Why Tories Need to Offer the North more than Brexit | Sarah Stook

We know polls are usually bull. Washington Post had a 95% certainty that Hillary Clinton would win the Presidency only a few days before the 2016 election. Nearly every poll had Remain winning comfortably in the EU Referendum. They’re not known for their accuracy.

Still, many polls have the Conservatives primed to win an ample majority next week. In some individual constituencies that have been Labour for decades- or never even Tory- the party is expected to make gains. Places like these- Great Grimsby, Scunthorpe and Bishop Auckland for example- are ones that the Tories would love to win. It would provide a huge dent in Labour’s ego, especially considering these are places considered working class places that bleed Labour red.

There seems to be one reason for this- Brexit. Many of the target seats saw a majority vote Leave in 2016, often in very high numbers. Labour’s position has more flip flops than an Australian beach in the height of summer. The Lib Dems actively want Brexit to end. Whilst the Brexit Party is gaining momentum, especially with Labour voters who’d rather die than vote Tory, they are not likely to win any seats. Some see it as vote splitting; others just think their momentum will die down. This leads to one route- the Tories. Boris Johnson seems more popular amongst non-Tories than his predecessors ever were, especially since he wants to get on with Brexit.

Brexit will, hopefully, be done and dusted one day. It won’t be the political talking point for much longer. Other issues, however, exist.

The North is a bit of a grey area. Most Londoners would define it as somewhere outside of the M25 or anywhere north of the Watford Gap. Some would put Sheffield as the middle zone, whilst others would basically say anything upwards of Newcastle.

Still, it’s definitely not London. Whilst investment pours into the capital, the North is sort of an economic dry zone. Londoners see £402 more per head spent on them on transport than the northern regions. More houses were built in London than in the entire ‘Northern Powerhouse’ cities combined last year. Yes, there is a case of supply and demand- London is the capital and economic powerhouse, ergo people will want to flock there. Still, investment into London and the South East at the expense of other areas creates a power vacuum.

When you look at the media, it’s London centric. Question Time tends to be in the capital and down south. Yes, it’s easier for MPs to get to, but a lot of MPs actually have constituencies outside of the M25. Politicians will come up north to get headlines or during an election, holding up a fish, working in a factory or smiling in a cancer ward.

If we get back on track, we’ll remember that there is an election in less than a week. As stated before, the Tories are supposed to sweep red seats and break the Labour wall as a result of Brexit. If that happens and the Tories win a majority, we’ll hopefully see Brexit actually occur.

Ok, so Brexit happens and we have enough (hopefully) four or so years before the next election. The Tories have won all these new Northern seats, some of which they had never held before. The voters got their wish, so everyone should be happy. The thing is, the Tories have to retain these seats. They cannot use Brexit alone in order to guarantee victories.

Here are several ways the Tories can keep the North:

  1. Investment

The North is a place that sees little investment, especially compared to London and the South East. Many northern areas are in a state of post-industrial decline and have been for many years. Fishing and steel used to be the lifeblood of many towns, but they have not seen that in decades. We need to see trade deals struck and government contracts focus on the North. One example is the Grimsby Town Deal, something the Tories are pushing for the formerly thriving fishing docks.

It is unfair that the North is not seen as worth the investment. Keeping the North poor at the expense of other places is wrong. We need the unemployed to get worthwhile jobs as opposed to worrying about secure employment or benefits. The Tories cannot let these towns slip through the net. Considering the wealth gap between the North and South, it’s only fair that they prove that they are the party of aspiration.

 

  1. Infrastructure

Anyone who has been on a train in the North knows what a pain they are. You get on old train carriages from the 80s that were supposed to be temporary solutions. The seats look like old bus benches, there is no WiFi or charging points. Contrast this to the nice trains that go from the South, with modern infrastructure.

Whilst many do, admittedly, commute into London from outer areas, commuters do exist outside of the M25. Nobody likes late trains that are packed with people. Whilst trains in London get things like WiFi and air conditioning, the rest of us get nothing. These Thatcher era ‘Pacer’ trains need an upgrade, as well as more routes so that it is easier to travel.

One 2017 Institute for Public Policy Research found that half of all transport infrastructure spending goes on London- make of that what you will.

 

  1. Poverty

People live in poverty in the UK, it’s that simple. When one looks at the most deprived areas of the UK, they will see that many are in the North. People do live on the breadline for a variety of reasons, not least that there are no permanent jobs. Universal Credit has been extremely controversial and whilst some will argue its merits, it is clear that it has not been thought out properly.

The Tories need to life people out of poverty. Welfare reform that makes it stricter for those who don’t really need it is fair, but it has to be reformed so people aren’t waiting. Investment means more people in work, which is never a bad thing. Yes, the government should not be looking after everyone all the time, but we live in a society with welfare which means we must do something for it. Work is a good way out of it, but we must look at factors such as lack of employment, disability and being a carer.

One example that uses children is the info that shows more children in the North and Midlands claim free school meals than their southern counterparts.

 

  1. Education

Children in the North get a lesser education than their southern counterparts. This is often linked to deprivation- as stated above, more children in the North use free school meals and those in deprived areas are more likely to be educated in schools rated ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate.’ There is a bigger gap between students on free school meals and those who aren’t in the North than in other areas. They are also less likely to go on to higher education.

Another interesting piece of information is that of school funding, which the Tories have pledged to increase. In shocking news, London has the highest per head funding per pupil. Funding does have different factors behind it, such as the cost of living in that area and if the pupil has ESL. There is a £900 difference between pupils in the North and in London, that gap being £1,300 for secondary schools. Interestingly, the North does otherwise get more funding than some urban Southern places- for example, Bradford gets more than Plymouth.

Education needs a massive shake up. Students in the North deserve the same opportunities as others. Grammar schools are a great way to do this, but we must factor in wealthy parents getting tutors for their children. Fair funding is also essential. The Tories also need to encourage teachers to work in northern schools, as they do need to encourage workers to move up North in general. Making schools more attractive is a great way to do that.

 

  1. Don’t just focus on cities

The Northern Powerhouse, former Chancellor George Osborne’s baby, was created to provide exactly what it says on the tin. Unfortunately, it had the obvious side effect of focusing on the cities. Even that failed, but the point remains that the focus was mainly on Manchester, with Leeds and Sheffield getting a look in.

Yes, cities are important. Still, a lot of people actually don’t live in urban areas and if we look at the most deprived areas, many are outside cities. It’s easier for government ministers to go to cities than it is for them to go to Scunthorpe, as it makes for better press and has more for them to do. Unfortunately for them, the world doesn’t revolve around cities.

The Tories do have problems with the urban vote and that needs to be sorted, but that is a separate issue. The Northern Powerhouse needs infrastrure change in rural train stations, better broadband in non-cities and fixed roads between towns. If there is to be a ‘Northern Powerhouse,’ the Tories need to do better than go to the one city in the North that they can actually name.

 

The North is great, but government seems to hate it. If they are to advance their position and the lives of millions, they cannot just Brexit as an excuse to vote for them. They need to show that Labour hasn’t used its decades in power for good, instead taking advantage of the tribal vote in the North. Tories need to admit that they have not focused on the North as a result of less than favourable voting patterns and promise that they will change.

Readers of The Mallard are generally on the right. I hope they all understand that even though a Tory government is light years better than a Labour one, it is only fair we recognise shortcomings and focus on those fortunate not to live in London.

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