Saturday, 13 August 2022


This was my article in the Cornish Guardian on the 10th August.

Levelling up was a key theme in the Conservative manifesto for the 2019 General Election. One section of the document stated: “Talent and genius are uniformly distributed throughout the country. Opportunity is not. Now is the time to close that gap – not just because it makes such obvious economic sense, but for the sake of simple social justice.”

But more recent statements from the two contenders for the leadership of the Tory Party show that their commitment to tackling regional inequality is pretty lacking.

Liz Truss came up with a proposal to introduce “regional pay boards” so that civil servants and public sector workers outside of London would be paid less. Unequal wage levels across the UK are a direct result of an unbalanced economy, while regional pay agreements would reinforce such inequities and make them worse.

As reported in last week’s Cornish Guardian, local MP Steve Double did describe the proposal as a “terrible idea” which “would be hugely damaging to public services in Cornwall.” He said it was “leveling down, not up.” One Welsh Conservative MP meanwhile estimated that 430,000 workers in Wales, including police officers and armed forces personnel, would facing a pay cut of around £3,000. He also described the proposal as “levelling down.” The mayor of Tees Valley – also a Conservative – said the proposal was so bad that he was “speechless.”

Liz Truss did an extremely quick u-turn, but later claimed that her comments had been wilfully misrepresented. But another prominent member of her party promptly pointed out that journalists accurately quoting a press release from Team Truss was not misrepresentation – wilful or otherwise.

Whereas these critics of Truss happened to be supporters of Rishi Sunak, they must have felt extremely let down when the video footage of a speech from their own preferred candidate soon after emerged on social media.

Speaking to a gathering of the party faithful in Tunbridge Wells, Sunak told them that the Conservatives had “inherited a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas.” He said that he had “started the work of undoing that," so more funding would go into areas such as Tunbridge Wells.

There is significant poverty across the whole of the UK – including in towns in Kent – which needs to be properly dealt with. But the crassness of the former Chancellor’s words is worrying, and comes just three months after the announcement that Cornwall would receive less than half of promised monies through the Shared Prosperity Fund.

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