Former 'Red Wall' must be held on to, Conservative Party chairwoman says in Yorkshire visit

Holding on to former Red Wall seats is a key priority for the Conservatives, the party’s chairwoman has said.

Speaking during a visit to Yorkshire on Friday, Amanda Milling said a major part of her role, which she took up in February, would be working with new Conservative MPs who had been elected in December to make sure they were able to cling on to their seats when the next election came in 2024.

Ms Milling, who visited Scunthorpe, Grimsby, and Penistone and Stocksbridge on Friday, said: “One of the things we need to make sure of is we really secure our presence and help these new MPs build their presence in their seats.”

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Nine Yorkshire seats swapped from Labour to the Tories in the 2019 election - some for the first time in their history - and Ms Milling said she was conscious the votes that caused that were lent to the party and not guaranteed the next time around.

Conservative Party Chairwoman Amanda Milling. Photo: PAConservative Party Chairwoman Amanda Milling. Photo: PA
Conservative Party Chairwoman Amanda Milling. Photo: PA

“It's also about understanding their priorities and what they’re looking to deliver as MPs, which will make a difference to that constituency,” she said. “And that goes back to that levelling up agenda, put coronavirus aside and we still need to deliver on our manifesto commitments.”

Pushed on whether the promises made by Conservatives on the doorstep still stood despite coronavirus, Ms Milling said: “In order to come out of coronavirus, and ensure that we don't end up with communities being left behind, it's so important that we continue with that levelling up agenda, and so we've got to do things on the ground.”

Her comments came as the South Yorkshire devolution deal was set to be laid before Parliament today [Monday], Ms Milling said devolution was an important part of that agenda.

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However, the image of a Conservative Party in touch with on the ground voters was under threat by a scandal Labour dubbed “cash for favours”.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick is fighting to keep his job after documents revealed the extent of the contact between himself and wealthy developer Richard Desmond before the Cabinet minister signed off on Mr Desmond’s 1,500-home Westferry Printworks scheme in east London.

Last week Business minister Nadhim Zahawi defended Mr Jenrick and suggested anyone attending Tory fundraising events could get similar access to politicians as Mr Desmond did.

The pair exchanged text messages following a meeting at a Conservative Party event in November, and officials in Mr Jenrick’s department described him as being “insistent” that the project be given the green light before a new levy added millions to the cost.

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Under pressure to explain why a wealthy businessman could have such access, Mr Zahawi indicated that anybody could deploy similar tactics.

“If people go to a fundraiser in their local area, in Doncaster (for example), for the Conservative Party, they will be sitting next to MPs and other people in their local authorities and can interact with different parts of the authority,” he said.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post Ms Milling said: “I think the point on that is, take an example today, I’m out and about in the community, there are three communities I’ve visited today.”

Pushed on whether that was the same level of access given to Mr Desmond, Ms Milling said: “There are lots of different ways to reach out and we've got ministers across the country all the time.”

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Ms Milling said another of her priorities was to increase the number of different groups the party could reach, including bringing more women on board.

She pointed to Miriam Cates, Lia Nici, and Holly Mumby-Croft in the constituencies she visited as examples.

“When I was appointed as co-chair of the party I was keen to reach out to communities but also reach out to different groups whether that was women, or BAME groups,” she said.

And she hoped now, with a four year stretch before any General Election, she would be able to work on that more.

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“Let’s be honest,” she said. “For the last four years we’ve been five weeks away from a General Election, we haven't really been able to kind of go ‘right, let's review what we're doing’.

She said now the party could “take a step back and look at what more we can do”.