The reviews for Boris’s long-awaited levelling up speech are in, and the consensus is more-or-less universal: no-one knows what “levelling up” means in specific policy terms, including Boris. A round-up of the punditry’s reaction paints a pretty clear picture:
Of course, there were also a few classic Borisisms that did little to add clarity: apparently “Levelling up is not a jam spreading operation”, and “the most important factor in levelling up, the yeast, the magic sauce, the ketchup of catch up… is leadership”. This was not the anticipated delineation of cake-ism in theory and practice. You’d think some actual new policy announcements would’ve been an important factor as well – levelling up appears to be a buffet of regional cake-ism rather than a strategy.
Guido was surprised to hear TUC Chair Frances O’Grady following Sir Keir Starmer in attacking the government’s ‘Build Back Better’ slogan on the Today Programme this morning:
Not only is the political catchphrase in vogue across the western world’s political spectrum, it’s also the name of a left-wing campaign here in Britain. The BBB campaign hopes to answer questions like “how to create a better democracy, to harness technology for public good, to build a fairer and more cooperative world.”
“Answering these questions, and more, is a challenge to us all; to governments, businesses, trade unions, civil society and citizens.”
The second name on the lefty Build Back Better campaign’s list of backers? Frances O’Grady…
The abandoning of the algorithm that would have encouraged development where people wanted to live – which is most often in Tory home county constituencies in the South East – signals a reversion to Tory instincts: to block new developments in their leafy idylls. Post-Cummings, the self-interest of Tory MPs with NIMBY constituents has reasserted itself at the expense of younger, future Tory voters looking for somewhere affordable to live. There is nothing more certain to change a Labour voter into a Tory voter than owning a home and starting a family. It is in the long-term interest of the country that property-ownership is widely dispersed, even if it is at the expense of short-term electoral considerations.
So it is disappointing to learn that Boris wrote to oppose the development of 500 homes on a brown-field site on the old Master Brewer site in his Uxbridge & South Ruislip constituency. Robert Jenrick overrode a ruling by the GLA permitting it to go ahead.
Stephen Wicks, the developer, was left fuming:
“The hypocrisy of all this is that Boris is on one hand saying ‘build, build, build’ but on the other hand he’s quietly nobbling councillors behind the scene… It’s difficult to demonstrate it but I’m pretty certain Boris will have had a word with Robert Jenrick and said ‘Look, this one’s a bit difficult for me, the locals don’t like it, so can you just quietly issue a holding order’.”
Jenrick will deny it, yet the blocking of residential developments in Tory constituencies is far too common.
Boris has appeared in the Commons this afternoon via Zoom to outline the details of the defence spending review in much of the press this morning. The £16.5 billion new spending over four years will fund: a new artificial intelligence agency; the creation of a national cyber force; and a new “space command,” which will be capable of launching a rocket in 2022.
Perhaps the element that will stir up the biggest wave of patriotism is Boris’s pledge to upgrade the Royal Navy and “restore Britain’s position as the foremost naval power in Europe”. Specifically by once again overtaking the French – one way to quell Thatcherite objections to big spending. Which is odd, because Britain is already the foremost naval power in Europe, ahead of France in almost every category. Let’s see the BBC try and scrap Rule, Britannia from next year’s Proms…
Following Boris’s speech this afternoon on boosting training post-Covid, the BBC’s Faisal Islam claimed on Twitter that Boris has stolen Joe Biden’s slogan of “Build back better”. It might make for easy retweets, however it’s just not true. Boris first used the phrase at the end of June to launch his new house-building programme. The earliest record Guido can find of Biden using the phrase is over a week later on the 9th July when setting out his own economic recovery agenda. There’s a reason Faisal is the BBC’s lowest-paid editor…