It has been one of the most dramatic political weeks in living memory and there’s every chance that things could get even more dramatic. What seems clear is that there might well be an election sooner rather than later. What is even clearer is that the route to a substantial overall majority is through the towns that drove the Brexit vote. That would need a transformative offer that goes well beyond Brexit.
I set out what this offer might look like in my new book, Little Platoons, which was published earlier this week. It argues that those towns that drove the Brexit vote did so because the economic and political status quo wasn’t working for them. If the Conservatives want to make the big breakthrough in Brexit voting towns that is within their reach, they will have to show how they can deliver substantial, transformative change to places that have been devoid of hope for too long.
These towns, often post-industrial or struggling coastal towns, have been suffering for decades. Poor transport links have become gradually worse as successive governments have emphasised links to London and between big cities, rather than between towns. All too many places, such as my home town of Consett (with a population of 26,000) have no train stations at all and need to rely on over-priced and often neglected buses. In many places, high streets and community spaces have been neglected and local economies lack vibrancy. Skilled jobs are often in short supply.
A new offer to these Leave-supporting towns must be one that delivers change to the towns and hope to the people living there. This offer should be at the core of the manifesto for an election on October 15th. In Little Platoons, I make clear that this should deliver a profound change in the political and economic settlement that will move long forgotten voters in neglected towns from being peripheral to being central.
The agenda I set out includes a programme of national reconstruction, which will ensure that forgotten towns have world-class digital, road and rail infrastructure. Government should empower the most deprived towns to do whatever it takes to encourage investment and to turn their towns around, encouraging the most deprived towns to be bold and audacious.
A push should be made for the reindustrialisation of many towns and a vocational education revolution, which works with local and national employers to ensure that young people remain engaged and our towns have the skills they need to prosper. Measures should be taken to strengthen communities, as well as engaging and capitalising employees.
An election should be fought on the platform of genuinely creating One Nation, of empowering people who have long felt disempowered and returning economic, cultural and social vibrancy to places that have long been forgotten and neglected. This kind of transformative offer would bring change to those places and people that need it the most. It would also pay electoral dividends by winning over those voters who are tired of being taken for granted.
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