by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 15
July 2021
Video
13:55

Boris Johnson’s dreadful ‘levelling-up’ speech

Was he reading out the pages in random order?
by Peter Franklin

Boris Johnson has just delivered his big speech on levelling-up. It was awful. He’s a bumbling, stumbling speaker at the best of times — which he can turn to his advantage — but not this time. It felt like he was reading out the pages in random order. 

Adding to the impression of not knowing where he was, he claimed that the “golden triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge was the greatest concentration of academic excellence in “this hemisphere”. By this he meant that Britain’s top universities are second only to America’s Ivy League. However, most of the UK, including most of the golden triangle, is also in the Western Hemisphere. Look at a map, Boris!

With zero self-awareness, he began the speech by emphasising the importance of “consistency”. He claimed that previous attempts to level-up the land had failed, because government policies kept chopping and changing. 

Not much chance of that with Boris, because he doesn’t have a policy at all. Judging him on his words, “levelling-up” is still no more than a rhetorical theme — a convenient wrapper for disconnected parcels of public funding. 

As for any idea as to what the overarching strategy is, he left us none the wiser. Or, as Dominic Cummings put it, this was the “same crap speech” that “he’s given pointlessly umpteen times.”

There were formulaic mentions for particular issues both big and small — transport, “gigabit broadband”, vocational education, localism and some desperate references to football. But it’s hard to say what they added up to. 

Obviously we don’t need some technocratic absurdity like Gordon Brown’s “neo-endogenous growth theory”, but it would have been good to have a coherent philosophical framework.

The closest it got was what the Prime Minister said about not squeezing every graduate into London — and giving professionals greater opportunity to live and work in the communities where they were born. He should have developed this point. But he was distracted by another geographical matter.

Time after time, he emphasised that doing more for the North and the Midlands didn’t mean doing less for the South. “Levelling up is not a jam-spreading operation,” he said. “It’s not robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s not zero-sum. It’s win-win.”

It’s as if he wasn’t speaking to his actual audience (gathered at a “battery industrialisation centre” in Coventry), but to a gathering of nervous Tory MPs from southern England. 

The disaster of the Chesham and Amersham by-election has clearly rattled the parliamentary party. However, it’s not levelling-up that’s turning the South against the Tories — but the government’s misconceived housing and planning policies. 

The Prime Minister is suffering from that particular form of denial that doesn’t just refuse to see an approaching calamity, but pretends the problem is something else altogether. It really isn’t. The South isn’t jealous of the North — it’s worried that the bulldozers are coming. 

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Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
1 year ago

It is so depressing. It is all the same empty rhetoric, the same meaningless bs who ever is delivering it. Vacuous rubbish that is none the less dangerous, for we seriously need a leader of true integrity and vision. Not one party qualifies but Johnson and his ‘levelling up’ ‘build, back, better’ – the desperate mantra shared across Western democracies by leaders and politicians of every stripe who have taken their citizens up sh** creek and left them without a paddle – is horribly reminiscent of Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Apologies for the pessimism but I no longer have any trust in those who lead us, nor in any of the other political parties. There needs to be something wholly new. I have no idea what but these clowns are leading us off a cliff.

Last edited 1 year ago by Glyn Reed
David Simpson
David Simpson
1 year ago

It’s simple really, and kills two birds with one stone. What’s bad for the south – more housing and development – would be brilliant for the north – good quality housing, infrastructure, transport, schools and jobs – really make an effort to rebalance the UK away from the South and South West

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  David Simpson

I disagree. I am not so into social engineering – putting the houses where people do not want to be, because that is where ‘You’ want them to be, and so they go where they must.
London has no shortage of land to develop, I am from there, I know it very well, as well as I know anywhere. Knock down 6, build back 24. Knock down 12, build back 60. If that is what people want – waking community where a car is not a necessity, in the world’s top city. Look at any world class citie’s skyline, look at Londons. London is tight, endless, sprall of 2 story high row houses. Most great cities are not like that, they are much more vertical. London can have all the housing it wants, and afford it, if that is what is wished – and it is what the people want.

Building houses in the North is good too, if the is what people want, but only then.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

But your proposal sounds like social engineering would be needed on a magnificent scale! . Who is ‘it’ in ‘if it wishes’? The Mayor, the UK Government, the local Borough?

People owning low rise buildings largely don’t WANT them to be developed as high rise.

The nation is imbalanced to a greater extent than most comparable countries, a product of many historical factors including the dominance of London since the Middle Ages, the Industrial Revolution taking place most intensively in the North, and the long decline of the latter.

It isn’t easy to solve by a series of Government interventions, I certainly agree with that. This has been tried before in the 60s and 70s.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

He really is an intellectual lightweight. Not that being brainy is the chief pre-requisite (Gordon Brown was a disaster, and Keir Starmer would be too, despite running rings around BJ intellectually), but an ability to get your words in the right order and show the beginnings of some kind of political philosophy wouldn’t be a bad start. In this respect he’s becoming as big an embarrassment as Trump was (even to his supporters).

