Ross Clark Ross Clark

‘Levelling up’ is finished

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove (Credit: Getty images)

Just what has the government done to try to retain the Red Wall vote? It seemed when they won a majority of 80 in 2019, thanks largely to a big switch of working class votes in peripheral areas of the Midlands and North, away from the main cities – that Boris Johnson and his ministers got it. There was a very large constituency of former Labour voters which was is fed up of that party’s fixation of the sorts of issues which appeal to metropolitan liberals and they were looking for a new political home. It was a constituency which likes state intervention, but was socially conservative. 

Johnson’s government at first seemed to oblige: the furlough scheme heralded a move towards bigger government. There was also a big step up in funding for the NHS. 

The alignment of the Red Wall with the Conservative right was the product of unique circumstances in 2019

But now the impetus seems to have been lost. The Guardian is reporting that only 20 per cent of projects under the Levelling up fund have gone ahead. Many others have fallen by the wayside as a result of a surge in construction costs which have made them unviable. 

One of the biggest losers has been affordable housing. Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove seems to have started trying to blaming second home and holiday home owners for the housing shortage instead. This is not going to cut much ice with the Red Wall as holiday and second homes do not tend to be a problem there. 

The real problem with trying to appeal to the Red Wall is that the interests of former Labour voters do not well align with those of Conservative members and MPs. We saw what Conservatives thought of big government when Liz Truss was elected leader. Conservative members still largely favour low taxes and a smallish state. And they absolutely hate taxes on aspiration, which is why Gove’s second homes tax is not going to go down well with his own party. 

The trouble is that the alignment of the Red Wall with the Conservative right was the product of unique circumstances in 2019: anger at those trying to undermine Brexit. Those circumstances are not going to be repeated – which is why the Red Wall is as good as lost. ‘Levelling up’ is a term which has had its day. Don’t expect to hear much about it after the next election.