WATCH LIVE: The Northern Research Group Conference – Introduction and Next Steps for Levelling Up the North

17 Jun

ConservativeHome is pleased to be the media partner for this Northern Research Group Conference. You can see the full agenda for the event here, and watch three of the days sessions on ConservativeHome and on our YouTube channel.

The post WATCH LIVE: The Northern Research Group Conference – Introduction and Next Steps for Levelling Up the North first appeared on Conservative Home.

Viva the vaccine passport rebellion

10 Dec

What a week it’s been for the Government. With the furore around whether or not Downing Street had a party – or three – the Electoral Commission’s verdict on Boris Johnson’s wallpaper and the arrival of his and Carrie Johnson’s baby daughter, the media has had no end of things to write about.

Unfortunately for the Government, much more negative attention is on its way, due to a growing Conservative rebellion around Coronavirus vaccine passports, which, on Wednesday, Johnson announced would be implemented in England (in what some have called a “diversionary tactic”). 

Although Conservative MPs have been generally supportive of measures to combat Coronavirus, from the Emergency Powers Bill to curfews, something about the passports has pushed them to their limits.

Tens of Conservatives, including Dehenna Davison, Andrew Bridgen and Johnny Mercer have tweeted their disapproval of vaccine passports (which have been introduced in Scotland and Wales), with William Wragg, a member of the Covid Recovery Group, being so brazen as to call for Sajid Javid to “resign” over the latest measures. Expect a mega rebellion on passports on Tuesday, when they’ll be voted on, with talks of up to 100 MPs rejecting the plans.

The Government’s justification for passports has been the quickly-spreading Omicron variant, which has prompted it to unleash its “Plan B” set of restrictions. This includes asking people to work from home when they can from next Monday, as well as making masks compulsory in many indoor settings; two requirements that have received much less, albeit some, criticism compared to passports.

Part of the reason why MPs may have become more concerned about these is the events elsewhere in Europe, which have brought into sharp focus how illiberal restrictions can become. Austria’s decision to make vaccines mandatory has been a wake up call – to say the least. The more cynical will say that some MPs are simply using passports as an opportunity to kick Johnson when he’s down, having disapproved of his policies for a while.

My own view, in regards to the introduction of vaccine passports, is one of mild disbelief that the Government ever contemplated them in the first place, never mind that Johnson said there should be a “national conversation” on mandatory jabs. 

There seem to be far more arguments against passports than those in favour (many of which are based on emotional reasoning – “well I like the idea” – and a desire to conform – “well France has done it”). They are divisive, literally separating society into two; don’t completely stop transmission; no one knows where the cut off point for such passports should be (flu?) and will make life complicated and miserable, with large economic consequences. The Night Time Industries Association has already said passes have caused a 30 and 26 per cent trade drop-off in Scotland and Wales, respectively.

Perhaps the most worrying thing, though, is we simply don’t know the long-term impact. Passports are one giant experiment, which we have discussed with all the seriousness of whether someone should change bank accounts.

In general, vaccine passports seem to symbolise a wider issue with the Government, in the Covid wars, which is that it hasn’t completely decided how to be “Global Britain” yet. Post-Brexit it has the opportunity to show the world a different approach to the pandemic; one that respects civil liberties, and isn’t so far away from Sweden’s more relaxed strategy. Instead, we seem to be “Herd Britain”, constantly keeping an eye on what France and Germany are up to, with a view to emulating them.

Either way, something has changed in the equation. The crucial question next week is how the Government groups the votes on “Plan B”. If MPs can vote on vaccine passports as a lone category, it makes it far easier for the idea to be shot down. On the other hand, if vaccine passports, masks and working from home are placed into a single “Plan B” vote, the Government might find all of its plans in disarray; as Bridgen warned “I will vote against any legislation that sees [passports’] introduction“. That, or it’ll be easier to sell to Labour, which is pro restrictions. Whatever the case, we need a cut off point as to how far measures can go; viva the vaccine passport rebels, I say.

Charlotte Gill’s Podcasts Review 2) Camilla Tominey with Liz Truss, Jack Blanchard with Lee Cain, Katy Balls with Dehenna Davison

13 Oct

Every fortnight, ConservativeHome will compile a handful of podcast recommendations – content that has been published in the weeks preceding – for its readers. Although these will mainly focus on podcasts for conservative listeners, we will try to include other options – should they be particularly interesting. Sometimes this feature will contain other types of media.

