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By Bishop of Leeds
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The Conservatives must set out a real vision for people in the North

(Allstar Picture Library Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

3 min read

In the 2019 election, swathes of Britain voted Conservative that had never voted for our party before. They voted for a change to the decline they had seen over the past 40 years, presided over by both main political parties. They voted Conservative to make that change happen.

Make no mistake, that wasn’t a vote for life; it was lent. If the Conservatives are to win the next election, they need to reassure those voters who made the pilgrimage to the ballot box and put an ’X’ next to a Conservative candidate’s name for the first time that they made the right decision.

It is wrong that a man born in Blackpool has a lifespan 10 years lower than someone growing up in Hampshire. A country with the sixth largest economy in the world should not have a bigger disparity between the North and the South than that between East and West Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This is why the Conservatives must put forward a real vision for people in the North and show them how we will turn these statistics around. Ultimately, we are not talking about numbers. We are talking about people’s lives.

Following Tony Blair’s flawed idea that 50 per cent of all young people must go to university, Britain was left lagging in productivity compared to the rest of the world. Vocational education should be praised, not looked at like university’s younger brother.

We don’t have to rewrite the rulebook. The government has done a lot of work in this area over the past 13 years, with the creation of T-levels, the apprenticeship levy, and new Institutes of Technology, to name a few of its achievements. But we must continue, and accelerate, this work at pace. Vocational education has the opportunity to truly transform the lives of people around the United Kingdom, but especially in the North, which is exactly why it should be a priority for the government.

The government should show this intent by creating a ‘Voxbridge’. A vocational Oxford-Cambridge North with two sites of skill-based excellence. As a Lancashire MP, of course I would argue for one to come here to the county of the red rose; perhaps the other could be in Yorkshire. This will attract huge amounts of inward investment into the area and show how we can be a world leader in vocational fields.

Alongside this, we all know that, in politics, targets are difficult and often not met; but when they are, the history books are rewritten to say they were easily reached. They do, however, focus attention and show ambition in many ways. This is why I am also calling for an ambition from government, that 50 per cent of all young people will have a higher-level vocational qualification. We ought to make right what Tony Blair got wrong for so many millions of people across the country with our policy of vocation, vocation, vocation.

By putting our focus into vocational skills, we can change the life chances of millions of people across the north of England. We can show people who lent their vote to the Conservatives that it was the right decision, and that by voting for the Conservatives once again, we will build on the strides already made.

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