Levelling up

My northern honours list

Exciting news arrives. The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has let it be known that he wants more northerners nominated for honours, as part of the ‘levelling up’ programme to which this government is so deeply committed. This will change every-thing and I foresee a Conservative majority at the next election of at least 200. I thought that as The Spectator’s north of St Albans correspondent I should identify some of the brilliant northerners who will shortly be in receipt of OBEs, MBEs, knighthoods and what have you. You don’t cure the problem of low wages simply by transferring a few Treasury posts up to Darlington – Wayne Rafferty, aged 33,

Gentlemen’s clubs for all!

Is it a stage of life thing? Recently I’ve got a hankering to join a gentlemen’s club. It might be the creeping realisation that having put it off for so long – drifting in and out of London’s clubs over the years as a guest thinking ‘This is rather nice…’ – as I near 50, it’s a case of now or never. So here’s a question – have you been to a club recently? Have you settled into the tightly stuffed, wing-backed armchair at the Athenaeum, White’s, Buck’s, Boodle’s or the Carlton? Have you dined at the Garrick surrounded by the some of the finest things to drip off the paintbrushes

What’s behind the Tory rift on levelling up?

10 min listen

Rishi Sunak faces the fury of Red Wall MPs and other Tories today as he announced the distribution of the second round of the government’s levelling up fund. Of all the regions receiving money, the southeast will in fact receive the most (£210 million), while the government would rather point to the fact that, on a per capita basis, the North and Wales benefit more. Cindy Yu discusses with Katy Balls and James Heale. Produced by Cindy Yu.

Will Liz Truss kill levelling up?

Levelling up is probably not even in the top tier of Liz Truss’s intray for this week, given the pressure to do something big on energy bills, and then to address the multiple other crises including the NHS, the Northern Ireland Protocol and Ukraine. But what she does with her predecessor’s flagship policy is a matter of great anxiety for MPs and activists in Red Wall seats. I spent some time over the weekend with Conservative councillors, MPs and Tory members in Greater Manchester. Unsurprisingly, most of them had supported Truss as be party leader. But most of them were also anxious about the future of levelling up, or whatever

Levelling up is failing

First the good news: the Office for National Statistics figures released today show that pay is rising at its fastest rate in two decades, with regular pay up by 4.2 per cent in the three months for February to April compared with a year earlier. Now the bad news: such is inflation that, in real terms, regular pay was actually down 2.2 per cent – lower than at any time in the past two decades except for a brief period in the autumn of 2011. So, yes, it isn’t just an illusion: we really are getting poorer. That is a big problem not just for households trying to make ends

Boris Johnson is drifting

Tory MPs only have one topic of conversation: the fate of Boris Johnson. They huddle together in offices in Portcullis House, comparing notes, assessing the Prime Minister’s survival prospects. At the time of writing, there is a sense in Westminster that attempts to oust Johnson have been delayed; that the danger for him will flare up again after the police end their investigation into Downing Street parties or after the local elections in May. But Johnson is not being helped by the fact that many of the hints of favour or policy change he has dropped to MPs as he has tried to shore up his position have not come

Can Spain save its dying villages?

In a little village on the Spanish Meseta, I once asked an old lady about the next village some three or four miles away. She shook her head as if considering a hopeless case and said, ‘Oh, the people there are very different.’ To me, those villages seemed like two peas in a pod. But to her, they were worlds apart. Spaniards often refer to their home town or village as their patria chica: the little fatherland. ‘Every village, every town,’ wrote Gerald Brenan in The Spanish Labyrinth, ‘is the centre of an intense social and political life. As in classical times, a man’s allegiance is first of all to his native place,

The Tories’ crime crackdown

Dealing with crime is a political necessity for the Tories, I say in the Times today. Whenever Labour outflanks them on the issue, as Tony Blair did, the Conservatives are in trouble. But law and order has taken on even more importance for this government because of its link to levelling up: Boris Johnson is convinced you can level up only if you deal with crime. He believes that places are poor because of crime, rather than the other way round. So, next week we’ll see a slew of announcements, with a particular focus on increasing drug rehabilitation efforts. Tackling crime and antisocial behaviour can show rapid progress The public are

Gove gets into gear

‘This government ends if the red wall reverts back to type and we lose 45 seats then end up in hung parliament territory,’ warns one secretary of state. This comment is a reminder of how vital it is for Boris that levelling up is seen to be a success. The rewards of getting it right are considerable. The Tories’ reward for that would probably be another decade in power: one cabinet loyalist says, ‘The boss wants to see a world where Labour are shut out. We consolidate the red wall.’  Michael Gove and Andy Haldane have found inspiration in 15th-century Florence But fixing regional disparities isn’t easy: it is hard to find

Will the Tories cut taxes before the next election?

The Tory party has reached a fork in the road, I say in the Times today. One path involves sticking to the spending plans, hoping to cut taxes before the next election and getting rid of the new perception of them as tax raisers. The other drags them into ever more spending, led by big increases in public sector pay, and ends with them going to the country as a high-tax party. In his Budget speech and his address to Tory MPs, Rishi Sunak made clear that his preference was for the former approach, which should cut taxes before the country goes to the polls again. But sticking to even the spending

Sunak backs the Union with cash, not love-bombs

Devolution has done so much to fracture the UK that, in Scotland, Rishi Sunak’s Budget is an event of the second order. Scottish interest in Budget day is typically limited to whisky duty, support for North Sea industries and the Barnett formula: the additional spending Scotland gets when the Chancellor splurges on England. Today’s Budget was for all of Britain. Not just Scotland, but Wales and Northern Ireland were weaved throughout Rishi Sunak’s speech. Quite apart from the fiscal or economic merits of the policies announced, the Chancellor’s speech was good politics. Not long after Sunak was promoted to the Treasury, I was told Scotland was a weak spot for him

It’s no wonder young people don’t understand levelling up

There are two ways Number 10 can look at new polling which shows only 14 per cent of Britons understand the slogan ‘levelling up’. The first: the government has utterly failed to communicate its signature policy. The second: at least they didn’t poll the Cabinet. The findings, which come in research by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for PoliticsHome, are interesting for what they tell us about now much the slogan has cut through (66 per cent have heard of it) versus how much it’s been understood (one in three haven’t the foggiest what it refers to). Ministers may not be all that troubled because political slogans function much like old movie

The Tories will pay a price for Boris’s housing strategy

One of the themes of Conservative conference was that the government has dropped plans for a radical reform of the planning system, which was designed to get more houses built in the south east. Both Boris Johnson and the new party chairman Oliver Dowden were keen to stress this point. But, I say in the Times today, this is a mistake. The Tories are the party of the property-owning democracy, and live and die by this The Tories have been spooked by the Chesham and Amersham by-election where the Liberal Democrats ran hard against planning reform and took the seat on a 25 per cent swing from the Tories. Boris Johnson

Levelling up is Johnsonian cakeism

Until this morning, few people in Britain will have heard of the works of Wilfredo Pareto (1848-1923). Now, thanks to prime ministerial recommendation, his name is suddenly on everyone’s lips. Maybe he was even the inspiration for the name of Boris Johnson’s one-year-old son. Pareto, apparently, is the inspiration behind the whole idea of ‘levelling up’ But was it good idea to raise the memory of the Italian economist and political philosopher? Pareto, apparently, is the inspiration behind the whole idea of ‘levelling up’. The slogan, implied the PM, is derived from the concept of ‘Pareto Improvements’ — improvements, he said, which can raise the quality of one person’s existence

How the Tories can ‘level up’ without annoying Nimbys

Have the Conservatives lost their nerve on planning reform? Not quite, but a couple of small interventions at the Conservative party conference in Manchester point in a new direction. If anything, they suggest more ambition, not less, on the part of the ministerial team involved – though less opportunity for a falling out with southern voters. The first, by Michael Gove, was yesterday in a Policy Exchange fringe event with Sebastian Payne on the latter’s new book, Broken Heartlands. The new Levelling Up Secretary told his interviewer that the gap between paying monthly rent and paying monthly mortgage instalments – which are lower than rents for first-time buyers lucky enough

Gove starts to define ‘levelling up’

What is levelling up? One of the problems with this nebulous term is that anyone in government who has understood what it means has decided to keep this a glorious secret, rather than sharing it with others. Now that there is an entire department for Levelling Up, it’s a bit harder to take this approach. Michael Gove is the new Secretary of State for the policy and spoke last night at a ConservativeHome fringe event at the Conservative party conference. He was keen not just to offer a picture of what levelling up will look like, but also to respond to critics within his own party who think this is

What do Michael Gove and Andy Haldane really mean by ‘Levelling Up’?

Levelling up is central to the Government’s policy agenda. But it has become an umbrella term for everything and anything – which while part of its success electorally, raises challenges in terms of tangible policy. To address this, last week the Government announced that Michael Gove is to be appointed as Secretary of State for Levelling Up and that former Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane will head up a task force for the next six months to look at this area. The good news is that much analysis has already been carried out. In a presentation at Policy Exchange in June, for example, Haldane outlined how to make levelling

How Boris can save Northern Ireland

Over the past few weeks and months, there has been plenty of focus on the Northern Ireland Brexit Protocol, and the impact it is having on the province. Less attention has been paid, however, to the equally serious problems in Northern Ireland which still need to be solved. It is an uncomfortable truth, but the problem with Northern Ireland is largely in Westminster. The institutionalised neglect over the past few decades has brought the region to where it is now. How do you know Northern Ireland has been neglected? Easy. Look up the time it takes to travel between just about any town in the province to Belfast by public transport.

What are the limits of Boris’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda?

No doubt Boris Johnson has many qualities but the only one that comes to mind is this: he is not a conservative. That realisation may be dawning a little late on his more spirited supporters, who gave short shrift to anyone making this point during the flaxen-haired dauphin’s campaign for the crown, but it sunk in some time ago with his savvier opponents.  Boris’s non-conservatism is not the primary obstacle to the Labour party (or the broader left) regaining parliamentary power. But it is an added hindrance that could be done without. However, it also presents an opportunity to use a nominally Tory government to advance policies that wouldn’t ordinarily

Is London being ‘levelled down’ already?

In his ‘levelling up’ speech in Coventry this week, the Prime Minister insisted time and again that this was no ‘zero sum’ game. Improving the fortunes of the poorer parts of the country would not entail levelling richer parts of the country down, he said: ‘Levelling up is not a jam-spreading operation. It’s not robbing Peter to pay Paul…. It’s win-win.’ Well, maybe. But there was good cause for his defensiveness. One reason advanced for the Conservatives’ dramatic defeat in last month’s Chesham and Amersham by-election was apprehension that such places would have to help pay the bill for, say, regenerating Hartlepool. Yes, of course, there were specific reasons for the