Boris Johnson’s 15 July speech on “levelling up” soon levelled down to oblivion, as the government floundered through its Covid restriction-easing.
Yet the theme is likely to continue, in a particular way.
The Tories are on a “culture war”. The USA shows that even when average opinion is edging more liberal and leftish (as in the UK, and in the USA too, since 2009), such “culture war” may become politically potent by mobilising a minority which “radiates” effectively.
But only “may”. In the Hartlepool and Batley-Spen by-elections, the Tories didn’t campaign on “culture war”. They left that to George Galloway in Batley and Spen. Instead, their pitch was that electing a Tory MP would get the areas more central government cash. It was pork-barrelling.
Johnson’s speech was along the same lines. He promised (some time, vaguely) more autonomy, and (but only in the form of handouts negotiated one by one) more cash to local authorities.
Only to some. He declared that the Tories had for decades “relentlessly crushed local leadership” in case “irresponsible municipal socialist governments” took advantage, and said that fight was not yet won.
“The loony left [a Tory-press label for left-Labour local authorities in the 1980s] remains pretty loony”.
Labour should counter with a defence of local government autonomy and funding, and with a real programme of “levelling up” — expanded public services, public enterprise for green conversion of industries. That will also involve some “levelling-down” of the top few per cent, the plutocrats.