Ben Bradley: In Nottinghamshire we are ensuring that “levelling up” is not just a slogan

7 Jun

Cllr Ben Bradley is the MP for Mansfield and the Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council.

Levelling up, by its very nature, is not something that can be imposed from London. The Prime Minister was absolutely right last year when he talked about empowering communities and local leaders in order to deliver on this key political, social, and economic priority.

It’s often said that levelling up is just a sound bite, or that it doesn’t mean anything. I wonder if those journalists and commentators are really paying attention, because there is a whole world of work going on. It would be nice to be able to neatly package it all and tie it up with a bow, to present to the public and the media, but it’s not that simple. This programme of work is not just one thing, or another. It’s vast, it’s long term, and it’s a complex map of inter-relating parts.

It’s also different in different parts of the country, because as I said, you can’t dictate local needs from Whitehall. From that perspective, I can only really speak from an East Midlands perspective, but the moves that are afoot in my region could be profound.

We’ve got a whole world of progress being made here in a range of areas, from skills and job creation, to education, infrastructure, and public service reforms. Not much of it is physically visible yet, in all honesty, just a small proportion. These plans are long term. Not all of them are directly Government-led. In some cases, the public sector is just trying to support other stakeholders, and in others it’s entirely privately funded. It doesn’t matter who is doing it, does it, in truth. What matters is outcomes.

So skills then… What is happening in my part of North Nottinghamshire on skills? The major development is a new partnership between Nottingham Trent University and local colleges, starting with West Notts college in my constituency. This means that Mansfield is becoming a University Town, with high quality provision delivered by the country’s most popular university. This partnership is expanding to include other colleges, and for the first time we’re beginning to see a local FE and HE sector that is working together rather than competing for ‘bums on seats’. This is a game changer, as it means in the future we’ll have a more coherent and high quality local offer, and it means that local young people will not have to leave in order to get the kind of qualifications and career they desire. Towns Fund projects for new skills provision around Aerospace, Automation, and more, will come to fruition in the coming years.

We’re a Schools Improvement area in the Department for Education, which means extra funds and support to improve school outcomes in the county’s most disadvantaged areas of Ashfield and Mansfield. We’re having two secondary schools entirely rebuilt, standards are improving, and we’re also talking to the Department about the Schools White Paper and what might be possible over the year ahead. We’re taking big strides in education across all levels.

All of that, and more young people staying in North Notts to learn, means we need to provide them with jobs in the area too. Part of levelling up has to be providing the kinds of high skilled, high paid jobs that local people want and providing them here within commutable distance, as well as, of course, ensuring that they have access to the training and qualifications they need to take those opportunities.

Again, we have a whole range of things going on, including major regionally and nationally significant projects that will create thousands of jobs. The East Midlands Freeport will bring jobs across a range of sectors, like engineering, energy, and logistics to the area. Our East Midlands Development Corporation, which will be finalised in the Levelling Up Bill, is master planning huge areas of the county and working to attract investors in areas like Toton and Ratcliffe-on-Soar, where new commercial and industrial development will interact with recently announced investment in HS2 and local rail projects. I envisage that in the longer term, the DevCo will be able to use its powers and capacity to pick up new sites too and make the most of the potential of areas like the M1 corridor through North Notts and North Derbyshire. We’re in the final stages of bidding for a multi-billion pound investment in STEP Fusion Energy, and Bassetlaw is the perfect future home for the proposed prototype power plant. This too would bring thousands of highly skilled jobs.

I mentioned HS2. Across the country, outside of the London to Birmingham corridor, again our area is set to benefit most. We’ll have four HS2 hubs across Notts and Derbyshire, plus a commitment to growth and a new station at another site at Toton in the middle. We’ll cut the commute from Derby and Nottingham to Birmingham down to 26 minutes, with a £12 billion investment, and open up new local and regional routes too, to connect people in to work. We have plans through the Levelling Up Fund to open up new roads and access routes to further potential development sites, and of course we’re blessed with great access to the M1 and A1 that offer us further opportunity. Lots of potential, and lots of investment.

This is all drawn together under new proposals for regional devolution. The PM was clear that empowering communities and local leaders is key. I hope that the East Midlands will get access to the kind of clout, and the kind of public and private funds, that areas like the West Midlands or Teeside have seen come their way as a result of having these kinds of deals. Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire are lined up to go first, and in many ways this is one of the biggest opportunities in helping us address the long term regional inequalities that have plagued our part of the country.

We’ve got it all going on! Levelling up isn’t a finished product, nowhere near, but neither is it a soundbite. It’s long term and it’s complex, which is not easily communicated. It’s clear though, as I list just some of the work we’re doing across national and local government, across partner organisations and the private sector, that levelling up has a momentum. The East Midlands has a plan, and it’s local people who are set to benefit, as it comes to fruition over the coming years.

Richard Bingley: Working with the private sector is delivering results in Plymouth

16 May

Cllr Richard Bingley is the Leader of Plymouth City Council

At 3.30am, the Friday morning before last, inside a leisure centre hall, a BBC reporter kept asking me if there was anything that we could have done better in our campaign. After each refusal to criticise my Party colleagues in London, his patience almost snapped. “Surely, there was something we could have done better?”

Although we had actually snatched a seat from Labour, and made ‘technical gains’ and another two from Conservative Independents (thus putting us in pole position to hold our minority administration) I did eventually relent slightly.

I stated that we Conservatives need to be far more confident in expressing the delivery of our policies. For example, delivering a clear Brexit, 8,000 more police, 17,000 more nurses (I was 10,000 short), and introducing a Living Wage. Then increasing it, whilst removing many lower-income earners from the income tax bracket.

In a City of 262,000 residents, with 110,000 workers, whose average wage (here in Plymouth) is £50 less per week than the national average, these achievements very much matter to residents.

Since becoming leader and introducing an energetic, diverse, Cabinet Team, our central focus has been job creation. Or, to be more precise, high-value job creation.

Why?

Because high-value job creation drives up citizens’ aspirations and demands. Aspiration for better schools. Demand for decent homes. Aspiration for even better local jobs. And demand for access to first-class healthcare.

Top-down socialism can’t make this happen. Tony Blair’s ‘third-way’ market democracy couldn’t make this happen.

But, driven from the grassroots, by unitary City Councils, such as ours, Boris Johnson’s and Michael Gove’s ‘intelligence-led’ Levelling Up can make this happen.

