David Cameron came in for some stiff criticism of his party’s out of touch attitude and strategy for winning support in the north this week. Hardly surprising, one might think, but this time the stern words came from one of his own MPs – the Tory Guy Opperman, who represents Hexham in Northumberland.
“It’s a very lonely business. We occasionally hold our meetings in a loft”, Opperman told a conference in London this week, describing life as a Northern Tory.
He also exposed how toxic he thinks the Prime Minister is in the minds of voters in Northern England, saying “I have never, ever, had David Cameron on any of my leaflets.”
And he accused his own party of getting “the narrative wrong” when talking to northern voters, particularly in their hostile, dogmatic attacks on trade unions.
It should come as no surprise to Mr Opperman, or any of his Tory colleagues, that his party’s membership has dwindled so dramatically in the North since 2010.
What has David Cameron offered to people outside London and the Home Counties since becoming Prime Minister?
He has overseen an unprecedented squeeze in people’s living standards – the cost of living crisis is particularly acute in places like the Dewsbury constituency where wages have fallen further behind prices than in southern England.
He has cut our council budgets by millions of pounds more than those in the affluent south-east – taking money away from northern communities to give to Tory heartlands leaving Kirklees council facing some really tough decisions about delivery of services.
His own energy advisor, Tory peer Lord Howell, suggested that if fracking is to take place, it should be done “in the desolate north” rather than tampering with Sussex countryside.
While singing to the tune of his friends in the banks who did so much damage to our economy, lining their pockets with big tax cuts for millionaires, he has put up VAT hitting hard-press families and has utterly failed to invest in northern regions’ economies, making the north-south divide even worse.
And he has surrounded himself with like-minded southern old Etonians who have never done a proper day’s work and have no idea what it’s like struggling on low pay trying to make ends meet.
Labour’s plans to devolve power to local authorities and decentralise billions of pounds of spending away from London and into regions will help transform economies in regions like Yorkshire. We are able to speak for people here because we understand the challenges families, young people and pensioners here face – indeed, we are a Party largely made up of people from such communities. More than a third of Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet are constituency MPs in Yorkshire.
Personally, I’ve struggled to pay the bills while working hard in low income jobs. I’ve had to make tough choices on what I can and can’t afford to spend on food, clothing, holidays, cars, to make sure the utility bills are paid. If I become MP for Dewsbury and Mirfield I’ll always stand up for everyone across this constituency, including those vulnerable people who need our help most. Unfortunately our current part-time Conservative MP Simon Reevell cannot say the same -he has continued to work as a barrister despite claiming his full MP salary and in the last 12 months has spoken just twice in Parliament and has fully supported the huge downgrade proposed for Dewsbury Hospital.
Guy Opperman’s words show an acceptance even within Tory circles that Mr Cameron’s government is out of touch with people in the North and cannot speak for them. Only Labour can be a strong voice for the many not the few, for the whole country including areas like the Dewsbury constituency, not just London and the South East.