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Referring to the North-East is losing Tory votes, says James Wharton
A CONSERVATIVE MP has urged fellow Tories to stop using the term “North-East” – warning it is costing the party votes in the region.
James Wharton, the Stockton South MP, said the words – together with “back to the 1980s” – were a powerful weapon for Labour, because of strong memories of Margaret Thatcher’s rule.
He said Conservatives should change the terms of reference, instead of allowing their opponents to describe Government policies as “bad for the North-East”.
Mr Wharton wrote on a Conservative website: “The North-East is itself a political construct, with the regional boundaries drawn pretty much arbitrarily.
“I represent Stockton South, which is in Teesside . I also care about and will fight for the North-East, but to pretend it is one uniform place, running from the North Yorkshire border to Scotland, is a fallacy.
“People here do not describe themselves as ‘North- Easterners’. We are from Stockton, or Hexham, we’re Geordies, Smoggies or Mackems if we choose any label at all.
“We should never accept a political debate framed purely around geography, or Labour will always be able to falsely claim the Conservatives are a southern party for southern people.”
Mr Wharton also insisted the Tories had much to boast about at the next general election – pointing to the return of steelmaking to Teesside and the continuing success of Nissan.
And he said: “Many people in the North are as Conservative in their outlook as the most ardent party members in the South, but the Conservative brand is so tarnished they cannot bring themselves to vote for us.
“When they hear the intellectually shallow ‘this hits the North-East hardest’, we want them to dismiss it as the rubbish it is. We should not concede to debate on narrow geographical terms.”
But Phil Wilson, Labour MP for Sedgefield , described the argument as absurd, adding: “It’s not a label, it’s a geographical fact that there is a North-East of England.
“I accept there is a lot of diversity in the region, but when people in the South hear my accent they always say, are you from the North-East?”