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Guy Opperman MP: I'm walking the Pennine Way to find out why Conservatives are struggling in the North

Guy Opperman is Conservative MP for Hexham. Follow Guy on Twitter.

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While others will be settling down to watch the Olympics I have cancelled my summer holidays to take a walk from Sheffield to Scotland. Why? I want to put on my hiking boots and find out for myself why our party is failing to connect with Northern voters.

Twenty years ago, in 1983, the Labour Party won 20 more seats in the North at the General Election than the Conservatives. At the 2010 General Election the Labour party won 62 more seats than the Conservatives. This year's local elections were a painful reminder that something is clearly wrong, and my party should be worried. Our party is still struggling to connect with voters in the North and I want to find out why. The best way to to do that isn't focus groups, polling, or via think tanks, its getting out there on the ground and talking to people.

I will be following one of the North's most famous routes, the Pennine Way. Its a journey that could be reflective of the Conservative's path to an overall majority.

For the Conservative party an overall majority lies in winning more seats up North in Yorkshire, the North West, the North East and the borders of Scotland. Our majority isn't won or lost in the South, its up here.

In 2010 we did make progress, particularly across the Pennines. In my region of the North East, almost 300,000 people voted Conservative, an increase of 4%, whilst the Labour vote dropped by 9% and the Liberal Democrats remained stagnant.

We won two seats, my own in Hexham and a second in Stockton South, but fell short in our other targets, failing to snatch seats in Tynemouth, Berwick upon Tweed, Middlesbrough South and Sunderland Central.

Right now things are worse. We've lost Council seats in Tynemouth and Sunderland. In Newcastle, the largest urban centre next to my own seat we did worse in this year's local elections than we even did in 1998. We have got to face reality, forget 'mid term blues', and forge a better relationship with Northern voters. There are good ideas and real leaders out there - almost all the MPs in the north are 2010 intake. I am starting in Sheffield, then heading up through the Colne Valley and Calder Valley seats of Jason McCartney and Craig Whittaker, before taking in Keighley and North Yorkshire. Then I shall walk through parts of County Durham, Cumbria and Northumberland before finishing in Scotland 3 weeks after I started.

It is only by connecting with the voters here, in places like the North East, North West and Yorkshire that David Cameron will earn another term as Prime Minister in 2015.

Every week ConservativeHome will be publishing a diary of my findings - out there talking to real people. It might not always be comfortable reading for us as Conservatives, but I hope it will be valuable. Next stop, Sheffield.


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