Clark Vasey contested Workington during the 2017 General Election.
We are all shaped by our experiences. I grew up in a working class Cumbrian family in the 1980s and 1990s, My father was a committed trade unionist who fixed machines in the local biscuit factory and my mother was a shop assistant. Back then, Carlisle had a Labour Council and a Labour MP, as it had since the 1960s. Even from a young age, it was obvious Labour had no ambition for our city or for families like mine. As with so many industrial seats, particularly in the North, it took its voters for granted. They handed out stickers at elections which were plastered on lampposts, but did nothing to genuinely improve the lives of those who voted for them.
This is why I joined the Conservatives, and why I am committed to this day to securing a Conservative agenda which champions working people.
Having joined the party in the year Tony Blair came to power, and having campaigned through some of the bleakest years for our party, it was obvious that, while Blair gave Labour a new national veneer, Labour voters in seats like Carlisle got the same old Labour. A party which played on people’s grievances, but did not understand their aspirations and had zero vision for our area.
I was there in the Sands Centre when John Stevenson finally took the seat for the Conservatives7 in 2010. Since then, we have seen what a difference a pro-business MP can make, from organising careers fairs, to fighting for better infrastructure and to securing the Borderlands Growth Deal.
Inspired by the Conservative gain of Carlisle in an election when we fell short of an overall majority, I established Blue Collar Conservatism with the support of such MPs as John, Esther McVey, Liam Fox and Philip Davies. We believe that only the Conservatives can genuinely champion working people, and that we must stand up for the voters most let down by Labour.
Our idea was also backed by voter trends. Much of the Cameron project was focused on winning over more liberal middle class voters, but the biggest movers in votes in 2010 were working class voters. The agenda put forward by Blue Collar Conservatism was recognised as critical to the future of the party, and it attracted significant support from Conservative MPs. At the same time Ed Miliband, was continuing Labour’s shift from its traditional working class base. On issues such as raising the personal allowance and keeping down fuel duty, the Conservatives had policies that made a difference to people’s lives, and this was reflected in a majority in 2015.
Given where we are today, if you look back to pretty much any time before the 2017 election, it feels like you are thinking about about another world. But Blue Collar Conservatism actually looks more relevant than ever. The voter trends have continued – with working class voters in particular willing to break with past party affiliation.
Jeremy Corbyn’s metropolitan Marxism has opened a gulf between Labour and its traditional supporters. The dogma of Corbyn’s Labour has zero relevance to people’s everyday lives. Labour do not understand the aspirations of working class voters, and politicians like Emily Thornberry show open disdain for working class people.
While we Conservatives can be proud of our achievements particularly in the huge growth in jobs, fall in unemployment and the recent rise in wages, we cannot take these voters for granted and must do more to show that we are listening to what these voters actually want.
This is why Esther McVey with the support of MPs from across the party are refreshing and renewing Blue Collar Conservatism. If we are to show these voters that we are on their side, we must understand what their priorities are and be prepared to act on them on everything from policing to education. We must be ready to leave our comfort zone by addressing those areas where we are out of step with voters and emphasising those issues which they care about most. Esther’s recent call for a significant shift in funds from international development to policing is a fantastic step in the right direction.
These are the voters who need us most, and they are also those who will decide the next election. With Brexit still to be settled, we don’t know what the exact impact will be on these voters. We know they leaned heavily towards Leave, so we will have our work cut out to restore trust and confidence. With their continued support for Remain, breaking their promise to honour the result of the referendum, Labour have abandoned their Leave voters, which is an opportunity, but it is important to remember that we will not just be competing with Labour for their support.
The 2017 Election looked like the moment when we might achieve a historic realignment. I should know having stood in 60 per cent pro-Leave voting Workington, where this promise was tangible at the outset of the campaign, but soon evaporated when our emphasis shifted to issues which were out of sync with ordinary people. In a story familiar in seats across the North where we failed to make a breakthrough.
Blue Collar Conservatism is about making that breakthrough, by showing that we are on the side of the voters that need us most and who ultimately will determine whether or not we will be forming the next government.