Holding onto blue wall seats is my number one priority, says Tory co-chairman Amanda Milling
Party conference season has been challenging for different reasons in recent times for Amanda Milling, who earlier this year took on the task of leading the Conservative Party as an organisation in her new role as co-chairman.
This time last year she didn't make it to Birmingham for the annual shindig at all, with the task of getting a Brexit deal through the Commons plunging the country into a constitutional crisis which meant many MPs were needed at Westminster.
As deputy chief whip at the time, Ms Milling was busy "trying to keep the show on the road" and her fellow MPs in line in Parliament.
Fast-forward a year and - with a crisis of a different kind facing the nation - the Conservative Party conference of 2020 took place in a purely virtual form because of the pandemic.
Ms Milling, MP for Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, admits that she would have loved to have brought party members together for a conference in Birmingham, the virtual event was "brilliant".
As party co-chairman she opened proceedings last Saturday with an announcement that the Conservatives would be opening a new 'headquarters' in Leeds as part of its efforts to cement the gains made in the North in the 2019 General Election.
The news was particularly "exciting" for Ms Milling, who prior to becoming an MP spent 15 years commuting from Lancashire to Leeds to work in market research, first at a base in Pudsey before moving to what is now the Pinnacle building in Leeds.
And though this is not the first time the Tories have had a base in Leeds - with the most recent closing in 1996, a year before they lost power to Tony Blair and New Labour - she said it was "a real demonstration of our commitment" to the seats won in December.
When she was first appointed to the job in February, a large part of her role was ensuring that the so-called 'red wall' seats formerly held by Labour would stay blue after the next election in 2024.
"But then, within six weeks, we were in lockdown," she tells The Yorkshire Post's podcast, Pod's Own Country. "So I had to try and adapt to being co-chairman working from home. In fact, I find myself quite surprised that I was basically transmitting from my living room conducting lots of these Zoom calls.
"And I have been quite pleased that since lockdown has eased being able to swap zoom for zooming around. So we've been back out on the road, back out visiting all the seats that we gained in December."
With a host of new Tory MPs in previously untouched seats, including nine in Yorkshire and the Humber, she has tried to get round to see them all.
"And that's one of the bits of feedback that I have been picking up, they've been making a real impact," she says. "They've got offices often in very high profile locations on high streets, they've been dealing with enormous amount of casework. And people are really noticing that, and they're really making a mark."
Local elections were cancelled this year, meaning next year's will be a bumper crop across the country. And with lockdown restrictions easing - if only temporarily - she has been out campaigning and delivering leaflets.
"I'm out and about across the country, as far as I can be at the moment, to continue meeting the people and hearing the views of people on the ground because it's always fantastic from my point of view to get out of the Westminster bubble," she says.
"I should say that in my career, before parliament, I worked in market research and conducted focus groups. So my job was all about going out and talking to people and listening to people and gathering up their views and feeding it in.
"So actually, this job feels like I'm building on some of those skills and some of those experiences from my pre parliamentary life."
Among the reported demands by new 'blue wall' MPs keen to keep their jobs for more than five years is that the Conservatives take a position in so-called 'culture war' issues as well more traditional subjects like the economy.
Some are calling for the party to speak out about the recent Black Lives Matter protests or Extinction Rebellion and trans rights in what is described as a 'war on woke'.
Ms Milling says this is one of the issues new MPs feel strongly about, adding that freedom of speech "is such an important value of the Conservative Party, and it is really important that we don't have airbrush our history".
She adds: "We're doing everything we can to hold on to those blue wall seats and that is mynumber one priority in terms of everything that I do in the coming weeks and months and years as we go into 2024.
"The key thing is that, we've got the issues around Coronavirus, but as we recover, we're still firmly committed to our manifesto and the promises that we made and building back better.
"It's about building more houses, those new hospitals and fixing social care, but also critically building more infrastructure."