Levelling Up is Covering Up

Image credit: Cold War Steve @Cold_War Steve

The ‘levelling up’ programme is a con, but it’s a revealing one. It’s a beautiful eulogy to Britain as a coherent unity, Muscular Unionism and sado-populism (not necessarily in that order).

The levelling up rhetoric needs to be put in the context not just of the deep poverty manufactured by years of austerity and disfiguring inequality but also in broader picture of the government’s handling of the pandemic.

A Labour spokesman dismantled it with these simple calculations:

“This is not just about covid grants and loans. It has emerged on page 199, as my honourable friend for Wansbeck highlighted during the debate, of the Department of Health and Social Care Annual Report, that £8.7 billion of losses in PPE have had to be accounted for in that department’s spending. Just pause and think about that. £8.7 billion of losses. What could that have done in the NHS? It is twice the governments entire hospital building programme and it’s dismissed on page 199 of the department’s Annual Report. And if you add, for example, that £8.7 billion to the £4.3 billion that we’ve been highlighting today, you get a whole years worth of receipts from the National Insurance rise that’s going to be imposed on families in April. So the Chancellor says this is all about public services, but it is impossible to escape the conclusion that these taxes are at least in part to fill the hole caused by this colossal mismanagement of public money.”

That’s a description of a kleptocracy not a democracy.

Among all the jive-talk about ‘Team UK’ – the ‘levelling up’ programme is about buying-off regional disparities created (or accentuated) after a decade of Tory misrule. It is more like old-school US pork-barrel politics and chimes neatly with the recent accusations against the Whips Office (now conveniently buried).

The indecency of media scribes regurgitating the lines from the Hedge-Fund Chancellor handing out bawbies as people descend into destitution is distasteful in the extreme. All of the euphemisms about ‘tough times’ and ‘tightening belts’ is just a reflection of a moron media unable to stomach the reality they can’t imagine as they consume press releases from a political class exposed as never before. At this stage complicity with them is unacceptable.

The gap between the reality of the government’s handouts and what that looks like on the ground is massive. Modelling from the New Economics Foundation suggests that around a third of those receiving a council tax rebate won’t benefit at all because they will automatically lose the same amount in council tax benefit.

As Miriam Brett, Director of Research & Advocacy at Commonwealth has pointed out: “Fuel poverty is children going to bed and waking up cold, vulnerable elderly people getting very ill, homes being bitterly cold and damp, devastating respiratory and heart conditions, and more winter deaths. Knowingly plunging people into fuel poverty is callous and inhumane.”

A Bombed Out Economy

The existing realities – pre the £20 cut in Universal Credit – pre the massive energy spike – pre the collapse of supply chains – are outlined in (for example) the Covid Realities research project. The testimonies are predictable and harrowing. But much of the coverage of the oncoming crisis treats the problems as if they were new or created by events beyond our control. They are not. This is a political game about electoral survival.

Many of the solutions being put forward are by definition ameliorative and stop-gap, short-term and inadequate.

We can Scrap the Cap, we can create a windfall tax on Big Oil and Big Gas. We should do these things but they are not answers, they are fire-fighting a broken economy and a disfigured society.

Aditya Chakrabortty talks about visiting the town of Ashington, Northumberland. He describes: “On one side of the library stood a huge Asda, on the other a big Lidl, offering their customers cheap food and their workers low wages. This was today’s vista: a bombed-out economy, an electorate estranged from politics, and a visibly shrinking public sector getting picked over for cash by a parasitic private sector. You couldn’t ask for a clearer picture of austerity Britain.”

This is the battle-ground for the Tory – Labour war and it’s a problem for anti-poverty campaigners too, to lift the political campaign and message beyond “make food very cheap.” Some of this narrative locks us into an economy of low wage, low-skilled, part-time temporary work and food production and distribution captured by a handful of corporations.

This is a challenge for us all, to lift the responses from the knee-jerk and the defensive to the transformative.

The whole debate has a constitutional mirror to its social dimension. Levelling-up is a less sincere version of trickling down. It distorts devolution while demanding ‘co-operation’: here ‘Proud Aberdonian’ Michael Gove explains ‘Why the Scottish Government needs to co-operate on Levelling Up’.

This is Gaslighting on a national scale, but nobody’s buying. It’s an economics playbook updated for the 2020s where society is so broken they don’t give a fuck any more.

Comments (18)

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  1. Robbie says:

    Exactly Mike we are back to 1959 Harold Mac Millan,s “Fuck you Jack , I’m alright” . Scotland NEEDS Independence NOW.

    1. Melb Don says:

      I remember as a young lad in Glasgow seeing a huge pasted billboard of an English Electric Lightning fighter plane with the words from McMillan, ‘You’ve never had it so good” underneath. Must have been a good ad as 60 years on I still laugh at the memory.

  2. Bill says:

    AS I have previously stated, this is a corrupt and corrupting government. Departments headed by incompetents who have enhanced the wherewithal of their chums. All of the current announcements by the Government are displacement activity to deflect from the insanity of Brexit and the post Brexit chaos due to a lack of policy and any serious ideas associated with outcome. However, they are not alone in espousing hypocrisy and can’t. Prince Charles exhorts us all to live in harmony with nature while supporting and sustaining the breeding of game birds on Royal estates, designed for an annual slaughter. The moorland that is managed to enable this pastime is an ecological disaster area.

    What more can one say – other than roll on the creation of an independent Scottish republic that will support and sustain our citizens in the difficult future that is to come.

    Another excellent article Mike – keep at it, we will get there one day


    1. Bill says:

      Further to my above comment – Michael Gove a ‘proud Scot and proud Aberdonian??? – well you could have fooled me!! A slithery slimy lying little toad morelike. Claimed his adoptive father lost his business due to EU regulations!! It was sold at a profit. I remember Gove in his student days maligning the Scots on a You Tube video or some such.