Indeed, is making this happen.

We council leaders – particularly the Conservatives ones – are frustrated and fatigued by the top-down doom-mongering and pithy philosophical point-scoring of some right-leaning national columnists, including some MPs, who stereotype ‘Red Wall’ MPs and Council Leaders as being public investment junkies and adrift of traditional Conservative Party ideology.

We Conservatives won in some of the toughest political environments mid-term – the Harrows, Thurrocks, and Plymouths – because we unambiguously and proudly campaigned with Conservative messages.

These messages being: Lower Council Tax. More CCTV and enforcement. Cleaner streets, communal areas tidied. Red-tape cut. Customer services improved.

Then there were the pro-active business-friendly initiatives, including High Street regeneration and partnering bids for job creation.

And, my goodness, here in Plymouth we shouted and campaigned loudly about the last.

For it’s here – job creation – where the call for government investment doesn’t just intersect with our Party’s longstanding free-market, high-employment, philosophy, but essentially underpins it. If we City leaders can raise the incomes, and provide more jobs for our residents, then demand upon Labour’s sacred, expanding, welfare-statism, begins to lessen.

With high-value job creation, the corpus of our at-present gridlocked, centralised, society, can be engineered to erode elegantly. To support in the future much more healthy, revitalised, grassroots-organised communities, consisting much more of voluntary networks and associations, supporting and nurturing the unsuppressed flourishing of individual responsibility, agency, and entrepreneurship.

Taking local examples of Council/Government delivery here in Plymouth, let’s see some working examples of higher-value job creation:

  • Securing Freeport status with £35m of Government funding, seeding and accelerating some 3,500+ jobs and £314m in inward investment
  • Securing £47m for The Box, our museum and gallery complex, generating some £25m of investment (including hotel bookings) and 200 additional jobs
  • Securing £9.6m to establish the UK’s first National Marine Park generating 150+ jobs
  • Demolition of a depot in a highly deprived ward to create a City Business Park, delivering 140 jobs and oversubscribed units
  • Delivering 400 homes and around 700 jobs for a brand new health village seeded by £45m of public cash investment in our city’s increasingly vibrant, yet severely deprived, West End
  • The overall securing of £185m in grant funding across more than 15 big employment-generating projects, helping us to gain some £562m of private sector foreign direct investment, and build a £1bn development pipeline ushering in some 5,000 local well-paid jobs.

In true Conservative-style most bids and delivery projects are, in effect, public-private sector partnerships.

Whereby we – on the public side – can offer co-investment, risk safeguards, and reassurance to businesses. Businesses locally have suffered from enormous economic strains due to Covid disruptions, soaring costs, and ongoing impacts caused by Russia’s war upon Ukraine. In fact, half our local hospitality jobs – many thousands – were lost during the Pandemic.

We Conservatives tend to be far better at taking decisive action, driving exploratory and feasibility studies through as fast as possible, removing unnecessary impediments and regulations (and attempts to regulate).

Finally, I believe that – on the whole we Conservatives are better at communicating with business sector partners and navigating them through the challenges of public-private sector job creation. After all, many of us have led, managed, and started businesses.

Only by delivering these successful projects, leading to higher-value jobs, will we – in our Ocean City – begin to delete the very depressing lines in my leader’s ‘killer factsheet’. These facts are the very real-life problems that our team needs to solve.

They seem a million miles away from various national columnists and commentators who appear recently to suggest that the immediate solution to solving our cost of living crisis (and Boris’s opinion poll position) is to apply by diktat their relatively distorted versions of philosophy from Milton Friedman or Friedrich von Hayek.

Here’s just a sample of our local challenges:

  • Our city is a low wage economy with workers receiving £521 weekly compared to £577 nationally
  • Plymouth is within the 20% most deprived local authority districts in England
  • Just under one in five children in Plymouth is estimated to be living in poverty
  • Our city lags behind significantly on Higher Education qualifications, our business start-up survival rates are lower than average, as our the amount of our schools rated Good or Outstanding.

Solving these are as essential and many feel the processes are complex.

But let me simplify things.

All of these challenges can be vanquished, by sticking resolutely to our underpinning Conservative philosophy. Ultimately, we must achieve smaller government and promote individual agency in the longer-term.

But this can only be achieved by a consistent, ferocious, unapologetic focus on well-paid job creation. Government must be involved.

I say to my Conservative colleagues, be confident.

We are delivering the pathway back to individual and family freedom, aspiration and responsibility. The final destination is ‘jobs’.

Daniel Hannan: The Government’s new Brexit vision looks like thin, watery, tasteless gruel

2 Feb

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

On Monday, I picked up the Government’s new paper, The Benefits of Brexit: How the UK is taking advantage of leaving the EU, hoping to be cheered up. The point of leaving the EU, after all, was to remove constraints, allowing us to make different and better choices. Two years after Brexit, and a year after the end of the transition, how are we doing?

Overall, I’m afraid, the document is thin, watery, tasteless gruel. Yes, there are tasty lumps here and there. Replacing the Common Agricultural Policy with a subsidy regime that rewards rural stewardship rather than food production is in the interests of farmers, consumers and the countryside.

Taking back control over our fishing grounds is likewise in the interests of both fishermen and fish. We’ve tapped some irritating pebbles from our shoes – the tampon tax, EU passports, restrictions on Imperial measures.

But most of the gains listed here are aspirational. Yes, we could have a better alternative to the GDPR rules. Yes, we could lead the world in AI. Yes, we could be more open to trade. Yes, we could scrap the most burdensome aspects Solvency II, MiFID II and the rest of the EU’s financial services apparatus. But, so far, we haven’t.

Here are 100 pages of civil servantese. I don’t just mean that the document was literally written by officials; I mean its worldview is that of Whitehall. Again and again, we see listed as “gains” such things as a new regulatory regime, a new agency or a new subsidy mechanism. The idea that leaving the EU might mean fewer regulations – a major theme of Vote Leave, which went into granular detail in its million-word manifesto Change or Go, has been forgotten.

All talk of cheaper energy is gone. It is now clear that, outside the EU, Britain will go beyond what it was obliged to do as a member. So has any notion of a less rigid labour market: BEIS has halted even the moderate plans to apply the Working Time Directive in the more flexible way that several EU members do.

