Tories returning from Manchester have been told the party must look to the three Northern regions for growth in the coming years.
Speaking at a party fringe event, Mr Opperman said he was realistic about the time frame for success, but insisted the party could return to the days of electoral success outside of the South.
Speaking at an event organised by think tank IPPR North, he said: “I had the joy of being what they call the candidates friend in the South Shields by-election, not a place you would think of as naturally ours. But on the doorstep, when you explain what we stand for, people say yes, I like those policies, when you tell them you want welfare capped or immigration down they like that and say that’s what they’d vote for.
“But when you say, oh and I’m from the Conservatives, they say no, I could never vote for them. That’s the job ahead of us.
“That shows we need to be saying more about what we are doing, because the voter likes it.”
Mr Opperman backed a plea from David Skelton for the party not to “repeat the mistakes of the minimum wage” with regard to the Living Wage.
Conservative opposition to the minimum wage, Mr Skelton said, made the party appear to be more concerned with big business than working families.
“It is vital we are not seen as the party of big business but of the consumer,” he said.
He added: “We need to replace negative association with a more positive one, every time I switch on the TV to see a big jobs announcement in the North I think where is the Tory minister praising this?
“And part of that means not repeating the mistakes of the minimum wage, which we opposed for four years.
“Now, I’m not saying doing this will mean we start winning straight away. It won’t happen immediately, but if we start the work now then in five, 15 or 20 years time we will be winning in the North, in Newcastle and elsewhere.”
Mr Skelton went on to suggest income prevented many people with Tory values putting themselves forward for party selection. He said that he stood as a candidate in Durham North, and pointed to research suggesting the cost of getting elected can be up to £30,000 which would impact on many potential candidates.