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Trump was not an embarrassment! He stood resolutely for the Traditional Western Values. He is ferocious in defending them, he can talk an hour and a half without a script (I have heard him – if ever you get the chance – GO – his show is better than any Rock Concert or Football game ever…) and keep making points and promoting good and pointing out bad in National trends.

Boris is a glib popinjay, he spouts lines that he got a laugh from years ago, that is all he is, someone who can say witty/ironic/clever nothings and appear bright and thinking, wile all it is is some guy who trained himself to be charming to others around drinks, quirky, Classically educated, in-the-know is the image he wishes.
Boris is an empty shell. He is a act, there is no person inside, he is a performing animal. We all saw this, how he went into covid hospital all bravado, all British ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ but once he faced death he broke. Mortality terrified him as there is nothing deep in him, he found he is a coward. So he came out broken, and has led the nation through this disaster, mostly self inflicted, as a coward, weakling, fool, broken mess. His wife is twice the man he is, but she is also a total mess so being in the position she is in just makes it all worse. (she is a strong string puller, unfortunately)

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Oh come on. I’ve no problem with Trump or his policies, the way the media went after him I thought was incredibly biased and shameful, however nobody can say he was a great orator. Most of his speeches were incoherent rambling nonsense, endlessly repetitive, and only really popular due a siege mentality amongst his most ardent supporters

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I say he is a great orator.
Ever see a Trump Rally? They are stirring, great even. Why do you think 40,000+ people attend any time he speaks – wile Democrats get 400 max?

A Biden rally? ffs

So Billy Bob, are you American? And I wondered what trade it is that you do, as you once said I am the sort of tradesman who gives the work a bad name and real tradesmen would not want to work with me, but I say what trades I do, have done, and so on, how about you?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

No I’m not American, which is why I can view these politicians without any emotional attachment. Unlike yourself who after a minor criticism of Trump has to revert to “whatabout Biden” deflection.
Trump to me appeared rather fortunate, running as an anti establishment candidate at a time vast swathes of Americans were sick of the status quo, and also came up against an opponent about as popular as a bout of syphilis. Whilst some things he said had merit, a good chunk of it was also nonsense and bluster, though that doesn’t excuse the treatment he received at the hands of the media. Biden to me simply appears to be an empty vessel, no policies or opinions of his own to speak of and is going to have a battle on his hands trying to hold his party together due to the infighting between the centrist and woke factions.
As for me personally, I was a plumber for 25 years, now an estimator. In that time neither myself nor any of the lads working under me had any of the serious injuries you seemed to wear as a badge of honour, mostly because we had enough of a brain on us to avoid jobs that put us at risk. My health and that of the boys under me is worth a lot more than earning the boss a new Mercedes quite frankly,

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I do a fair bit of plumbing, I plumb every house I build from street to roof vent – but the point you do not get is I never have risk wile plumbing. I did years of overhead wiring in industry. All hot as we did not turn off the power to hook up – and the problem with functioning industry plant – is under the places you have to be are always big machines or racks, or something – it is precarious and often just takes climbing on some rigged thing to get there, and work off of.
I also did much roofing. I do not know one roofer who has not had a bad fall. Now days they require drop harnesses and ropes, but no one uses them but for the big contractors as it slows things too much. I also did a lot of high framing carpentry – I do not know one structural framing carpenter who has not had a bad fall, broken something, and got hurt.

You work for a big company and it is all different – but at the level I work, independent, not a big pool of lifting equipment, just get up there and do it. We do not rent scaffolding and spend days erecting and dismantling it, but nail diagonal lumber with a horizontal on top, top it with a 2X12 board, and work off it – it is how construction is done in USA.

And yes, construction workers are macho – but look at the pictures on the England football fans in this issue – do they not look macho? I know it is a form of vanity, but all my life I have done hard stuff, lived in hard ways, when young often just to show how tough I was, I am proud of my toughness, it is a characteristic I have – that hardship and risk do not deter me – It is just how I am, old fashioned in maleness.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I’ve had a few years in the states and other countries labouring in my younger nomad days and not once did I work like that, and I never saw anybody who did. It sounds as if your employer is taking you for a ride to be honest. My brother is also a roofer, has been since he was 16 and not once has he fell off a roof or done himself a serious injury.

Also not once did I say I worked for a big company, or that the plumbing I did was domestic work, so your assumption that I couldn’t get hurt on the job is wrong quite frankly. Most of my work is on commercial jobs with the pipes run at high level, and no chance would I or anybody else fit them without the right gear just to appear macho. A few young lads would try as they’re too scared to say no but anybody who lets the apprentices do dangerous work they wouldn’t do themselves is a pretty poor excuse for a human being. And I go each week to football home and away, I’d describe it as boisterous rather than what you Americans think of as macho.

Finally so you’re now trying to claim to be an electrician, roofer, plumber, and carpenter, despite not entering the workforce until your forties? I stand by my assumption you wouldn’t be a good tradesman. In my experience I wouldn’t class somebody to have mastered their trade until they’ve been doing it for at least 7-8 years, so unless you’re working into your 70’s I’m going to say you’re a labourer.

