6th October 2021
Johnson hails the Party faithful
On the day that the temporary uplift in Universal Credit was snatched away from the poorest families in the country, the well-heeled delegates to the Tory Party conference settled in to hear the Leader’s speech in Manchester. As usual Boris Johnson was high on rhetoric and low on actual practicalities. Johnson’s speech was little more than an opportunity to jolly along the faithful.
He spoke of re-wilding the countryside, re-introducing otters, seeing an expansion of the beaver population, “Build back beaver, that’s what I say!” proclaimed Johnson to hearty guffaws. It is unlikely that those families contemplating their next, significantly higher, energy bill, or whether they have enough cash to cover the kid’s dinner money for the week, were either listening or laughing along.
For a government which has renamed the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), meaningless phrases come ready made. Whether this change means that local government has been written even further out of the script, or has suddenly become synonymous with levelling up remains to be seen, though the Tory track record to date would certainly suggest the former.
Johnson took no responsibility for the gross mishandling of the pandemic, with Britain still notching the highest numbers of deaths in Europe, in spite of the ongoing reluctance of the BBC to report the fact. The mishandling of Brexit negotiations and the debacle of a shortage of labour in the farming industry and the haulage sector, resulting in gaps in food and fuel supplies, were not issues Johnson felt inclined to address.
The crisis in policing, brought to a head by the Sarah Everard case did not merit a mention, nor did the lack of affordable social housing or the real difficulties in saving for a deposit faced by young people trying to get a foot on the housing ladder.
Johnson did claim that the Tories wanted to distribute wealth and opportunity more evenly across the UK. Regional disparities do play a part and make a difference to the quality of life for many communities. The real re-distribution of wealth however is not one between regions but between classes. Part of the so-called levelling up agenda of the Tories is to divert attention away from class distinctions and focus upon regional ones.
Perversely, the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn must take some credit for this. The slogan ‘For the Many, Not the Few’ was clearly gaining sufficient traction to worry the political establishment and the thousands attending Corbyn rallies in the period from 2015 was cause for concern. The right wing in the Labour Party, incapable of seeing the opportunity for change unfolding before them, concentrated their energies on supporting the conspiracy to undermine Corbyn, playing directly into the Tories’ hands.
While the Labour right have searched in vain to find the key to ‘electability’ the Tories have simply commandeered Corbyn’s appeal for change and diluted it to be rebranded as ‘levelling up’. Superficially it sounds fair, reasonable and desirable. Who could argue against being levelled up?
The reality is, as usual, that this is simply sleight of hand on the part of the Tories. Any amount of levelling up on a regional basis will do nothing to change the disparities endemic to capitalism because of its class nature. The Tories are also aware that Labour under Starmer will not attack them on the grounds of class ownership of the means of production because they do not have the philosophical acumen to tackle the issue head on.
So, for the time being, Johnson gets away with it. However, the reality of levelling up being little more than shallow rhetoric will increasingly hit home, as people realise that opportunity is not knocking on their door, that the rich continue to benefit disproportionately under the Tories, that the social care system will not be fixed by an adjustment to national insurance rates and that undermining local government will not help meet the needs of local communities.
The mass action seen outside the Tory Party conference; the opposition to the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill (2021) which criminalises activity deemed ‘serious annoyance’; the ongoing protests organised through the People’s Assembly, will all be vital to building opposition to the Tories and exposing their lies.
This train is leaving the station, the Labour leadership need to get on board.