Regulations that ran into universal opposition when they were imposed are being left in place because existing producers, having assimilated the compliance costs, don’t want new entrants to avoid them. The idea that the Government should act in the interest of the nation as a whole, making things cheaper for consumers and thus boosting growth, has been sacrificed to the civil service obsession with favoured client groups – or, as they are known in the jargon, “stakeholders”.

Why is a government elected to deliver Brexit being so timid? Is it Boris Johnson’s fault? Should we blame his ministers? Or the Blob? Let’s consider the options.

A charge commonly levelled at the PM is that he lacks staying power, that he tosses out dazzling ideas only to back away when he realises that they involve short-term unpopularity. Even when they are popular, runs the argument, he often loses interest, allowing them to sink into the quicksand of Whitehall inertia.

Plainly some of that has been going on here. For example, the Trade Remedies Authority, created to assess whether existing tariffs or other barriers could be justified, gave its first judgment on the steel duties that Brussels had imposed in retaliation against Donald Trump. It called for most of them to be repealed.

The PM overruled it, seemingly at the behest of some MPs in steel-producing constituencies. Having made the finest defence of free trade by any major leader as recently as February 2020, he thus now has a 100 per cent record of intervening from a protectionist direction. Indeed, protectionism is suddenly being presented as a benefit of Brexit: “We created the Trade Remedies Authority to help defend UK economic interests by investigating complaints from UK industries.”

Britain’s approach to trade has been almost as prone to producer capture as the EU’s. Even when dealing with countries as well-disposed as Australia and New Zealand, we have dragged our feet (almost all the delays were on the British side). How much more mercantilist will we be when it comes to India or Mexico?

Then again, the more specific the problems, the harder it is to blame them all on Number 10. The Government is crowing about freeports, for example – and it is certainly true that freeports can create growth in ways that were illegal in the EU. But only if they have meaningful powers, especially when it comes to lowering or scrapping taxes – something that Treasury officials appear to have blocked.

Brexit gave us the chance to set aside some of the EU’s more Luddite rules on gene editing. Again, the intentions seemed to be there. Ministers fought the Blob to get Matt Ridley appointed to the relevant advisory committee, which duly proposed sensible ways in which we could seize the economic and environmental opportunities. Nothing happened. After trying several times to turn his recommendations into policy, Ridley quit politics – a real loss to the nation.

Most disappointing of all has been the failure to deregulate financial services. While we were in the EU, we voted against several pointless new rules, some of which seemed expressly designed to drive business from London to Paris and Frankfurt. Often, we lost. But, now that we are free to repeal these laws, we seem reluctant to do so – even though, by denying us equivalence, the EU has removed any incentive to stick to its standards.

Whenever you push them, Treasury ministers say that it’s all in hand, that they’re conducting a review and something or other and mimblewimble. But, more than two years after winning an 80-seat majority, the Government has done nothing. Indeed, there is a real prospect that the EU will remove the more burdensome aspects of the Solvency II regime before Britain does.

I’m afraid ministers must accept collective responsibility here. In theory, they want deregulation. In practice, they don’t want it in their own departments. And they don’t want it because change – especially change that pits them against their officials – is hard work and leads to bad short-term headlines.

Which brings us to the real problem. The only way to deliver an economically liberal agenda is to take on the Blob – not just civil servants and quangos, but all the associated corporatists and rent-seekers and CBI bureaucrats who have attached themselves to the status quo. That requires not just courage but time, patience and single-mindedness.

Dominic Cummings was supposedly brought in to get on top of the Blob. He failed. Perhaps he was better at stating the problem than at tackling it. Perhaps he lacked support. Perhaps he was overtaken by the coronavirus. Whatever the explanation, I fear the moment has passed.

How telling that this administration – this supposedly Brexit-focused, anti-nanny-state, freedom-loving administration – has dropped the one-in-one-out rule on regulations that David Cameron and Theresa May followed. Apparently it was deemed to be incompatible with the net zero agenda.

We paid a high price during the exit negotiations for the right to diverge from EU standards. I was one of those who argued for moderation – for accepting a Swiss-type deal so as to avoid many of the rows we went on to face over Northern Ireland.

I lost that argument and we went for absolute regulatory freedom. OK, fine: I’m happy to get with the programme. But it is idiotic to pay that price and then not use the freedoms it bought. There was recently a time when almost every Conservative MP understood that. Where have they all gone?

Stewart Jackson: A reshuffle that moved some of the Prime Minister’s critics into the Cabinet would be prudent

10 Jan

Stewart Jackson is a former Conservative MP and Special Adviser, and is the Founder and Director of UK Political Insight.

The precipitous recent decline in the poll ratings of the Prime Minister and predictions of electoral doom are indicative of two enduring phenomena: that Boris Johnson is unique and, like Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair before him, dominates the political landscape.

Conservative MPs will largely sink or swim as a result of the electorate’s judgement of him. But there’s nothing new in these setbacks, and many Conservatives have little institutional memory, and perhaps little understanding, of the vicissitudes of modern politics.

The bien pensant liberal media classes and their cheerleaders such as Matthew Parris are loathe to concede it, but the Prime Minister is a historically significant figure. He not only led the movement (or at least the last throes of it) which resulted in the UK’s exit from the European Union but, more fundamentally, built a mighty vote-winning electoral coalition founded on culture and community rather than class and capital.

What Johnson has had in spades is not just celebrity and chutzpah, but luck: inheriting a safe Commons seat in 2001 when the Tories had detoxifying work in progress; coming to power in London during a Conservative renaissance in the capital when the voters were sick of Ken Livingstone, and quitting the Cabinet after the Chequers plan in 2018 – to usurp the pitiful May interregnum and break the Brexit impasse.

The Prime Minister’s greatest weakness is that he loves to be loved but, ironically, the more hysterical and cacophonous the shrieks of his critics, the stronger he becomes politically. To many Tory voters, all the usual suspects hate the Prime Minister – not least bcause they believe that he was and should be one of them.

However, he lacks a Praetorian Guard in Parliament who will walk through fire for him (even John Major had one) and the relationship that many Tory MPs have with the First Lord of the Treasury is cynical and transactional.

Covid restrictions, tax rises, self-inflicted wounds such as the Paterson affair, ethical issues, the fall out from reshuffles and recurring problems of miscommunication between Number Ten and Conservative MPs have all soured the glad confident morning of December 2019.

Johnson still has the power to forgive – and a reshuffle that pulled some hitherto irreconcilables and malcontents back into the tent would be prudent politics.