James Chater
James Chater
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Trump is a stand-up comedian.
I agree with 99% of your analysis of Johnson. He is stale already. Great case-study example of how marked idiosyncrasies are not advantageous for long term political survival. They quickly become the reverse. (Trump was a single-termer for precisely that reason.) But as we know for people like Johnson & Trump that doesn’t matter. Been there, done that…
Not good for nation states. We need some seriousness back.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  James Chater

actually….Trump was a single term because Democrats used the Covid to vote harvest via postal voting. People too lazy and ignorant to register to vote, then show up to vote, were recruited by mass, Soros financed, drives, door to door in poor communities, to get a postal vote, then the guys return to show how to mark it, and get it sent in.

Democracy is NOT supposed to have people utterly ignorant of the situation vote as they are merely voting in the way someone is pushing them. Their vote is merely giving extra votes to agenda driven organizations.

This is why Trump lost (and maybe worse)

As everyone knows, no one should vote who does not know the issues. But this is the flaw in Democracy, ones the Greeks said doomed democracy – the ignorant give their votes to whom ever is promising to give them more, and there is no good mechanism for stopping this.

James Chater
James Chater
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

It might not have been ‘pretty’ but it was legitimate.
(It probably isn’t appropriate to argue about Brexit here but there were reports of fully mature adults, in their 30s, 40s, voting for the first time in their lives in June 2016. This was Dominic Cumming’s strategy. The equivalent of the Democrats’ drives in 2020?)
Either people have the right to vote or they don’t. Whether they are likely to vote left or right is totally irrelevant. Yes, citizens should be informed before they vote but if our education establishments and media think it’s OK to keep people ignorant, or worse, peddle disinformation (actual ‘fake news’) then that’s a problem with our societies and their values.

Last edited 1 year ago by James Chater
Ann Marie
Ann Marie
1 year ago

All very depressing

James Chater
James Chater
1 year ago

It bears repeating. We must imagine the heaps of opprobrium piled on members’ heads had a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party won in 2019.
The reason why many (still 40% in second election) didn’t vote for Corbyn as leader was because they thought of the country first, through rational political calculation.
No doubt it was the same situation in the Conservative Party but as just 33% didn’t support Johnson, it belies the Conservatives’ claim to be the actual ‘patriotic’ party, I would say.
Trusim: Just like Corbyn, Johnson’s oddity and record makes him a liability. Unlike Thatcher or Blair, other divisive figures, there is no heft. On this Dominic Cummings was absolutely correct.
Opprobrium on those Conservative Party members who elected this embarassing scoundrel.

Last edited 1 year ago by James Chater
tim williams
tim williams
1 year ago
Reply to  James Chater

Just an aside: Corbyn get rightly maligned but without Corbyn there would have been no Brexit. He deliberately sat on his hands during the Referendum as he had voted against the EU from the start of his career and never changed. Then he tried for as long as possible to stop Labour demanding a second referendum but his own Party rebelled against him on this. Look, I opposed people like Corbyn for all the time I was in the Labour Party in London and when I worked for he Blair/Brown governments he was a pain in the arse. But he did one good thing in his wasted life…..

James Chater
James Chater
1 year ago
Reply to  tim williams

I recognise Corbyn’s principled position on this but as we know this same ‘quality’ of intransigence doesn’t make for a good leader of party or nation.
I voted to remain but I recognised once the referendum result was declared everyone should have united to make it work. Yes, demands for a second referendum were wrong, ethically, politically… everything…
(Would just say, as we all know, Farage wouldn’t have accepted the result honestly, had it been the other way round – what with his talk of ‘unfinished business’.)
Repeat, it was such bad politics not to go with the spirit of the result. A spirit which through the delays was allowed to become increasingly disfigured and toxic, affecting the nation.
With political will there could have been a less acrimonious Brexit, certainly.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago

Johnson is now clearly demonstrating every negative character trait his opponents claimed. His flippancy, desire to be popular, complete inconsistency, instructing people to do things while getting away with it himself. There was no Damascene conversion as a result of going into hospital. Petronella Wyatt, a former colleague on the Spectator has it right saying that he has social liberal views, but any position he has will rapidly be overwhelmed by tacking towards what people want to hear, often resulting in his holding different and contradictory positions in rapid succession. Look at the absurd flip flopping on covid policies, albeit in general tacking to the supposedly popular pro-restriction position.

I very much regret that and, hoped against expectation that he could rise to the occasion to be a good, if not great PM. He has lamentably failed that test.

Barbara Williams
Barbara Williams
1 year ago

Still no-one seems aware both within our government and our public that the climate and ecological collapse will soon engulf us and make a mockery of all these petty discussions. It is time we saw a cross-party emergency government that can make collaborative and constructive decisions about our future. We need an urgent degrowth policy to allow the natural resources on which our life depends to be able to recover from the damage that we daily inflict. Check out my TED style talk about a United Aspiration.

Last edited 1 year ago by Barbara Williams
tim williams
tim williams
1 year ago

Sounds quite close to a fascist Nirvana