Tony Devenish: Khan’s focus has switched from London to his Labour leadership ambitions

22 Nov

Tony Devenish is a member of the London Assembly for West Central.

Almost every month (April and August are the exceptions), the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, faces the 25 London Assembly Members at Mayor’s Question Time. What is often so depressing at Question Time is Khan’s undeniable obsession with media trivia rather than keeping London’s people safe, its transport moving, and getting the homes we need built. Despite his frequent pretence that all his failings are down to the Government, the reality is that the Mayor of London has a hell of a lot of levers to pull, and a £19 Billion annual budget to spend – a fact that his predecessors Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson understood far better.

Time and again the “froth” of politics seems to interest Khan, far more than the substance. He’s a Mayor who is far more interested in bashing the Government than delivering for Londoners. One recent case in point was a quiet briefing from his office that, despite the country opening up post-Covid last July, the Pessimist-in-Chief had decided to cancel London’s World-famous New Year’s Eve fireworks. New Year’s Eve is a major occasion that drives footfall for visitors to enjoy London over the festive season, where they spend money in London’s bars, restaurants, museums, and shops. Over a million London jobs are dependent on such footfall, so I stand by my description of Khan as “The Grinch” on LBC Radio. Despite Health Secretary, Sajid Javid MP, also telling him to think again, the self-described “most pro-business Mayor ever” failed to perform the swift U-turn that the situation clearly merited.

The Mayor and Greater London Authority are meant to provide strategic London Government. But there is little strategic thinking by the Mayor unless you count the time he spends working out the internal Kremlinology of the Labour Party. After five and a half years as Mayor – time where his sole focus should have been on making London an even better place to live, work and play – Khan’s main claim to fame is that he ran Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign to stab his own brother in the front. London is now suffering from being led by a man who lacked the strategic nous to recognise that making Ed Miliband Labour Leader would not end well. Many Con Home readers will have come across a colleague during their careers, more obsessed by plotting their path to a promotion than doing their job well enough to deserve one. Khan is a warning to all of us of what happens when one of those colleagues succeeds.

Khan should be addressing how London will change over the next decade. Because change it will. Business understands that we are facing a transformation every bit as profound as those caused by coal, iron and steel, the steam locomotive, and the car in past centuries. Khan is stuck in the weeds. Crossrail is now over a thousand days late on his watch. Police culture is at the top of Home Secretary, Priti Patel’s, inbox because the Mayor of London is asleep at City Hall.

Boris Johnson appointed Kit Malthouse, my predecessor as West Central Assembly Member, as the Policing Minister to Cabinet in part so Malthouse could do the job Khan should be doing as London’s Police and Crime Commissioner. Khan’s decision to move City Hall from London Bridge to a DLR Station in East London is so late that the Greater London Authority is about to become homeless, kicked out of its home of the last 18 years, without the new building being ready to occupy. Not a penny of the promised cost savings in moving office has been delivered.

The overwhelming message from business is the next industrial revolution is here and Covid is merely accelerating existing trends. People will continue to work more flexibly and the online world will be central to this revolution. So why have we had to drag Khan kicking and screaming to re-open the Night tube? At last month’s Mayor’s Question Time, my colleague Emma Best AM spoke movingly about the safety of women and girls in the light of the tragic murder of Sarah Everard. Khan replied to Emma like a bureaucrat, devoid of emotional intelligence, a prisoner of the most militant rail unions in the western world. Over the last five years, the Mayor of London has done nothing to bring in 21st century working practices. Forcing the taxpayer to bail out Transport for London to the tune of over £4 billion and there’s clearly more to come. Only two of the five Night Tube lines will re-open. So much for prioritising public safety and kickstarting London’s night-time economy.

If you watched any of the Labour Party Conference – and for those who suffer from insomnia, may I recommend the 90 minute cure that was Keir Starmer’s speech – you might have noticed Khan come ever more alive, the more wooden Sir Keir became. Standing close to his rival Andy Burnham, the Mayor of London looked genuinely happy, clapping and smiling, as Sir Keir droned on and on (and on). For a man who habitually claims he has no political ambition because his current job is so great, its noteworthy that Khan rarely looks as happy when back in London. With the house price growth driving many Londoners to move out of town, London needs a Mayor with laser-like focus on the biggest question of our time – not scowling and repeating the Brexit battles of five years ago.