Title: Chopper’s Politics
Host: Camilla Tominey (NB. the show’s regular host is Chris Hope)
Episode: Chopper’s Politics podcast from the Conservative party conference: Liz Truss

Duration: 45:27 minutes
Published: October 6 (recorded on October 3)

What’s it about?

It was a busy Conservative Party Conference for Liz Truss; indeed, readers of this site may have seen that ConservativeHome was lucky to have her as part of its fringe programme. The Telegraph, too, had her as part of its line up, in a lively conversation with Camilla Tominey, the paper’s Associate Editor.

During the course of the interview, Tominey probes Truss on a number of interesting subjects, from her reaction when Boris Johnson appointed her to Foreign Secretary, to the challenges of being a mother in politics, to what her strategy is in regards to getting Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe out of Iran. It’s well worth a listen.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “I was neither surprised or not surprised” – Truss on when she was appointed Foreign Secretary by Johnson.
  • “There’ll always be ups and downs in our relationship with the French”.
  • “People said that free movement of people wasn’t depressing wages and that clearly isn’t true, and we’ve seen the results.”
  • “I fundamentally don’t agree with identity politics. I don’t agree with the idea that you should have different policies for women and men… You should make sure that your policies are accessible to everybody.”
  • “I think we’ve taken the right approach with transgender people. We’ve made the process simpler, we’ve made the process kinder, I have full respect for transgender people. However, it wouldn’t be right to have self-identification with no checks and balances in the system”.

An entertaining discussion that demonstrates why Truss so often tops the ConHome Cabinet leaderboard.

Title: Politico Westminster Insider Podcast
Host: Jack Blanchard
Episode: Meet Lee Cain: Three Chaotic years as Boris Johnson’s closest aide

Link: Click here
Duration: 01:04:03 hours
Published: October 1

What’s it about?

In his first big interview, Lee Cain sits down with Jack Blanchard, the UK Political Editor of POLITICO Europe, to discuss his time as Boris Johnson’s right-hand man. The podcast covers everything from how Cain got to becoming Downing Street Director of Communications, to what happened behind the scenes when Johnson resigned over May’s Chequers deal, as well as how Cain developed a communication strategy for the Coronavirus crisis.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “You don’t know crisis comms until you’ve worked for Boris. It certainly set me up for the rest of my career”.
  • “Boris gets into all sorts of scrapes, but it’s good fun… We just clicked with a lot of that kind of thing. It allowed me to forge a really good bond with him.”
  • “I did the classic SpAd trick of, if you’ve got a difficult issue, just don’t answer your phone, which is – for those who don’t know – code for “whatever you’re thinking’s happening probably is happening”.
  • “The day he resigned over Chequers was really the day he became Prime Minister.”

A frank discussion, which leaves you under no illusions about the numerous challenges Downing Street has faced over the last few years. Though, when it comes to Boris Johnson, don’t expect the “Cummings’ treatment” from Cain, who shows real warmth towards the PM.

Title: Women With Balls
Host: Katy Balls
Episode: The Dehenna Davison Edition

Link: Click here
Duration: 30:35 minutes
Published: October 8

What’s it about?

In another interview recorded at Conference, Katy Balls, Deputy Editor of The Spectator, sits down with Dehenna Davison, the MP for Bishop Auckland, to chat about her parliamentary career so far. Although the interview is only 30 minutes long, it covers a huge amount of ground, from Davison’s appearance on the Channel 4 show Bride and Prejudice, to how Jacob Rees-Mogg got her into politics, to the tragic death of her father, when she was 13, from a single-punch assault. Davison has since launched the All-Parliamentary Group for One Punch Assault, which looks at justice and sentencing reform around this crime; she explains more about its work in the discussion.

Some teaser quotes:

  •  On handing out “Tory Scum” badges at the Conservative Party Conference – “Quite a few ministers did take them. At one point Oliver Dowden wore one on a panel event he was doing, which was fantastic to see. And I did give one to the Prime Minister as well”.
  • “So many members of my family used to call me Hermione, because I was that little swot in school.”
  • “You have to marry up loyalty to the party, what’s right for your constituents and your own conscience; sometimes the three can be incredibly conflicted”.

An engaging and touching insight into one of parliament’s rising stars.

The ten Conservative MPs who voted against the Health and Social Care Levy Bill at Third Reading

15 Sep
  • Baron, John
  • Chope, Christopher
  • Davies, Philip
  • Davison, Dehenna [pictured]
  • Drax, Richard


  • Everitt, Ben
  • Fysh, Marcus
  • Mackinlay, Craig
  • McVey, Esther
  • Redwood, John

There were 44 Conservative abstentions – which is in the same territory as last week’s vote on the same issue.  However, the usual cautionary note applies: though some Tory backbenchers will have refused to support the Bill, others will be abroad, ill, or absent for other reasons.

