The Conservatives’ northern year

The Guardian Northerner‘s political commentor Ed Jacobs rounds off his look back at how the three main parties have fared in 2012

U-turns, bleak electoral prospects and a deeply unpopular Chancellor. It’s been a tough year for the Conservatives up north. Here’s the party’s 2012 in numbers:

24.6% – the average support for the Conservatives in northern England in 2012 among those certain to vote as measured in the Guardian‘s regular polling by ICM Research.

Three – the number of U-turns made by the Chancellor in the wake of his ‘omnishambles’ budget in March. Among them was the tax on static caravans which would have had a severe impact on the largely East Yorkshire-based industry. In a joint article for the Guardian Northerner, the Labour MP for Hull North, Diana Johnson and Brigg and Goole’s Conservative MP, Andrew Percy declared that

On the Caravan Tax, the Government has got itself into the position of defending a measure that contradicts so many of its stated policy goals and the arguments ministers frequently use to support them.

Anger was also felt at the imposition of the so-called Pasty Tax, with a vigorous campaign against it led by Newcastle-based Greggs the Bakers. Again, writing for the Northerner, its chief executive, Ken McMeikan declared that in tough economic times, the last thing people needed was “a tax introduced on some of their favourite food items.”

Twelve – the number of parliamentary seats across the north that the Conservatives would have lost had this year’s local elections been a General Election. This reinforced a recurring theme throughout the year, namely the party’s desperate need to pick up more northern seats if it is to entertain any hope of an outright majority at the next election. Publishing his report on the north south divide earlier in the year, Eric Ollerenshaw the Conservative MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood concluded:

It is clear that in much the same way that Labour could not win an election without winning more seats in the South, so the Conservatives cannot win an election – at least not with a working majority – without winning more seats in the north of England. Half the ten seats needed for a 20-seat majority will need to come from the north, and 11 out of the 25 for a 50-seat majority.

Four – the number of Conservative ‘wise men’ who in May outlined for the Northerner what the party needed to do to better appeal to northern voters. Neil O’Brien, then director of Policy Exchange and since appointed as the Chancellor’s special adviser, advised concentration on cost of living issues. Eric Ollerenshaw called on the party to make the north far more ‘friendly’ for private businesses. Paul Goodman, executive editor of Conservative Home, concluded that the party would appeal to the north if it focused on issues such as welfare reform, immigration and crime. In a blunt assessment however, Geoff Lawler, director of the Leeds-based political consultancy, the Public Affairs Company and former Conservative MP for Bradford North, argued that Number 10 and the Treasury needed more

astute advisers at No.10 and the Treasury who either know, or genuinely understand, what it is like to consider that 20p on a pasty actually is a lot.

Zero – the number of parliamentary by-elections in northern England that the Conservatives won. In the case of Middlesbrough and Rotherham the party came behind UKIP, reinforcing a persistent concern within the party throughout the year at the threat UKIP now poses to its electoral fortunes. Giving his assessment, UKIP Leader, Nigel Farage concluded that

there are plenty of voters, particularly in the north of England, coming to us from Labour and the Lib Dems.

Four (again) – the number of Conservative victors in northern England in the first elections for Police and Crime Commissioners.

Zero (again) – the number of areas in northern England saying yes to the principle of a directly-elected Mayor in referendums held in May, an idea which had strong support from the Conservative cities minister, Greg Clark who argued that they would

provide cities with the strong, visible leadership that can help them prosper nationally and internationally.

18.7% – the average proportion of those questioned in the north for a poll by ComRes for ITV who agreed that the Autumn Statement would succeed in speeding up economic growth. It was another blow for George Osborne who, for all his Cheshire constituency, is fast becoming one of the most unpopular Chancellors in the north for some time.

In May I argued that the Conservatives might be down in northern England, but were not necessarily out. As the year draws to a close, I would have little to cheer were I a northern Conservative MP reflecting on my electoral fortunes. With the economy remaining in the doldrums, it is hard to see how the party can regain the trust and win the seats it so desperately needs in our three regions to win the next General Election outright.

With that, it leaves me to wish everyone who’s been following me on Fridays this year, a very happy Christmas and all good fortune in 2013.

Ed Jacobs is a political consultant at the Leeds based Public Affairs Company and devolution correspondent for the centre-left political and policy blog, Left Foot Forward.

You can read his lookbacks on 2012 for the Liberal Democrats and Labour here. And now turn to the views of northern Conservative MP Nigel Adams, who represents the Yorkshire constituency of Selby and Ainsty, and reflects on his year here. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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