Across the North East, the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber there are now 68 Conservative MPs compared to 40 in the last Parliament, a huge 70% increase. They, especially those who have won previous Labour seats, will be chomping at the bit to prove that having so many Conservative MPs representing the region can make a real difference.
Was it the previous relative lack of Conservative MPs that caused the May government to be accused of not really caring about the north, for example showing little interest in the Northern Powerhouse? Although the number of Northern Tory MPs between 2010 and 2017 was broadly the same as under May, David Cameron, and in particular George Osborne, showed a keen interest in the region. They drove through the first devolution deals in all-Labour areas like Manchester and Liverpool and set up the Northern Powerhouse.
Despite this extra attention there was little that was tangible to show from it that the public could see and feel. The train and bus services were no better, and if anything worse. The decline of many towns and high streets wasn’t reversed and there was no noticeable change to education attainment levels. Most people applauded the Northern Powerhouse as a concept but the most common comment heard about it is “exactly what does it do and what has it achieved?”
Clearly the lobby for the North has been woeful in its impact, not just since 2010 but stretching further back under Labour governments as well. The fact that such a regional imbalance in economic fortunes between the north and south has been allowed to happen doesn’t say much for the efforts of those seeking to present the case for the North previously.
Is all this about to change? Johnson and his band of Northern MPs have a very short time span, five years at most, to demonstrate to the northern public that having so many Conservative MPs as part of a Conservative Government will make a real difference to the fortunes of the region.
To achieve this they will need help and guidance as to where the priorities lie for action and investment. Given their previous track record, it is to be hoped that Ministers and officials don’t just consult the established organisations but listen to the grass roots, to individual businesses, schools, health providers, community organisations and others on what they feel would really make a difference to the economic and social well-being of the North. Many of these businesses or organisations may feel that no-one listens to them, but MPs and civil servants will, especially if they have something constructive to say. Both politicians and officials are keen to get it right and they welcome hearing from those who really understand what needs to happen to improve people’s lives.
This is where having so many more Northern MPs from the Government could make a difference. Assuming that they will be eager beavers out and about in their constituencies, they will be in a unique position to gather views and forward these to Ministers. They then need to be keep nagging to ensure that action is being taken. It is up to companies and organisations to make sure that decisions are not imposed top down on what is thought is wanted, but come from the bottom up from those who really know what is needed.