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Northern Pride #003: The Conservatives and the North, a long history by Sean Williamson

Sean is 18 years old and is a budding lawyer. He is also the Deputy Chairman of North Durham Conservatives. He gives a historical view of the Conservatives below.

I first started to support the Conservative Party shortly before the 2015 General Election campaign as I took an interest in politics and listened to all of the debates and arguments, and felt the Conservatives offered the best opportunities for the country. As part of my A-Level studies, I undertook an in-depth thesis into the relationship between the Trades Unions and the economy in the 1970/80s alongside analysing the effect Thatcher had in curtailing the powers of the Unions. After conducting thorough research, I came to the conclusion that the likes of Arthur Scargill’s NUM were far too influential both politically and economically, as they brought down Heath’s government and caused diabolical economic disruption through secondary picketing.

This increased my support for the Party and led me to joining the Conservative Party in 2017 and within a year I was elected Deputy Chairman of North Durham Conservative Association. I support the Conservative cause because I realised that from the age of 14/15, I identified with the values and beliefs of the Party. These beliefs and values entailed upholding basic freedoms, having a balanced, low tax economy that encourages entrepreneurship and believing in a strong defence and foreign policy. Despite living with a Labour voting father within a highly-deprived coal mining town in the North East of England, the Labour Party has never appealed to me. This is due to their weak leadership, dire economic policies based on high public spending and high taxation along with the extremes stances taken by a large proportion of the shadow cabinet.

Pictured, Jeremy Corbyn and keen hard-left ally Laura Pidcock

In my view, the Conservative Party is portrayed by Northerners as a typical middle/upper-class establishment party who have never supported the working-classes of the North. This can be seen with the historically poor record the Conservatives hold when it comes to performing in General Elections in the North, as Labour have and continue to dominate regions such as the North-East. One prime example would be the North-West Durham Constituency (home to Corbynista Laura Pidcock), which has been held by Labour for just under 70 years.

This shows that there simply hasn’t been a desertion of support for the Conservatives overnight, but this has been a long-term issue in which the Conservatives have failed to come to terms with. In addition, the perspective that the Conservative Party lack compassion towards the working-classes strengthened after the Thatcher government’s huge de-industrialisation process which took place during the 1980s. Communities such as Consett, (a small town in Durham) were heavily reliant on employment within the heavy industry sector. Thus, de-industrialisation shattered communities substantially as unemployment rose rapidly whilst incomes became limited, and therefore damaged the prospects of ballot box success for the Conservatives across the North. Arguably, the impacts of these closures are still felt in some areas today and as a result of this, is still used as a reason to not vote Conservative. Perhaps, we should have shown the fact that actually 211 mines were closed between 1965-1970 under Labour’s Wilson, whilst 154 mines were closed under Thatcher’s 11-year premiership. However, it is pointless to debate the events which occurred over 30/40 years ago, the Conservative Party must focus on what it will do now to gain the support of the North.

There are numerous reasons for the lack of support from young people in the North for the Conservatives. One reason being the Labour Party’s impressive ability to present a faux image that they are naturally the party of the working-classes, when in reality their shadow cabinet include middle-class gerontocrats who send their children off to private schools. This class-based ideological image which the Labour Party portray has clearly been successful as they dominate regions such as the North-East which has been a Labour heartland for a very long time. Alongside this, there is a lack of support from young people for the Conservatives due to parenting. I live in a highly-deprived former coal mining town in Durham, and I have encountered many times where I hear the rhetoric of “I vote Labour because my family has always voted Labour”.

Esther McVey MP's brand of Blue Collar Conservatism has started to gain traction in Northern areas of England - could this be a good place to start?

This attitude reveals how young people in the North lack a balanced political upbringing within their homes. This disadvantage which young Northerners are placed in by parents is exacerbated further by the lack of political impartiality within the education system. I have seen this issue first hand where teachers blatantly drive a left-wing narrative into students, from typical slogans such as “The Tories make the rich richer and the poor poorer” to teachers openly sympathising with the aims of the Bolsheviks.

My secondary school and sixth form invited local Labour MP Laura Pidcock to talk to a group of students. In this discussion she talked about how the capitalism system needs to change and ranted on about how the ruling class apparently dominate society along with the power struggle between Parliament and the working-classes. However, the school failed to remain politically impartial, as they should have afterwards invited a centrist/centre-right speaker to provide an alternative viewpoint in order to create a fair balance to students. Therefore, schools are essentially placing students into a position where they are far more likely to vote Labour and disregard the possibility of voting for other political parties. It is without doubt, that the lack of political impartiality within schools and universities has contributed to the continuous renewal of support for Labour at every General Election in the North. Clearly more must be done in order to curtail this issue to give more young people the opportunity to hear our side of the argument and to encourage more recruitment of Young Conservatives.

In order to increase the number of Young Conservatives from the North, CCHQ and Associations should seek to organise more events in the North. This can be from organising more social gatherings suited for young people, challenging university vice-chancellors to take more action on issues such as political impartiality and increasing our presence online through social media campaigns/adverts. Also, usually the Conservative Conference annually takes place during the final week of September, the week where the majority of students go to university, making it inaccessible to them. CCHQ should bear this in mind. The Conservative government simply does not do enough for the North, especially for young people.

If the Conservative Party is serious about reclaiming the North, they should seek to rectify the situation concerning Brexit immediately and have more radical policies in order to attract younger people. This can be done through incentives such as cutting student loan interest rates, yet there should be a more aggressive approach to counter act Labour’s giveaway on student fees, such as pointing out Labour’s economic policy that will result in high unemployment and high taxation which will massively impact upon university graduates.

In recent years the Conservative Party has attempted to decrease the gap between the North and South, most notably through the Northern Powerhouse project. In all honesty, if I went around my local area and asked people whether they think the Northern Powerhouse has been a success, they would probably reply “what is it?”. That is the reality of how politically disconnected some regions in the North are. HS2 may be viewed as a perfect opportunity to narrow the division between the North and South, however with spiralling costs and how time consuming the project is becoming- will it be worthwhile and make a vast difference to the North-South divide? Perhaps pumping investment into Northern regions may be a better alternative?

Sean Williamson

Northern Pride is a short series engaging with young northern Blue Beyond members, analysts and exec members.