My erstwhile colleague at Crosby Textor and electoral wunderkind, Isaac Levido, has compared the post Covid scenario as like when the tide is at its lowest: all the Prime Minister’s problems lie like broken boats on the harbour floor.

Brexit and future relations with the EU, the cost of living crisis and soaring energy prices, social care and the demographic timebomb, delivering the levelling up agenda and regional and national infrastructure, the busted local government funding and planning systems respectively, fighting the “Blob” in the delivery and reform of publc services and the endemic problem of uncontrolled immigration – all are moving up the list of voter salience.

But there’s nothing new under the sun. In 1979, Thatcher wrestled with an inflation rate of 13 per cent and interest rates of 17 per cent. Even John Major, barely a year before besting Neil Kinnock in the 1992 General Election struggled with a jobless figure in the millions, 10 per cent interest rates and annual price rises of seven per cent – none of which Johnson will experience next year or, most likely, before the next general election.

The last two months will have actually helped Johnson and his most devoted supporters to shake free the contagion of complacency and “BoJo is teflon” exceptionalism: the Cabinet revolt against further Covid restrictions was  timely and good for efficient government. It means that in future, controversial policies are likely to be more routinely challenged, and will be improved upon by robust critique.  The Iraq War showed that Cabinet government by fan club very rarely ends well.

The Prime Minister’s most urgent strategic challenge is the same as that for Thatcher, Blair, Major and David Cameron – namely, how to reinvent his Government. For Brown and May – similar personalities – it was already too late. But such reworking was done in 1986 after Westland and in 1991 before the ERM catastrophe.

Most recently, David Cameron offers hope and inspiration. (Yes, I did write that sentence!) His clever decision to back a Private Members’ Bill to give effect to an EU Referendum in 2014 soothed the Eurosceptic fever in the Commons, and allowed the Conservatives to focus on their retail offering to voters at the 2015 election.

What also helped teamwork and discipline then was a narrow but consistent poll lead for Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, and the prospect of a re-energised Opposition and a possible SNP-Labour colation government.

Today, Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is off life support, is winning the right to debate, is more credible than during the last six years, and sp tighter polls will concentrate the minds of fractious Conservative MPs. For all that, though, Labour is miles from looking like a government in waiting and, frankly, if Wes Streeting is the answer, it’s a very silly question.

Specifically, the Government must rebuild its demoralised electoral coalition, keep the Right broadly united and it develop a positive case for the continuance of a Conservative Government – a compelling narrative and a legacy.

Support amongst Leave voters has slumped from 72 per cent to 56 per cent during the last six months, and Red Wall voters are disilusioned and impatient.

Currently, many Tory supporters in the South and South West, ABs and C1s who voted Remain, but were terrified of a Corbyn government, are angry about tax rises, general incompetence, planning, Tory Sleaze 2.0 (sic) and are shopping around for a protest vote.

Ironically, Theresa May’s entrance speech on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street in July 2016 provides the Prime Minister’s own template for rejuvenation.

There’s more than enough time to deliver on a commitment to localism – a repeat of the successes in Tees Valley and the West Midlands. Michael Gove has the acumen and strategic nous to understand that building enough houses for young voters is now existential for the Conservative Party – after all, you can’t create capitalists who don’t and can’t own capital. And deregulation, tax cuts and demonstrable Brexit wins, such as freeports, must be front and centre in the Conservative story.

The voters don’t care for Singapore on the Thames, but they generally favour traditional Tory values.The Cabinet, for all the media criticism, still has condident and pesuasive voices, such as Steve Barclay, Grant Shapps and Ben Wallace.

Johnson still has aces to play: by historic standards, he’s still polling reasonably well, even if the May local elections will be brutal. And as public opinion in the wake of the Colston statue trial has shown, the War on Woke energises his base, and is a cultural wedge issue which drives many newer Conservative voters.

But such action will be hobbled without firm and radical action on immigration.Similarly, “barnacles must be scraped off the boat” – such as socially liberal tokenism in new legislation, tax rises to fund green initiatives and appointing political opponents to public bodies.

It surely isn’t too much to ask for a Conservative Government to be, well, fundamentally Conservative? Competent, compassionate and communitarian. Johnson has limited time to deliver but at least he now knows and comprehends more than ever, as a classical scholar, the immortal words of the Roman slave to his Emperor: “respice post te, mortalem esse memento” – “look around you, remember you are mortal.”

Daniel Hannan: Don’t write off Johnson just yet

22 Dec

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

Here is a thought that, in the current climate, might seem almost recklessly counter-intuitive. Boris Johnson is doing a good job – better, in the circumstances, than his rivals would be doing. I don’t just mean that he is less bad than Keir Starmer or Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May. I mean that he is playing an almost impossible hand as well as could realistically be hoped.

I advance that proposition as a fiscal conservative and a lockdown sceptic. ConHome readers will be familiar with my frequent screeds against this government’s prodigality and illiberalism. But it is not enough to argue that the PM is spending too much or that the lockdowns have been too harsh. You have to show me someone who, given the present national mood, would be doing better.

Let’s deal, in order, with the three main charges against Johnson: that his administration is at best careless and at worst sleazy; that he was too ready to close the country down; and that, more generally, he has been absorbed by the Blob that he was supposed to extirpate.

Is Johnson really being undone by cheese and wine? No. What newspapers call “sleaze” is almost always a symptom rather than a cause of a government’s unpopularity. Just as the original “Tory sleaze” scandals in 1993 reflected rage over the ERM fiasco, and just as the 2009 MPs’ expenses revelations followed the financial crisis, so the current furores about parliamentary standards and illicit gatherings in Downing Street and flat redecorations are a chiefly a sign that the benefit of the doubt has been lost.

Six months ago, Johnson could painlessly have replaced the parliamentary standards commissioner on grounds that she seemed to have a penchant for going after Eurosceptics and that, in any case, the processes themselves were flawed.

Likewise, he could have advanced a perfectly credible defence of the (alleged) get-togethers in Downing Street. He might have pointed out, for example, that a glass of wine after a day in a shared office is hardly a party. He could have brandished the image of himself conducting a quiz at his computer as clear evidence that he was following the rules (how bizarre, and yet how telling, that it should be seen as somehow dodgy). He could have argued that, if sleaze means using public office for private gain, then using private money to do up a state-owned flat is ezaels – the precise opposite of sleaze.

