The Northern Tories have warned Boris Johnson that voters must see his promise to ‘level’ the country or face ‘annihilation’ in the red wall at the next general election.
Red Wall Tory MPs said The Independent they worry about the slow pace of infrastructure and improvement projects – saying they must be able to ‘point’ to visible signs of progress before voters go to the polls.
“There’s not a single shovel in the ground yet,” a Tory MP said of work planned in his constituency. “We need to put spikes in the ground and deliver more because people need to see they won’t be ignored.”
Another Tory Red Wall MP said: “We always knew our seats were vulnerable. Politics is about ‘what have you done for me lately’ and Covid has put us behind the curve [on building].”
Jake Berry, chairman of the Northern Research Group (NRG), warned the Prime Minister risked ‘political annihilation’ if he was seen as not sticking to the upgrade programme.
Earlier this week a Redfield and Wilton survey of voters in 40 Red Wall constituencies in the north revealed a 10 point lead for Labor over the Tories, with Wakefield set to fall to Keir Starmer’s party in the election partial next week.
MPs gathered for the NRG conference in Doncaster on Friday called for tax cuts ‘soon’ to ease the burden on voters struggling with the cost of living crisis.
But they also want mayors and council bosses to be given new planning powers to speed up building projects and boost private investment.
Mr Berry said voters who backed the Tories in 2019 must see improvements in their city as they ‘look out the window of the car or the bus’, adding: ‘We need to see more of it and it has to happen quickly”.
Craig Whittaker, MP for Calder Valley, said he was pleased with the increase in funds flowing into his constituency through the Towns Fund and Future High Street Funds.
Mr. Whittaker said The Independent that the “challenge” was to get improvement projects off the ground quickly enough to retain the support of former Labor voters in the next election.
“People only start talking about change when they see spikes in the ground,” he said. “Promises are heard but pikes in the ground believe.”
Dehenna Davison, MP for Bishop Auckland, said the pace of decision-making in government was “shameful”, adding: “Decentralization is absolutely crucial in bringing decision-making closer to local communities.”
The NRG chairman used the conference to call for a new ‘leveling up’ funding formula so that spending in the north can match that in London, and new powers for regional leaders to reduce the corporation tax and stamp duties.
Mr Berry said: “People who think the Conservative Party now has a right to win in the North of England are suffering from an illusion. People lent us their votes.
“Parties that do not listen to the electorate face political annihilation – the history of politics demonstrates that to be true,” the NRG leader added.
A recent YouGov poll showed the Tories were set to lose all but three of the 88 battleground seats they narrowly hold on Labor – including the Red Wall constituencies of Burnley, Blyth Valley and Stoke -on-Trent North.
Adam Hawksbee, head of leveling at think tank Onward, said one in four people who backed the Tories in the Red Wall seats in 2019 are ‘contract voters’ keen to see change in their area .
“Focus group members tell us they accept it will take years, but they need to see green shoots, something to point to, to see progress,” he said.
Mr Hawksbee added: ‘There is an argument that hanging baskets in town centers and removing graffiti is superficial. But it releases the aspiration, and it’s a down payment on the bigger, long-term things.
Mr Berry said he was ‘really’ disappointed when Mr Johnson canceled a conference appearance today, just days before the crucial by-election at the seat of Wakefield, West Yorkshire.
It was later revealed that the prime minister had traveled to Kyiv in Ukraine for talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky.