From a Batley council estate to serving under Boris Johnson - meet one of the new Yorkshire Tory MPs who helped dismantle the Red Wall

Brought up on a Batley council estate, one of the new intake of Conservative MPs is making his way in the corridors of power after helping Boris Johnson breach the so-called Red Wall. Geraldine Scott reports.

He may have stood for election six times and lost every single time to Labour, but when Tory Mark Eastwood decided not to stand in a local council ward and instead took on Labour at a national level, he helped the Conservatives towards crumbling the Red Wall in December’s General Election.

Mr Eastwood, 48, is no stranger to politics having spent many years fighting to take the ward of East Dewsbury from Labour and heading up the Dewsbury Conservative Association.

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“It was actually Simon Reevell, who was the previous MP [from 2010 to 2015], he was the parliamentary candidate and was having a street stall in Dewsbury town centre,” he said. “I went up to his street stall and said 'would you like some help?' and it's all progressed from there.”

New Conservative MP for Dewsbury Mark Eastwood. Photo: James Hardisty

Since he has been involved in tackling issues around planning - with real concerns around where Kirklees Council has chosen to develop homes - and the scandal of the Northern rail franchise which he called “unacceptable”.

Mr Eastwood had an upbringing not often associated with a Tory MP.

“I was actually brought up in Dewsbury, Thornhill Lees, up until the age of six,” he said.

“Then I moved to neighbouring Batley, and so until the age of 17 lived on Wilton Estate, which is a council estate opposite Wilton Park in Batley itself. So it had its own issues, we were burgled quite a lot, it's quite a deprived area.

New Conservative MP for Dewsbury Mark Eastwood. Photo: James Hardisty

“I understand that there's been some investment made on the estate and it's quite nice now but it gives you good grounding, I suppose I've got a humble background.”

He joined the Conservatives early, signing up to the party’s youth wing as a 17-year-old at the then Batley Boys High School.

And getting young people involved in the party has become a passion of his.

“I'm trying to encourage younger people to get involved. Before I became parliamentary candidate, and when I was parliamentary candidate, I did a presentation to politics students at Greenhead College in Huddersfield.

New Conservative MP for Dewsbury Mark Eastwood. Photo: James Hardisty

“And actually people want to engage with a politician, the education system has a reputation for being slightly left wing - in fact, the teacher is a member of the Labour Party, he's a really good friend of mine and he's from Dewsbury, he invited me along - and it was good to get the debate going.

“As a result of that, we had a couple of two - or three actually - join the Conservative Party.”

He’s also been interested in getting more ethnic minorities in the party, but when he raised the question with Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the leadership race, it led to him coming under criticism.

“I got a bit of abuse for that and got accused of being a traitor to the British flag,” he said.

It paints a difficult tightrope to walk for an MP who describes himself as a “moderate, compassionate Conservative” who worked on local Vote Leave campaigns but also says the majority of his friends are Labour supporters.

“So I've had abuse from some of the rightwingers and I've had a fair amount of abuse from the left which suits me fine,” he said. “Because if that side of the right and that side of the left are attacking me, it means I'm right down in the centre on the right.”

However he accepted any attention he had was dwarfed by that experienced by his Labour opponent Paula Sherriff, who was the victim of multiple death and rape threats.

He said: “I've known Paula since she was there in 2015. To be fair to her, we never had a bad word, during the general election campaign we bumped into each other, and fair play to Paula.

“I actually think she was an effective MP and she did some good things, WH Smith [Ms Sherriff convinced the store to reduce its hospital shop prices], standing up for women's rights, that kind of thing. So I had a lot of respect for her, and I think we had a mutual respect.”

So if Ms Sherriff was such an effective and popular MP, why did he take the seat?

“This is no disrespect to Dewsbury east, south and west, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale, but the key to winning Dewsbury the constituency was always Dewsbury the town.

“You've got council estate areas, what some people might class as say white working class areas, but you also have a big asian Muslim population as well. And, you know, and I've worked with all communities, I'm from a council estate, you know, same background.”

“So you had Brexit, it was a 57 per cent Leave area. I actually campaigned in Vote Leave, I helped run the Dewsbury and Batley constituency campaign. So it was a very prominent issue.

“And Jeremy Corbyn as well. I don't think that Jeremy Corbyn really connects, he's linked to that North London Metropolitan background, people were saying they can't relate.Whereas actually they could with Boris Johnson.”

Asked why he felt people in Dewsbury could relate more to Mr Johnson, who with his Eton education and significant private wealth was hardly the poster boy of the northern working class, Mr Eastwood said: “But he's very affable and he's got charisma, and he’s human and that came across a lot on the doorstep.”

That said, he also felt - and maybe hoped - that many of his vote came for him personally, as he was aware the issue of Brexit and the Labour leader would not be there to bolster him in 2025.

“I don’t think we’ve reached the high water mark yet.

“Obviously because I've been involved in so many issues in Dewsbury, I'd like to think that partly the reason we won is my profile as well. In Dewsbury, if you stand up for people and help solve the problems, then you've a good chance as an incumbent, you will be reelected.

“But I'm under no illusion of the task in front of me, it's a big task. And I'm ready for the challenge.

“I think you know the policies that we came out with in the manifesto, the 20,000 extra police, extra nurses, you know all these things. The big one in Dewsbury is the Town's Fund, which would allow up to £25m worth of investment based on a bid.

“These are the things that really appealed to people and I think as long as we keep coming up with policies that help people, we will win.”

Now, as he focuses on getting his office set up there are two key areas Mr Eastwood wants to focus on straight away - planning and the railways.

“There is a huge issue about Northern rail, the services at the moment include totally inadequate cancellations [...] it's people's livelihoods. It's become such a bad situation, I've taken over the Prime Minister's office.

“My view on this is, I don't care if the train services are publicly or privately owned. I just want the services the community deserves to work on time.”

And he also had an axe to grind with Kirklees Council. He said: “Personally I don't think the Kirklees planning department is fit for purpose. I've just resigned as the leader of the Chidswell Action Group and we've been fighting to protect greenbelt at Chidswell which is in Dewsbury near Shaw Cross.

“But I also had dealings with other action groups within the constituency and some of the sites that they [the council] appear to be putting forward at the moment, again, in my opinion, I'm not a planner, are not viable mainly due to flooding risk.

“I understand that the council have got the housing targets and you have a certain time to achieve them, but just pushing through planning applications for the sake of it, without considering what implications it could mean in the long term from a flooding point of view is the wrong way of going about it.”

He was also keen to ensure the Town’s Fund money was not spent on “vanity projects” by “the same tired old faces who purport to represent Dewsbury”.

He added: “We need to make sure it makes a real improvement to the town.”

Weeks on from the election he described his time in the corridors of power already as “surreal”.

“I'm married, two children, one at the University of Huddersfield, one the University of Leeds, before the election I was a senior manager for a manufacturer that supplies furniture to the NHS, care homes, sheltered housing schemes, so to move from that position to becoming a Member of Parliament, it was quite surreal.

“The proudest moment I had was I had my family down for the swearing in ceremony. They were in the gallery. So I walked up there and shook hands with the clerks, signed in, did my swearing in, and waved to my family. I went up to [House of Commons Speaker] Sir Lindsay Hoyle who has been so helpful to us all, he's a real gent, and he actually waved to my family too.”

Looking ahead he was keen to start working and building up the constituency. He said: “Once [setting up his office] is done, it's all systems go, I'll be going to see a lot of organisations, community groups, and really trying to help solve people's problems which is really what an MP’s job is all about.”