This website contains articles from John's time as a sitting MP.

Northern Research Group Conference

The Northern Research Group (NRG) is a group founded by a number of backbench Conservative MPs in the United Kingdom who were elected to represent constituencies in the north of England, Wales and the Scottish Borders in the 2019 General Election to pressure government for greater investment in the north. It came together to represent the interests of so many people in northern towns and cities; to ensure that every voice is heard; and to make that step change in opportunity for all.

The group is chaired by MP for Carlisle, John Stevenson.

Rishi Sunak speaking on stage in front of Stronger North Strong Britain Posters
John Stevenson speaking to George Osborne on stage in front of Stronger North Strong Britain Poster

The NRG believes that the defining missions of our government are:

This Year’s Northern Research Group conference took place in June at Doncaster Racecourse. With over 350 delegates attending, alongside Ministers, Northern MPs and business leaders, and representatives from the private and public sector, it highlighted to all that a Stronger North would lead to a Stronger Britain, and built on the success of the first conference held in 2022. Notable interviews included the Rt. Hon. George Osborne CH and Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, with key note speeches from John Stevenson MP and the highlight of the day, Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Rishi Sunak MP.

Topics for break out discussion included Education and Skills, Net Zero, Connectivity, Health, Economy, Transport and Security.

John’s speech

John Stevenson speaking on stage in front of Stronger North Strong Britain Poster

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to see so many of you here today and hope you all enjoy the conference and have an opportunity to contribute.

Today could not have happened without our sponsors. So, I would like to take this opportunity to thank them on behalf of the NRG. – We very much appreciate your support.

In addition, I would like to thank them for their participation and contribution during the panel sessions which we will be having very shortly.

It is always important for any political organisation to have outside influences and hear the views and ideas out with their own echo chamber – so your contributions are very welcome.

And finally, I would also like to thank our sponsors for their contribution to the northern economy.

We should never forget that if we are to have a successful and prosperous north or indeed country… we are entirely dependent on the wealth creators and businesses investing in our communities…It is they who create…the jobs and opportunities which we want to see.

It is the successful businesses who ultimately generate the taxes which pay for our public services.

So please accept our recognition of the important part you play in our region’s success.

The NRG itself, as many of you will know, was set up by Sir Jake Berry. His vision was for northern Conservative MPs in Parliament to come together to achieve three key things:

Firstly – to influence Government and their policies as well as the legislation which passes through Parliament to the benefit of the North and our constituencies.

Secondly – to help formulate future policy and carry out research and…

Finally – to articulate a vision of a North of England which, we as Conservatives MPs believe will improve the lives of our constituents,…improve the economic performance of the North and…close the economic gap with other parts of the country…but in an upward direction.

It is important to emphasise that this is not about pulling down other parts of the country…but recognising that the North has not fulfilled its full potential.

Therefore, it is in the interests of everyone that we see a stronger North.

In politics if you are aspiring to be a national party which governs for the whole country…it is imperative that you are competitive in every area…formulating ideas and policies which will,…not just benefit the nation at large,…but also, different parts of the country which will have their own particular challenges and needs.

This is an important reminder to the Conservative Party.

Cast your minds back to the 2005 General Election. The Conservative Party won a mere 19 Parliamentary seats in the whole of the North of England.

It was after that Election that I wrote an article for Con Home.

Basically, I said if we ever wanted to have a Conservative Government with a working majority, we needed to win in one of three places – the big urban areas – London, Manchester, Leeds, or in Scotland or the north of England.

It was in 2019 we finally broke through by making significant gains which set up a working majority in Parliament.

We therefore need to be looking for a strategy which increases our representation here in the north otherwise the prospects of a Conservative majority Government will diminish significantly.

Indeed – the route to a Conservative Government at the next Election is a road that travels through the north of England.

How are we therefore to improve our position and fight the next General Election?

In my view there are the 3 Ps – Party, Personality and Policy.

Firstly - Party

Let us be honest, we have recently neglected our brand. Indeed, last year we did little to enhance it and much to tarnish it. We need to understand the importance of our brand, nurture it, appreciate it and take good care of it. This is particularly important in the North given the challenges we have experienced in the past.

However, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot re-establish the brand. We are already starting to do so, but there is much work to be done to return the brand to where it was only a couple of years ago.

Secondly - Personality

Before I come to the leader which is clearly the most important personality, I would remind you all that we all have a role to play. Ministers, MPs, Council Leaders, Members, supporters and sympathetic media commentators all have a responsibility.

We are ambassadors for the party. We are advocates for our policies.

