Workington Man could make the dream of a Northern county without a single Labour seat a reality
Cllr Clark Vasey is the co-founder of BCC and was the 2017 Conservative Candidate for Workington
Growing up, my home county of Cumbria was firmly Labour. When I joined the Party in 1997, four of the county’s six seats were Labour. Back then the idea that we could one day secure all six Cumbrian seats would have been inconceivable, and this week’s discussion of ‘Workington Man‘ potentially delivering national Conservative electoral success was many years away. Indeed, things started to look a little bleaker for the Conservatives in 2005 when Tim Farron added an unwelcome blot of yellow on our magnificent Cumbrian landscape. But they say the night is darkest just before the dawn, and 2010 saw a Conservative breakthrough in Carlisle.
John Stevenson’s election demonstrated what can be achieved with an effective campaign that exposed Labour’s neglect for seats they had long taken for granted.
It was the experience of winning in Carlisle that led me to set up Blue Collar Conservatism (BCC) in 2012. In the run up to 2010, the Party’s focus had been on winning over liberal metropolitan voters, but it was working class voters who were most responsive to our message and most willing to ditch Labour. BCC was about shaping a Conservatism for Carlisle and helping us connect to hold and win seats like the Great Border City.
With Labour’s betrayal of Leave voters in its Northern heartlands, and Corbyn’s posh metropolitanism opening up the gulf between Labour and working class voters, Esther McVey relaunched BCC earlier this year to restart this conversation with the voters who will determine the next election. During the leadership election BCC recognised that Boris Johnson was best placed to deliver a transformative agenda which placed us on the side of working people. Under Johnson, the Conservatives are delivering a genuinely Blue Collar agenda which is resonating with the voters who need us most.
Holding seats like Carlisle continues to be critical to ensuring a Conservative majority, but it seems that the route to victory lies through another part of the county, with Onward declaring ‘Workington Man’ as holding the key to victory. We can debate exactly who this is, or if they exist in the form Onward suggest, but the Blue Collar agenda puts Workington voters firmly within our reach. Indeed a great many Workington men and women already made the shift from Labour at the last General Election, so that we lost with more votes in 2017 than Labour won with in 2015. We added 5,500 Conservative votes, giving us the biggest voter base there for 40 years. After the 2017 manifesto and the subsequent Labour resurgence the seat remained out of reach, but Labour’s behaviour during this Parliament and Boris Johnson’s leadership puts the seat within our grasp.
While out in Workington back in September with BCC supporting our excellent candidate Mark Jenkinson, it was clear that the Brexit-blocking antics of Labour’s Sue Hayman had not gone unnoticed. Workington voted 60 per cent Leave. Yet as a member of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, Hayman has been at the forefront of the Opposition’s efforts to frustrate Brexit and now wants to force her own constituents to vote again. Labour were able to mislead voters with their promise to honour the referendum last time but as we go to polls in December they will not be able to play this trick again.
Brexit has acted as a catalyst in speeding up these voters’ abandonment of Labour, but the shift goes much deeper and here the impact of the agenda being presented by Johnson is making the difference. BCC returned to Cumbria at the weekend for the first in our programme of national action days which will take us to seats like Mansfield, Ashfield, Darlington and Bishop Auckland. Across the county the Conservatives’ focused message on police, schools and the NHS is getting through. In Carlisle and in towns like Wigton voters want to get Brexit done so we can prioritise the issues they care about and they see Boris as the man to do both.
If seats like Workington do hold the keys to victory then it is entirely realistic. In Workington itself we have Jenkinson, an authentic Northern voice speaking for a Northern seat, which will be crucial not only in winning but in holding the seat beyond 2019.
Winning these voters offers Cumbrian Conservatives something we have all longed for: a clean sweep across our county. A Labour-free Northern county.
Down the coast from Workington, past the site of Trudy Harrison’s historic victory in Copeland, Barrow and Furness presents another seat where Labour’s time has run out. Simon Fell will present the voters of Barrow and Furness with a choice of someone who will champion the area, while Labour would devastate jobs through Corbyn’s opposition to the nuclear deterrent.
Cumbrian Conservatives are fired up, and with the momentum built up by James Airey in Westmoreland and Lonsdale it is not just the red bits of the county map that we are going to turn blue, but the yellow bit, too.