What Tory PM hopefuls can learn from North – Sam Gyimah

THE Tory leadership election that’s now under way is an unusual sort of democracy: to become the Prime Minister of a country of 66 million, the candidates have to win the votes of two much smaller groups: first of 314 MPs, then of 120,000 party members.

The next Tory leader needs to embrace the university sector and manufacturing, says Tory MP Sam Gyimah.

The big risk in this process is that candidates pitch a story that looks inwards: to activists rather than floating voters, to the elite rather than to the mass, and to Tory heartlands rather than to Britain as a whole.

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I believe we need a different approach – we need to change the way the country works for the better and we need to do it urgently.

Tory MP Sam Gyimah with David Cameron, the then Prime Minister.

This is why I am working with the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and visiting world-class universities and research centres in Sheffield and Manchester.

Sites like the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre or the University of Manchester’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre can contribute massively to helping Britain boom again. We need to double-down on backing these great institutions and their great ideas to help create high-paid and high-skilled jobs.

Firstly, we need to acknowledge that for too long, governments of every complexion have failed to deliver prosperity for the whole country. I saw this at first hand while I was Universities and Science Minister. I saw how long-term investment in public research, and support for innovative businesses created growth, decent jobs and thriving places. But this investment disproportionately happened in one corner of the country.

Sheffield's Advance Manufacturing Researching Centre.

The historic under-investment in Northern Powerhouse universities, relative to the “Golden Triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge, is a matter of concern to me. In 2016 every region in the Northern Powerhouse had lower spending per head on research and development than the UK average of £505. The figures were £438 in the North West, £258 in Yorkshire and the Humber and £239.50 in the North East. This is despite world-leading research and the N8 collaboration, which brings together the Northern research-intensive universities.

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership has drawn up a far-sighted attempt to reverse this. But so far we’ve pulled our punches. Just as the initiative got going, a change of Prime Minister deprived the project of the strong support it had enjoyed in Westminster. We had some funds for certain projects, like the Strength in Places Fund that I announced as Science Minister, but much more could be done to truly unleash the potential of the whole country.

Last week The Yorkshire Post carried a remarkable higher education news story on its front page: Sheffield, with the AMRC, had overtaken Imperial College London to become the undisputed league champion for engineering research income and investment. This shows just what can be achieved if we empower every corner of the UK.

We need to invest in transport to make our great cities more prosperous and better connected. It’s a disgrace that Leeds, whose proposed Supertram has been mooted since the 1970s but repeatedly delayed and cancelled by different governments, is the biggest city in Europe without a light-rail system. Transport makes it easier to get to work, to move around, and increases prosperity and wages.

We also need to invest in the world-class universities and research centres. Sites like the AMRC and their world-leading work on the future of manufacturing or the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre and their pioneering research into how we can truly utilise the potential of the wonder material graphene make them the go-to places for international investment and collaboration. Britain is simply brilliant at science, research and innovation. Investing in these areas across the North could provide a backbone for regional development and a network of opportunity that everyone can benefit from.

Every Conservative leadership candidate should reflect that this is not just the right thing to do – it’s also in their electoral interest.

In 1900, West Yorkshire had nine Conservative and Unionist MPs. South Yorkshire had five. Today there are five Tory MPs in the West Yorkshire and none in South. If the Conservative Party can deliver prosperity, there will be no no-go areas for it.

For the Conservatives to succeed, we need to win modern Britain – this is about delivering for young and old, North and South, Leavers and Remainers.

This means that we show that we are the party delivering for every single person in the country. Whether they live in Sunderland or Stirling, Blackpool or Basingstoke, Coleraine or Cardiff – they all want the same thing – high-skilled, high-paid jobs that give them a better quality of life, provide for their family and realise their potential.

Sam Gyimah is a Tory MP. He resigned as Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation last November.