If this were really about alleged corruption, the PM would have little to worry about. Voters sense that he is the least venal of men. His manner, his car, his suits – all tell the same story, namely that this is a bloke with no interest in owning valuable things. Yes, voters might see him as shambolic, light on detail, reluctant to moralise. But these attributes were priced in before the 2019 election.

In his short book on Winston Churchill, Johnson lists that great man’s various cock-ups – Gallipoli, the Gold Standard, backing Edward VIII during the abdication crisis – and notes that none of them ruled him out of contention. Why? Because, however chaotic or over-exuberant he could appear, no one ever accused him of lining his pockets. As for the subject, so for his biographer.

If not sleaze, then, what? The obvious answer, for many, is the lockdown. A man who used to write wonderful Telegraph columns about liberty, and whose editorial line at The Spectator was solidly anti-nanny state, has confined us in our homes, closed businesses and seen a massive commensurate increase in spending.

All true, alas. But – and I write as someone who spoke and voted against Plan B in Parliament last week – who would have done better? Even with the Plan B restrictions, Britain is more open than almost any other country. Why? Because Johnson ignored the doom-mongers and unbolted on July 19.

It is worth recalling how much criticism he got at the time. It was “dangerous” and “unethical” according to 122 scientists who signed an anti-Johnson letter in The Lancet, “reckless” according to Starmer, who feebly tried to get #JohnsonVariant trending. Yet infections, hospitalisations and fatalities fell – to the almost literal disbelief of commentators who, for a while, reported the opposite.

Nor was it just commentators who expected the worst. Modellers at Warwick University forecast at least 1,000 deaths a day (in the event, the highest daily toll was 188). SAGE told us that daily hospital admissions would be between 2,000 and 7,000 (the highest daily total was 1,086). Neil Ferguson predicted 100,000 infections a day (they peaked at 56,688).

Now tell me, my fellow lockdown-sceptics, how many other politicians would have resisted that pressure? How many would have done the same on Monday, in the face of an almost hysterical media campaign for a new lockdown?

Again and again, Johnson emerges as a level-headed optimist. Those leaked Cummings WhatsApp messages, intended to put him in a bad light, in fact show him doing precisely what he should be doing, namely taking a stand for liberty and demanding overwhelming evidence before he shifts his ground.

What, though, of the third complaint, the one that I suspect most animates ConHome readers, namely that Johnson has squandered an 80-seat majority and that, all in all, we might as well have had Starmer?

Oh, come off it. Would Starmer have delivered Brexit? Would he have signed free trade agreements with 70 countries? Would he be privatising Channel 4 and appointing a non-socialist to run the BBC? Would he keep our statues standing or stiffen criminal sentences?

Would he be legislating to stop travellers trespassing on private land? Or to return failed asylum seekers without endless vexatious appeals? Would he have opted out of the EU’s vaccine procurement programme? Would he be creating freeports? Would he beef up our defences or pursue AUKUS – a deal he has actually condemned as warmongering?

Let’s put the question another way. Who is enjoying the PM’s discomfort? Labour and the Lib Dems, obviously. But also the European Commission, Emmanuel Macron, Rejoiners, woke academics – everyone, in short, who wants to see Brexit Britain fail.

As a free-market conservative, I am in despair about a lot things right now. The debt level, the retreat into protectionism, the demand for the smack of firm government. But these things are consequences of the pandemic. If you want to blame someone, blame whoever caused the original Wuhan outbreak. The idea that Johnson, of all people, is getting an authoritarian kick out of our misery is too silly for words. We are pretty much the freest country in Europe. Merry Christmas!

Ben Bradley: My dual role as a council leader and an MP is working well for my county and my constituency

16 Sep

Ben Bradley is the MP for Mansfield and the Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council.

It’s fair to say my first 100 days as leader of Nottinghamshire County Council have been busy – but I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

In fact, my new administration has hit the ground running when it comes to key projects which we believe will ultimately improve the lives of people who live and work in the county.

When I was elected leader in May, I immediately set out the priorities which I believed would help to breathe new life into Nottinghamshire’s economy as we continue on the road to recovery from the devastating effects of the pandemic.

Voters told us in no uncertain terms, in the run-up to May’s council elections, what improvements they wanted to see where they lived, with many people voicing concerns over road maintenance and potholes in particular.

Potholes have been an age-old problem and this is an issue that can’t be fixed overnight. One of the first things I did as a leader was set up a cross-party Highways Review Panel to look at how we repair and maintain the county’s roads. We’re listening to our residents and are ready to act.

Our highways play a crucial role in unlocking employment and development opportunities in the county to bring in millions of pounds to the region’s economy. Economic Development is perhaps also the most obvious area where I can make use of my ‘twin hats’, as an MP and as a Council Leader. The ability to go straight from local discussions down to Westminster and raise these plans and proposals directly feels like an important one.

We have already secured £24.3 million from the Department for Transport for major road improvements along the A614/A6097 between Ollerton and East Bridgford, much needed to ease congestion and boost access to more than 1,300 new homes along the route.

We’re working on some major regional investments; our Freeport, our Development Corporation, and of course the ongoing discussion around the Integrated Rail Plan and HS2. All key for our region and our county, and all clearly crossing over that blurred line between my two roles.

Questions have obviously been asked as to whether I could take all this on in addition to my work as Mansfield MP.

From a personal point of view, it has been exceptionally rewarding so far. The initial challenges were mainly managing the diary and getting the correct structures in place as well as who replies to the emails that come in to different accounts. With those initial challenges solved, it’s fair to say it has been manageable so far, though now the physical return of Parliament obviously presents a new challenge.

One of the reasons why I chose to commit my time locally, rather than pursue a career path as a Minister, is because I have young children and don’t want to be in Westminster five or six days a week. I love going down to Parliament to represent my constituents, but I don’t want to climb that career ladder right now. I am committing that time locally instead, which means I’m both able to go home at night and see my children a bit more often – even though I am working long days – and also to genuinely deliver for local people as a local decision-maker.

Having passed the 100-day leadership landmark a few weeks ago, I can honestly say I now feel more informed and effective as an MP than ever before, because I’m delivering these services rather than just hearing about them.

In fact, having the dual role enables me to take county council matters to the heart of Government to potentially unlock investment opportunities to bring significant economic benefits to Nottinghamshire, and to my Mansfield constituents too.

That is exactly what we are doing: knocking on the doors of Ministers asking for further support for our area.

