Opinion

Why the Prime Minister just delivered a speech for YesCymru

16 Jul 2021 6 minutes Read
Boris Johnson delivering his levelling up speech

Ifan Morgan Jones

No one seemed to have noticed – who listens to these things apart from a few political journalists anyway? – but yesterday the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom stood up and made quite a remarkable speech.

The speech was planned in order to launch Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ agenda for the United Kingdom, but as he rambled through he ended up accidentally making a very strong case for Welsh independence.

If the Chair of YesCymru had stood up and delivered these words at a All Under One Banner March I don’t think anyone would have blinked an eye:

“We need to say from the beginning that even before the pandemic began the UK had and has a more unbalanced economy than almost all our immediate biggest competitors in Europe and more unbalanced than pretty much every major developed country.

“And when I say unbalanced I mean that for too many people geography turns out to be destiny.

“Take simple life expectancy – even before covid hit, it is an outrage that a man in Glasgow or Blackpool has an average of ten years less on this planet than someone growing up in Hart in Hampshire or in Rutland. There’s a glaring imbalance.

“Or take university entrance – if you are a child on free school meals in London, you now have more than double the chance of going to university than a child on free school meals growing up outside London.

“It is an astonishing fact that 31 years after German unification, the per capita GDP of the North East of our country, Yorkshire, the East Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland is now lower than in what was formerly East Germany – and I remember going to former East Germany in 1990, just after the wall had gone down.”

He added: “No one believes, I don’t believe, you don’t believe, that there is any basic difference in the potential of babies born across this country. Everyone knows that talent and energy and enthusiasm and flair are evenly spread across the UK, evenly spread.

“It is opportunity that is not.”

What has gone wrong? Why is the UK so economicallly imbalanced? Boris Johnson goes on to explain that the UK Government has played a central role in this:

“An unspoken assumption by policy makers [has been] that investment should always follow success – so that to use a football metaphor the approach has always been to hang around the goal mouth rather than being the playmaker.

“So you end up investing in areas where house prices are already sky-high and where transport is already congested and by turbo charging those areas, especially in London and the south east – you drive prices even higher and you force more and more people to move to the same expensive area.”

Core argument

Now, it’s very telling that despite all this talk of Wales and Yorkshire, most of the national headlines about Johnson’s speech focused on fears that the south east of England could miss out if everyone else is ‘levelled up’.

The media is just as geographically concentrated in London as wealth and political power.

But if you read past the headlines and listen – or read – the speech itself, the above passage includes the most astonishing admission I’ve ever heard from a sitting Prime Minister.

The first is that the UK as presently constituted is fundamentally unfair, and that this unfairness runs across geographic lines.

There is a rich centre of the UK economy and there is also a geographical periphery, and there is a huge wealth divide between them, with the latter – as the Prime Minister said – lagging East Germany.

The second is that this huge imbalance is the UK Government’s fault. Rather than spread investment equally they have continued to feed the goose that lays the golden egg in London and the south east of England, to the detriment of the rest of the country.

It can’t be emphasised enough that this is YesCymru’s central thesis. The Welsh independence movement’s core argument is that political and economic power is over-centralised in the UK, to Wales’ detriment.

And that, because the UK Government – by Boris Johnson’s own admission here – won’t do anything about this problem, and is indeed making it worse, that independence is required.

Solutions

Had the first half of Boris Johnson’s speech been delivered at a YesCymru rally, at this point the speaker would have explained how only independence could solve this political and economic imbalance in Wales’ favour.

But Boris Johnson is, of course, a Conservative and a Unionist, so he did no such thing. So what solutions did he offer to solve this problem?

Well, unfortunately, he didn’t offer any. Admitting that he was just offering the “skeleton” of plans to level up the UK, he asked anyone who had any ideas to “please send me an email”.

In fact, despite name-checking Wales in the first part of his speech, his solution was all about England, and indeed “a more flexible approach to devolution in England”.

Wales was mentioned only once more in the speech, in the form of a reference to investment in the M4 – a scheme that the Welsh Government rejected back in 2019.

Following the speech, the PM’s former aide Dominic Cummings called the speech “a joke”, and said that ‘levelling up’ was a “vacuous slogan” Boris Johnson had come up with during the 2019 election.

Labour described Mr Johnson’s speech as “gibberish nonsense”.

They obviously have a bone to pick with the Prime Minister, but having watched and read the whole thing it’s hard to disagree.

This was half a speech. As a university lecturer I recognise an essay crisis when I see it – the first half, the data collection, is sound but then the analysis – what does it all mean? – falls flat.

If you were a Unionist Prime Minister when the constitutional tectonic plates of your nation-state were separating beneath your feet you may think it unwise to build the case for independence and then not offer a strong Unionist solution to that same problem.

Boris Johnson set out the problem, in stark terms, but not the solution. And until Unionists come up with one, independence movements across the UK will continue to make hay.