The next Mayoral Election will be in less than 30 months time on May 2nd 2024 and London deserves better than an Andy Burnham wannabe, who is desperate to beat his rival to the throne. Those who have paid attention to the mess Khan has made of running London, might be surprised to learn that he’s still (just about) a contender to be the next Labour Leader. They might not be surprised to discover that it’s pretty much his sole focus.

Local elections in depth: Oldham voters punish Labour for “wokeness”

17 Nov

Source: Election Maps.

Case study: Oldham

Control: Labour.

Numbers: Labour 40, Conservatives 8, Lib Dems 3, Failsworth Independent Party 3, Independents 2.

Change since last local elections:  Labour -6, Conservatives +4, Failsworth Independent Party +2

All out or thirds: Thirds

Background: Oldham Council was formed in 1974 and has been a unitary authority since 1985. Labour has dominated but the Conservatives were in control from 1978-1980 and the Lib Dems from 2000-2002. A large Lancastrian town, Oldham prospered with textile production during the industrial revolution – apart from a difficult period when supplies of raw cotton from the United States were cut off, as part of protectionist tactics during the American civil war. Former MPs for Oldham include Winston Churchill – who won the seat for the Conservatives in 1900 and held it until 1906. He defected to the Liberal Party in 1904. An earlier MP was William Cobbett, a Radical and author of Rural Rides.

In more recent times, the Oldham West constituency was held by Michael Meacher for Labour for many years. After boundary changes, we currently have Oldham West and Royton, which was held for Labour at the last election by Jim McMahon, the Shadow Transport Secretary, with a majority of 11,000. But the result in Oldham East and Saddleworth was much closer – with Labour holding the seat by 1,503. (Further proposed boundary changes create some uncertainty.) The Ashton-under-Lyne constituency, represented by Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, also includes a couple of wards from Oldham.

Results: The local elections were controversial due to claims of failings by the Council involving child sexual exploitation – included cover ups and corruption. There have been claims of electoral fraud and counter claims of smears and extremism. Oldham Council already awaits an independent review into “historical safeguarding practice.” An earlier review covering Greater Manchester more widely has already been held. It said:

 “There was clear evidence that professionals at the time were aware the young people were being sexually exploited and that this was perpetrated by a group of older Asian men. There was significant information known at the time about these men’s names, their locations and telephone numbers, but the available evidence was not used to pursue offenders.”

Public anger has been prompted by the sense that this was not a matter of inefficiency or mismanagement – at least not entirely. There was a political dimension. What used to be called “political correctness” but is now usually termed being “woke” – a mentality that is increasingly prevalent among social workers, the police, and the legal system. That meant that rather than rigorously upholding the law without fear or favour there was regard shown to “cultural sensitivities”. No doubt there will have been some white racists keen to accuse the Asian community of collective guilt. But is it not obvious that ignoring the problem makes this far worse? Also that acting against crime and misconduct should not be subject to such arbitrary distortions? It is important to note that many Asians are completely exasperated at the feeble approach of Guardianista officialdom.

In any event, many traditional Labour voters have ditched their old Party as too “woke” and thus unreliable on such matters. Others have felt their loyalty severely strained. Labour in other parts of Greater Manchester performed rather better. Their Mayor, Andy Burnham, is clearly popular. But the Oldham results show the limits of the electorate’s indulgence towards wokeness.

Conservative councillors in Oldham are not woke. They recently proposed the following motion at a Council meeting:

“The Council notes that.

 • Saying that you are proud to be British should not be a source of shame and there is nothing wrong with Patriotism or flying our national flag. It is one of many things that binds our society together.

• That the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is in fact a unique bastion of freedom and that we should be proud of the outstanding role it has played across the world in education, art, culture, science, engineering and in exporting democracy and the rule of law.

 • We all have heroes in our communities – whether they are historical or present day, and we should properly celebrate these individuals, and their contribution to our country.

This Council resolves that:

 • The Chief Executive of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council write to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office and Secretary of State for Education asking them to support Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council by providing support for schools to teach the national anthem, fly the Union Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, display a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II and teach our islands’ history.

• Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council reaffirms its support for the sovereignty of the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Crown dependencies and United Kingdom Overseas Territories.

• The relevant cabinet member will request all schools in the Oldham Metropolitan Borough to: – Teach their children to sing the national anthem. – Fly the Union Flag all year round. – Display a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II in a prominent place in schools.

• Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council display a proper and fitting portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II (and any future sovereign) in a prominent place within the Council chamber and at the reception of Oldham Council along with our Union Flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 

• This Council rejects the phenomena known as ‘Cancel Culture’ and that it holds these truths to be self-evident, that of freedom of speech and democracy. Truths which must be cherished and defended.”

