Despite the classic Boris Johnson flourishes of colourful metaphors and similes, the façade has started to fade. His ‘major’ speech yesterday, which was supposed to put meat on the bones of the government’s mission motto, was a major flop. Post-Brexit, the PM has run out of ideas. Where does he want to take our country? If you can answer that – without using a formulation of the words ‘level up’ – let me know.
After five years of coalition with the lying Lib Dems, two years of confidence and supply with the DUP, and four (albeit interrupted) years with an outright majority, the Tories have had the levers of power in their hands for over 11 years. The chasm of inequalities the PM described in his speech didn’t happen overnight; they’ve been the sad score to our national life the entire time. And yet, somehow, the Tories continue to get away with capitalising on their failure to address these inequalities and their complicity in making them worse; like someone trying (and succeeding) to sell you the phone they’ve just picked from your pocket.
Tellingly, Johnson quipped that he ‘didn’t know’ what was behind one of the measures of inequality he used to stage-set yesterday. If you don’t know the reason for something, you’re going to have a hard time coming up with a solution for it. But then, that was the PM’s ultimate message in his apparently ‘major’ speech: ‘don’t look at me to sort out your problems, sort them out yourself.’
Johnson’s big idea is to let local people tell him what they want to do and how they’ll do it. While not a bad idea in principle (metro mayors are already doing the PM’s job for him by mandating mask-wearing on public transport, for example) he has no overarching agenda for national renewal and is shirking his responsibility to have one. At one point in his speech, the PM quipped that people should email him if they have any ideas.
And so what we already knew has been confirmed – ‘levelling up’ amounts to nothing more than a political slogan. There are no plans behind it, and worse, there is no vision. And the sad reality is we’ve heard it all before. It’s the same con trick that the Conservatives have been serving for the last decade. Remember ‘northern powerhouse’? What happened with that?
Put aside addressing the fundamental ‘burning injustices’ that Theresa May once described, the Tories aren’t even repairing the 11-years’ worth of their own self-imposed damage. After cutting £1 billion from youth services over the last decade, the big announcement yesterday was a £50 million investment in football pitches… And Johnson restated old announcements, such as the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers, while conveniently ignoring why they are needed in the first place – because violent crime is now higher than ever after the Tories took over 21,000 officers out of service in the years before.
Joker Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ is just the latest contortion of Conservative propaganda designed to disassociate them from the issues they have failed to fix and worsened after 11 years in power.
The joke is on us if we keep falling for it.
Ryan works in politics and is a contributor to PoliReview.