Community conservativism answer to winning in the north?
This week I’ve seen several debates and discussions around the make up of the Conservative Party, the “Southern Focus” and lack of breakthrough in the UK’s big Northern cities.
A lot of the reasons for the party having no Councillors or MPs in cities like Liverpool are historic, built through lack of trust resulting from the last economic crisis where the local economy was hit harder than most due to the need for economic restructuring and the reality of the distribution of manufacturing and other industries in the North. This led to years of resulting tribal labour and socialist liberal administrations that have continued to push the myth that “Tories don’t care” and you “can’t trust a Tory”. That historic scaremongering and lack of opposition due to the collapse of our votes here during the early 90s has left the party with very little voice and thousands of voters out of touch with our messages.
In recent times we have been pragmatic focusing on small target areas and single candidates issues rather than offering a real alternative for the region because the task seems so vast and the parties grassroots have not been as organised as they now are.
I am here to say that times have changed, the party has changed and its time to put up a real vision of change for the North and in our Northern cities. Instead of focusing on individual areas and a single candidate we need to come together with a serious alternative for the administrations running cities like Liverpool. We need to run local community forums opening up decisions on themes to our local communities helping them set our agenda celebrating our strengths of transparency and community focus.
Once we have set the themes our selected candidates need to help shape the agenda on every policy area we need a clear vision for a “Conservative alternative” so that on the door step we can give voters a proper choice and a set of policies to get behind in a time where some councils are still raising council taxes and wasting money on inefficient services and pet projects that deliver little for local residents.
I wouldn’t just stop there. Where we have really struggled to break through over last decade like my home city of Liverpool, we need to open up more, we need to go to the people and go: “Ok we understand you haven’t trusted us in the past but we are listening and we want you to have a say in the future of local Conservatives in their community.”
How we do this should be through the trial of open primaries in these key under engaged areas. Let’s take candidates out into these communities and have them decide who they think is best, let them have their say and feel part of the party’s future in their own community.
We have seen Big Society in action and pushed hard on our localism agenda, it is now time to take things a step further and develop truly “community led Conservatism” in the north. Small tweaks and pokes is not what will deliver results for the party here, it’s this type of complete re-focus that we need if we are to truly make these historic cities blue again.