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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Northern Tories Want To Ramp Up Foreign Investment And Devolution In The Region

NRG chair John Stevenson speaking at the group's conference in June (Alamy)

3 min read

Extending devolution and attracting foreign investment into the North of England are likely to be among the ideas prioritised in a northern manifesto currently being developed by the regions’ Conservative MPs, PoliticsHome understands.

The Northern Research Group (NRG), intend to present their plans at the upcoming Tory conference in Manchester in October, after the idea was first launched at the group's own conference Doncaster last month, with the aim of influencing the party’s next general election manifesto. A general election is expected to take place before the end of 2024.

While finer detail of the NRG's manifesto is still to be finalised, it is understood that the topic of devolution, and decentralising power away from Westminster will form key pillars of what a source close to the drafting the text expects to be eight to ten ideas the group puts forward. 

There are also likely to be discussions on how private sector investment and foreign direct investment can be attracted to the north to help bolster their plans. It is thought that funding could build on programmes that already exist – such as the Levelling Up Fund and Towns Fund – to help focus investment in areas where it could be most beneficial. 

It is expected that proposals could call for greater attention to housing policy in the north when the party considers its national pledges. Recent government announcements on housing have focussed on the south-east, particularly Cambridge. A NRG source told PoliticsHome that taking opportunities on house-building in the north could take pressure off southern regions. 

Transport infrastructure across the north is also one of the principles set to make the manifesto. The idea of a ‘Charles Line’ rail link between northern cities, emulating London’s Elizabeth Line was first mooted at the NRG conference in June. 

Speaking at that event at Doncaster Racecourse, the group’s chair and MP for Carlisle, John Stevenson, pointed to the “northern city belt” of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Bradford and said that a “rail link that properly and efficiently connects these major cities” would “enhance productivity” and “benefit the whole northern region”. 

However, the group will be keen to also promote smaller infrastructure projects that could improve productivity in local areas. 

Proposals for a high-speed rail link between northern cities known as Northern Powerhouse Rail have been under discussion since 2014. However, these plans were scaled back with the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan in autumn 2021 under Boris Johnson

Numerous groups across the Tory party will be vying for the attention of Downing Street in the run-up to the election, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will be trying to satisfy the various factions on his backbenches in an attempt to enter the campaign with a united party.

NRG members will be hoping to convince Number 10 of the economic and electoral value of their seats as the Conservatives will be fighting to keep hold of their traditional heartland seats in some rural parts of the north at the next election, while also trying to keep so-called 'Red Wall' voters who may have backed the party for the first time in 2019, on side. 

There is a belief among some Tory figures that both their own party and Labour have neglected northern regions for decades,  and last week, the Conservative party lost the seat of Selby and Ainsty in North Yorkshire to Labour, the first time the seat has not had a Tory MP since it was created. 

Sunak, whose constituency is in North Yorkshire, spoke at last month's NRG conference off the back of a trip to the US, and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt courted MPs at a dinner the evening before. 

Stevenson told PoliticsHome: “Following on from our very successful conference in June, which was about policy initiatives and policy ideas, we’re taking those forward, giving some thought to them and we intend to present a northern manifesto at the Conservative Party Conference in October.” 

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