Tom Richmond: Why David Cameron needs to come out fighting for the North

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NOW the silent majority – the so-called ‘shy Tories’ – have spoken, what does the general election result say about the future of Britain after David Cameron was given a mandate to form a Conservative majority government?

Even though this was the one scenario which had not been forecast, it was a gratifying reminder that this is still an intrinsically conservative country that rewards aspiration, personal responsibility and desires a smaller, less intrusive state apparatus.

This was reflected in the scale of the Labour defeat as Mr Cameron defied political gravity and actually increased his party’s tally of MPs and share of the national vote.

After all, Labour’s losses – a direct consequence of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls being pre-occupied with redistributing wealth rather than building a new era of prosperity – were so great that the party, events withstanding, faces a decade-long struggle before it is even in a position to win another general election.

As for the Liberal Democrats, they’re likely to be on the margins of politics for even longer, even though their losses can be attributed to not just a reaffirmation of ‘small c’ conservativism but their libertarian approach being at odds with self-evident concerns over immigration and national security.

Of course, it is not going to be easy for Mr Cameron. His Commons majority of 12 is a slender one and his in-tray could not be more invidious – Scottish nationalism and its consequences for the English regions, a referendum on the European Union, identifying £12bn of welfare cuts and fulfilling those manifesto pledges that the Tories did not expect to implement.

Yet this convulsion, which will be played out against unhelpful speculation over the future Tory leadership after Mr Cameron revealed that he would not seek a third term, should not detract from the historic opportunity that the Prime Minister has earned to reassert the Conservatives as the natural party of government for a generation.

Taking Scotland out of the equation, Britain’s shire counties voted for the continuation of change, rather than a volte-face on the economy, and the position of the 331 Conservative MP is underpinned by the sweeping gains that the Tories made in the local elections – they gained an additional 30 councils, and 497 councillors, to take their local government base to 156 town halls and 5,185 elected representatives.

But there is one exception – the North. The fact that Yorkshire saw the biggest shock of the election, the defeat of Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood by the unheralded and under-estimated Andrea Jenkyns, should not mask the fact that the swing to the Conservatives locally was miniscule.

Conversely, Yorkshire and the North also represents the greatest opportunity for Mr Cameron after the election of a generation of dynamic MPs steeped in business and the real world. Having promised to govern as a One Nation leader, the Prime Minister should now take the opportunity to accelerate the implementation of his Northern Powerhouse strategy to demonstrate why Conservativism – and not Socialism – is in the best interests of those cities, like Sheffield, Leeds, Wakefield, Hull and Bradford, where the word ‘Tory’ is still toxic.

All are home to families where ‘benefits’ have been allowed to become a way of life and it is imperative that economic growth in the North outstrips the rest of the UK for the duration of this Parliament – the promise that Mr Cameron made in the aftermath of the BBC Question Time special in Leeds when marketing boss Catherine Shuttleworth did so much to seal Labour’s fate with her indignant remarks over Mr Miliband’s failure to sack his economically illiterate Shadow Chancellor.

What would I do? Rather than maintain the current number of Whitehall departments and ministers,
I’d look to the PM to scale back the number of ministries to ensure a greater focus on implementing economic reforms and infrastructure improvements that will last a generation. Though Mr Cameron said in one interview that he wanted every Minister to champion Yorkshire, rather than appointing a specific individual tospeak up for the white rose county, I think a big-hitter should be given specific responsibility for implementing the Northern Powerhouse blueprint and high-speed rail.

It would reiterate his desire to govern as ‘One Nation’ – and show that the Government recognises that this region is as important to the United Kingdom’s future prosperity as Scotland. For, if he does use the general election result as a springboard to advance the North and unite the political-centre right, Britain can emerge from a decade of austerity with its best days still to come. It is now up to David Cameron to advance Thursday’s quiet revolution and speak up for all those who put their faith in him so they, too, can be proud of an energising brand of modern, compassionate Conservatism which rewards endeavour and protects the most vulnerable.