FORMER Tory leader William Hague is to take a more prominent role in pushing the party’s revival in the North, it emerged yesterday.
Current party leader David Cameron has described Mr Hague, MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, as the “absolute key person” as the Conservatives’ leading spokesman for the North and chairman of its Northern Board.
The comments come in the wake of reports that an aide to Mr Cameron claimed he could lose the next general election because of the party facing “permafrost” in the North, with key battlegrounds in the North-East remaining solidly behind Labour.
The challenge was underlined by a survey in the streets of Newcastle that revealed nobody knew who the Tories’ shadow ministers are for Tyneside and Wearside, MPs Alan Duncan and Mark Hoban respectively.
The party, however, insisted it was making progress.
Mr Cameron said: “William Hague is doing more public engagements in the North of England than anywhere else. The Northern Board is advising us on policies for our manifesto.
“The absolute key person on this is William Hague, that is why so many of his public engagements are in the North and we will make sure he continues to campaign hard.”
The Tory leader said an English Parliament would be ruled out as too costly but backed “English votes for English laws” amid concerns Scottish MPs are having too big a say on legislation that does not affect their constituencies.
The party is also investigating whether new transport schemes could be funded through bonds, borrowing on the money markets and allowing councils to keep the business rates paid by firms during the first five years.
Mr Cameron said solving social problems from family breakdown to gangs and educational underachievement would be at the core of his pitch to voters. “To paraphrase Bill Clinton: ‘It’s society, stupid’,” said the Tory leader.
On tax, he said: “We will produce a very clear package showing which green taxes go up and which family taxes will come down.”
Responding to the survey, shadow Tyneside minister Alan Duncan said: “In many parts of the country, no one would be able to name a Labour MP apart from the Prime Minister and there is a general disengagement from politics across the country.
“Tyneside has been taken for granted and neglected by Labour and Conservatives have been totally off the radar, this is what I am trying to tackle.”
He added: “Half of Blair’s Cabinet came from the North-East – what a lot of good that has done for the region.”