Timothy Foxley: How a tax cut could be the boost needed in left-behind areas

30 Jul

Timothy Foxley is a strategic communications consultant from Stoke-on-Trent, and winner of this year’s £50,000 Richard Koch Breakthrough Prize.

There is a sadness about the UK’s ‘left behind areas’. My hometown of Stoke-on-Trent is a typical example: a proud past, good people, and decades of industrial decline and political neglect. While there are still some remnants of its once world-famous pottery industry, its economy is now dominated by the public sector and distribution warehouses, and six slowly dying town centres.

Aside from the emotional aspect, there are sound economic and political reasons for the need to ‘level up’ these areas, from boosting productivity across the UK as a whole, to reducing reliance on public services.

It is right that we are having a debate about levelling up every region of the UK, but we are yet to come to an agreement on how to get there.

Some have spoken about greater localism and devolution as the key to unlocking growth across left behind areas, while others have focused on the need for infrastructure investment. Concerningly, everyone in Westminster and beyond seems to believe that their pet project or industry is the key to fixing the UK’s regional imbalance. In these pages alone, contributors have called for investment in manufacturing, healthcare, education, a community wealth fund, and even grassroots football – all in the name of levelling up.

As necessary as these projects may be, they will not fundamentally alter what is a structural economic problem. Worse, there is a danger that the levelling-up agenda becomes nothing more than a cash-machine for any and every project proposed for the Midlands and the North, with a dollop of statist intervention on top.

Left-behind regions will not become wealthier through more spending and higher taxes. We know that the free market is the only tried and tested way to encourage entrepreneurship and create wealth, but we also know that cutting taxes and regulations would disproportionately assist the already productive South East. The question is: how can we combine the benefits of the free market with the goals of the levelling-up agenda?

That was the problem behind the question posed by Dehenna Davison MP for the Institute of Economic Affairs’ annual Richard Koch Breakthrough Prize competition: in the current severe economic climate, what pro-market, pro-enterprise policy would be the best way of supercharging growth, employment and living standards in ‘left behind’ Britain?

I won with my proposal for the ‘People’s Rebate’: a plan significantly to reduce taxes in left-behind areas. Unlike many suggestions for how the Government can level-up the UK, this would be targeted at all low-earning areas automatically rather than just those decided by Whitehall. It would immediately increase their spending power, and would encourage entrepreneurship and business growth.

Under the People’s Rebate, local authority areas would be divided into deciles by workers’ average earnings. Individuals and businesses would then be given a rebate on income tax and National Insurance contributions on a sliding scale, from 90 per cent in the lowest-earning areas, to 0 per cent in the highest-earning.

For example, this would allow a supermarket worker earning £20,000k in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to keep an extra £207 a month, a nurse earning £30,000 in Swansea an extra £397, and an engineer earning £40,000 in Derby an additional £458. Moreover, workers in all of those areas would be cheaper for businesses to employ, due to reduced employers’ NI contributions.

Each year, deciles would be refreshed using the updated average earnings data, with fast-improving areas paying a little more tax, and those falling further behind receiving a larger rebate. There would be no Whitehall decisions to be made about which areas or industries to support, nor any of the associated lobbying by MPs, councils, or business groups – only automatic, focused tax breaks in those areas most in need of improvement.

The potential benefits of the People’s Rebate are fourfold. First, left-behind areas would receive an immediate boost to local spending power, from £684 million in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, £531 million in Swansea, and £483 million in Derby (in 2020-21 terms).

It would also give businesses an incentive to expand in those areas, through the prospect of a lower NI bill. In the medium term, it would increase local authorities’ tax base for the provision of services such as social care, and improve living standards, reducing overall demand for public services. Finally, in the long term, it would instil within people an appreciation for the benefits of a low-tax economy, returning free-market principles to the forefront of political debate.

This would represent both one of the largest tax cuts in modern British history – of £96 billion (4.7 per cent of GDP) – and boost spending power in left-behind areas by many times more than all the current proposed ‘levelling-up’ schemes put together. Simply, it would fundamentally alter the lopsided nature of the economy, and fundamentally improve the lot of left-behind areas forever.

Active government intervention will never level up our left behind areas. However, by marrying free market principles and tax cuts with targeted support, we can finally address the UK’s most pressing economic and political problem.

Richard Holden: Knightmare on Starmer Street. Labour loses control of Durham – held by the party for a century.

