A former Tory candidate in the North East is leading calls for the party to increase the minimum wage - to give it a chance of winning seats in Labour heartlands.
The campaign urging Chancellor George Osborne to increase the minimum wage has been launched by Renewal, a campaign group dedicated to broadening the appeal of the Conservative Party and giving it a chance of winning seats in regions such as the North East where the party has very few MPs.
Mr Osborne yesterday hinted that a rise from the current £6.31 an hour to £7 was indeed in the offing.
Renewal director David Skelton finished a distant second when he stood for the Labour stronghold of North Durham in the 2010 general election.
Northumberland MP Guy Opperman, who represents Hexham, is a supporter of Renewal, and has also urged Mr Osborne to increase the minimum wage.
Renewal has launched a review called “Renewing Capitalism”, which will look at new ways to create a competitive economic environment in which the consumer and the low-paid are protected, competition is cherished and anti-competitive, monopolistic behaviour is cracked down on.
It will also explore ideas to create wealth in parts of the country that have been struggling to share in prosperity since the 1980s - notably deindustrialised towns in northern England.
Renewal is also considering ways of changing the face of the Conservative Party by bringing in more working class MPs, including by introducing bursaries to help people on lower incomes stand for election.
Mr Skelton, who was born and grew up in Consett, County Durham, said: “The Conservative Party needs to come to terms with the fact that many people, particularly the low paid, don’t think that capitalism is working for them.
“We need to do more to show that capitalism can work for everybody in every part of the country. Being pro-market isn’t the same as being pro-big business.
“Where there are instances of abuse – in either the public or the private sector – Conservatives should come down hard to protect the consumer.”
The review could be seen as a response to Labour leader Ed Miliband’s focus on the cost of living and attack on “predatory” capitalism. Labour is arguing that the benefits of economic recovery are not being shared by most people - and is highlighting the fact workers in the North East on average are paid £1,300 a year less than they were in 2010, once inflation is taken into account.
Some Conservatives argue that putting up the minimum wage, currently £6.31 an hour for over-21s, would help ensure that working people enjoy an increase in their standard of living as the economy improves.
Speaking recently, Hexham MP Guy Opperman said: “I am a well known exponent of the voluntary living wage and am very keen for an enhancement of the minimum wage now that the economic conditions are beginning to ease.
“There is an ongoing campaign to see if the Chancellor is able to make such a change when we get to the Budget in March.”
Recommendations about minimum wage rate are made by the Low Pay Commission, an independent body set up by the Government.
Mr Osborne has said he will not increase the minimum wage if it will lead to job losses but there is speculation he could announce a simultaneous cut in taxes paid by employers such as National Insurance, allowing them to pay staff more while staying in profit.