Newly elected MP for Rother Valley Alexander Stafford has warned “there’s no such thing anymore as a safe seat” after an election where traditional Labour seats went blue and majorities were destroyed where constituencies were held.
Tory Mr Stafford was just one of the new recruits for the Conservatives, who swept to victory in nine formerly Labour seats in Yorkshire in December’s General Election.
But far from complacent, despite securing a 6,318 majority, Mr Stafford said the time when politicians took voters for granted had to end.
He said: “One of the things that Boris [Johnson] is talking about is making a One Nation party and now it's great for many reasons.
“We've got lots of MPs up in the North, obviously, but one of the great reasons is now there's a party, in my view, that represents the entire country. There are no 'no go' areas and even in areas where we didn't do so well, the majorities for Labour were absolutely slashed so in the other two Rotherham seats there is now a 2,000 majority for Wentworth and Dearne and 3,400 for Rotherham itself, which makes them marginals, now they're all in play.
“And that means everywhere, frankly, has a chance to elect a Conservative or reject a Conservative, there's no such thing anymore as a safe seat.”
Mr Stafford was acutely aware this could also happen the other way around, pointing to Wimbledon where Conservative Stephen Hammond’s 12,000 majority was cut to just 600.
He said: “Suddenly Wimbledon is a marginal when it used to be rock solid. And I think that's really good for democracy. You want parties not to take you for granted and I think one of the many reasons why I won in Rother Valley and why we took so many seats in the North, is I do believe the Labour Party took so many of these areas for granted.”
He said this was seen clearly in the selection of his Labour opponent, Sophie Wilson, in Rother Valley who he said voters on the doorstep felt was “imposed in by the unions, by Momentum”, but he said the issue of being taken for granted spread further and was one of the drivers behind the Brexit vote.
At the heart of Mr Stafford’s campaign was the belief in community, fostered from refugee grandparents who had to rely on a tight-knight group in Britain to get along.
“My grandfather, on my mother's side, was in a gulag in Siberia. He was Polish Ukrainian when the Soviets came over in 1939 and they took a lot of people over to Siberia and they took him in a Siberian camp for a few years and then when Nazis invaded Russia,and the Soviet Union joined the ally side by submission, officers went round to all the gulags and said: ‘Who here isn't Russian? Who's Ukrainian or Polish or Belarusian, and wants to fight?’
“And my grandfather, even though he was underage, I think he was 13 or something at the time, obviously volunteered, he wanted to get out. So the British officer said here's your pass you're free to go, we'll see you in Tehran.
"And they made it overland by themselves from Siberia to Tehran, and that was the meeting point, and then the Army shipped them out to train and fight.”
When Mr Stafford’s grandfather died around 10 years ago, it was due to an infection in a wound he had sustained in the gulag. But after the Second World War was over, unable to return home, he came to the UK.
Mr Stafford said: “They needed them for the time to fight the war then not after that, so he came to England, and met my grandmother who was also a refugee. She was Polish East German and likewise same situation, behind the Iron Curtain things were bad but she worked on an American army base in that part of the world and got out that way.”
He said: “They didn't speak any English so they literally had nothing. And my mum was born in this displaced persons refugee camp. And really they built up everything they had, my grandparents worked hard, my mother worked very hard got a good education, worked hard, really, from nothing.
“And it was really the British community that really gave them everything gave them the opportunities to succeed, the opportunity to go to good schools. And that was the ethos my parents always instilled in me, that you have to give back, you're not here by yourself, there is a wider community.
“And it's important not just to be so blinkered and shut your eyes to the wider society, you have to be, you should be embedded with it because you need to help people and people to help you. My parents and my grandparents only got the opportunities because they were part of that community, if they were by themselves, they wouldn't have anything.”
Now, he said, the challenge was to prove to Labour voters who had lent their votes to the Tories in the North that it had been worth their time.
He said: “This is a great opportunity, and also a great opportunity to demonstrate to communities that we represent that a Conservative Government is not only their friend, it will help people and make their lives better.”
He said: “I think more and more people in the North of England are realising that we represent those that work hard, care about their families, care about their country and the party gives people the opportunity, people always want to better their lives and better their children's lives and that's how it should be, every generation needs to be better, succeed more than the last generation, that's progress and that's what every politician I know wants.”
He added: “No one should be left behind, and a lot of areas, including the North have been left behind and the voices ignored and take it for granted. And I do believe we've seen that with so many more northern Conservative MPs that will actually now move forward.”