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
7 days ago

I’m concerned about Fat Shanks’ mental state, he was getting dangerously close to honesty at times in that speech.

hdavies15
hdavies15
7 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Even cads and bounders have occasional fits of honesty. The acid test is how the whole show moves forward. I suspect it will take the form of heavy showers of soundbites with intervals of “not a lot”. However we can’t really afford to wait 20 years or more to check whether the result are worthwhile. Gut instinct tells us that it’s more about gestures, and common sense has taught us that a skeleton without meat on it doesn’t feed anything much other than a few jackals perhaps.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
6 days ago
Reply to  hdavies15

We can’t afford to wait another day, as a Buff might say it is (and my heart goes out to the Germans and the people of Belgium) bron post deluvian! Too many of them and Westminster will be under water. But for every Tory Grandee there is an Oligarch’s yacht! nos da

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
6 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

I watched the speech and what struck me was how harried he s looking. Clearly a man under extreme pressure who can see that things are beginning to fall apart and doesn’t have a clue what to do.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
6 days ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Same here, maybe for the first time in his life, daddy can’t fix it. While all the time the bigger boys are egging him on. I’m not a shrink but I’d guess he is certifiable. A second more knowledgeable opinion would be welcome…as would a solution, after all he has the nuclear codes not to mention a biological weapon.

defaid
defaid
6 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

There’s no honesty there. He’s just a con-man, mentioning a truth while not giving a fig about it. He’s perfectly happy to talk about inequality but has no intention of doing anything about it. He’ll say whatever he feels is expedient in making his own position more secure but when it comes to addressing real issues, talk and posture is all he has: he has never offered more than a skeleton of a plan. It’s said that accomplished liars mix truth with their words but it’s actions that count. Until he returns control and funds he’ll find me very difficult… Read more »

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
6 days ago
Reply to  defaid

A conman with no compunction of the casualties his deceit would cause like the guy who sold fake mine-detectors, difference here is he’s locked-up!

Slippery as an eel but as deadly as a water snake Defaid…

CJPh
CJPh
7 days ago

This isn’t the gaffe or the ‘oops, cat’s out of the bag, mask has slipped’ moment many in our pro indy bubble will suggest it is – the unionists are starting to take us seriously. It does make me wonder exactly what the unpublished polling on the status of the union shows… The messaging will now become more conciliatory; expect some of the same language YesCymru, Plaid and Welsh Labour employ to be used by Westminster tories – fairness, equality etc. Expect a big push to show that our distinct national identity and culture is amazing (as part of the… Read more »

Last edited 7 days ago by CJPh
SundanceKid
SundanceKid
7 days ago
Reply to  CJPh

I don’t see that happening.

The Tories risk alienating their new core support base if they abandon muscular unionism, which is very popular with their supporters.

It’s not in their vocabulary or mentality to be conciliatory. Doing so risks undermining their position and may make them look weak. They won’t do that. Their supporters expect them to defend the Union vigorously and aggressively.

CJPh
CJPh
7 days ago
Reply to  SundanceKid

Yes, that is a distinct possibility. But thinking that their broader support is in any way similar to the jingoistic core (or the political bubble dwellers) is just wrong – most Conservative voters simply do not like whoever leads the other parties. If we continue to caricature all the tories as rabid, frothing neo colonialists, all they have to say is “what on earth are you talking about?” even if there is a home counties-sized grain of truth in the sentiment. If we keep biting, we are the ones who seem rabid. This softer approach, demonstrated by Johnson above, is… Read more »

Last edited 7 days ago by CJPh
j humphrys
j humphrys
6 days ago
Reply to  CJPh

A time bomb awaits, among the emptying supermarket shelves with browning bananas and pictures of Kiwifruit?

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
6 days ago
Reply to  j humphrys

Christmas in the 50’s Tiny orange coloured fruit and where did we put the nutcrackers and them weird date things…never thought I’d see those days again!

Quornby
Quornby
7 days ago

If Johnson was ignorant about the London centric nature of the UK it could be written off as his usual idiocy, but he’s not ignorant of this situation, that makes him guilty of it. Just like every UK PM that’s gone before him. Independence ASAP.

Nia
Nia
7 days ago

Excellent article – diolch yn fawr. Does anyone have BJ’s e-mail address? I would love to accept his invitation to drop him a line…

David
David
7 days ago
Reply to  Nia

To book a 10 minute appointment, please email boris.johnson.mp@parliament.uk to request a Surgery Form. Please include your full name, full postal address and telephone number.

Mark
Mark
6 days ago

This is an imbalance of wealth and health created by tory politicians over decades, it has been done deliberately and systematically, yet here we are, with yet another tory government,

Martin
Martin
4 days ago

the trouble with the East German analogy is – even in a country with much higher GDP than the UK, the imbalance between East and West Germany continues to exist. Which gives us an indication what a monumental challenge it’s going to be for Wales (Scotland/Northern Ireland). I observed this from my chosen home in Wales (I am from (west) Germany and it really is frustrating to observe.

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