How serious are the Conservatives about levelling up? Their MPs have reportedly been told not to use the phrase in their campaign literature, presumably on the basis that it is meaningless. Today, however, ministers are fanning out across the country to make a big fuss about the latest round of levelling up funding.
Rishi Sunak is in the north west promising to ‘build a future of optimism and pride in people’s lives and the places they call home’. It’s all nice and good, but even the MPs who are getting funding today are struggling to feel a sense of optimism about the future of their seats. One says ‘we have largely mentally checked out’, and predicts that may more colleagues will announce they aren’t standing at the next election. In part this is because they think they will lose their seats, but also because even safe-seat Conservatives are wondering if they can be bothered with a spell in opposition. Another merely sent me a picture of Grumpy the dwarf from Snow White when I asked what his mood was.
Even those who are pleased with the money accept that it is not going to make much of a tangible difference in time for the next election. One red wall MP says: ‘Any and all funding is welcome, but there’s an issue on lag. We’ve got lots of new money but zero spades in the ground.’
Then there’s the question of where the funding is going. There were theatrical laughs from opposition benches in the Commons this morning as Levelling Up Minister Lucy Frazer told MPs that ‘the Levelling Up Fund has a clear and transparent process for determining how bids are selected’.