— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) April 12, 2013
Henry G Manson on the Mrs. Thatcher aftermath
One of the Conservative Partyâ€™s secret weapons to winning more votes in the North of England is a young man called David Skelton. Skelton is from the North East and has an impeccable feel for the North in a way few Conservative strategists do. This was demonstrated in an article for Labour List last year explaining why Ed Miliband was right to speak at the Durham Minersâ€™ Gala, while he was being attacked by the Tory frontbench for doing so. He argued:
â€˜Politicians like talking about community. I doubt that they will find many better examples of communities pulling together in celebration of their communities and in memory of some of the most severe adversity than the pit villages of the North East of England. Politicians like talking about re-engaging with ordinary people but it is the sad truth that the Minersâ€™ Gala too often represents people who have been ignored and taken for granted by all parties for too long.â€™
This coming from a Deputy Director of the right wing Policy Exchange group came as more of a surprise at the time. It was a sign that someone was prepared to shake their party by the lapels and remind them of some of the things they had to do differently to have a chance of winning back support in the North. And it was genuine.
It was therefore with some nervous trepidation for this Labour supporter to hear that Skelton is getting to get the time and resources to work precisely on this in the years ahead. Two weeks ago Skelton explained to Conservative Home:
â€˜The Conservatives havenâ€™t won an election for 21 years and this overwhelming perception that they are â€œthe party of the richâ€ is an important, some might say the most important, reason why. Whole urban centres outside of the South of England now have no Tory representation whatsoever and the Conservatives are struggling amongst working class voters, ethnic minorities and women. Conservatives hold only 20 of the 124 urban seats in the North and Midlands â€“ thatâ€™s a mere 16 per cent. And itâ€™s these areas that will be the big battleground at the next election.. If the Tories donâ€™t face up to this challenge and broaden their appeal, they will face the prospect of never being able to have a sustainable period of majority government again.â€™
The following week saw the death of Lady Thatcher. The former Conservative leader had not been discussed and debated on TV to this extent for many, many years. I know that many in the younger generation donâ€™t know much about Margaret Thatcher and the media are understandably going to focus more on her positives in the immediate following of her passing. But for many over 50s in the North of England, Midlands, Scotland and Wales the experiences were not good. For many our towns, cities and former coalfield areas felt like the victim of an occupying force. My prediction is that the memories evoked by Lady Thatcher’s death will make David Skelton and the Conservative Partyâ€™s work that bit harder.