Some may feel this unapologetic patriotism is – ironically enough – rather un-British given our traditional reserve. But when our values are under attack it is necessary to be rather more assertive. Surely the former Oldham MP, Winston Churchill would have agreed.

Nathan Evans: Burnham’s congestion charge will be a disaster for businesses in Greater Manchester

1 Nov

Cllr Nathan Evans is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Trafford Council.

Andy Burnham’s behaviour as Mayor of Greater Manchester shows just how political he is. Residents in Trafford and across Greater Manchester are to have a 493 sq mile Congestion Zone thrust upon them. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority, under instruction from Burnham, is set to implement the largest road charging area in the world, a Congestion Tax masquerading as a Clean Air Zone across the whole of Greater Manchester.

Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the additional tax due to launch in May 2022 will see vans, buses, coaches, taxis, private hire vehicles, minibuses, and heavy goods vehicles paying a daily charge to travel in GM.

The amazingly fast rollout by the powers that be (wish they could be so prompt when it came to rolling out electric charging points) of the Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras, means that non-compliant vehicles – those that are from 2017 or older, on entering any part of Greater Manchester, be that Altrincham, Bolton, Rochdale, Bury, Stockport, Oldham, etc will see charges of £7.50 for taxis and private hire vehicles and an eye watering £60 for buses and heavy goods vehicles. Light goods vehicles such as small vans and minibuses are set to pay £10.00 daily charge for so called non-compliant vehicles.

Better yet if you fail to register to pay – you will have to pay a Penalty Charge of £120 in addition to the unpaid daily charge.

The much talked about retro-fitting of vehicles is no easy job. It is estimated that approximately 90 per cent of the 75,000 non-compliant vehicles in Greater Manchester are unable to be retrofitted, conveniently left out of all the reports, meaning small businesses such as plumbers, joiners, window cleaners, bricklayers, and carpet cleaners, etc will have no option but to go out of business or look to pay – and invariably take on the additional debt of a new vehicle.

Help is at hand we are told and if you jump though enough hoops you may be able to receive a grant; we don’t know what the small print says to obtain the mythical, up to £4,500 grant. But the government have enabled this point-scoring Labour Mayor to set a 493 sm mile trap.

I hope those who drove through Labour-run Trafford during the Party Conference in Manchester watched out for our famous potholes – the worst in the north west. Our police force, under Burnham’s leadership, is in special measures with a failed computer system and over 84,000 unrecorded crimes.

When you have a Labour Mayor running the show “King of the North” and a Conservative Government in power you can’t really expect Labour to play fair. At no point has this Labour careerist Mayor considered the impossible situation he is pushing our businesses into. In fact, businesses are the butt of Andy’s joke on the government setting businesses on a collision course with rising prices, a breath-taking grant requirement from government, and inflation in the market place of vans, taxis etc due to high demand; a mayor who just doesn’t care.

We have a mayor who blames the Government. After all no one told him how to “interpret” the original government request to clean up. Never mind that Andy Street, Conservative Mayor of West Midlands, went for a mere five mile charging area.

Amanda Milling: Let’s keep our campaigning going during these last few days

3 May

Amanda Milling is co-Chairman of the Conservative Party and is MP for Cannock Chase.

“You know what needs fixing – the potholes on the road out here”, a woman said on the door in Wolverhampton, “we need someone to sort the park out to keep the kids safe” two women said in Hartlepool, and “I’ve asked the council to sort the trees on the street here and they’ve done nothing” a gentleman said on the doorstep in Sandwell.

From Northumberland to Gloucestershire, as I’ve travelled the country over the past few weeks on the campaign trail this is what people have been bringing up on the doorstep.

This is what the elections this Thursday are all about – who you want in charge of your local services, who you want to empty your bins, who you want to fix your roads, who will be in charge of keeping your streets safe and who will bring jobs and investment to the area.

Up and down the country it is Conservative councils who have a proven track record of delivering good local services, investing in your communities and keeping bills low.

It’s Conservative councils that charge lower levels of council tax, fix potholes more quickly on average than Labour councils and recycle twice as much as Labour councils.

From my conversations with voters on the campaign trail, where we have strong Conservative councillors, they tell me of the positive impact the hard work their local Conservatives have in their communities.

And where we don’t have control of the council, or where we have no Conservative representation at all, voters feel left behind and forgotten by their councils.