      Let us hope that ‘Partygate’ results in arrests and massive fines. Maybe then some will wake up and realise that the Union is destroyed along with democracy in this country.

      Roll on independence and the republic


  3. Hugh McShane says:

    The Chakraborrty quote captures the despair of it accurately- no other Western European country would accept the situation so passively.

  4. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    A good piece.

    You conclude with a statement. “… but nobody’s buying …”. BBC SCOTLAND is still putting out adverts for it.

  5. meg says:

    These truths and comments need to go to a place they will be heard …we are on board already…how do these points of view get beyond our borders how can our voices be listened to…..truckers to downing st perhaps.

  6. Pontifex Minimus says:

    The Tories can hardly tell the truth: “We only care about power for us, and helping our rich friends”, so of course they have to come up with bullshit like Levelling Up.

  7. Neil D says:

    Excellent article. Couldn’t agree more.

    The question must be, what are we going to do about it?

    As an aside, I heard a Tory MSP (I think it was Liam Kerr) on the radio yesterday complaining about the “SNP’s austerity agenda”. Just about fell off my chair.

  8. Robbie says:

    Aye Neil , they’ve got a neck for onything bit soap.

  9. James Mills says:

    Uncomfortable truths , Mike , but not uncomfortable enough for too many , even in Scotland , to stop supporting these corrupt b*stards !

  10. Gerry Robertson says:

    Sorry but these ‘talking shops’ are no longer enough… the days when we just complained to the local newspaper or on Social media must now be superceded by action. If this was France Paris streets would be flooded with protesters demanding a change of direction. There seems very little chance this buffoon of a PM and his Cabinet cohorts have the integrity and decency to step down so we must take direct action (and I don’t mean violence) to bring this about. It is the only way these b**tards will take notice. People are going to die, families and especially children are going to suffer and it is incumbent on all of us. To roughly translate an old Russian proverb ‘everyone is equally responsible for everything’. I am 73 yo pensioner and the more I see this issue quietly being kicked in to touch by the MSmedia makes my blood boil.

  11. Ian S says:

    I remember around 2014, commentators commented that, in effect, we were experiencing the high point of a wave. Although I agreed with them at the time, I remember the trepidation I had – what would come next? To have hope ignited in people whose interest in politics seemed alseep up to that point would seem to imply that hopelessness would return – possibly worse than ever. I wonder – is that the point we’re at now?

    Surely by now everyone sees through the sham that is UK democracy. Yet, it’s still risky to put a head above the parapet. ‘Scotch whingers’ is an epithet I remember all too well. It is of course a way to silence dissent.

    It seemed clear in 2014 that ‘another Scotland is possible’. Now, it seems, the insanity of the times has brought people to acquiescence. Perhaps that is always is the goal of the politics of power. I’m tired of it now. I was before, but I’m about beat with it now.

  12. MBC says:

    £900 for a roll of gold wallpaper only to be chewed up and pissed on by a dog.

  13. Black Rab says:

    Gove will get a punch in his neb if he happens to get anywhere near me. Thats as good as it gets. Let them know we don’t want them. Do not tolerate them in any way. Pish on their trousers……………otherwise, they will pish on your head and face. Don’t be tolerant.

  14. 220206 says:

    “The ‘levelling up’ programme is a con.”

    A confidence trick is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust. Confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, confidence, irresponsibility, and greed.

    Is the ‘levelling up’ programme an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust, to exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, confidence, irresponsibility, and/or greed?

    And is the person or group whom the perpetrator of this confidence trick is trying to defraud – us – really as morally flawed as the claim that the ‘levelling up programme is a con presumes we are? Are we really so credulous, naïve, emotionally manipulable, vain, trusting, irresponsible, and greedy as to be so vulnerable to exploitation?

    You don’t have a very high opinion of us, Mr Small. Are we really so contemptible?

    1. John Monro says:

      220206 – That’s a hugely cynical comment about your fellow countrymen. You write: “Are we really so credulous, naïve, emotionally manipulable, vain, trusting, irresponsible, and greedy as to be so vulnerable to exploitation?” No, of course you’re not. Cons can work on anyone – simple cons for simple folk (and by this, I mean simple as in living simple, uncomplicated lives – lives busy just surviving with little room for cautious thinking) and sophisticated cons for clever folk, they still work just as well. We can all be conned. We can all, at sometime, be vulnerable. Perhaps illness, perhaps family stress, perhaps job loss, perhaps addiction, perhaps wider concerns such as global warming, perhaps just thinking you’re a bit cleverer than you really are, lots of folk suffer from that. . Brexit conned a majority of the English, and a reasonable percentage of your fellow Scots.

      So who is suggesting all those undesirable attributes to your your fellow citizens, other than yourself? I detect no disdain from Mike Small’s for his fellow citizens (nor does his thesis require this), just a deep concern for their long suffering, as to how manipulative and corrupt government works, aided by an equally corrupt and manipulative media. There is a serious ethical vacuum in politics and in business – and unfortunately it seems to affect opposition politics as well – and although this ethical hollow may here be less apparent, it’s actually more dangerous in a way, as it gives the citizen no opportunity to change anything fundamentally for the better.

      We are suffering nothing less that the terminal crisis of capitalism; we will be privileged to see its downfall before too long, but frightened when we all suffer the ensuing chaos.

      1. 220208 says:

        As the previous post explained, the contempt is implicit in the claim that we’re the victims of a confidence trick.

        We should not take kindly to claims that cast us in the role of credulous, naïve, emotionally manipulable, vain, trusting, irresponsible, and greedy victims.

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