Tories in new northern offensive

William Hague will lead the Tories' new northern board
William Hague will lead the Tories' new northern board

The Conservatives have today launched a new drive to improve their support in northern England, where they have just 19 MPs - down from 62 in 1970.

A new northern board is being set up, led by shadow foreign secretary William Hague, to improve cooperation between all Tory associations in the north, support local parliamentary candidates, and promote the party in the region.

Leader David Cameron said this morning that he did not expect to make inroads in the Tory position "overnight" and certainly would not be able to do it from London.

"Instead, we must do so on the ground in communities across the north," he said. "That is the task that we are beginning today - reinvigorating our party, and showing that we are focusing on what matters to working people throughout the country."

Mr Cameron added: "We can never aspire to office unless we represent communities in every part of Britain."

In addition to their 19 northern MPs, the Tories have six MEPs, 1,362 councillors and control 18 councils in the region. But following last year's local elections, they have no representatives in Manchester, Liverpool or Newcastle.

The party is opening a campaign centre in Bradford, to join existing offices in Salford and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, while shadow ministers have been appointed for the major cities in the north of England.

Each of three campaign areas - Yorkshire and Humber, the north-east and the north-west - will be granted greater autonomy in the way they operate, given responsibility for building campaigns, membership and driving fundraising.

"This is an exciting opportunity for the party to demonstrate its commitment in reaching out to the country as a whole. Demonstrating that the Conservatives are relevant to the people of Britain, no matter where they live," said Mr Hague.

Conservative party chairman Francis Maude warned that Tory support in the north "has been flat lining for too long", but said today's measures were a "positive step".

Former Tory MP Michael Bates, a member of the Northern Board, said the new campaign recognised that Labour's grip on the north was "weakening", adding: "This is not a quick fix, but a long term commitment to re-engage with the people of the north."

Yesterday Mr Cameron led his shadow cabinet to Scotland for the day in his first major campaign move ahead of the Scottish elections in May. The Tories currently have just one MP in Scotland, and only 17 MSPs.


Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.