I recently met Boris Johnson to call on the Government to back our ‘levelling up’ agenda, which would pave the way to deliver 84,000 jobs, up to 10,000 homes, and add £4.8 billion to the Nottinghamshire and regional economy.

I’ve used my unique position to push Government hard on key issues for our area, like the East Midlands Freeport and Development Corporation which can help to create tens of thousands of jobs; like our plans for Toton which need to be a key part of whatever the decision on HS2 looks like, and on the opportunities to devolve powers down from Whitehall so we can take those decisions in Nottinghamshire to benefit local people.

As I’ve made clear, we’re not hanging around in our drive to deliver on our pledges to galvanise the county and make it an even better place to live, work, and visit. In Westminster Hall this week I promised to go and camp out on the lawn outside MHCLG to get talks with Government going on these issues, and I mean it. Let’s get on with it!

And as part of our commitment to do this, we have also launched our biggest ever consultation process to hear residents’ views on the county’s future.

The Big Notts Survey will ensure that we are tackling the issues most pressing to them and will ultimately help us and our partners to make Nottinghamshire a more successful and vibrant county. Residents views on our services; on children’s services, on social care and on highways, will shape our plans.

I am extremely honoured to be leader of the county council and I’m fully aware that the hard work has only just begun, ahead of more key decisions on a whole range of issues being made this autumn as we continue to rebuild after the challenges of Covid-19.

Henry Hill: SNP faces police investigation over ‘missing’ independence campaign cash

22 Jul

SNP facing fraud probes over missing independence campaign cash

It was an unhappy day for the country when the scandal brewing over Nicola Sturgeon, over her government’s abysmal handling of allegations against her predecessor, ran out of steam shortly before the Scottish elections.

Given that she missed out on that crucial overall majority by only one seat, it can’t be ruled out that the smoke made a crucial difference. But her career did not, as it at one point appeared it might, go up in flames.

But one escape has not fixed the deep-seated problems facing her party. The First Minister is caught between her instincts as an adept political realist and a base hungry for a second vote towards which the SNP has no easy path.

Indeed, it now appears as if the Nationalist leadership’s conviction that there won’t be another referendum anytime soon may have landed them in legal difficulty. The party is facing a police probe into allegations that it has fraudulently misused funds raised to fund the next independence campaign. The Daily Express reports:

“Police Scotland say they are investigating after saying it had received seven complaints about donations made to the party. The allegations surround claims made by whistleblowers who say that more than £600,000, which has been ring-fenced for holding a second independence referendum, is missing from the party’s accounts.”

This story has been brewing for months, ever since members of the SNP’s Finance and Audit Committee resigned after being refused access to the party’s accounts by Peter Murrell, the SNP’s chief executive and Sturgeon’s husband.

It remains to be seen if the allegations come to anything, but the fact that they have been brought by other nationalists highlights the deepening divisions opening up inside the separatist tent. And if the funds have been spent elsewhere (whether criminally or not) it will be further evidence to the base that their leaders don’t really believe that another referendum campaign is in the offing anytime soon.

Ministers allow six weeks to propose alternatives to Troubles amnesties

The Government will give opponents of its plan to issue a de facto amnesty for killings committing during the Troubles time to come up with alternative suggestions, according to the Times.

Last week, Brandon Lewis unveiled plans to protect ex-servicemen from the threat of so-called ‘legacy prosecutions’. However, in order to do so similar protections had to be offered to IRA killers. I previously wrote about how this policy is basically an extension of a long-standing campaign by Tory backbenchers against so-called ‘tank-chaser’ lawyers, which originally focused on prosecutions brought over Iraq. The Northern Irish Office exempted troops who served in Ulster from the new protections at the time.

The move has prompted outrage on all sides. Some of it, however, must be taken with a pinch of salt. If Labour want to attack the Government on this, it must explain the difference between this ‘bad amnesty’ and its own, presumably ‘good amnesties’. The party oversaw both the early release of convicted terrorists and issued ‘comfort letters’ (a de facto amnesty) to on-the-run criminals.

Likewise, to see Gerry Kelly – Sinn Fein MLA, convicted IRA killer, and recipient of a Royal Pardon for involvement in the Old Bailey bombing – clutching a sign opposing the amnesty is a morbid joke.

For their part, ministers are confident that the plan will stand up to the inevitable legal challenges. But the question remains: is it worth it?

Prosecutors recently dropped the case against ‘Soldier F’, the individual facing the most serious charges in relation to Bloody Sunday. Whilst there are legitimate concerns that London has allowed the legacy investigations process to focus too heavily on the state and security forces, if the investigators can’t even get Soldier F into court it may well be that the real risk of prosecution for ex-servicemen and former RUC officers was already very small.

Government squares off with the devocrats over freeports and development funding

More news from the front lines of ‘muscular unionism’ this week, with the papers reporting that the Government is to press ahead with plans to open freeports in Scotland despite efforts by the Scottish Government to scupper the plans.

Crucially, ministers have a staunch ally in Aberdeen Council. I previously wrote about how independent-minded local authorities in Scotland are looking to Westminster to help buttress their autonomy from a rapaciously centralising SNP administration in Edinburgh, and it is very heartening to see that dynamic in action.

Not that the old guard are going down without a fight. The Institute for Government, that bastion of devolutionary orthodoxy, have put out new analysis suggesting that ministers risk undermining the Union if they don’t give devocrats partial control over the new UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

Ministers are not likely to accept this claim – it rests on fundamentally different premises to the new unionism embodied in the UK Internal Market Act and upcoming Subsidy Control Bill. But it is a taste of the battle they will have to fight over and over again over the years ahead as they press ahead with this long-overdue change in approach.

Reports of Johnson’s political demise are greatly exaggerated

20 Jun

Vote Leave‘s successor was Change Britain – a name that says much about the country’s decision to leave the European Union five years ago.

Brexit was a vote for economic as well as constitutional change: to shift from a model based on financial services, high immigration and London’s hinterland to one more favourable to manufacturing, lower migration and the provinces.  You might call it “levelling up”

If you doubt it, look at this constituency-based map of the results.  West and South of London, you will find a kind of Remain Square.  Its eastern boundary is Hertford and Stortford, more or less.  Its western one is Stroud.

Its northern frontier ends at Milton Keynes and its southern one at Lewes.  Admittedly, this square has a mass of holes punched into it: much of Hampshire, for example, voted Leave.  And some of the Remain majorities within it, like some Leave ones, were narrow.

