Cameron heads north for inspiration

David Cameron heads to Manchester to discuss how the party can improve its appeal
David Cameron heads to Manchester to discuss how the party can improve its appeal

David Cameron is in Manchester today to discuss with party activists how the Conservatives can improve their standing in Britain's northern cities.

The party failed to win any council seats in Manchester, Liverpool or Newcastle in the local elections earlier this year, and today's visit with shadow chancellor George Osborne is part of a wider drive to persuade voters that the Tories have changed.

Speaking this morning, Mr Osborne said regaining a presence in the north of England was a "long-term challenge" for the party, after it lost a whole wave of council seats in the mid-1990s and many northern MPs in Labour's landslide of 1997.

"It is a long road back, and I don't pretend it is anything other than that," he told Today.

"The new Conservative leadership, instead of running away from that challenge, is walking towards it, which is why David Cameron, myself, Francis Maude and others are going to be in Manchester to confront this head on."

Today's visit, in which Mr Cameron will also meet with students at Manchester university, comes the day after the Conservatives' first Built to Last roadshow last night, part of a nationwide initiative to get activists involved in changing their party.

Roadshows will take place in Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Glasgow, Exeter, Newcastle, Cambridge, Cardiff, Leeds and Southampton this summer as the Tories prepare a formal statement of their beliefs, to be approved at the autumn conference.

Writing in a blog ahead of the first of the roadshows in London last night, Conservative party chairman Francis Maude said the Tories did not have a 'clause four' which they could scrap, as Labour did, to make clear immediately how much they had changed.

As a result, they would have to prove their commitment to a new statement of values, which included pledging to work for economic stability, rather than just tax cuts; improved public services for everyone; and a more sustainable environmental policy.

"If there was a single symbolic switch to throw, as there was for Labour, how much easier it would be," Mr Maud wrote on the website.

"Labour had to show that it had abandoned the ideological centrepiece of an approach that had manifestly been shown to have failed, both electorally and practically.

"Our problem has been a different one. We have failed in recent elections not because timeless Conservative principles have failed or are wrong.

"People have been voting against us because they thought we were stuck in the past, old-fashioned and cared only about the rich, not about ordinary people."

Voters were willing to be convinced that there was a "credible and appealing alternative government", Mr Maude said, but they needed to be shown the Tories had not just changed their leader but their whole party.

"We need to prove that these are our values, and show that the changes we are making to our party are real, meaningful and built to last," he wrote.

"And we need to show that, unlike Labour's quick fix culture, we will take a long-term approach to the big challenges facing Britain."


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