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Is that it? The Prime Minister has delivered his long-anticipated speech on the Boris big idea, that being “levelling up” the nation.
To describe the text of his speech as disappointingly thin is a polite understatement. The main policy point is, it seems, that the levelling up of the country will not be at the expense of the south. So the north will come up to the level of the south, by means as yet largely unspecified, until there is a national balance. But wait, does that mean the south has to be held back to shorten the time it will take the north to be levelled up? Doesn’t that hold back the south, albeit temporarily? The correct answers to these questions – no-one knows least of all Boris, governments of all colours have been grappling with regional policy since the 1970s, this speech fills a news-grid hole before the holidays, and it won’t make any difference – will presumably only become widely understood in 2026 when Boris Johnson is on his second lecture tour of the US as a former Prime Minister.
Oh, we nearly forgot! As part of levelling up there is to be £50m spent on football pitches. Perhaps the pitches could be higher at the northern end and lower at the southern end, to symbolise the new emphasis on things northern? Or the new pitches could be flat, showing that no-one loses from levelling up and facilitating the playing of football on a level surface? It’s a thought.
A Tory MP texts: “Do we know what levelling up is yet? Asking for a friend.”
“Don’t,” says another when asked.
“Told you,” says another, a Boris sceptic. “All hot air.”
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Others – desperate loyalists hungry for promotion who like the poll lead Boris brings but who secretly suspect it may all be hokum – are sifting the words of the text for meaning and concrete policy proposals that go beyond vague aspirations.
The whole levelling up notion is nonsense anyway, says Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former guru who made Boris Johnson PM and now blames everyone else for the drawbacks. Dom said on Twitter (no, he didn’t take to Twitter, he just said it on Twitter) that levelling up is not a real idea, just a phrase Boris, or the “trolley” as he calls him, came up with. Harsh.
Cummings writes (a lot) on Substack. It’s interesting stuff but there is so much of it you have to take a week off work to read it all. Come on Dom, 15,000 words on the problems with levelling up to be ready by teatime – must contain references to Prussia, regional aid policy in Northern Ireland, the car in Back to the Future, and Dilyn the Downing Street dog.