Tories put North in conference diary

The Conservatives are set to prove they are not just a party of the south by agreeing to stage their spring conference in the North-East.

The Conservatives are set to prove they are not just a party of the south by agreeing to stage their spring conference in the North-East.

As this year's annual gathering in Bournemouth winds down to a close today, The Journal has learnt party managers will name the region as the location for their spring conference in 2008 - to reinforce their image as reaching out to all parts of the country.

Tory leader David Cameron has repeatedly come under fire from members in the North over concerns the Conservatives are seen as only representing voters inside the M25.

However, conference organisers are now trying to end all that - by bringing their 2008 spring conference to the region, most likely to The Sage Gateshead.

The Tories have already confirmed next year's spring conference will take place in Nottingham, but a senior source on the party's organising committee said the North-East was next in line.

"We need to spend time in the big Northern cities and we're really keen to go to the North-East," he said.

Although he refused to confirm The Sage was being considered, The Journal was told by one North-East delegate that the party was close to signing a deal.

In 2005, Labour held their spring conference at The Sage Gateshead, attracting thousands of delegates, exhibitors and the nation's press.

Last night, North-East politicians welcomed the move, saying it was vital for the Conservatives to prove they were not southern-centric.

"It would be wonderful if we clinched this deal," said Hexham MP Peter Atkinson. "The Conservative Party has been tarnished with the image of only representing London and the South.

"We have got to show that we really are a party that looks out for the North-East and the whole of the North of England."

Activists in the region have conceded there is a huge mountain to climb in terms of winning back Tory support, but North-East Euro-MP Martin Callanan said the leadership had to show their faith in the North, insisting: "We are a national party or nothing. This will be an important demonstration of the party's commitment to the North-East if it comes off."

Traditionally the Tories have held their annual conferences in seaside towns such as Bournemouth and Blackpool, with spring conferences held in areas like Harrogate.

However, during his leadership campaign Mr Cameron admitted the Conservatives had to change their perception as only being interested in the south.

Leader of Castle Morpeth Council and Conservative group leader on the Association of North-East Councils Peter Jackson said bringing the 2008 spring conference to the region would be a "symbol of our faith" in the North of England as a whole.

A Tory spokesman said the party was taking the Northern areas "very seriously", adding: "Naming a shadow minister for Tyneside (Alan Duncan) was the first step, and it's important we have a visible presence and people see us taking them seriously."

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