Opinion

‘Levelling up’ will remain an empty slogan unless Johnson de-centralises power from Westminster

19 Sep 2021 4 minutes Read
Boris Johnson at a Cabinet meeting. Picture by 10 Downing Street (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Ifan Morgan Jones

BORIS BID TO LEVEL UP THE WORLD boomed the front page of the Daily Express this morning.

The hyperbole was telling, as the ‘levelling up’ slogan adopted by the UK Government has so far been a lot of shouting and repetition but very little done to bring it about.

It’s a slogan they’re clearly very keen on – it was also revealed over the weekend that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will become the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Perhaps the Prime Minister thinks that if he chants ‘levelling up’ like ‘Bloody Mary’ often enough in the mirror it will simply appear.

But the truth is that Boris Johnson doesn’t know how to level up Waunarlwydd let alone the world, and unless there’s a rapid change of plan, ‘levelling up’ will soon be deposited alongside ‘The Big Society’ and ‘Northern Powerhouse’ in the drawer marked ‘vague government slogans that never meant anything’.

It’s possible of course that the UK Government has no intention of levelling up anywhere and the slogan is itself a means of hiding that truth from their new ‘red wall’ northern seats until at least the next General Election.

However, it is also possible that they actually do genuinely want to do something about it. But the problem here is that Boris Johnson’s own political instincts serve as a barrier to that something happening.

Because ultimately the only way you will allow areas outside of London to level up is to devolve political power to those areas so that they can make informed decisions about how that can be done.

Different parts of the UK have different labour markets, they have different economic needs, they’re (obviously) in different locations. No one living and working in London is going to have the same know-how and commitment to levelling up Newcastle-upon-Tyne as someone living in that city.

Informed

The first step to levelling up an area, therefore, is to make it a real political objective tasked to someone answerable to the voters of that area. And that means high profile politicians held to account by an informed population.

A good example of that in England would be Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who has enough political power, a high enough public profile, and enough media scrutiny, to deliver but more importantly perhaps to have a need to deliver in order to retain his role.

However, we are told that Boris Johnson just isn’t keen on this. He sees the likes of Andy Burnham as a threat to his own authority. According to the Financial Times, the devolution agenda has now stalled completely at Westminster.

Instead, Westminster has turned to another plan which is to just hand out money from the centre, directly to local authorities. They have even completely bypassed the Welsh and Scottish Governments to do this.

Unsurprisingly, the result has been a complete lack of understanding of the kinds of support different communities actually require. Some of the poorest areas in Wales were given the least help by the Levelling Up Fund, while some of the richest areas in England were given the most. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.

Whether you mark that down as cock-up or conspiracy, the reality is that someone sitting in a department in Whitehall isn’t – and can’t be – informed enough to know whether a theatre in Chepstow or a new road in Bangor will unlock the greater economic potential.

Pressure

The UK Government can do one of two things: levelling up, or pursue a ‘muscular unionist’ agenda of recentralising power at Westminster.

But they can’t do both. The UK is economically over-centralised because it is politically over-centralised. To reverse that economic over-centralisation, they need to give up some of that political power.

That is something that no UK Government will do of its own accord. It will just come up with silly wheezes such as rebranding the Department of Local Government the Department of Levelling Up, which does nothing practical to solve the problem.

Levelling up will never be driven from inside the Westminster square mile. Only sustained political pressure from outside Westminster can force their hand and bring about a Britain where economic and political power are spread evenly.

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GW Atkinson
GW Atkinson
1 month ago

The obese turd can’t even stop kids from starving in his own damn country. Leveling up my arse.

Mathew Rees
Mathew Rees
1 month ago
Reply to  GW Atkinson

If you can’t feed them, don’t breed them. I can’t afford children, so I don’t have them. Food banks show people’s Christianity is still intact. A government can only do so much to alleviate poverty. Self-reliance and self responsibility comes first.

Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago
Reply to  Mathew Rees

Comments like that make me glad I’m not a Christian.

Grayham Jones
1 month ago

We
In wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 have got to stop being little Englanders and be proud to be welsh it’s time for a new wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 A Free Wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Brian Coman
Brian Coman
1 month ago
Reply to  Grayham Jones

We have to be aware of the possibility of potential tin pot dictators in charge of Wales..or are we too late on that one ?

Rob
Rob
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Coman

That’s why we have elections. The threat of dictatorship could happen in anywhere. Look at what happened in America when Trump lost the election.

Gareth Wyn Jones
Gareth Wyn Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  Brian Coman

Yes there have been through the centuries and I include Churchill

Mark
Mark
1 month ago
Reply to  Grayham Jones

I’m afraid the Welsh little inglunders are beyond help, but it would be nice if incomers where ever they’re from had the basic understanding that they’re coming to live or visit a different country, I’m sure other nationalities don’t have this arrogant attitude when they move between countries (maybe some ‘mericans)

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago

Levelling up is an exercise in extreme spin. There is no such thing, there will be no such thing. Forget it until we run our own show.

Ap Kenneth
Ap Kenneth
1 month ago

One element of any successful levelling up agenda would be where political power, decisions and government spending is made and you make the point forcefully, but to truly level up and reduce inequality individuals have to be given a guaranteed basic income or free money, no strings attached. Trials in the 1960s in Dauphin, Winnipeg, Canada (Mincome) and similar trials in 1960s USA under Lyndon Johnsons War on Poverty led to decreased hospitalisations, improved child education attainment and improved lifetime earnings, increased tax take and reduced welfare payments. It can be done but politics and loss of political power are… Read more »

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
1 month ago
Reply to  Ap Kenneth

We are talking about the Conservatives. They will never share equally or fairly money & investment around the nations & regions of Britain.

Last edited 1 month ago by Y Cymro
Ap Kenneth
Ap Kenneth
1 month ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

Exactly

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
1 month ago

More spin from our BoJo. He recently said that leveling-up will not be to the detriment of London and the South. So where’s the money coming from Boris? Have you grown a new magic money tree or what? I’m still waiting for you to unblock the nostrils of the Dragon i.e the Brynglas Tunnel, or your manifesto pledge to centrally fund the building of an M4 relief road stated on your election campaign visit to Wales last. Your silence is deafening on the matter. Bloody Tory liar! The fascist Conservative actions, especially here in Wales & Scotland, is to illegally… Read more »

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
1 month ago

The article is right – there can be no levelling up without more powers being devolved to local communities. It won’t happen – Westminster can not and will not relinquish the power. So there will be no adequate levelling up and the government knows this but uses it to gain votes. It’s all bulls**t. It’s nothing new – Westminster has been dealling out this sort of crap for years. Ignore Johnson and just aim for independence.

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Duggan

I agree with you. Levelling up is just the latest ‘soundbite’ to make the Conservative Party appear to be doing something about the inequality in Britain. Five years from now I think that not much will have changed, inequality will have grown (just look at house prices, rents etc.) and the levelling up idea will have been dropped and forgotten – just like the so-called ‘Big Society, ‘Northern Powerhouse’, ‘Back to Basics’ (remember that one from the 90s?), all hot air!

I just wish that people could see the Conservatives for what they really are.

Crwtyn Cemais
Crwtyn Cemais
1 month ago

Spot-on, Ifan

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