Truss and Sunak not taking Red Wall levelling up UK seriously – Completely unsuited

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Mr Johnson’s Government promised in 2019 to “level up” the country, initially meaning to address disparities in funding, education and quality of life across the UK. However, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have not “grappled with it despite Michael Gove’s urging” according to an expert.

David Jeffery, lecturer in British Politics at the University of Liverpool, noted “levelling up” has “been almost completely absent from the leadership campaign amid the broader debate on tax cuts and the culture wars”, and suggested neither of the candidates “takes it seriously”.

He noted Ms Truss has “made much of her plans to deregulate the economy and lower taxes”, but “when it comes to urban regeneration and boosting left-behind places her emphasis is on ‘new low-tax, low-regulation zones’” similar to Margaret Thatcher and the regeneration of the London docklands

Mr Jeffery said “Thatcherism didn’t really have the answers” and noted the docklands was described by Dr Jack Brown as “an extremely un-Thatcherite mechanism for achieving urban regeneration”.

The expert also said Mr Sunak is “rigorously and risibly also claiming to be Thatcherite”, despite raising taxes.

Writing for Unherd, Mr Jeffery added of the former Chancellor: “During his time at the Treasury, he was a significant barrier to spending more on what should have been the Government’s flagship policy, including granting more money to levelling up when the policy was relaunched in November 2021 and placing his own leafy constituency – in the bottom 20 percent on the index of multiple deprivation – in the highest category for levelling up funding.

“If this is counts as having ‘readily embraced levelling up’ … then I would love to see what Sunak would do if he were opposed to it. In reality, his instincts are more suited to the austerity era than today’s political context.”

Mr Jeffery then added the next Prime Minister can reframe “levelling up” as “a policy for the whole country”, before questioning if “either have the chops to do this”.

Mr Jeffery added that Mr Sunak is “completely unsuited” to the challenge posed by the level of spending necessary to appeal to Red Wall voters.

Ms Truss stands a better chance, he believes, because her “Covid bonds” plan would involved repaying debts incurred by lockdowns at a much slower rate than has been traditional.

He writes that her plan stands a chance of challenging the traditional economic theories of her time, comparing the leadership candidate to Margaret Thatcher.

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Ms Truss will unveil a plan for new investment zones across the UK on Monday, which she said were “at the heart of my vision for levelling up in a Conservative way”.

She said in the Telegraph: “We will work with local communities to identify sites ripe for transformation across the country through lower taxes, reduced planning restrictions and red tape.

“These zones would open the floodgates to new waves of investment.

“They will become new hubs for innovation and enterprise in the spirit of historic towns like Bournville and Saltaire.”

In contrast, Mr Sunak has won the endorsement of the Tory Tees valley mayor, Ben Houchen, as well as a host of “red wall” MPs over his levelling up pledges,

Mr Houchen said he was encouraged by Mr Sunak’s interest in the levelling up agenda, and cited the former Chancellor’s record in relocating part of the Treasury to Darlington and backing the area with cash for investment in transport and the freeport.

The Mayor said: “The really important thing is that in this leadership contest we need to make sure that whoever wins is committed to the levelling-up agenda.

“Boris Johnson did a fantastic job with starting it off and we can’t afford for that to be left behind, and with Rishi having directly engaged with me on this, and having committed fully to the levelling-up pledge that I put out to the leadership contenders, given what he’s done locally as well, it feels to me like he’s the right man for the job.”

Mr Houchen added in a statement that he was “thrilled that Rishi has got behind my 5-point levelling up pledge”.

The former Chancellor also committed to maintaining a cabinet-level secretary of state for levelling up.

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