Andrew Stephenson: Across the United Kingdom, these hustings are showing our Party at its best

11 Aug

Andrew Stephenson is Conservative Party Chairman and MP for Pendle.

As we approach the halfway point of this leadership election process with our sixth hustings of twelve in Cheltenham today, I’ve been delighted with the overwhelming response we’ve had from our members so far.

Our first hustings in Leeds sold out in just three days and our second one in Exeter in just four. Well over 5000 members have attended our first five hustings and to date nearly 17,000 hustings tickets have already been sold. Thousands more members have tuned in online and hundreds of members of the media have also attended.

We are close to selling-out on all the remaining hustings so I urge members who haven’t got a ticket yet and would like to attend to book remaining places now.

We decided it was important to take these hustings across the country and all four nations of the UK, and these strong ticket sale numbers show why.

I certainly enjoyed seeing Leeds United’s stadium up close at Elland Road, and I hope our members enjoyed the glorious sunshine by the seaside in Eastbourne last week.

Our decision to introduce a £5 ticket charge for this hustings programme has also proved justified. Drop-out rates have been massively reduced compared to 2019 and we have had bursting full venues at every hustings so far.

Members have asked probing questions but given each candidate a fair and respectful hearing, showing our Party at its best.

Next week we’ll be taking our hustings to Scotland and Northern Ireland, and at a time of fresh calls from nationalists for the break-up our United Kingdom, I will be particularly banging the drum for the importance and strength of our Union, the most successful political union in history.

As a Party we have recently opened two new offices in Wales, one in Abergele in North Wales and a new larger office in Cardiff, and have invested in our infrastructure in Scotland. We must always remain the Conservative and Unionist Party.

Our party membership is up since the start of the year and I am urging colleagues and associations to use the current focus on our leadership election to launch fresh recruitment drives, renewals and contacting lapsed members. Our members are our ground troops when it comes to fighting a general election and I want our ground game to be as strong as possible when that next general election comes.

For whoever wins this leadership contest, we must continue to build our election preparations. We are already recruiting new campaign managers, recently reopened the candidates list, and working with associations and MPs are delivering 2.2 million leaflets in 80 key seats.

Our numbers for our upcoming Party Conference in Birmingham are also looking strong, and we on course for one of our largest Conferences. There is still time to buy your ticket here.

Since becoming Party Chairman little more than a month ago, while my priority has been on organising our leadership hustings and vote, I have also managed to visit 26 constituencies across the country. From West Brom to Winchester, St Ives to Stoke-on-Trent, Durham to Dudley, I have found our members and Party in good voice and good strength.

And what I’ve also found is whichever candidate they are backing, our activists are ready and keen to come together, unite behind a new leader and get to work on taking the fight to Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Together we can win that next general election, and an historic fifth term.

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Andrew Stephenson: Our sold-out hustings show the Conservative Party in the country is in great health

26 Jul

Andrew Stephenson is Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party, and is MP for Pendle.

In my first ConservativeHome article as your Co-Chairman, I outlined how the Party would go about delivering on my priority, of ensuring this leadership contest is delivered with the membership front and centre.

Here I want to outline the exciting plans we have put in place to deliver that pledge.

Our principles in making all of these decisions have been focused on: putting the membership front and centre; delivering a fair ballot; allowing both candidates to make their case to every member; ensuring that we do not allow our Party to fall into the same internal arguments as Labour; and that we keep our focus on the most important people – the electorate and on that historic fifth general election win.

And thanks to the support of my Co-Chairman, the Chairman of the 1922 Executive, the Chairman of the National Conservative Convention and the Board of our Party, we have made excellent progress in meeting those principles.

At each stage of this process we have listened to the voluntary party, refining our plans based on your feedback.

That’s why thanks to the overwhelming response from members in the North West, South East and the compelling argument put forward by the Voluntary Party Chairman for Northern Ireland, we expanded our plans – which will now see both candidates in Manchester and  Eastbourne and why we changed our plans for a virtual hustings in Belfast to a physical one taking place later in August.

The hustings in Manchester, Eastbourne, and Belfast sit alongside a full UK schedule of physical events which will also see us go to Leeds, Exeter, Cardiff, Eastbourne, Darlington, Cheltenham, Perth, Birmingham, Norwich and London. All of which are now available to book at conservatives.com/hustings.

This time we have introduced a small £5 administration charge for our hustings. This is because during the last leadership election in 2019 we saw a high dropout rate of attendees at some events. This was unfair on members who wanted to attend hustings but couldn’t where they were sold out.

We want to ensure venues are full and that members have the best experience. This small fee will help improve turnout rates, make a more engaging event, and ensure members’ money isn’t wasted on the wrong sized venues, allowing us to keep spending on campaigning to keep Keir Starmer out of Downing Street.

And the response to our hustings has been incredible, in less than a week we are already at capacity in Leeds, Exeter, Cheltenham and Norwich, showing just how healthy the strength of our Party is. Indeed we have seen a strong uptick in new members and our membership renewals, although I should stress the minimum three months of membership rule applies to this leadership election.

All hustings will be live streamed on our website. Meaning even if you’ve missed your chance to secure your ticket or you’ll be away in August,  you will still be able to take part from the comfort of your living room, or from a sun lounger.

When members start to receive their ballot packs, from the 1 August you will have two options. You can vote either electronically or through the post and as ever, it’s one member one vote.

I am not prepared to see any member lose their vote because of any circumstances, for example the threatened Royal Mail strike, and voting online is secure. This will help maximise turnout and ensure no member misses out, whilst ensuring the election is secure and fair.

