This week is set for a strange political spectacle – Michael Gove coming to the rescue of Boris Johnson with an ‘upgrading’ white paper that will turn heads, elicit gasps of appreciation from grateful Red Wall voters and will divert all attention from the ongoing car crash that’s Partygate Reported.
Can it work? The Secretary of State for Leveling, Housing, Communities, and Intergovernmental Relations is an unlikely modern version of General Custer, who arrived at the Battle of Gettysburg just in time, saving the day for union in 1863.
Govey is more than twice the age of the petty general that day and is better known for his disloyalty to his commander-in-chief than for his delicate skills with cavalry.
Apparently Johnson ‘wanted to hit’ Gove in 2016 after his former friend offered to become Prime Minister on the morning of a speech in which Boris was to announce his own candidacy, a move that skillfully destroyed both men’s chances, leaving the open way. for Theresa May to clinch the Poisoned Chalice.
Gove then insisted he had no choice but to sink Johnson’s campaign, insisting that “it’s not a betrayal. I explained my reasons at the time. The water is under the bridge. And there it seems to have remained.
Yet it’s surprising to think that the man who tried to torpedo Johnson’s prime ministerial ambitions just six years ago is now tasked with saving them. Some might think this is a measure of desperation at Conservative HQ. But Gove will no doubt toe the line he has toed for months, if not years, to produce this seminal policy that will somehow cement the deal between an ignored, patronized and underdeveloped north and the conservative party which won it for the south.
According to a government statement ahead of this week’s upgrade white paper, 20 cities will benefit from a £1.5billion pot, funding developments that will combine ‘housing, leisure and business in beautiful new sustainable and walkable neighborhoods”. Not a patch on missing monies due to the government’s mishandling of Covid loan fraud, but still. Head spin.
Until you read that the money is made up of leveling funds first announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his spending review last fall. So no fresh money at all.
According to Labour’s Lisa Nandy, this is just a “little payback in a few places of the huge sums of money” lost to the North by years of Tory rule.
And indeed, while it’s tempting to dwell on the chaotic nature of this weekend’s announcement, it would behoove a political party worth its salt to use the momentum of this moment. and to “level” completely out of the political waters.
Since when did the British public and the chattering class accept this ridiculous euphemism for equality?
Kind of like staying away which is really just a vacation and wild swimming which is really just…swimming, leveling up, it’s really just equality. Regional equality. So why can’t a party that believes in planning, management and good governance still call it that?
A little too scary socialist – a little too Jeremy Corbyn? Worse – jacket a little too donkey and Michael Foot perhaps?
In the 1970s, leveling up was just land-use planning and industrial policy, both seen as essential levers for any smart government to avoid creating an overheated honeypot around its capital. resulting in the destruction of regional jobs and a joint erosion of inequalities in wealth, income and costs across the country.
Is it just a curse of age to remember these policies as totally harmless?
Now, the public is expected to swoon in gratitude when a (one-time) amount of money comes its way – from the taxes it sends to Westminster in the first place?
Has the American dream of becoming great in spite of (not because of) government so completely overtaken the once socialist vision of red wall seats that voters are ready to see their local leaders standing tall, expecting a alms?
Does anyone else remember a time before the National Lottery when people expected progress to come from a well-managed system, not from the tiny chance of a personal windfall obtained at out of an ill-gotten pot of (disproportionate) working class money? In short, have voters so completely forgotten the days when the economy wasn’t run like a huge free-for-all that they’ll accept Gove’s leveled trinkets?
I guess the all-important Red Wall seats won’t be so easily removed.
Although the collective memory of the 1970s is hazy, the memory of recent Conservative betrayals is quite good.
As the dashed commitment to build the second phase of HS2 to Leeds and Manchester, even as the main vanity line from London to Birmingham continues.
Like the scaled-down plans for Northern Powerhouse Rail that leave Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Hull with a fragmented service of slow, polluting old diesel trains?
Like the housing threshold in the proposed welfare reforms, which means more northerners will end up selling their homes.
Like the rise in National Insurance whose taxes do not work on wealth and therefore affect the working poor more than well-off retirees.
Like the leveling payments already made that are directed to relatively wealthy conservative towns and not poorer Labor voting areas.
Like the Tories’ plan to revert from proportional representation to first past the post for municipal elections, in a bid to thwart the election of troublesome Labor mayors.
And then combine all those open betrayals with the slap in the face to morality and decency that is Partygate.
The UK government‘s 2021 race-to-the-bottom strategy will take some step back – and it will take more than Gove’s latest stand to prevent Boris Johnson from feeling the wrath of northern voters in May’s local elections.