Vince Cable has told the North East not to trust the Conservatives on pay.
The business secretary yesterday said he was “surprised” to hear a new Tory group set up to win back Northern voters was talking about support for a Living Wage and other minimum wage issues.
The Liberal Democrat used a visit to Tyneside engineering firm Bel Valves to hit out at the Tories as the Renewal groups seeks to target voters from a traditional working class background.
Among the Renewal group’s backers is Hexham Tory MP Guy Opperman, who has joined others in saying the Conservatives need to be backers of Living Wage polices offering pay rises for low income workers.
Asked if he was concerned the Tories could win over Lib Dem voters, Mr Cable said he found the thought of Conservatives backing the policy “very surprising”.
Hinting add coalition tensions over pay policies, Mr Cable said: “I am the one who has actually been promoting the idea of an improved minimum wage. If the Conservatives support that I will be pleasantly surprised.”
Mr Cable added: “The Tories have been largely invisible in the big cities.
“The Lib Dems ran Newcastle very well, and in Berwick Alan Beith has built up a strong reputation, and think on his legacy and our national role we can defend and even increase our vote in Berwick.” The Berwick seat is set to be a key battlefield between the two coalition partners at the next General Election as long-serving MP Sir Alan Beith prepares to step down in 2015.
The Conservatives have increased their Northern focus in recent months, with the party conference seeing backing for David Skelton’s Renewal group. The former think tank director from Consett is leading efforts to reverse declining Tory fortunes outside of the Midlands and South.
Last night Mr Opperman, a long time advocate of wage rises for those on low incomes, insisted the group was speaking the language of many voters across the North.
He said: “I have consistently supported the living wage and strongly support an improved minimum wage. And I certainly believe that Berwick will become Conservative in 2015. We believe in the ideas of the Renewal group, of a living wage, proper local representation and a strong advocacy for the North East are the way forward.”
Mr Cable was speaking after meeting with staff at the Tyneside engineering plant Bel Valves. The business secretary praised the work Bel has done through its apprenticeship programme, saying the firm was helping to provide “ workforce with skills and abilities needed to be “the cornerstone of our economy.”
The firm is one of many to benefit from The Journal’s Let’s Grow regional growth fund bid, with Bel taking £800,000 of the £0m available to redevelop the site and increase production capacity.