IN THE old eastern Europe, one knew from childhood that prosperity was always one Five-Year Plan away. Nevertheless, citizens learnt to be rapturous in greeting the comrade Deputy General Secretary as he waddled to the podium with his lapel-badge glinting under the spotlights to address the Supreme Praesidium of the Workers’ and Peasants’ State . . .
But that’s all still in the future for us here.
The present-day Michael Gove laid the groundwork by explaining to the Tory conference what levelling up means and how it is to be implemented.
The aim is simple: it’s to help all people ‘live their best life’.
Unless you’re a cat with several lives at your disposal you may struggle to derive much meaning from that. Whether you are a ne’er-do-well drawing benefits and sitting around all day watching television, or a high-flying politician in the process of divorcing your wife and sanguine about betraying a colleague, you have only the one life.
So here’s the question: would you like to be ‘bested’ by Michael Gove or some myrmidon from his Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities?
Perhaps you need some more detail before deciding. The plan apparently is that the DLUHC will pursue 4 key objectives:
1) ‘We want to strengthen local leadership to drive real change’
The instinct in Whitehall has always been to concentrate power in the centre so, in keeping with the metaphor of driving change, this will require a cultural handbrake turn. It also follows that if local leadership is strengthened, central power will need to be relaxed – and who are these ‘local leaders’ anyway? Are we to be blessed with another tier of machine politicians? Will they have the power to tell central government that, no thank you, they are not going to build X thousand new homes in their parish / borough / metropolitan area? Oh!
2) ‘We will raise living standards, especially where they are lower’
How lovely. But how is this to be achieved? The tools at the government’s disposal here are limited to things that the government can spend our money on and government spending is notoriously bad at increasing living standards. More government spending crowds out consumption and, more importantly, private sector investment, both of which are much more effective ways of stimulating economic activity and raising living standards. Never mind – the vision is noble, so more taxation and more borrowing it is and please remember that living standards have no connection with heating your home or driving a car: these are deplorable aspirations which will be decried and then stamped out.
3) ‘We will improve public services, especially where they are weaker’
Hooray! New schools, new hospitals and HS2, 3 and 4 are coming your way. Your ‘best’ life will get better and better and don’t worry about the money because million, billion, trillion – what’s the difference? They are just BIG NUMBERS. The economy will be booming and Rishi will sort this out – at least that’s what it says on the grid. So, really, don’t worry but do remember to book your next few booster shots.
4) ‘And we will give people the resources necessary to enhance the pride they feel in the place they live.’
Admittedly this is a bit of an ask. Have you seen the state of some of those council tower-blocks? It’s shocking so we recognise that there’s quite a mountain to climb and that the lift is probably broken. Consequently, we are going to start from the bottom and build some attractive reception centres on the south coast to give those brave arrivals a sense of belonging as stakeholders in the new Levelled-Up Britain. Did you spot the word ‘resources’ in there? Yes, that’s right: we’re talking about yet more money so that’s more borrowing and more taxation but don’t worry because we have done all the numbers. Inflation is under control at only double the Bank of England limit and that’s before we even get started.