Boris Johnson will give a ‘major’ speech on his levelling up agenda this morning. But the address will focus more on reassuring his southern Tory MPs than setting out what his government actually plans to deliver. In the wake of the ‘Blue Wall’ loss in the Chesham and Amersham by-election, the Prime Minister will seek to allay concerns that his party is abandoning heartlands with its recent rhetoric targeted at the seats gained from Labour in 2019. “It is vital to understand the difference between this project and levelling down. We don’t want to decapitate the tall poppies. We don’t think you can make the poor parts of the country richer by making the rich parts poorer,” he will say. “Levelling up is not a jam-spreading operation. It’s not robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s not zero sum, it’s win win.”
The speech is expected to carry few policy details, with government officials stressing that today is more about the “vision”. 18 months since he first promised to level up, the public still has to wait for a white paper not due to be published until later this year to see what that means in terms of substantive policies. This is not lost on Labour. “Two years as Prime Minister and all we have is this empty husk of a speech that shows he has no plan for the future of our country other than pitching people and towns against each other,” Angela Rayner said last night. “Britain deserves better.” Ambitions without action is a common theme with Johnson, as a new LabourList piece by Prospect union’s Sue Ferns, a member of the government’s green jobs taskforce, also makes clear.
The ‘red Tory’ rhetoric has so far proved fruitful for Johnson. The challenge for the opposition party is to show the empty promises for what they are, and to set out an alternative for how it can improve people’s lives. As if on cue, Keir Starmer has announced that he will be holding a series of informal discussions and events this summer “taking Labour’s offer on the road and direct to voters”. He kicks off today with a two-day trip to Blackpool. “For too long, politics has felt too remote from ordinary people’s lives and opinions,” Starmer said. “I’ve got plans to create opportunities for everyone, and I’m looking forward to debating them with local people in Blackpool. I’ll be having robust conversations with people, particularly those who didn’t vote Labour at the last election.” Up for discussion are Labour’s children’s recovery plan, its pledge to ‘make, buy and sell more in Britain’ and the Labour leader’s jobs promise.
Labour figures launched a new group this week, aimed at helping Starmer win back former Labour voters. Ruth Smeeth has written for LabourList on the project: “We are launching ‘Renaissance’ this week as a vehicle to focus the political debate on the issues that really matter to the country at large and to rebalance the party’s prioritisation of policy back towards the industrial heartlands, towns and villages where we need to rebuild trust and earn back their votes.” Also on LabourList, exclusive polling by Savanta ComRes shows that the public support football fans having greater control over their clubs are run, backing policies for supporters’ trusts to be able to buy shares and remove and appoint directors as well as the introduction of a ’50 plus one’ rule.
As so-called ‘Freedom Day’ approaches, Labour mayors are flexing their powers to ensure masks continue to be worn. London’s Sadiq Khan will require masks as a condition of carriage on buses, tubes and other TfL services. Andy Burnham has said he will mandate face coverings on Greater Manchester trams. Jamie Driscoll is doing the same on the Tyne and Wear metro. Tracy Brabin and Dan Jarvis have said they will be requiring mask wearing in bus stations in West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire respectively. The varied extent to which people using transport in each of the regions will need a mask reflects the various levels of control mayors have in different places. The regional Labour representatives have warned Johnson that, without a continued national mandate, July 19th will mean a “ridiculous mismatch” of rules across the country. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.