By Gove, my LUD is planning to level up!

In last week’s reshuffle, Robert Jenrick was booted out of cabinet and Michael Gove nudged across to take over the housing and planning brief. His duties as secretary of state now also include the struggling levelling up agenda. So the department that was most often called the housing ministry has been renamed the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, DLUHC, perhaps pronounced duller huck. Given the ordering of priorities in the title it seems inevitable that the department will be known as the Levelling Up Department, or LUD, though some may think that acronym LUDicrous. Indeed, it has attracted both criticism and satire.

Gove’s main job is to prevent the Blue Wall collapsing by rolling back Jenrick’s failing planning reforms. He must also secure the Red Wall by making levelling up happen. That’s tough for a man, although born in Aberdeen, who is identified with Blue Wall Tories. And there is already concern that local government will suffer yet again now it has been dropped from the department’s title. Michael Gove may feel he has a collar around his neck, tasked with delivering what his boss Boris Johnson could not.

MHCLG – the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – was never a name that caught the imagination of the public or media, or even of politicians or professionals. Robert Jenrick was one of those secretaries of state who always looked like a tortured man on the way to somewhere else. When he spoke on planning and housing, his lack of vision and lack of empathy with the planning system showed. He remain in post 14 months, above the average tenure of nine months for those leading MHCLG. They were not good months for the planning system while Jenrick promoted an aggressive extension of wider permitted development rights and the now stalled planning reform. And Jenrick was never far away from controversy, especially with planning decisions in London, including the now approved holocaust memorial outside parliament in Victoria Tower Gardens.

Jenrick has now been replaced by Michael Gove. The man who once tried to sabotage Boris Johnson’s tilt at the leadership will play a central role in Johnson’s attempts to remain a prime minister after the next general election.

Gove has already paused the planning reforms to talk to backbench Tories in the Blue Wall about the political problems it is causing them. The Red Wall is to get the Levelling Up Taskforce headed by former Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane.

Michael Gove is among a cohort of politicians that made stupid remarks when young. Forty or so years ago, he spoke of a Thatcherite ambition where “the happy south stamps over the cruel, dirty, toothless face of the northerner”. That’s in the past. Gove needs to show that he has disowned that vision and can champion the north. He will need a conversion on the road from Surrey Heath to Sunderland to understand what life is like in the North East and North West. He will need to understand that his job is not to try to clone the north into a new South East. It is to boost the north on its own terms and on its own merits, not the priorities viewed from Westminster. Perhaps Andy Haldane, born in Yorkshire, can achieve that.

Looking south, Gove is better prepared to tackle the problems in the Blue Wall. Conservative opposition has grown in areas that usually vote blue due to planning ‘reform’. The Planning Bill promoted by Robert Jenrick and Boris Johnson aimed to take the local voice out of planning decisions. It gives more power to the planning inspectorate and planning officers at the expense of local and councillor involvement. Sarah Green’s decisive win in Chesham and Amersham showed that bulldozing green fields and axing leafy trees is not a way to win or retain votes. But Gove also faces demands to get housing built.

If Gove fails, the Red Wall will be fatally damaged by Tory promises. The nightmare scenario for himself and Johnson is that the Red Wall and the Blue Wall crumble in unison. The he might be accused of being a LUDdite.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Friday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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4 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 21st Sep '21 - 6:40pm

    Gove has been on remarkable journey. If you google you can still find pictures of a more youthful Michael Gove on picket duty during a strike at the Aberdeen based Press and Journal newspaper. From that to ‘blue wall’….

  • Matt Wardman 21st Sep '21 - 8:40pm

    As an inhabitant of the Red Wall, I am waiting to see what happens.

    IMO the next election (and perhaps the one after that) in most red wall areas remains the Tories to lose, rather than anybody else’s to win.

    That the amount of funds lacking which are alleged to have made HS2B unaffordable is suspiciously similar to the amount spent on a holiday for a Stamp Duty Holiday plus the amount spent smoothing Nimby concerns with HS2 does not look very good for them at present.

    But the Govt have already reverse-ferreted for a reasonable NHS pay-increase, without going for the full-fat +15% nuttiness suggests that anything could happen, even some variety of wealth tax in the autumn budget. I’m seeing support for that from unexpected places.

    Watching.

  • Matt Wardman 21st Sep '21 - 8:42pm

    Profound apologies.

    I fouled up an apostrophe in that comment. Unforgiveable.

  • Helen Dudden 22nd Sep '21 - 10:17am

    Gove tends to run with the hare and the hounds been highlighted previously.

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