I AM often asked how the Conservative Party might gain stronger levels of representation across the North of England. Will the so-called Northern Powerhouse agenda result in greater Conservative support, particularly across our major cities of the North?
Recently these very same questions have again come my way – not least because I was standing as the Conservative Parliamentary candidate in the Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough by-election. An election not unexpectedly won decisively by the Labour candidate Gill Furniss, the constituency is of course one of the party’s safest seats, having repeatedly returned a Labour victory since 1935.
It was readily apparent throughout this by-election campaign – knocking on doors in this predominantly working class area – that there was no shortage of support for myself as Conservative candidate. Local people were very ready to discuss the issues of the day with me – indeed any such discussion would almost always be prefaced by an element of shock from the resident to see a candidate on their doorstep – not least a Conservative candidate.
It was also very clear from the campaign that even self-confessed life-long Labour supporters are not enamoured with their new leader Jeremy Corbyn. While firmly disagreeing with some of the points that I put forward on the doorstep Labour voters were never hostile towards my views, as particularly hard left activists of the Momentum Movement would like you to believe.
I suppose Labour disillusionment is best reflected in the way the party’s vote share dropped by nearly nine per cent in last week’s Sheffield-wide local elections. A quite dramatic local decline. In contrast, the Conservative vote share across the city increased by a percentage point – admittedly from a low base – but an increase nevertheless.
None of the above of course deflects from the fact that Conservatives here in Yorkshire and the Humber, and across the North, still have much to do. We are not helped by the fact that where we do not return local councillors – as here in Sheffield – we have a further limited local activist base on which to build.
I have long argued that Conservatives should nationally support at the local level a Single Transferable Vote (STV) voting system – a proportional method which would return at least seven Conservative councillors to Sheffield City Council and thus give Tories here the voice they democratically deserve.
But it is not just enough to say the voting system needs to be changed – and then everything will be all right. It will not. There is an old campaigning adage: “Where we work, we win”. It is a mantra which I suppose all parties subscribe to.
Over the years, I have seen on many occasions Conservatives win on the back of such an approach – often in areas where you might think it absolutely impossible. You only have to look at Ruth Davidson’s Scottish success last week – where we work, we win. So we need to get out and about, work hard to earn the trust of local people – voters will no doubt place their trust in our campaigners if they see dedicated hard work and genuine passion and commitment for their local area.
Last year the party founded the Conservative Trade Unionists (CTU). Our history shows that Conservatives have always been the party for working people.
The CTU’s mission is to reach out to all workers and trade unionists across the country. In so doing, it will be our radical policy offer aimed at improving employment rights, tackling low pay and helping to raise productivity and employment satisfaction which I know to be the best approach to recovering support in Northern heartlands.
Rule one of being a Conservative is that it’s not where you’ve come from that counts but where you are going to in life. By focusing steadfastly on policies which improve opportunity and quality of life for all hard working people in our country – especially here in the North – we will deliver success for Conservatives and ultimately win what I call the “Coalfield Challenge” we face today.
I am not saying it will be easy. As my by-election result last week proves, it will not. But it is achievable and with our aspirational and worker-focused policy platform – coupled to dedicated and continuous campaigning effort – I know Conservatives here in the North will prevail. Perhaps even here in Sheffield.
Dr Spencer Pitfield OBE was the Conservative candidate in last week’s Sheffield Brightside & Hillsborough by-election, coming foruth with 1,267 votes. He is also director of Conservative Trade Unionists - www.toryworkers.co.uk