10 May

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Louisa Centre, Stanley, County Durham

At the count in Stanley at 3am on Friday morning after the verification checks on the ballot papers, I realised that I was witnessing the latest stage of the fundamental shift in British politics.

The communities that are not merely the heartlands but the birthplace of the Labour Party are decisively turning their backs on the party which turned its backs on them.

Two weeks ago in this column, I wrote about Keir Starmer and Labour’s five tests from this set of elections in the North East of England. To be fair to the Labour leader, these results cannot all be laid at his door – they have a much longer-term gestation.

However, the man who many thought would be Labour’s knight in shining armour has delivered results even worse than the outlier, “knightmare” scenarios that I suggested a fortnight ago.

Not only did the Conservatives remain the largest party in Northumberland, but they took overall control and, in doing so, took Hartley ward – and kicked out the Labour group leader on Northumberland County Council.

Sir Keir didn’t just fail my Stockton South test (remember: Stockton South was won by Corbyn’s Labour in the 2017 general election), but the excellent campaigning of Stockton South’s MP, Matt Vickers, with together with Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley Mayor, saw the Conservatives not just retain the Stockton South council seats that they’d held, but take all the seats that were up for election, including from Liberal Dems and independents.

Paul Williams, the former Labour MP for Stockton South, handpicked and put on a shortlist of one by Labour HQ, delivered a catstrophic result for Labour in Hartlepool. To lose the seat at this stage in the electoral cycle by that much would have previously been thought impossible, but it’s happened.

With the Conservatives gaining over 50 per cent of the vote in the by-election, and Labour finishing a poor second, it’s clear that, in terms of parliamentary seats, CCHQ now needs to be targeting the North East of England much more broadly for the next election, including such seats as: City of Durham, North Durham, all the Sunderland seats, Blaydon – and even perhaps Gateshead and Easington.

Houchen’s utterly overwhelming victory in the Tees Valley, gaining almost three quarters of the votes on the first round, is the strongest symbol of continued Conservative advance in the North of England. The Conservative gain of the Police Commissioner post in Cleveland is further proof of this. Particularly when the vote from Middlesbrough, widely believed still to be rock solid for Labour in Teesside, came out five to three in the Conservative’s favour.

To outsiders, the loss of Durham County Council by Labour to No Overall Control may not seem quite as totemic as some of the other results. But if anything it’s more so.

The Conservatives increased their number of seats by 14, taking them from the fifth largest group (there are two independent groups) to the position of second largest party behind Labour – in one fell swoop.

Durham is where the Labour Party first gained a county council in 1919 and they have held it ever since. The results overall for the Conservatives are really, really good – particularly in my constituency in North West Durham and in my good friend Dehenna Davison’s constituency in Bishop Auckland.

Scratch the surface, and the results are more impressive still. In North West Durham, we’re now second almost everywhere we didn’t win, from what were often poor third places just four years ago. The increasing vote and vote share was at least 100 per cent, and in some cases, such as in Consett North and in Consett South, the number of Conservative votes went up almost four times.

Even in Weardale, where Conservatives were challenging two long-established independent councillors, we jumped from third place to second place, and came within 85 votes of taking one of them out.

In Woodhouse Grove, in the Bishop Auckland constituency, Conservatives gained two new councillors, and only missed out by nine votes in the working class town of Willington in North West Durham. It’s quite clear that, from this incredible baseline, Conservatives can now make further progress both locally and at the next general election.

These campaigns really came down to incredibly hard graft on the ground. It’s clear that CCHQ needs to look at how we can really capitalise on this with extra resources in the coming months and years.

The results in the North East are not unique. To see Rotherham go from zero to 20 Conservative councillors is mindblowing, as are the exceptional gains in Hyndburn in Lancashire, where the Conservatives held the county council with an increased majority.

But this succes is not just in the North. The gains in Harlow, Dudley, Southampton and elsewhere by the Conservatives show an incredible national picture.

While these results are absolutely stunning, often with significantly increased turnouts, it’s clear that the future of these areas as key battlegrounds will require the promises made by the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party to deliver on levelling up to not only be delivered on in the long-term, but also to show that progress is being made within the next year-to-18 months too.

In some areas of the country, the Conservatives haven’t performed quite as well. Downing Street and CCHQ need to find out why this has ocurred, and learn the lessons not only from the great successes, but also from the places where we didn’t do as well as we’d hoped.