Levelling up is a term of art.  It can mean enterprise zones, freeports, better schools, improving skills, devolving power – none of which necessarily imply rises in or transfers of public spending.

But to some in that Remain Square, and elsewhere, it is coming to mean taking money in higher taxes from people who live in the south and transferring it to people who live in the north.

This truth would hold had the Chesham and Amersham contest never taken place.   Obviously, it was a lousy result for the Conservatives – for the Party to lose a by-election without seeing it coming, let alone by some eight thousand votes.

There should be a searching post-mortem. But why would any canny voter back the establishment in a by-election?  Isn’t it best to send it a message – namely: “don’t take our votes for granted”?

In the north, that establishment is still Labour.  Hence Hartlepool.  In the south, it’s the pro-levelling up, Red Wall-preoccupied Conservatives.  Hence Chesham and Amersham.  Now on to Batley and Spen.

Come the next general election, the Liberal Democrats won’t be able to concentrate their resources in a single seat, as they did last week.  Nor will they necessarily be the opposition front-runner in the Remain Square, or elsewhere.

Which suggests that last month’s local elections are a better guide to the future than last week’s by-election.  Crudely speaking, they found the right-of-centre vote uniting behind the Tories, and the left-of-centre equivalent divided between Labour, the LibDems and the Greens.

ConservativeHome will take no lectures from anyone about the potential threat to the so-called “Blue Wall” – to the seats within the Remain Square that we identify.  Henry Hill published an analysis of it on this site on May 11, which we re-ran last Friday in the by-election’s wake.

But the good news for Boris Johnson is that the Blue Wall is crumbling more slowly than the red one.  So time is on his side rather than Keir Starmer’s, which is why we still believe that the Prime Minister will be pondering a dash to the polls in 2023.

The bad news for him is that no party can hold a monopoly on much of the country forever.  Tony Blair had one even more extensive than Johnson.  He got three terms out of it (which will encourage the Prime Minister), but Labour eventually ran out of time and votes.

Its backing melted away at both ends.  In the blue corner, their new-won support from 1997 eventually returned to the Tories or went LibDem.  In the red one, their base was eaten away not so much by economics as by immigration and culture.

The medium-term danger to Johnson should start kicking in – unless inflation speeds the process up – in two to three years, when the vultures from post-Brexit and post-Covid spending really start coming home to roost.  He may well be on a second term by then.

But at that point the Prime Minister could find himself trapped in what William Hague, referring to potential British membership of the euro, described as “a burning building with no exits”.

The cornerstone of Government economic policy to date is “no return to austerity” – which we crudely interpret to mean questionable control of the country’s public finances.

This being so, the only weapon left for Ministers to deploy is tax rises: and the tax burden is already forecast to hit the highest level since the late 1960s – 35 per cent of GDP by 2025/26.

We all have a way of reading into by-election results whatever we want to read into them.  Undoubtedly, HS2 was a factor in Chesham and Amersham.  So was planning.  Above all, Blue Wall voters were asking for what Red Wall ones are getting: a little bit of love and attention.

Beyond that, anti-lockdown campaigners claim that the result was powered by opposition to shutdowns.  Pro-aid ones assert that Buckinghamshire’s voters stand behind the 0.7 per cent.

Those suffering from Johnson Derangement Syndrome, such as Dominic Grieve, claim that Buckinghamshire’s “sophisticated” voters see through the Prime Minister.  But if so, why did they chuck Grieve out of Beaconsfield less than two years ago?

So we make no special claim about what happened in Chesham & Amersham last week, other than to take some of the more exotic claims with a lorryload of salt.

But we do make a forecast about what will happen there and elsewhere within the Remain Square in future – regardless of whether or not the seat, like Newbury and Christchurch and Eastbourne and other Liberal by-election gains of the past, duly returns to the Tory column.

Namely, that the good voters of Chesham and Amersham won’t tolerate more tax rises for long.  Not that voters in Red Wall or provincial English seats would do so either.

But the private sector in the Remain Square is relatively big; employment in public services relatively smaller; exposure to property and pensions taxes relatively bigger.

Sooner or later, Johnson and Rishi Sunak will have to revisit the other side of the financial sustainability ledger: spending control.  With over a third of it going on pensions and healthcare, that will mean tough choices, in Chesham, Amersham – and everywhere else.

As for the Prime Minister’s prospects, we are where we were before. He can have all the Turkmenbashi statues he wants, and more, for getting Brexit done – and for saving the country from metaphorical if not literal Dreyfus affair-style strife.

ConHome believes that he should have his chance to “Change Britain” (with a majority of 80, he has earned it; anxious backbenchers please take note) while having little confidence that he actually will.

What’s left of this term risks being frittered away in bread, summits, and circuses, Roman-style.  The possibility is frighteningly plausible.  We devoutly hope that we’re proved wrong, as we sometimes are.

Daniel Hannan: A Levelling Up Fund will not, on its own, turn Sunderland into Singapore. Localism will takes us closer, though.

9 Jun

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

How exactly does levelling up work? The aspiration is unimpeachable and the slogan pithy. But how does a government go about realising it? Imagine that you’re the official in charge of enriching one of our poorer regions. You sit at your desk, you open your laptop. Now what?

Part of the answer has to do with infrastructure. That’s the easy bit, the bit that the PM, with his boyish enthusiasm for bridges, railways and airports, most enjoys. But a £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund is not, on its own, going to turn Dudley into Dubai or Sunderland into Singapore.

A certain reshuffling of government departments might help at the margins. When, for example, the Department of International Trade moves 500 jobs to Darlington, it slightly boosts the economy of County Durham. But it does so at the expense of other regions, since those jobs are maintained at public expense.

So what can ministers do? How might they stimulate the generation of new wealth rather than simply pushing piles of cash around? The obvious answer is one that, for some reason, is rarely heard these days: more localism.

Let’s stick, for a moment, with Teesside. Labour, in retrospect, made a bad mistake when it held the Hartlepool by-election on the same date as the regional mayoral contest. Ben Houchen, the incumbent Conservative Tees Valley mayor, romped home with an astonishing 72.8 per cent of the vote. Why? Because he is seen as an effective local champion who stopped the airport from closing, is redeveloping the former steel works at Redcar and is turning the region into a freeport.

It is an iron law of politics that, the bigger the unit of government, the less efficient it becomes. Town halls are by no means perfect, but they are far less likely than Whitehall departments to preside over monumental cock-ups involving consultants and computers. So why not extend the model? Why not push more powers out to local people?

