Friday, 4 February 2022

It's a very long slogan


It’s probably a mistake to take the UK Government’s verbose White Paper on ‘Levelling Up’ too seriously. It’s likely that we will have a new government before it ever gets converted into legislation, let alone action, and with even the supposed author having allegedly described the content as “shit”, it’s unlikely to survive the imminent fall of the man who invented the term ‘levelling up’ without having a clue what it meant. That is especially true if his successor turns out to be the current Chancellor, who has done his best not only to neuter the paper by refusing any significant new funding, but also to make people in the poorer parts of the UK even poorer by his decision on Universal Credit and his less than half-hearted attempt to be seen to be doing something about the cost of living crisis whilst making it worse.

There is little purpose, therefore, in any detailed analysis of something which is likely to be either ditched within weeks or else relaunched to mean something very different and a great deal cheaper. There has always been a huge contradiction at the heart of the vagueness, as a result of the PM’s propensity to promise different things to different people. In launching his crock of brown matter this week, Gove referred to the need to “shift wealth and power decisively to working people and their families”. Leaving aside the unlikelihood of the Tories ever wanting to shift wealth and power to working people, the PM has already promised his MPs and the electorate that his levelling up agenda will be achieved without taking anything away from anyone, and especially not from Tory areas in the south-east of England. Promising both to leave current wealth untouched and to shift it elsewhere is typical of the Johnson approach, but it is an impossible combination. Levelling up is, of course, possible without transferring wealth – but it depends on both creating more wealth, and ensuring that new wealth is created where it is needed. The timescale for doing that would be very much longer than the already hopelessly over-optimistic one laid out in the White (perhaps I should say Brown) Paper; and it would need the government to take much more control over the way the economy operates, something which is anathema to any conceivable successor to the PM.

‘Levelling Up’ remains what it has always been – a vague slogan which sounds like a good idea in principle. At 332 pages long, it now even fails the test of being a good slogan.

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