What’s clear from politics is that nothing ever stays the same. Who’d have thought that the narrow victory in the Teeside matoralty in 2017 following Brexit would have not only been the catalyst for a shift in voting, but a shift in poltical culture in the North East? People are no longer willing to accept either MPs or local authority leaders who see their position as a sinicure. Delivery is what counts.

We Conservatives are in government, and have the abilty to really make that happen. If we do so, our political prospects in these areas will just get better and better.

Dehenna Davison: Levelling up means nobody should be forced to leave their home town

27 Feb

Dehenna Davison is MP for Bishop Auckland.

The past year has been tough. Nobody can deny that. The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on us all; affecting society’s health – both physically and mentally – and hitting our economy hard.

We mustn’t underestimate the economic hit Covid-19 has delivered, a hit which has shone a light on many of the economic and social divisions that already existed in our society.

With the Chancellor saying in November that our economic emergency has only just begun, we must now look at how we can ensure we use the recovery in the most effective way to level up our country.

Levelling up is at the heart of what I came into politics to do. When I talk about levelling up, I’m talking about ensuring that whether you’re born in Bishop Auckland or Beaconsfield, Birkenhead or Bath, you have access to the same opportunities.

Right now, we see young people being pushed out of towns to cities like Newcastle, or down south to London, to chase those very opportunities. The Centre for Cities report, The Great British Brain Drain, has shown housing and transport infrastructure are the main barriers to young graduates returning to, or staying in, their hometowns.

Whilst the report focuses on graduates, it’s important to highlight the role inward local investment plays in creating those high-skilled job opportunities for non-graduates, such as through apprenticeships. We need to do more to prove to young people that there are other ways to get a high-skilled job than just moving away for university.

With the Government’s recent announcement on the Green Industrial Revolution, creating 250,000 jobs, we have a real opportunity to create those high-skilled, high-paying jobs in areas like County Durham.

We don’t have to look far to see what investment can do in helping to level up. Just look across to Tees Valley to see the great work Ben Houchen is doing as Mayor. With the South Tees Development Corporation, Tees Valley has been able to secure inward investment and redevelopment, ensuring a strong base for local job creation.

If you’re a young person in 2020, we know it’s tough to get on the housing ladder. Average house prices are more than four times higher now than in the 1990s, but the same has certainly not been the case for average earnings. We need to ensure that young people do not feel frozen out of the housing market. Schemes such as Help To Buy have been lifelines for many, but in many cases, the supply of good quality, affordable housing is also an issue.

The Government’s proposed planning reforms will have a great impact on house building, helping to ensure a generation of young people are able to access the same opportunities of home ownership that their parents had.

However, what is also highlighted in research on why people tend to move towards more urban areas is that it’s not just for a job, but for the overall living experience. People want to live in areas that are attractive, and where there are fun and engaging things to do. For example, in Bishop Auckland, I often receive complaints about the fact that the town doesn’t have a cinema.

But I have a plan. People want vibrant town centres, with a buzz of both day and night life, and good places to socialise. In this sense, investment in public realm works and cultural and leisure assets is crucial. The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission has stressed the idea of building well-connected communities in towns, where homes are blended with shops and civic buildings to create a real sense of place and community.

The Government is providing the tools for this, with £3.6 billion being invested through the Towns Fund alone. Bishop Auckland is benefiting from this scheme, adding to the cultural investment from The Auckland Project, together hoping to radically reshape the town centre to make it a more attractive place to live and work.

Strong public transport networks are also crucial. It’s all very well creating high-skilled jobs, but if people in certain areas can’t physically get to them, then the full benefit of levelling up efforts will always be limited. We are lucky to be living in a fast-moving technological age, so we need to be exploring options, like on-demand bus services, to provide transport routes in the most efficient and convenient way for consumers.

However, with Covid-19 accelerating workplaces’ adaptations towards working from home, this creates huge opportunities for areas that those working for firms based in major cities may not have ordinarily considered living in. Towns like Bishop Auckland could begin to market ourselves as ‘digital commuter towns’. Why shouldn’t we aim to attract those in highly-paid roles working for Manchester or London firms who are predominantly home-working? Why shouldn’t we aim to have more money being put into our local economy?

Yes, Covid-19 has presented many challenges, but it has also presented opportunities. As we focus on a recovery that aids levelling up, we need to look at ensuring that young people have multiple reasons to want to stay in their hometowns. That they’re able to aim for local, high-paid jobs, or opportunities from further afield that the digital age makes possible. That they’re able to settle down in the streets they grew up in, and they enjoy spending their free time where they live.

This is how we will truly deliver on the mission to level up.

This is part of Bright Blue’s essay series, Centre Write.