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Should the Conservative Party be apologising for the policies of the 1980s if it is to make electoral advances in the North of England?

Picture 1 The above question is inspired by last night's Sunday Supplement at the end of the Westminster Hour (45 minutes in), in which the Evening Standard's Anne McElvoy presented the first in a short series considering the potential for Conservative advances in the North of England.

Since the 1997 general election, swathes of the North of England have been Tory-free zones in parliamentary terms, although recent local elections results - in Lancashire and North Tyneside for example - bode extremely well for the next general election.

But would the party be aided in its efforts to make gains in the North it it were to apologise for the policies of the 1980s which saw the end of coalmining and other industry - and associated unemployment - in many areas?

Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove - who described feeling "more like one of Thatcher's orphans" rather than one of Thatcher's children growing up in Scotland in the 1980s - had this to say when interviewed by Anne McElvoy:

"We have got to acknowledge that the action that was taken during in 1980s to ameliorate the pain was insufficient. We simply didn't get the extent to which not just the economic future but the dignity, the culture, the society of parts of the north of England was built around those institutions and we were insensitive to that and I think we've got  to show in what we say and do that we appreciate that. I think a simple  'sorry', frankly, would be inadequate actually to the scale of what is required".

Alan Duncan, who is shadow minister for the North East, also appeared sympathetic to that position, saying that he was "sorry for the pain that was caused... sorry for the lack of investment", and regretted the demise of, for example, the shipbuilding industry - but stated that it "was blown" over a period of decades, and that Margaret Thatcher's Government alone could not be blamed for that.

The third Conservative interviewee for the programme, William Hague, appeared least disposed to the idea of apologising for the policies of the Thatcher Government. The shadow foreign secretary, who also chairs the party's Northern Board, recalled growing up in South Yorkshire where contemporaries had become used to being almost wholly dependent on the state for housing and jobs:

"Should we say sorry for breaking that stranglehold of the state on people's lives that gave them no hope for the future whatsoever? No, we shouldn't say sorry for that."

With whose view do you agree?

Jonathan Isaby


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