Conservatives could keep northern seats like Rother Valley for decades if they boost transport links and vocational skills, says William Hague
The former Tory leader, who was born in Rotherham but was MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, said the victory for Conservative Alexander Stafford in Rother Valley last week, replacing veteran Labour MP Sir Kevin Barron, was "the ultimate definition of a new political landscape".
The constituency, made up of the former mining villages round Rotherham, had voted Labour since 1918 but was won by Mr Stafford by more than 6,000 votes over Labour candidate Sophie Wilson.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Lord Hague said he was "brought up and cut my political teeth" in the area, which at the time "was almost a Tory-free zone, with a 32,000 Labour majority that was the largest in the whole of Britain".
He wrote: "The reason I was swiftly elected chairman of the local Young Conservatives was that no one else turned up at the annual meeting."
Lord Hague said that to keep the seat in five years time, "Conservatives have to be able to show that they are achieving the revival of towns in the North, as in many other places that have felt neglected, that Labour failed to bring about".
He said the plans drawn up by Transport for the North, including the £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail programme connecting the big cities of the North, should be "adopted wholesale" by the Cabinet.
But he said: "There is a second crucial ingredient of boosting the opportunities and success of regions: the provision of skills. Alongside investing capital in infrastructure, we need the growth of human capital.
"Your problem, if you’re sitting in Rotherham, is not just that you can’t travel quickly to an international business based in Manchester. It is also that you probably don’t have the right expertise when you get there."
He added: "British industry complains continually of shortages of technical and digital skills. And if we are going to build so much infrastructure, tens of thousand of additional people with construction skills will be needed.
"A decisive change in our woeful record of promoting vocational skills, both for young people and adults who need retraining, is the vital ingredient for rescuing millions of people from being left behind by technological change."
Lord Hague wrote that in the last five years, the Conservatives had made great progress on reading ability in English schools.
He said: "If this Conservative administration can achieve a comparable step change in the indispensable skills of today’s global economy, especially for the people of the North and Midlands, it can attain a vast economic and political prize.
"Britain would be much better equipped for the post-Brexit competitive world. The working lives of millions could be far more productive and fulfilling. And in another 30 years there would still be a Conservative MP for Rother Valley."