In 2008, Douglas Carswell and I co-wrote a book called The Plan: Twelve Months to Renew Britain. It set out a comprehensive agenda for the diffusion, democratisation and decentralisation of power.

Some of its ideas were successfully implemented by the Coalition government which took office two years later. A recall mechanism allowed local voters to challenge an unpopular MP. Proposals could be forced onto the Commons agenda by petition (people tend to forget that this is how Brexit first made its way into Parliament). Whips lost some of their patronage powers, and parliamentary committees were elected. MPs’ expenses were reformed.

Other ideas turned out to be less successful. Locally elected sheriffs were watered down until they became Police and Crime Commissioners. I have always disliked that name: it is boring, technocratic and inaccurate (read literally, it suggests that PCCs are responsible for crimes). But, in a depressingly ahistorical spasm, Whitehall decided that sheriff sounded “too American”. Nor were the PCCs given anything like the powers we had proposed. In any event, the reform never caught the public’s imagination. People carry on grumbling about woke coppers without it seeming to occur to anyone that PCCs are there precisely to ensure that the police’s priorities don’t drift too far from everyone else’s.

Our biggest idea, granting English counties and cities the sorts of power that are exercised by Holyrood, wasn’t tried. It never is. Central governments are not usually in the business of devolving power. In almost every democracy, the long-term tendency is the other way – driven, in part, by media cultures which make it almost impossible for a minister to say “this is nothing to do with me – talk to the local council”.

Go back, for a moment, to the idea of freeports or special economic zones. The original example, Shenzhen, was a huge success. It didn’t simply suck activity in from neighbouring provinces. It generated new wealth, because it had real power.

Imagine that our freeports could, say, scrap all taxes on savings and inheritance, or require balanced budgets, or introduce Singapore-style healthcare systems. Then we would get the growth that comes from innovation. New schemes would be piloted and trialled. What worked would spread. Jurisdictional competition would give us something we have never known before in this country – downward pressure on tax rates.

Sadly, though, whatever interest politicians show in localism when they are in opposition tends to evaporate once they assume office. Indeed, it is surprising – and creditable – that David Cameron went as far as he did.

Still, there are real dangers in letting things lie. The epidemic and the lockdowns have placed powers in the hands of the central administration that would have been unthinkable two years’ ago. Closed committees decide whether we can leave the country, enjoy our property or meet our friends. State budgets have grown commensurately. And governments are never in a hurry to return the powers that they had assumed on a supposedly emergency basis.

We left the EU precisely to take back control. Having repatriated power, it would be unforgivable to leave it in the hands of Whitehall functionaries. Instead, we should give local communities the tools to raise themselves. Otherwise, four or five years from now, we might find our levelling up rhetoric thrown back at us in anger.

Kieran Cooke: Levelling up cannot be all things to all people. Here are some of the challenges of turning soundbite into reality.

1 Jun

Kieran Cooke is an Associate Fellow at Bright Blue. This article represents the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Bright Blue.

The Prime Minister announced last month that the Government will publish a white paper on levelling up later this year. Also, in the in the recent Queen’s Speech, the Government committed to “level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom”. However, is levelling up actually an ambition that can be achieved or will it remain simply a vote-winning slogan?

If the Government is going to actually “level up” the country, it needs to know what it is levelling up beyond the broad commitment of a transformative agenda of investment in infrastructure, research and development and skills training. Otherwise, we will end up with a scattergun approach with disconnected policies and initiatives that will not collectively result in improved outcomes. It is also only by knowing what you are trying to level up that clear targets can be developed. As we all know, what gets measured gets delivered on in government.

In deciding what it will level up, the Government first needs to be clear on the distinction between levelling up places versus levelling up people. Investing in places does not necessarily improve the outcomes of those living in those areas. By investing in places only, for example through the Freeports initiative announced by the Government last October, there is a risk that jobs created are filled by those commuting in from other areas rather than benefitting local people.

Conversely, a skill development programme may benefit local people but without jobs within the local area, those people are likely to commute to other areas for work, undermining the increased prosperity of the local area. To truly level up, the Government not only needs to be clear on what it is levelling up but also have a dual focus on investing in places and people.

The ambition of the Government to level up is commendable, however, the scale of the challenge is significant. The fact that a baby boy born in Blackpool in 2018 is expected to live 10 years less than if he was born in Westminster (Office of National Statistics) demonstrates how deep rooted and complex the current regional inequalities are.

The prize in addressing these underlying factors of regional inequality that previous governments have failed to reverse is significant. However, sadly the political challenge of tackling these factors is less glamorous and will require more radical thinking than launching “vanity” infrastructure projects which are more likely to be short-term vote winners but which – like all others before it – will likely fail to get to the root of the problem.

With an 80-seat majority, and a divided opposition, you could argue that now more than ever is the Government’s chance to focus on the systemic issues causing these regional inequalities. However, with small majorities in many of the seats they won in 2019 and the Conservatives already have an eye on the ticking clock towards the next election in 2024, the allure of short term wins rather than the Government holding its nerve in addressing the root causes of regional inequalities is understandably strong.

If the Government is going to really level up the country, it will require a focused and targeted approach. Levelling up cannot be all things to all people. An overall level playing field in terms of outcomes would require all places to have the same skill composition and be of a similar size. This is not realistic nor is it economically feasible.

Instead, the levelling-up agenda should be focused on those areas with the strongest potential to have high productivity and economic growth. Analysis from the Centre for Cities found that these are the largest cities. However, many of the “red wall” seats are in those small- and medium-sized towns and cities where closing the output gap is going to be less effective. Therefore, the Government faces a difficult dilemma on where to focus on levelling up and it is yet unclear whether the evidence or political calculation will prevail.

Finally, if the Government is to really level up the country, it needs to level up not only investment but also power. This shift of power out to those areas left behind needs to be more than cosmetic changes of moving the Conservative’s headquarters to Leeds or as announced in the Spending Review, relocating 22,000 civil servants out of London.

Overall, the concept of levelling up is an appealing soundbite to voters. However, achieving it is much more complex and challenging. It remains to be seen if MPs are in it for the long haul and have the country’s best interests at heart or whether they are looking for quick political wins in areas where they need electoral favours in 2024. And thus, leaving the country no further forward than where other governments have got to in addressing regional inequalities.