I would encourage all our members to take the time to listen to the cases put forward by both of our fantastic candidates. That’s why we have increased their spending limit from £150,000 to £300,000. This will allow both campaigns to engage more freely and directly with members without the involvement of CCHQ. This natural, grassroots focus on campaigning should be the defining part of this Leadership Election.

This leadership election will see us select not just a new Party Leader but also the next Prime Minister, and robust debate is rightly part of that process. I know our members will ask probing questions but give each candidate a fair hearing.

And whatever your views are on how we got here or whoever your preferred candidate is – let’s ensure that just as the membership is front and centre of my mind for the next five weeks, that the electorate remains at the front and centre of all our minds and that we come together united to beat Starmer and secure that historic fifth term.

I’m looking forward to welcoming hundreds of members to Leeds for our first hustings this week, where I’ll be working from our new Party Headquarters.

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Paul Howell and Heather Wheeler: Full HS2 is critical to our election commitment to rebalance the economy

16 Feb

Paul Howell is the MP for Sedgefield and Heather Wheeler is the MP for South Derbyshire.

After our landslide election victory last year, the Prime Minister made a promise to unite the country and level-up our nations and regions. The jobs-first approach and once in a generation levels of public investment in infrastructure announced by the Chancellor in his spending review set our party on course to deliver on these promises, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic.

The Chancellor has invested in supporting businesses and individuals throughout the pandemic – at massive cost to the Exchequer. But now that the vaccine is being rapidly rolled out across the country, we need to start thinking seriously about the economic recovery. We feel strongly that we need to invest in infrastructure and that in particular, investing in new rail lines, upgrades and new train fleets is one of the best ways to do so.

As Members of Parliament representing constituencies in the Midlands and the North East, we are pleased to see reform of the Treasury’s Green Book rules to unlock future public investment for our regions. Too often in the past, a rigid interpretation of the rules has led to spending in London and the South East, with areas such as ours being overlooked. The reforms under consideration have the potential to turn the situation on its head – essential if we are going to achieve our goals of levelling up.

The publication of the National Infrastructure Strategy is also welcome, as is the unequivocal support it provides for High Speed 2 – our flagship national transport project.

When the Government gave HS2 the go-ahead it recognised that it will deliver vital connectivity, cut journey times and boost capacity. We are aware of the current calls to cancel the project outright given the impact of Coronavirus. However, as Andrew Stephenson recently said, to do so would “send a terrible signal out globally about the UK intending to build back better from Covid-19.”

With over half of the Phase 1 budget for the line from London to Birmingham already spent or contracted to, such calls are frankly nonsensical, and would lead to the loss of 13,000 jobs directly employed by HS2 and tens of thousands more in the supply chain.

Construction is well underway across the route, and British businesses are benefiting, such as County Durham based Cleveland Bridge, a world-leading steel engineering company. It produced twenty-four massive steel girders that form part of the first of HS2’s new modular bridges, recently installed over the A446 in Solihull in just 45 minutes.

Instead, we must continue with this once in a generation investment into UK plc. HS2 will serve as a much-needed catalyst for economic change across many of the cities and towns that are now Conservative constituencies. Many of these areas have seen positive change over recent years but such is the scale of the economic challenge that our levelling-up agenda must double down on investments such as these to drive economic growth and opportunity. This is made all the more important in light of the ongoing battle to contain Covid-19 across the UK, but particularly in our Blue Wall areas.

And to counter those who say the impact of home working and changes to commuting, or the future widespread introduction of autonomous vehicles means that we should no longer invest in rail, we say that is wrong. Demand for rail travel rose year on year since privatisation in 1995 – and pre-pandemic was predicted to go on rising – and we see no reason for this to change in the longer term. HS2 is intended to have an operating life of 120 years; it is right that we are thinking long term and investing in high-speed rail, just as virtually every advanced economy in the world is doing.

Try telling people in Japan, Germany, South Korea, China, Turkey and elsewhere that such investment is a waste of money and you will get an incredulous response. With many more countries now developing national and international high-speed rail networks, we have the opportunity in the UK to establish a world leading capability and export new trains, equipment and expertise to the likes of India, Australia, Scandinavia and many more. This opportunity is too often overlooked, but it has huge potential.

Making sure the British public gets the best bang for their buck from our flagship national transport project and that it truly delivers for the whole country will be vital. Anything less would be a missed opportunity. That is why HS2’s Phase 2b, Midlands Engine Rail, Northern Powerhouse Rail, and our plans to reverse Beeching’s cuts must also get the green light from the Integrated Rail Plan, which we are eagerly awaiting. Furthermore, investing in rail, and shifting people away from car and domestic air travel, is critical to achieving the Government’s net zero targets.

The opportunity from this unprecedented public investment is not just about new tracks, wires, bridges and tunnels – important though they are. We represent areas with rich and unrivalled heritage of train building, with two major rolling stock factories (Bombardier Transportation in Derby and Hitachi Rail in Newton Aycliffe) directly employing thousands of our constituents and supporting many thousands more jobs in their British supply chains.

After too many years of decline, when we saw British train building virtually extinguished, train building is back.

We now have two established UK factories employing highly skilled workers who are producing new trains that improve the journeys of British passengers. Were they to secure the order for the new fleet of very high-speed trains it would secure jobs and investment in regions outside HS2’s Phase 1 route, thereby spreading the programme’s benefits more evenly across the country to regions like the East Midlands and the North East. More broadly, it would enhance and protect vital existing investment in rail manufacturing at a time when the pandemic has created uncertainty across the rail sector.

We cannot waste the opportunity that our Government’s high-speed rail investment plans presents. Using it to level-up the economic fortunes of the areas we represent will make good on the Prime Minister’s promise to first time Tory voters at the last election – to unite our country and re-balance our economy. It is time to build back better.