Tag Archives: red wall

Can you cut taxes and level up at the same time?

The Conservative leadership campaign has been a competition to demonstrate the best small-state tax-cutting credentials, with little concern for what that means for public services or investment.  Even Rishi Sunak seems to have forgotten the generous promises of the 2019 manifesto, which helped to win those ‘Red Wall’ seats.  ‘A Conservative Government’, it declared, ‘will give the public services the resources they need, supporting our hospitals, our schools and our police.’  There would be ‘millions more invested every week in science, schools, apprenticeships and infrastructure… to underpin this national renewal, we will invest £100 billion in additional infrastructure spending – on roads, rail and other responsible, productive investment which will repair and refurbish the fabric of our country and generate greater growth in the long run.’

The sense of betrayal in Yorkshire, the North-East, North-West and beyond at the failure to follow these promises through is already strong.  Abandoning the new Leeds-Manchester line, the key to Northern Powerhouse Rail, has been a particular source of disgust. Last Saturday’s Yorkshire Post carried a strong op-ed by Justine Greening and an interview with Ben Houchen, Boris Johnson’s favourite elected mayor, both warning their party about the absence of concern for poorer regions in the leadership campaign and the likely consequences at the next election of having let these regions down.  But Conservative party members are concentrated in the prosperous home counties, and there’s little mileage in telling them to pay more tax to level up the rest of the country.

This failure, however, also presents a dilemma for us.  The seats we hope to win from the Conservatives are also mostly concentrated in the prosperous home counties, where we are seeking to attract wavering voters who will look for taxes to be spent on improving investment and services in their own areas.  Richard Foord and Helen Morgan have spoken up about the distribution of Levelling Up funds to their constituencies, and Tim Farron has active interests in rebalancing the country, but this is not a priority that’s so easy to sell on the doorsteps of Wimbledon or Guildford.

Nevertheless, we are a national party, and as Liberals we should worry that our deeply unequal society – our economic inequality easily the widest in Europe – is incompatible with a healthy democracy.  What’s more, we control some Councils in the north of England, have active Council groups on many others and hopes of winning some parliamentary seats in the next election and more thereafter.

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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.

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