Saturday, 6 October 2012

What are the Conservatives doing for the North?

I have written an article for the Guardian's Northerner blog ahead of Conservative Party Conference on what the Conservatives are doing for the North. You can read it below:

I must confess I didn't catch much of Labour's conference. However, I did welcome Ed Miliband's focus on where he went to school. I hope my party will use our conference to remind the country that it is the Conservatives who are closing the gap between the richest and poorest pupils by providing schools with an extra £600 for each pupil from a poorer family. That's alongside establishing a £110 million Education Endowment Fund for innovative proposals to help struggling schools, the march of academies, and the increase in the number of 'superheads' who can transform schools.

It was also very generous of Miliband to highlight the importance of apprenticeships. I am one of the first MPs to hire an apprentice and then train her up and then give her a job. Again, I hope my party takes the opportunity to remind the public that under Labour we had far fewer apprenticeships in the UK than our competitors – but that since May 2010 apprentice numbers are up by 63 per cent under this Government.

At their conference Labour failed to back our welfare cap, failed to back our immigration cap and called for more spending, more borrowing and more debt - exactly what got us into this mess in the first place. I want to see our conference remind voters in places like Stockton South, Carlisle, Keighley, Blackpool North, Chester, Dewsbury, Pudsey and all across Yorkshire, exactly why they abandoned Labour in 2010 and why, if they work hard, and play by the rules, it's the Conservatives who are cutting the deficit and who will stick by them in these tough times.

In fact, here in the north east, it's down on the council estates and tougher areas where policies like welfare reform are most popular. Welfare reform may not seem that important where Ed lives in Primrose Hill. However, when you're getting up at 6am every morning to clean floors or work in a factory and you see your neighbour's house, curtains still drawn, benefits claimed, kids with the latest trainers – that you are struggling to afford for your own - it starts to grate knowing you're paying for it all. Where people can't find a job, they need every bit of help we can afford. However, on the doorstep, bringing to an end Labour's 'something for nothing culture' with the benefits cap is a popular move, in touch with the aspirations of hard-working northern families.

On immigration I was pleased to see that Yvette Cooper, in her conference speech on Wednesday, admit that Labour had made mistakes, when she stated, "we got things wrong on immigration". Yet where was her acceptance of our steps to control immigration, acknowledgement that immigration needs to come down, and her backing for our policies to reduce abuses of the student visa route? Between 1997 and 2009 net migration totalled more than 2.2 million people – that is more than twice the population of Birmingham. I hope we will remind voters next week that we have put a cap on non-EU migration. I speak as a descendent of immigrants, but there is no desire in the north for uncontrolled immigration, as it was under Labour.

Party conferences can be like Star Trek conventions for politicos. Birmingham for three days next week may be a long way from the North East, where I was knocking on doors last week, listening to what voters had to say. But there is a serious message to be delivered. On the big issues that voters raise with me, it is the Conservatives delivering for hardworking families up here in the north.