising Conservative think-tank Bright Blue.
"It's a very lonely, very interesting, business," he said of being a northern Conservative. "But we are changing things." Opperman also advised that northern voters were less interested in the obsessions of Westminster than those on the south. "I have never, ever, had David Cameron, aside from a general election, on any of my leaflets," he said. "Good achievements locally are the most important thing."
"The further north you go the more local you have to be. The number one issue on the doorstep is not Europe or HS2," he added. "The number one issue is potholes."
Opperman also warned that the party "sometimes get the narrative wrong" when talking to nothern voters, including being too critical of trade unions. "I despair when people say unions are terrible, they are not terrible, they are the ultimate Big Society," he said, referencing Cameron's 2010 long forgotten campaign slogan.