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Paul on Politics: On a mission to negotiate uneven road to understanding levelling up jargon


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Politicians are sometimes encouraged to ask “what would the man on the Clapham omnibus think?” before launching a major policy – presuming budget cuts have not left passengers stranded.

Perhaps ministers decided that when it came to the unveiling of the government’s flagship “levelling up” masterplan, public approval was already assured.

Boris Johnson has seen a number of aides resign this week
Boris Johnson has seen a number of aides resign this week

Who could possibly disapprove of a package of proposals to lift socially deprived areas?

Surely the time had come to iron out regional inequalities and rebalance the national economy away from the south east and London?

Well, yes, there were some fine words to accompany the launch but as everyone knows, fine words butter no White Papers as well as parsnips.

There was entirely predictably a generous smattering of government gobbledygook in the 250-page report accompanying the launch.

There were endless references to missions – as in “the missions will be underpinned by a suite of public metrics to track progress and monitor the evolution of spatial disparities".

Michael Gove said levelling up was about "ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery". Picture: Aaron Chown/PA
Michael Gove said levelling up was about "ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery". Picture: Aaron Chown/PA

And the loquacious minister Michael Gove reached new heights of flowery rhetoric, describing the UK as being like a jet firing on only one engine. Or was it a bus on three wheels?

“Levelling up and this White Paper is about ending this historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery,” he said.

The elephant in the room was the question of resources: in other words, money.

It turned out that there was none. At least not yet.

As to the detail, the proposals were a little underwhelming. County mayors anyone? We thought not.

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay was bemused about the methodology used to work out which schools would receive more cash
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay was bemused about the methodology used to work out which schools would receive more cash

And if schools in Kent and Medway were hoping for a significant investment to help improve standards, they will be disappointed.

Neither was in the 55 areas identified by the Department for Education as needing help.

Still, disappointment is likely to be felt by even those who did make the cut.

It left one MP, Thanet South's Craig Mackinlay, questioning the methodology used, perplexed that on the basis of the formula, parts of Dorset were considered to have higher levels of social deprivation than parts of east Kent.

Perhaps we are being too cynical. As the white paper on levelling up puts it: “This is the first time a government has placed narrowing spatial economic disparities at the heart of its agenda.”

Meanwhile, what does the departure of five of the closest aides to the Prime Minister tell us about what is going on in Downing Street?

Clearly there's been a dysfunctional environment at the heart of government.

Beyond that it is almost impossible to say.

Inevitably, there is speculation that they jumped before they were pushed.

Perhaps we will find out once the serial rights to books are sold to newspapers.

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