Northern offensive ‘vital’ for Tories

THE Tories have been warned they need to go on a “Northern offensive” after opinion polls revealed only one in 10 people in the North thinks the party understands their needs well.

Despite a string of gains in West Yorkshire at the last election, the YouGov polling makes sober reading as David Cameron addresses delegates at the party’s conference in Manchester this afternoon when he will urge the nation to adopt “can-do optimism” to steer the UK through troubled times.

Among professionals in the South the Tories enjoy a 20 point lead – but among Northern professionals Labour has a 14 point advantage.

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Among the “white van man” voters who were crucial to Margaret Thatcher’s success, the divide is more stark – a nine point lead for the Tories in the South but a 34 point advantage for Labour in the North. And when asked how the Conservative Party understands and represents people in the North, 65 per cent of Northern voters said they did so badly and only 11 per cent thought they did so well. Even 22 per cent of Tory voters thought the party represented the North badly.

Anthony Wells of YouGov said the results showed David Cameron has “failed miserably” in convincing people the Tories speak up for the whole country, while Neil O’Brien, director of think tank Policy Exchange, warned the party needs to go on a “Northern offensive” to win over voters.

But Tory MPs hit back, insisting winning seats like Keighley, and Elmet and Rothwell showed the party had made a significant breakthrough.

Mr Wells, who analysed the results of several polls carried out last week, said: “The North-South divide for the Tories isn’t new but it’s growing. In opinion polling there’s obvious differences in opinions between North and South. They’re a lot less positive about Cameron, less positive about the Conservative Party, less positive about cuts.”

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David Skelton, deputy director of Policy Exchange, said: “One of the elements of Conservative organisation between 2005 and 2010 was the belief the Conservatives had to do something to gain permission to be listened to.

“That was obviously the case in parts of the South but in parts of the North that permission clearly hasn’t yet been gained.”

He urged the Tories to apologise for the “negative social consequences” of economic policies in the 1980s to get people to listen again, but Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill said it was “complete rubbish” that voters were unwilling to give the Tories a hearing. I’m sure that people who are now represented by Conservative MPs in Yorkshire do realise that the Tories are in touch. We aren’t some sort of strange bunch from south east England.”

Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith also questioned the findings: “Those figures don’t represent what I hear on the ground. We have a Foreign Secretary from North Yorkshire, the Government has put in place a regional growth fund, there are four enterprise zones in Yorkshire and a series of big commitments the Government has made like high-speed rail.”

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Meanwhile, transport bosses criticised London Mayor Boris Johnson’s plea yesterday that cash should be targeted at the capital for the good of the country.

Mr Johnson said: “I say to my friends in the treasury FD Roosevelt had the new deal, I give you the wheel deal. You help us to invest in London transport and we‘ll supply the locomotive of the UK economy.”

But James Lewis, chairman of West Yorkshire transport authority Metro, said: “Rather than supplying the locomotive of the UK economy, as Mr Johnson claims, London is in danger of blowing a valve and jeopardising the recovery.”