How we come across really does matter- as it helps to shape our brand, our arguments and our policies. Quite often the personalities of individuals are reflected in the perception the public have of the Party.

It is also vital that there are northern voices, not just round the cabinet table, but everywhere being heard advocating the policies and ideas of the party. Demonstrating that we are in touch with our communities and that we understand their challenges and aspirations and that we have the solutions to improve their lives.

However, we cannot get away from the fact that the most important personality is the leader of the party. The polls already suggest that the PM is starting to gain in popularity and is close to level pegging with the leader of the opposition.

At the General Election, it is one of the most important questions – who do you prefer as your Prime Minister? I have every confidence that come the General Election, the Prime Minister will be the far more appealing personality and individual. His determination to deliver policy, do the hard work, the professionalism and the sheer competence will be in sharp contrast to the leader of the opposition.

Starmer may be no Corbynist (at least not anymore!), but speaking as a lawyer myself, I am not convinced that a North London public sector lawyer will resonate with the people in the north of the country.

Finally - Policy

This in many respects is the whole purpose of today, and for the NRG…our very reason to exist.

We want to influence existing policy, but also shape the future. We want to come up with new ideas and policies which can form part of our next manifesto and the very direction of travel of the region and our country.

If we are to win the next General Election, our brand has to be improved,…our leader has to inspire…but the policies have to be attractive, appealing and resonate with the times and attitudes of the people.

We must offer solutions to today’s problems.

We must also have a story to tell – a narrative – a sense of purpose, a sense of direction.

Back in 2014, this was achieved with the Northern Powerhouse concept. At the time it filled a policy a vacuum which had been around for many years.

Previous administrations of all political colours had for decades neglected the region offering little to improve and revitalise it.

It was a region either taken for granted or ignored.

This was followed by the Levelling Up Agenda which again captured, to some extent, the need to rebalance our economy and close the gap between the less prosperous and more successful areas of the country.

And then there have been the policy initiatives. The government has introduced some specific policies which have given some help. We have had:

All very worthwhile in their own right.

But we need once again to move on.

We now need to look to the future. New policies and ideas that build on what has been done but sets out a real vision of change and a program for the future. Only if this is done will the electorate consider voting for us.

They have to have a reason, in my view a positive reason, to support the Conservative Party at the next General Election.

Quite simply, we need to see policies that will lead to the rebirth of the north,…a renaissance in our great northern cities…and a feeling of a positive future for our smaller cities and towns.

All very well me saying all of this but does it matter? A reminder of the significance of the North. Nearly 16 million people. Manufacturing in the north is still 15% of the economy. 31 Universities – many of them world-leading institutions. It makes a significant contribution to the GDP of the country and the Treasury.

However

Improve these issues and we all benefit.

So, it does matter.

It started with the Northern Powerhouse concept. And this October it is the NRG’s intention to present a Northern Manifesto to Conference…A Northern Powerhouse 2.0.

To achieve this, we need your help – the key areas which we will be discussing in our panel sessions today include amongst others: –

These are the key areas which have been identified by the NRG and we intend to put flesh on the bones.

To give a lead the NRG have already identified 5 areas for policy development.

This would take pressure off the south of England whilst at the same time enhancing the economic prospects of the north of England – a win win for both regions.

Today therefore is about looking at some of these policies,…discussing ones for the future,…and laying the foundations for us to influence the next Manifesto.

We want policies that will make the north stronger but also policies that enhance the whole of the United Kingdom.

We must be imaginative, exciting, practical and conservative in our policy making.

I would conclude by saying this….

Labour thought they had a monopoly on the north, they thought they were invincible, they became arrogant and complacent. The reality was they had little to offer the north of England and indeed to this day, they are bereft of ideas and still have little or nothing to say to the north.

However, we cannot just assume people will vote Conservative because Labour has nothing to say. We have to demonstrate that we have the ideas and policies that will improve the north and people’s lives and communities.

To achieve this, we need a brand that resonates…personalities who represent and identify with the north and can be associated with the north.

But above all we need policies.

Policies which will improve the lives of the people in the north. Making the north stronger and therefore Britain stronger.

Let us therefore today use the panels to come up with the ideas, initiatives and policies which will lead to a northern renaissance and let the north be the success story in the years ahead.

We must build upon these ideas so that come the autumn, we can present a coherent strategy giving a northern agenda to take forward within the national agenda.

If Britain is to truly be a stronger country with a stronger economy, it will only be achieved by making a stronger north.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and enjoy the rest of the day.

Links to press reports here –