When I’ve been campaigning for our Police and Crime Commissioners, voters have praised the efforts of our sitting PCCs. In Bedfordshire, with our new candidate, Festus Akinbusoye, the locals are keen to keep that strong track record going with Festus.

This Conservative Government is determined to cut crime and make our streets safer. It’s one of the Prime Minister’s key priorities and with Priti Patel we now have nearly 9,000 out of the 20,000 additional police officers across England and Wales we promised to put on our streets.

Across the country people know that it is the Conservatives who will work hard to cut down on crime and keep people safe. Labour have made it clear it’s not a priority for them – only weeks before the election campaign kicked off Labour voted against measures to keep this country safe in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. You only have to look to the record of Sadiq Khan in London and Andy Burnham in Manchester to see what happens when Labour are in charge of keeping people safe.

In the West Midlands, Tees Valley, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and the West of England we have seen exactly what a Conservative Mayor can deliver.

In Birmingham, I’ve seen firsthand the work Andy has been doing to level up the West Midlands. There’s so much building work going on in the city I was unable to film a video without a drill being used or a digger driving by.

Ben Houchen, in the Tees Valley, has helped secure tons of investment to the region bringing new jobs to the region and has been a standup example of what can be done to those towns that were left behind by Labour for far too long.

We never expected these wins in 2017, but our Conservative Metro Mayors have shown us what local Conservatives can deliver. We need people to get out and vote for them this week so they can continue to work with this Conservative government to continue to level up with investment in good quality local jobs and services.

I hope that Ben will be joined by Jill Mortimer in that great work. After 57 years of being let down by Labour, Hartlepool deserves better and Jill offers that change with a plan for jobs, investment and apprenticeships. But we’re under no illusion of how hard it will be. Labour have never not won the seat since it was first drawn up – with even Corbyn holding it easily.

On Thursday May 6, the country heads to the polls to vote in this bumper crop of elections. Now there’s no denying this will be a tough fight, we are defending over 2,000 council seats, the largest of any Party, and after 11 years in government it is common for the governing Party to suffer losses.

Labour and the Lib Dems are starting from an historic low so we can expect to see a post-Corbyn bounce and a Lib Dem revival.

This has been a campaign like no other but even with the challenges we’ve had to overcome our fantastic Conservative campaigners have spent hours ringing voters, knocking on doors and delivering leaflets come rain or shine. I’d like to pay tribute for all that you have done so far and urge you to join me in the final push ahead of Thursday.

It’s your efforts on the doorstep and on the phone that will help us to deliver more local Conservatives with a proven track record of delivering good local services.

While your shoes are worn and your knuckles are bruised your campaign spirit is alive and kicking. So as we head towards the final hurdle let’s get out and get campaigning to get people out voting Conservative on Thursday May 6.

Laura Evans: Burnham’s Mayoralty in Greater Manchester has meant four wasted years

15 Jan

Laura Evans is the Conservative candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester. 

The role of Greater Manchester Mayor was created to bring change and new opportunities. But our Mayor isn’t doing his job. He’s too busy playing politics to do his day job. So it’s time we told him that’s not good enough.

Soon residents across Greater Manchester will go to the polls to pick the Mayor they want for the next three years.

Labour think the blue wall was a one off; this is our chance to prove them wrong.

There is so much at stake, but the choice is clear. A Conservative Mayor who can get things done. Or three more years of a Labour Mayor with the wrong priorities.

Andy Burnham is in charge of Greater Manchester Police. The buck stops with him. But under his watch, our police have been left high a dry without the plan or the leadership they need. 80,000 crimes have gone unrecorded in a year. Shocking figures which resulted in the force being put in special measures by the Home Secretary. Under our current Mayor, there are not enough homes in areas with the roads, schools, and services they need. And our public transport isn’t working, especially if you live outside central Manchester.

Before coronavirus, we might have been able to ignore these problems. We might have been able to muddle on and live with them. But in the middle of a pandemic, we can’t afford for our police to be stretched to breaking point because they’ve not been given the support they need.

So, we need a better plan and that’s what I’ve been working on.

My plan would be for the whole of Greater Manchester, not just the city centre. And it would be ready to go on day one after the election.

I’ve already pushed back against the Mayor’s reckless plan to charge across 493 square miles of Greater Manchester’s roads. That’s every road, in every town, everywhere. Under his plan, van drivers could be charged £10 a day to use the roads. That’s a tax on jobs which will put livelihoods at risk, right when we need people to get back to work and get wages into pockets. I’d scrap it and get to work on supporting businesses, not tying their hands.

