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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 18:32 GMT
Conservatives eye northern votes
David Cameron and William Hague
Mr Cameron appointed William Hague as north England spokesman
David Cameron has set up a group to boost support for the Conservatives in northern England, where the party's fortunes have dwindled in recent years.

The Tory leader said they could not hope to form a government unless they represented people across Britain.

"In 1970 we won 62 seats in the North. Today we hold 19. We cannot turn this situation around overnight," he said.

Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague, MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, will head up the Northern Board.

The Conservatives have 19 MPs, six MEPs, 1,362 councillors and the control of 18 councils in the north of England.

Party chairman Francis Maude said support for the Conservatives in the North had been "flat-lining for too long."

The party says it will be the first time it has organised itself to ensure the region has a place at the heart of policy-making and campaigning.

Where the party died away somewhat at grass roots level in, say, the 1990s, then we lost the councillors and lost touch with people at a local level
William Hague

"I think we've neglected our organisation actually over previous decades," Mr Hague told BBC Radio Five Live.

"Where the party died away somewhat at grass roots level in, say, the 1990s, then we lost the councillors and lost touch with people at a local level and then it makes it harder to win the parliamentary seats".

He said the north was "by no means a desert" to the Tories, who are part of ruling coalitions on councils in Leeds and Bradford.

Asked whether it was patronising to assume voters in the north had different priorities from those in the south, Yorkshire-born Mr Hague said: "I don't think I will ever be caught patronising anybody in the north of England."

But he claimed some problems were worse, saying both violent crime and council tax had gone up more in the north, while life expectancy was lower.

"These are important issues that political parties have to tackle and I'm determined the Conservative party is going to do that."

Activists in the North-West, North-East and Yorkshire and the Humber will get "greater autonomy" in organising and campaigning.

As part of its role, the Northern Board will propose new ways of promoting the party regionally and locally, and support selected parliamentary candidates.

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