Labour MP and mayor Dan Jarvis has argued that if his party can deliver a “counter-narrative” to the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, it will be in a “very good position to challenge at the next general election”.
Speaking at a Labour in Communications event today, the South Yorkshire mayor and MP for Barnsley Central made the case that levelling up is starting to “creep into” public conversation but “much of it is smoke and mirrors”.
“There’s a lot of people out there who know about levelling up and think that the government can do something to make their lives better than they are at the moment. What is our counter-narrative? What is the story we’re going to tell?
“I think it’s incredibly important, given that that may well define the next general election, that we’ve got the basis of a big, bold but deliverable plan, and people get a sense, a strong sense, of what that is and get a sense from us that we could deliver it and it would make their lives better than they are at the moment.
“I think if we could do that, then I think we’d be in a very, very good position to challenge at the next general election,” Jarvis said.
In his penultimate public appearance as South Yorkshire mayor before standing down from the post in May, Jarvis criticised Rishi Sunak’s approach to the Spring Statement on Wednesday, describing it as a “car crash”.
“What was he thinking? Sort of standing outside a Sainsbury’s putting petrol into somebody else’s car? Does he really think that that is going to convince the public that he’s on their side?” the Barnsley Central MP asked.
“Now, he’s a fabulously wealthy person. That’s not a problem – I think most people in the end don’t necessarily care about that, they don’t necessarily care about where you’ve come from. But they do care about what you’re about and where you want to get to, and I think he’s fallen short this week.”
The Labour mayor emphasised the need for Labour to find the “common currency of the language that people speak” and show that “we are properly on their side, and we’ve got the basis of a plan”.
Asked about the Labour leadership’s position on NATO, Jarvis said he thought the commitment the party had shown to the alliance had been “widely appreciated” in both his constituency and across the UK.
He said: “When you go into a general election, there are some really big questions that the public will ask. They want to know, can they trust you with the public finances… but the other big question that people will want to know is can we as a party keep them safe.
“When it comes to the armed forces, when it comes to defence, when it comes to national security: can they put their faith and trust in us? That is a massively important question. And if the answer is no, they’re not going to vote for us.”
Commenting on the views of the general public towards Labour defence policy in 2019, when the party was under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Jarvis told the event today that “there was this sense that we weren’t on their side”.
He added: “We’re in a much better place. We need to keep going with that, and never again can we allow ourselves to be in a place where the overwhelming decent majority of the British public think that we’re not on their side.”
The event was hosted by Labour in Communications. Early next month, the group will be talking to Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotherham. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor Nik Johnson will also be interviewed later in April.