I want to see major improvements in transport across the whole region, using our share of the extra £568 million announced by the Government to invest in the north. Ensuring each local council gets to grips with tackling congestion and improving bus routes with more services that run on time.

I would push for investment, unlocking new opportunities from across the world now we have left the EU. That’s what people voted for and I’m ready to work with the Government to unleash our potential. New employers mean more people can secure the quality well-paid jobs and apprenticeships we need.

The Greater Manchester Mayor also needs a plan to take on the criminals and put extra police back in our communities. Taking charge of our local police would be my priority – using resources effectively so we can tackle serious crime and put officers back on the beat in our communities, so they can focus on helping to make our streets safer.

Our police need the tools to do the job, but officers have been forced to use pen and paper to record crimes. That’s not good enough – and it is putting residents in danger. Together with the Government, I’ll make sure every officer has the equipment and resources they need to keep us safe. And I’ll make sure they have extra powers, like stop and search, to bring knife crime down.

I also believe we need tougher action on anti-social behaviour. Every crime needs to be taken seriously, but that hasn’t been happening. So I’ll make sure that our police take a zero-tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour, drug dealing, and theft, with extra CCTV in crime hot spots, on public transport, and around our local parks. And I’ll work with residents to set up neighbourhood watch schemes, with dedicated officers. So we can stop anti-social behaviour ruining lives.

The role of the Mayor is to make Greater Manchester work for every resident – in every city, town and village. But for too long, investment and opportunity has focussed on the centre of Manchester, and ignored the communities where people live and raise a family. As the Conservative Mayor, I would be able to work with the Government to secure the transport investment and new jobs for Wigan, Oldham, Stockport, and everywhere in between. I’m not willing to leave any community behind.

Because it boils down to this: for most people nothing has changed since Andy Burnham became Mayor. And we simply can’t afford three more years of nothing changing, especially as we look to recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

So this is our chance to reject the politics of soundbites and invest in communities, police officers, and work with the Government to get stuff done. Put an end to stunts and posturing and more roll-up-your sleeves action that actually changes lives.

The people of Greater Manchester were loud and clear at the last General Election. I’ve already been working with our MPs, including our new Conservative representatives in Leigh, Heywood & Middleton, Bury and Bolton, to secure the changes we need.

For 30 years I’ve been campaigning to improve Greater Manchester and I don’t intend to stop now. Because we need a strong police force, better transport, and more jobs. Together, at the next election, we can make that happen.

A tale of two cities. The Conservative Government has had smooth relations with Liverpool – less so with Manchester.

1 Dec

When the first lockdown began, on March 23rd, I don’t recall a single local authority expressing opposition. Even some of the more extreme measures – such as keeping the great majority of pupils away from school – went unchallenged. Local elections were cancelled with scarcely a shrug. Naturally, financial compensation was a subject keenly discussed. But on the substance, there was overwhelming support for restrictions. The only dispute was how they could go further. For instance, in my own borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, the parks were closed for a while – until it was accepted that this was counterproductive.

The mood is very different now. Council leaders are routinely challenging the “tier” their area has been put in, regarding it as unduly onerous.

Yet within these parameters, there are some stark variations. Even before the current lockdown was announced I found that most Conservative council leaders felt restrictions had gone too far. As they become more exasperated they are increasingly speaking out in public. My understanding is that Conservative MPs contemplating rebellion are usually emboldened by council leaders in their constituencies.

But often it has been Labour councils which have faced demands from the Government for the tightest controls. Conservatives are more likely to live in towns and villages where the population is more spread out. Labour voters tend to inhabit the bustling cities. It is scarcely surprising that the virus is a greater risk to communities in the latter group. There is an appreciation that making an announcement is easy but that implementation is a bit more tricky. So the active support of local authorities is important. Here the response of the Labour leaders in the big cities has varied.

Consider the cases of Manchester and Liverpool. Andy Burnham is the directly elected Mayor of Greater Manchester – he is a “Metro Mayor” whose empire, or “combined authority”, covers not just Manchester City Council but ten local authorities. His behaviour has been frankly duplicitous and exasperating for Ministers. Did he feel restrictions were too tight or too loose? He managed to say both at the same time. There would be staged showdowns for the media but a lack of serious leadership during this period of crisis.

Then we have Joe Anderson, the directly elected Mayor of Liverpool, who has put partisan politics aside. His conclusion is that the Government is justified in applying unprecedented restrictions. He might be wrong, of course. As with all of us, personal experience will have an impact – his brother Bill died of coronavirus in October. What can’t be disputed is his good faith in working with the Government. Not only in acquiescing to restrictions but also in applying the mass testing pilot to his City – which is now to be applied elsewhere.

