We’re not posh: Tories rebrand party to win friends in the North

Conservatives aim to shed ‘rich’ image in bid to win over crucial voters outside the South East

A drive to shed the Conservatives’ image as the “party of the rich” will be launched by Tory MPs next week as they try to reposition the party as a champion of the low paid.

The campaign will target working class and ethnic minority voters outside the Tories’ South East heartlands as part of the party’s effort to win crucial marginal seats in the North and Midlands. It will need to do so to win an overall majority at the 2015 election.

The Tory MPs have linked up with think-tank experts to draw up ideas for the party’s manifesto designed to show it is on the side of ordinary people by putting the cost of living and jobs at the top of its agenda.

Proposals include softening the Tories’ “harsh” and “uncaring” image in the north, by giving local authorities the power to reduce the benefit sanctions faced by the unemployed, so councils could  take account of local job losses. Benefit rates would still be set nationally.

Some Tory MPs are privately worried about David Cameron and George Osborne’s label as “two posh boys” and rhetoric from ministers dividing people into “scroungers and strivers”.  However,  organisers of the campaign believe the party’s “branding problem” in the North is mainly a legacy from the huge job losses during the Thatcher Government. 

Other ideas include a higher national minimum wage than the current £6.19 per hour, funded by cuts in employers’ taxation so that it would not force companies to cut jobs. The  threshold at which companies start to pay tax would be raised,  as it has already been done for low paid workers.

Gas and electricity companies would be freed from hitting renewable targets, so that domestic customers could get a rebate on their bills. But targets for reducing carbon would remain. In the short term, the freeze on petrol duty would be extended until the 2015 election. 

To create jobs and help people get on the housing ladder, planning powers would be devolved  to northern cities so councils could allow housebuilding in the green belt if local people backed the idea. The director of the group will be David Skelton, the Consett-born former deputy director of Policy Exchange, a think-tank with close links to Mr Cameron’s modernising project. He said: “It’s still possible for the Conservatives to win a majority at the next election, but to do so they need to continue to show that they’re on the side of hard-working people.”

He added: “The Government has already made considerable steps in the right direction in tackling the rising cost of living and lifting the poorest out of tax altogether. They now have to look at further ways of raising the real incomes of working people, as well as taking bold measures to associate the party with job creation and fighting unemployment.”

A pamphlet to mark the launch of  the new group on Monday will include contributions by Conservative MPs including Treasury and Cities Minister Greg Clark; Robert Halfon; Stephen Crabb; Douglas Carswell; Paul Uppal; Gavin Barwell; Rachel McLean and  Laura Sandys.

Spending cuts introduced by the Coalition since 2010 have also harmed the Tories’ standing among some voters in the north, especially public sector workers. The party’s unpublished inquest into its failure to win an overall majority at the last election found that the main reasons included a lack of support among public sector employees and ethnic minorities and in Scotland, where it has also been seen as “uncaring” since the Thatcher era.

Halfron to court ‘Essex man’ for Tories

Robert Halfon coined the phrase “white van man Conservatism” as he ran a successful campaign to persuade George Osborne to scrap a planned 3p-a-litre rise in fuel duty last December.

Now Mr Halfon and like-minded Tories are looking to extend the “white van man” agenda as they try to broaden their party’s appeal ahead of the 2015 general election.

Admirers describe him as one of the best campaigners in Parliament. His battle on fuel duty was fought on Twitter, Facebook and Google advertising as well as at Westminster. As MP for Harlow, has every interest in courting “Essex man”, the voters credited with Margaret Thatcher’s three election victories.

Harlow is a bellwether seat. Labour, which had a majority of 97 at the 2005 election, is hoping to overturn Mr Halfon’s 4,925 majority in 2015. Mr Halfon, 46, wants Cabinet ministers to be careful not to alienate working class voters by attacking trade unions in the dispute over Labour’s union links.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back