A couple of weeks ago Boris Johnson and his cabinet held a meeting in my hometown of Stoke-on-Trent. This was nice for them. It was a chance to get out and patronise, I mean meet, the people they usually tell from afar that they can feed themselves perfectly adequately on 30p a day.
To say the sight of our less than glorious leader trundling around the city looking bored stuck in my throat is an understatement. Stoke is one of the ‘red wall’ constituencies that turned blue in 2019, seduced by Tory promises about ‘levelling up’. Almost three years later and it hasn’t gone well. People are being battered by the cost-of-living crisis, with the local food bank delivering a record number of parcels last year.
According to the Stoke Sentinel, since opening in 2012, the Stoke-on-Trent food bank has given out food to 115,000 people. Last year alone it gave out 14,754 parcels, 5825 going to children. That is more than in any other year. Over the decade it has been in operation the number of children living in poverty in the city has risen from 29% to 43%.
Not to worry, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has a cunning plan. He wants the House of Lords to move to Stoke-on-Trent, or somewhere similar, while refurbishment plans are under way. Citizen Gove has been having one of the more interesting mid-life crises in modern British politics, marked so far by regular tabloid stories about late night Dad dancing in nightclubs and TV interviews in which his head wobbles about like that of a badly assembled Thunderbirds puppet.
This idea will probably last about as long as the froth on a hipster’s cappuccino, but it has at least given the English language a new word to describe the Johnson government and all its works, one coined by crossbench peer Baroness Hayman who described the plans as being ‘bonkerooney’.
This is a Government that operates on the basis of why have a plan when you can have a gimmick instead; and they’ve got a truck full – each one more deluded and damaging than the last.
Places like Stoke-on-Trent have seen their traditional industries crushed by Tory economic policies since the eighties. Labour took them for granted for decades and, blinded by frustration at being ignored, voters seized on Brexit and then the siren song of ‘levelling up’. What it has brought them is entry to an endless round of bidding for small pots of money to fix one part of their sagging infrastructure or another; a Hobbesian scramble after crumbs that leaves everyone still half-starved because none of the resulting small initiatives coalesce into a larger plan for regenerating the region.
If there is a plan to relocate the Lords, the same sorry game would start again. Councils would be urged to put in a bid, requiring a glossy brochure written with the assistance of highly paid ‘consultants’ all paid for out of public funds. The result would be the same. For one town to win, lots of others would have to lose.
What Stoke-on-Trent needs is a decent transport system, investment in helping people out of poverty and into good jobs in green industries and decent well insulated homes for its people.
They are what you get by having a political system that works for the many not the few; not one tied to gimmicks dreamed up on away-days to the provinces.
This article originally appeared in The Sunday Socialist.
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