Reflecting on the political context, this is rather remarkable. Where in England are the Conservative most hated? Surely, one would have to say Liverpool – that city synonymous with socialist militancy. Margaret Thatcher backed Michael Heseltine’s regeneration efforts for the City, after the Toxteth riots. But the Scousers never appeared to be overcome with gratitude. Then, in 2004, there was more trouble when a young Conservative MP called Boris Johnson was sent to the City to apologise. A leader in The Spectator had claimed Liverpudlians were “hooked on grief”. Johnson was the Editor – although he hadn’t actually written the piece.

Anyway, here we are. Of today’s vote by MPs regarding the new rules, Anderson’s vitriol is reserved for those Tory MPs contemplating voting against the Government. He says:

“When I hear this fella arguing we should let covid rip, this little pipsqueak, I say to him, you come up here and work as a porter in the Royal Liverpool Hospital and you see the people that are dying and then tell us we should just allow this to continue and not have a tier structure. You have a shift carrying the bodies up to the mortuary.

“Come up here and talk to the doctors, and nurses like the one who had to ring me at quarter to ten on a Friday night to tell me my brother had died. You do a shift with them, Steve Baker.”

“You have to put the lives of people first. It’s the number one priority. Then, of course, the economy is important. But, first of all, what are you if you don’t prioritise lives?”

That is hugely unfair to Baker and the other “lockdown sceptics.” The premise that the tighter the controls we have, the more lives we save, is disputed. It is not a question of being indifferent to death. Still, at least the Government know where they are with Anderson – while Sir Keir Starmer makes calculations about which division lobby to enter, eventually resolving to abstain.

Government sources I have spoken to, at the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government, do not wish to overstate Liverpool’s exceptionalism. “Some of the local government leaders in Manchester have privately been good to work with,” I’m assured. Sir Richard Leese, the Leader of Manchester City Council, has a personally “amicable” relationship with the Government. It is Burnham’s “grandstanding” that has been the difficulty.

As Daniel Hannan has said:

“Perhaps we have hit what marathon-runners call ‘the wall’: that moment, around 20 miles into the course, when the stored energy in our muscles runs out, forcing us to a walk. The end is in sight, but our accumulated exhaustion weighs us down.”

General opposition to restrictions is still a minority opinion – though a growing minority. More of a challenge for the Government are the objections regarding consistency. Why are we in Tier Three when we have fewer cases than a neighbouring area which is in Tier Two? Why have we gone up to Tier Two when our number of cases have gone down from when we were in Tier One? Why is x allowed when y is not? A Deltapoll survey for the Mail on Sunday found that 37 per cent felt their local tier “too high”, 56 per cent thought it “about right” and only eight per cent “too low”.  Another response to that survey indicated that while 43 per cent of us are in Tier Three, only 25 per cent of us feel that we should be in Tier Three.

No doubt as the vaccines and the Vitamin D pills are distributed, the emergency will ease. As we crank up to elections in May, the normal tribal loyalties and hostilities will reassert themselves. Yet in the time being, we have the irony, that while the Government has managed to dismay so many of their supporters, the Mayor of Liverpool could hardly be more vociferous in backing their cause.

Anand Menon and Matt Bevington: Will Johnson really be able to level up?

30 Nov

Professor Anand Menon is Director of UK in a Changing Europe, and Matt Bevington is Public Policy Analyst, UK in a Changing Europe.

The best laid plans of mice and men. Less than a year after his decisive election victory, already thrown off course by the pandemic, the Prime Minister has had to hit the reset button. His Chief Adviser is out of the door, and Red Wall Conservative MPs are worried that the government’s flagship domestic agenda – levelling up – might be on the way out too.

When he announced his candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson declared”: “if we are to unite our country and unite our society, then we must fight now, for those who feel left behind.” Subsequently, levelling up has become a central rhetorical theme of his Government. But can it deliver concrete results by the time of the next election? And if not, will there be a political price to pay for unmet expectations?

Levelling up is a compelling phrase, but its meaning is at best fuzzy. In his first speech as Prime Minister, Johnson referred to levelling up wages, productivity, investment and opportunity. He also pledged to answer “the plea of the forgotten people and the left behind towns”. But can all this really be addressed in a single Parliament, let alone one knocked off course by Covid-19?

number of studies make the point that the UK is among the most geographically unequal countries in the developed world, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies reckons that levelling up is a job that will take years or even decades.

