Boris Johnson has abandoned the Red Wall – and launched a power grab from Whitehall

Lisa Nandy

Don’t be taken in by the headlines. Three months ago, the Tories parked their tanks on Labour’s lawn, shattering the ‘Red Wall’ and promising to overturn an economic model that has stripped good jobs and spending power from towns across Britain for 40 years. This was the Budget that was supposed to deliver. It didn’t. The promised investment has not materialised. We were told there would be £600bn for infrastructure but the reality adds up to only a tenth of that. Money for roads, buses, and flooding are welcome but nothing new. The rest has been kicked down the road.

There is £4.2bn for city regions but delve into the detail in the red book and there is a problem. The treasury is planning to summon just three metro mayors to London to decide how this money should be spent and are already telling the others how they’d like it to be spent. The red book says the treasury would like a Sheffield ‘supertram’ or tram-train pilots in Greater Manchester. So much for the independence of metro mayors. In every nation and region people need more power. This Budget shows that under this government, they will not get it. Make no mistake – this is a power grab for Boris Johnson. It entrenches power in Whitehall and reinforces an economic model which has failed our towns for decades.

It has left us with a mess. Instead of cleaner, more reliable buses and trains we’re getting new roads and a freeze on fuel duty for the tenth year in a row. Car usage is now the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Commuters in the Red Wall towns are being forced into their cars by a government which has failed to provide cheaper, more reliable alternatives. I don’t blame commuters; I blame ten years of Tory rule. There’s a nod to climate change with £800m promised for a new carbon capture and storage project. We have been here before. In 2011, David Cameron wasted four years asking companies to bid for a similar project before cancelling it at the final hour.

Where is the offer to places like Workington and Hastings outside of the city regions? The government continues to bet the house on city regions delivering growth; forgetting that many coastal towns fall outside city regions. Just weeks after winning those seats at the election, they have already been written off. The reason may lie in the one word the Chancellor was careful not to say – Brexit. Johnson is determined we exit the transition period in December whatever the cost. Yesterday his government refused to reveal the economic impact of that political decision. This may well be the reason that very little materialised yesterday. The Tories simply will not have the money to keep the promises that won them an eighty-seat majority.

They also left a big gaping hole in yesterday’s Budget – social care. Young people have been leaving Red Wall communities for decades; leaving those areas at the sharp end of the social care crisis. No new money was announced yesterday. Directing money to the NHS but ignoring social care will mean more older people having to go to hospital for care or stranded at home. This is a disaster. The government say they are committed to cross-party working on social care. I want Labour to take them up on that offer, because otherwise we risk failing our older people.

The one thing Red Wall areas need is good jobs. We know how to achieve this. Abolish local enterprise partnerships and give the £12bn to councils to invest in transport, digital infrastructure and skills and the investment will come. If you want to level up the Red Wall, you have to level up people in them. Right after the election Dominic Cummings promised to rip up the rule book. This Budget does nothing of the sort. Instead Sunak announced more reviews. People didn’t vote for reviews. They voted to get things done. Areas that need investment should get it. Business rates should be scrapped and replaced with a land value tax and internet companies must pay their fair share. Money for schools and to tackle the highest levels of child poverty for 60 years, funding for further education and lifelong learning should count as investment and become a priority.

This is the first test for the new Red Wall Tories. Will they stand up for their new constituents, or for a government that has abandoned them? With this Budget, Johnson has shown that he doesn’t understands what the Red Wall needs and will not hand over power to those who do. This is a huge moment for Labour. Our task is to empower people and communities, not bureaucrats in Whitehall. I am determined that we will step forward and show that the future can be better. This is our path back to power and we must seize.

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