THE Huddersfield-born chief of a political think-tank has been hired to help convert northern voters to the Conservative cause.
Chancellor George Osborne has appointed Neil O’Brien, director of the right-of-centre Policy Exchange, to advise on how the Tories can reach out beyond their traditional supporters.
Mr O’Brien, who grew up in Dalton of Scottish parents, attended All Saints’ High School and Greenhead College before graduating from Oxford University.
In his new role advising Mr Osborne, he will focus on how to counter the view among voters – particularly in the north – that the Conservatives are the party of the rich.
The move was welcomed by Tim Montgomerie, founder of the ConservativeHome website, who said Mr O’Brien’s appointment was a “big boost” to Number 11.
Mr O’Brien has made closing the north-south divide an area of particular interest and has called for greater focus on winning black and minority ethnic, blue-collar and northern voters.
Writing in The Spectator magazine this month, he argued that the main parties at Westminster had abandoned the north.
“David Cameron inherited lots of political baggage from the 1980s which makes it tough for the Tories to win a hearing in northern cities,” he wrote.
“The Liberal Democrats used to run in the north of England in opposition to complacent Labour councils. Now they are trying to avoid being minced for joining the coalition.
“And after the recession and the debt crisis Gordon Brown left behind, northerners don't feel so enthusiastic about Labour either.”