Moreover, any plans to reroute substantial amounts of Government money have been thrown up in the air by the Coronavirus. The Spending Review was delayed, and the sheer scale of public debt will act as a break on any government largesse. Meanwhile, new infrastructure projects, which would take years to complete anyway, have yet to be announced.

Then there is a new problem created by Covid: unemployment. This too will affect regional inequalities. According to the IFSLondoners are the most likely to be able to do their jobs from home and therefore face least disruption. The Government doesn’t just need to address unemployment, but try to mitigate its uneven geographical impacts.

And let’s not forget the challenge that, pre-Covid, was the most vexing to the British economy: productivity. Differences in productivity across the UK are at the heart of geographical disparities. It is a complex and difficult question for which there needs to be a Government-wide strategy. Any lasting effort to level up the country has to major on it.

Finally, there is the ongoing impact of austerity. Many of the places identified in the government’s Towns Fund were those worst affected by austerity. Places like Oldham and Rochdale – already some of the most deprived local authorities in the country – saw government spending cuts of 30-40 per cent between 2010 and 2017.

So the task is herculean from the start. And we haven’t yet mentioned the elephant in the room: Brexit. With or without a deal, the economic impact of leaving the European Union will be substantial, and forecasts suggest it will be greatest in precisely those parts of the country most in need of ‘levelling up’.

Thiemo Fetzer, for instance, has found that the costs of Brexit are likely to be more concentrated in local authority areas that have relatively low educational attainment – in other words, that it will exacerbate existing inequalities.

Despite all this, levelling-up as a political project may not necessarily be doomed to failure. For one thing, we should not underestimate the importance of political attention. A Government that appears committed to addressing regional inequality sends a powerful message.

As Deborah Mattinson has found from her work in the Red Wall seats, many voters felt they had been both left behind and taken for granted under successive Labour governments. It may be that the simple fact of having a government that talks about prioritising their concerns makes a difference.

That said, the Government has hardly made a positive start. Its handling of the pandemic has led to accusations that it is one rule for the South and another for the North. Large parts of the north of England were asked to lockdown when Covid raged in the south in the spring, but not vice versa in the autumn.

Perhaps more damaging was the tussle with Andy Burnham. The Government refused an additional £5 million for businesses in his patch, and then made the scheme instantly more generous when London moved into Level Two. And when the whole country locked down, the cherries aligned and the Treasury one-armed bandit spewed out cash.

Be this as it may, there are signs that this might change. The Blue Collar Conservatives and Northern Research Group have given a new public face to the levelling up agenda. And the Conservatives have announced plans to open a second, northern headquarters, in Leeds. The aim, as with their continuing talk of the Northern Powerhouse, is to send a clear signal that the they are there to stay.

Moreover our research with low-income voters in some of these areas revealed that many are not expecting miracles. They simply want better local services. The issues they identify are often pretty basic: reliable bin collections, well-maintained green spaces, and litter-free town centres.

Reversing some of the hollowing out of local government due to austerity would go a long way to addressing these issues, and might well be much more effective (and far less expensive) than large infrastructure projects.

In order to genuinely address the problems besetting those areas in desperate need of a new economic settlement, the government urgently needs to put more flesh on the bones of its levelling up agenda. And for levelling up to be really effective, successive governments must commit to achieving it. But to win the political battle, it may be enough – just – for Johnson to show that he has listened and started to act.

David Skelton: The Government must not forget that it was working class voters who delivered the 2019 majority

17 Nov

David Skelton is the author of Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map.

Last December, people who wouldn’t even have considered voting for us ten, or even five, years ago put their cross in the Tory box for the first time ever. Constituencies that had been Labour since their formation voted Conservative with remarkable swings. These voters had long been forgotten by the newly gentrified left and, in the aftermath of the referendum, had often become the butt of sneering and snobbery.

Working class voters, who had seen their economic and political priorities ignored by politicians of all parties for decades, saw that their concerns were being at long last listened to. They entrusted us with their votes, sometimes enthusiastically, sometimes warily, in the hope not only that their Brexit vote would be implemented at last, but also that, as a government, we would prioritise improving their lives and their communities. We should take that trust that was placed in us very seriously indeed.

