James Wharton is the Member of Parliament for Stockton South.
Surely the most frustrating thing about being a Conservative in the North East is the fashionable belief that our values “do not sell” in the region. All too often we buy into the rhetoric of our opponents and allow them to set the terms of debate. Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is a powerful example; I have lost count how many times I have been told that people in the North East do not like her. Labour MPs throw around “back to the 80s” as a criticism of government policies they oppose and all too often we let them get away with it. Yet in 1987 Mrs Thatcher won five seats in the North East, when in 2010, after years of decontamination and social action, David Cameron won only two: Hexham and Stockton South. We need to think long and hard about why this is the case.
I could use this platform to argue for more cash with which to buy votes, whether through new roads or enterprise zones or whatever else takes my fancy. Of course I do often make the case for spending in my region, but not as a way of buying popularity. I make the case when I believe it is the right thing to do. We cannot buy our way out of this particular political challenge. For proof of this we need look no further back than the excellent Teesside and Tyne and Wear Development Corporations, which regenerated huge areas in the late 1980s and 1990s. In Stockton South alone the Teesside Development Corporation created the Tees barrage, Teesside Retail Park, Teesdale Business Park and Preston Farm Industrial Estate. It transformed acres of wasteland into vibrant commercial centres and in 1997 the sitting Conservative MP Tim Devlin, who had delivered so much for the communities he represented, was swept from office with a swing of over 16%.