By James Moules
NUMEROUS political figures have criticised British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech on “levelling up” the north of England for a lack of clarity to his plans.
On July 15, 2021, Boris Johnson spoke about his intention to address the perennial North-South divide in England, pledging to address inequalities in opportunity and quality of life across the nation’s regions.
Citing disparities in expectancy between the north and south – and pointing out that the former East Germany now has a higher per capita GDP than several northern regions in the UK – the Prime Minister expressed his intention to “level up” the country.
He said: “Everyone knows that talent and energy and enthusiasm and flair are evenly spread across the UK, evenly spread. It is opportunity that is not and it is the mission of this government to unite and level up across the whole UK not just because that is morally right but because if we fail then we are simply squandering vast reserves of human capital we are failing to allow people to fulfil their potential and we are holding our country back.
“And so today I want to talk again about that project of levelling up and to define it more closely and in advance of a white paper later this year that will set out our plan to level up and we should begin by stressing – in all humility – that this is a huge undertaking that many governments have debated about and dabbled in before and though there have been some successes the overall results are disappointing and yet it could be so very different.”
But many were quick to blast Johnson’s speech for scant detail on what this “levelling up” agenda would entail.
The Labour Party’s deputy leader and MP for the northern constituency of Ashton-under-Lyme Angela Rayner dismissed the speech as “just a press release,” tweeting that it was “like the Northern Powerhouse that has never happened.”
The Northern Independence Party – a party seeking to make the north of England into an independent nation – also criticised the speech.
A party spokesperson told Redaction Report: “Johnson’s speech – whilst doing more to acknowledge the North South divide more than his precessors – is no more substantive than Cameron and Clegg’s promises of a Northern Powerhouse.
“Real policies could include: bringing per capita investment in public transport infrastructure in line with the South East, drastically increasing funding to local councils for community building and early years programs to stimulate local economies and help reduce attainment gaps, introducing rent controls and either building new social housing or bringing empty properties into local council ownership – or both.”
In the speech, the Prime Minister said: “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.”
He added: “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.”
In response, the Northern Independence Party (NIP) spokesperson told said: “Whilst it’s great to see regional inequality being spoken about in real terms, in life expectancy, wealth and attainment disparity, it’s vital to remember where the words are coming from.
“Johnson has been sacked twice for lying, and on regional investment in the past said that a pound spent in Croydon is of more value than a pound spent in Strathclyde.
“It’s promising to see senior politicians aping our proposals and talking points, as the tories have clearly focus tested them and found them to be popular enough to adopt.
“What is lacking is anything further than acknowledgement, there were no concrete steps laid out.”
The Northern Independence Party was founded in 2020 with the goal of establishing an independent Republic of Northumbia out of England’s northern regions.
Boasting a strong presence on social media, the party drew traction for its jocular Twitter feed and memes featuring northern stereotypes.
It put forward Thelma Walker as its candidate in the 2021 Hartlepool by-election, but as the NIP was not registered with the electoral commission, Walker appeared on the ballot as an independent.
She achieved just 250 votes, coming in eighth out of a field of 16 canidates.
The party did not subsequently put forward a candidate in the Batley and Spen by-election, but they claim that Hartlepool will not be the last time people hear about them.
A spokesperson told Redaction Report that they were waiting until their electoral commission registration was complete before contesting another election – which did not come in time for Batley and Spen.
“We have a number of large and exciting projects in the pipeline that we’re looking forward to announcing, watch this space,” they added.
The party stands on an explicitly democratic socialist platform, advocating public ownership of utilities, a green economy and federalism.
“The message is clear – the words may be pretty but the source is not. Johnson is merely another in a long line of Westminster stooges continuing in Thatcher’s footsteps of stripping the working class of all economic and political power, more of the same is only an acceleration not the reversal that we need,” the spokesperson said.
“What the NIP represents is a break in that cycle, bringing economic and political power home, away from a callous and uncaring Westminster that sees us as human capital not human beings.”
However, a government spokesperson defended their plans.
They told Redaction Report: “As we build back better from the pandemic, we are supporting all areas of the United Kingdom to level up by empowering our regions, and providing billions of pounds of new funding to drive local economic growth.
“This includes an investment of £100 billion in infrastructure this year; the creation of a £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund to upgrade town centres, high streets and local transport; and establishing a new UK infrastructure bank in Leeds to harness investment and fund new projects.”
“We will also publish a Levelling Up White Paper later this year, which will set out how bold new policy interventions will improve livelihoods across all parts of the United Kingdom as we recover from the pandemic.”
This article was updated on July 23, 2021 to include the government spokesperson’s statment.
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