A working-class Tory agenda is economically and politically the right direction to take

We should reflect on this trust that was placed in us and the basic political maths as we ponder the excellent question posed by Rachel Wolf on these pages on Saturday. In a nutshell, this question was whether we use the present “reset” to focus on the working class voters who delivered the 2019 majority or shift priorities towards the more affluent in a revival of a politics aimed at middle class metropolitans. For political, economic and moral reasons, the only correct path is to retain our focus on the working class voters who backed us in such numbers last year.

Politically, this new electoral coalition delivered the biggest Conservative majority in over thirty years. Only an electoral coalition centred on winning working class constituencies enabled us to do this and only this coalition would enable us to win another big majority in four years time. So-called “DE” voters backed Labour over the Tories for the first time and we had a 15 per cent lead over Labour amongst “C2” voters.

This allowed us to make some remarkable gains, from my home town of Consett to Andy Burnham’s old seat in Leigh – both symbolic of a “Labourism” that isn’t coming back. Electoral coalitions can’t be turned on and off like a light switch and we must continue the present focus. Maintaining this focus on these working class voters is the only realistic route towards a lasting Conservative majority and an enduring realignment.

We remain the custodians of the trust that was placed in us and we must repay it by delivering the substantial, positive and lasting change that we promised. This kind of change – boosting long-forgotten parts of our imbalanced economy – would also make our economy more productive and the country as a whole more prosperous. When parts of the country are held back from fulfilling their economic potential, that is a problem that impacts everybody. We must redouble our efforts to level up and genuinely create One Nation.

A One-Nation agenda of improved town centres, rising real wages, better jobs and improved infrastructure

In Little Platoons, published last year, I set out how an ambitious agenda of reform could transform long-forgotten towns, through infrastructure spending, transformation of town centres and a policy of reindustrialisation. We have made great strides so far but we now need to go even further and even faster, particularly as both the health and economic impact of Covid-19 risks impacting working class communities in the North more than prosperous communities in the South.

As James Frayne suggested last week, one of the key priorities should be making sure that town centres start to look and feel better over the next few years. Rather than being pockmarked with empty shops, bookies and discount shops, high streets must become symbols of community pride. Town centres should become community hubs – places for people to shop, businesses to set up (rather than in distant out of town business parks) and for families and young people to meet up and come together. Revived town centres should leave as lasting an impression of local and civic pride as the likes of Birmingham City Hall and the majestic Grey Street in Newcastle.

Just as people should see a difference in their town centres by the end of Boris’s first full term in office, they should also see a difference to their pay packets and their local economy. Despite the Covid associated economic hit, there must be a focus on creating economic revival in “Red Wall” areas.

As I made clear here a few weeks ago, our impending freedom from EU regulation will give us greater scope to use industrial strategy to help revive post industrial towns and promote a policy of reindustrialisation, including being leaders in green industry.

This should include aiming to shift the type of jobs that predominate in these towns from low-paid, insecure work to making them a central part of a high-skills, high-productivity, high-wage, tech-driven economy. We should enable local leaders to do whatever it takes, including through the tax system, to encourage industrial investment in their areas.

Part of the case I made in Little Platoons is that a direct government lever for revival is by relocating great swathes of the Civil Service to the North and the Midlands. An impressive report by the Northern Policy Foundation, published this week, shows that such an agenda would put “rocket boosters” under levelling-up and allow local areas to benefit from the agglomeration effect of relocating key arms of government.

We should also be stepping up investment in infrastructure programmes, to ensure that towns as well as cities have world class road, rail and digital infrastructure. We should consider how light rail can make a difference to people in “Red Wall” towns and also mustn’t forget about the importance of high quality, reliable and inexpensive bus services to local people. When even the deficit hawks at the IMF are arguing that now is the time to invest in infrastructure, we should be prepared to show audacity and imagination with big infrastructure projects for the North.

A relentless focus on making change happen

We must have a relentless focus on making this change happen. Levelling up should go through everything we do. Every day, ministers should ask themselves how their decisions are improving the lives of working people and to advance the levelling up agenda. And we should manage and track the levelling up agenda against these key metrics of improved town centres, rising wages, better jobs and improved infrastructure.

This is a One Nation government and levelling up is a definitively One Nation policy. As Damian Green argued as part of this series on Monday, building one nation is a conservative, not a libertarian, project. That means we should be prepared to use the power of the state to tackle regional economic inequalities (the GDP per head in the City of London is 19 times that in County Durham) and restore hope and economic vibrancy to long forgotten places.

We must make it our defining mission to repay the trust that working class voters placed in us and ensure that their lives are better and their towns are better places in which to live. If we do so, the realignment will be a lasting one. Now, more than ever, we must double down on levelling up.