So David Cameron confounded critics and pundits and won an overall majority. His new Conservative Government has already set about implementing its manifesto.
Gone are the threats to business of higher taxes and more regulations. Gone are the threats to the economy of untrammelled public borrowing and never ending public debt. Gone too is the influence of the region’s Labour MPs if they foolishly decide on an obstructive, politically obsessed approach to dealing with the new Government. Nick Brown MP had the tone right when he welcomed the appointment of North East MP James Wharton as the ‘Minister for the Northern Powerhouse’, albeit with the promise to scrutinise his performance.
It is a great truth in politics that an open hand achieves more than a clenched fist, and our region’s representatives need to work in tune with the realities of Government policy. It is a reality that more powers will be accompanied with new mayors; in coalition this pledge (which is not welcomed by many) might have been diluted but a majority Government is entitled to implement its manifesto. The consequences are that new mayors will disrupt existing and long-established political structures and it challenges the domination of Labour, but it is now up to us to make it work.
The pundits who doubted Cameron’s win are also wedded to the belief that he and Osborne are not sincere about helping the economy of the North. I know both men and they are genuine, each of them considering it a matter of personal integrity and professional pride that the economic gains of this recovery reach parts of the UK that other recoveries have not.
This ‘Heineken’ approach to spreading wealth requires smart and targeted devolution. It is true that the North West appears to be in the driving seat, but there is no reason that the North East shouldn’t hitch a ride.
The Chancellor is in listening mode, but the reality is that the election has given him all the cards and if compromise is needed it should come from North East traditionalists who need to open their minds to a new approach and do so quickly,
I was struck last week by the opinions of Charlie Mullins; who is he? I hear you ask. Charlie is not an MP or decision maker, but he is a well-known Conservative leaning business owner based in London. He, and others like him, have the ear of the Government now and he has recently had his pre-conception about the North East shattered.
Last week he was the keynote speaker at the Entrepreneurs’ Forum annual conference at the Sage. He gave a very amusing and dynamic presentation but regardless of what the audience thought of him, he left with a very positive view of us. Here is a quote from his blog: “The image we Londoners have of Newcastle is not always positive. Geordies have a reputation for drinking and being on the dole – perhaps not helped by programmes like ‘Geordie Shore’ – but today my mind was opened and I have to tell you about a brilliant city full of great architecture, friendly people and a newly dynamic and growing economy.”
Business and political leadership in the North East should be pleased with this reflection on our current state, and strive to invite more people like Charlie to visit our region. Seeing is believing and people like Charlie can be brilliant unofficial ambassadors. They don’t respond at all to whining or strident words about entitlement. They want to invest and work with us because we are successful and like-minded, not because we have an incurable case of special pleading.
All the business groups in the region need to understand that the Government is interested in new ideas, new ways of working but also an acceptance of its preferred structures. Going to ministers with old and tired arguments will do no good. Look at the new political map of the UK - the North East is surrounded by Conservative voting areas and other regions have greater representation within the Government itself.
Our small group of Conservative MPs - which now include the redoubtable Anne Marie Trevelyan - have a big responsibility to get the most they can from the Government. It would be a great help to the region if our best and most open-minded and moderate Labour MPs joined them in the cause.
- Graham Robb is Senior Partner at Recognition PR and chairman of the North East Institute of Directors.