Why the North Matters to the Conservatives
Itâ€™s often assumed that the North of England turned against the Conservative Party, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher. This is, in fact, incorrect. In both 1983, and 1987, the Conservatives outpolled Labour across the North of England.
A big swing away from the Conservatives took place in Liverpool, Manchester, and Newcastle, during the Thatcher years, but in other parts of the North, such as Bury, Bolton, Halifax, Bradford, and the Lancashire mill towns, the Conservatives enjoyed a very good run indeed. The real Conservative collapse in the North took place after 1992. With 19 MPs out of 162, the Conservativesâ€™ representation has fallen by two thirds since 1992.
This has of course been mirrored at local council level. The Conservatives only control one Northern Metropolitan Borough, Trafford, although they are now close in Bury and North Tyneside.
This is despite the fact that Labourâ€™s share of local council seats, across the country as a whole, is now back to the level of 1978. Itâ€™s worth noting that in 1978, the Conservatives held 7 out of 10 boroughs in Greater Manchester, as well as authorities like Leeds and Calderdale.
While the Conservatives have recovered a good deal of ground in London, at local council level, and in other parts of the South, progress has been much slower in the North. In May, the Conservatives actually lost ground in several Northern boroughs, such as Bradford , Calderdale and Kirklees. The Party is inching towards control of Bury and North Tyneside, and has done well in some parts of Lancashire, such as West Lancashire , Chorley, and Rossendale, but overall, progress has been very patchy.
This matters, because the North is so full of marginal seats. For the Conservatives to win a working majority, they have to make good the loss of 35 Northern seats since 1992. Indeed, they will have to regain several seats they last won in 1987, to compensate for the loss of seats such as Hazel Grove, Harrogate, and Sheffield Hallam, which are now completely out of reach.
In order to achieve that objective, they must first make far greater progress at local level than they have done so far. One obstacle to that progress is now the British National Party, which actually managed to push the Conservatives into third place in the wards making up Bradford South, Morley & Outwood, and Batley & Spen (Conservative from 1983 to 1997) in May.
Last night saw just three contests, with the incumbent party winning in each case.
Cambridgeshire CC – Somersham and Earith: C 1377, Lib Dem 566, Lab 81. Con hold.
Huntingdonshire DC – Earith: C 703, Lib Dem 295, Lab 45. Con. Hold.
Monmouthshire WCC – Chepstow St Marys: Lib Dem 333, C 159, Lab 85, Plaid Cymru 17.
Sean Fear, a London Tory activist, write a weekly article on PBC