Dear Fellow Conservative,

Some of you may know that I have made it a practice to visit and support as many Constituencies as possible during a General Election. This recent one was no exception and I managed to get to 70 during the course of the three-week campaign. I did so for two reasons.

Firstly, I think it vital that Associations in the region, predominately Labour-controlled but with a leavening of “safe” seats, should not be passed by in the inevitable and necessary push in Target Seats. When the Election has come and gone, the Party in “difficult” seats, often run by a few dedicated stalwarts, has to continue the fight for Conservatism and contest as many Council seats as possible.

Secondly, a Candidate’s role can be very lonely, particularly if you are not expected to win. A bit of moral encouragement from an experienced campaigner can be of assistance. At least, that’s what some of the candidates said to me!

The regional results were not as good as we had all hoped. Congratulations to Ben Wallace on regaining Lancaster & Wyre with a thumping majority and to Cheshire and Cumbria Tories for holding on (just!) to their respective County Councils. Commiserations to Tim Collins on losing his seat and to Michael Welsh and his excellent team on just failing to knock Labour out of Lancashire.

However, Michael Howard’s leadership did reintroduce discipline and unity into the Party’s armoury and it was a much warmer and more responsive reception from the electorate than in 2001. We are a force to be reckoned with again. We had a splendid array of talented candidates who fought their campaigns with vigour and professionalism, some of who surely will achieve their Parliamentary ambitions before too long.

But to win in 2009 we need another 10% in the polls and that means a thorough review of policy, attitudes, structures and methods.

It is clear that the North/South Divide is much in evidence as well as, now, an Urban/Rural Divide. As Disraeli said, “We are a national party or we are nothing” – and we are not a truly national party if we cannot win urban Northern seats such as South Ribble, Wirral West, Barrow or Chester. We must be the voice of the young mother on a city housing estate, the second-generation Asian and the rising entrepreneur. We must be FOR things and not AGAINST everything. We must tolerate a diversity of backgrounds and encourage a variety of views. But we must continue to represent our core beliefs and the 30% of voters who always vote for us. We are becoming nicer to know and able again to wear our Tory colours with pride but we must go further in persuading the uncommitted and the unconvinced of our virtues and values and so earn their votes to form the next Government of Britain.

Michael Howard has done a remarkable job. He has made us credible again. I am saddened that he is resigning and urged him to delay his departure until new procedures for a leadership election are thought through carefully and then put in place. (Tory Peers and MEPs should have the same rights as MPs). His Shadow Cabinet is an adroit mix of potential leaders and they will be tested over the coming months.

I want a generation jump. A young leader with a refreshing approach, assisted by some of the more experienced colleagues. New Labour is threatened by the Liberals. We are only threatened by ourselves and the ghosts of our past. We have all to play for and much to do but I am convinced that, if we review, reform and repackage ourselves, then our great Party can be on the road back to victory.

Kind regards and good wishes,

Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Atkins Signature

Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Atkins
Deputy Leader, Conservative MEPs

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