IT HAS long been clear that when Boris Johnson’s political career finally terminates — a day likely not far distant — his future lies in comedy.
Certainly, the Prime Minister displayed a developed sense of satire by taking his Cabinet to Stoke-on-Trent for an away day to exhibit the government’s commitment to “levelling up.”
What can the good people of that once-proud industrial city, blighted by generations of decline and neglect, have made of Jacob Rees-Mogg appearing among them? The mills that made Stoke prosperous have long gone, and a souvenir mill owner is poor substitute.
Stoke folk may have noticed that Mr Rees-Mogg could himself be levelled down somewhat without enduring the hardship that has been visited on working people in the Potteries. He divides his time between a Grade II-listed mansion in Somerset and a £5 million townhouse in London.
His children are looked after by a family nanny, the same woman who took young Jacob canvasing in the Fife coalfield in 1997, his first attempt to secure a parliamentary seat. It is disputed whether they toured the pit villages in a Bentley or a Mercedes.
We laughed then. But perhaps we shouldn’t have. When Rees-Mogg, Johnson and the rest of the gang gathered in Stoke this week, they were meeting in a city now represented in Westminster by three Tory MPs. A minority Conservative administration runs the city council too.
The Tories have gained from many factors in Stoke, and places like it. New Labour’s neglect of manufacturing industry and its patronising assumption that voters in the city would support it for ever more regardless of delivery was a start.
Then there was the decision to turn Labour’s back on the Brexit referendum result and seek to obstruct its democratic implementation, politically fatal in a city like Stoke which voted to leave the EU by more than two-to-one.
Stoke has hardly benefitted from turning blue. Earlier this year academics at Staffordshire University warned of an impending “poverty catastrophe” in the city as rising prices for basic goods are piled atop pre-existing high levels of destitution and want.
Some attribute local deprivation to unemployment, benefit cuts and low wages, others to educational and health failures. The full gamut of the symptoms of capitalist crisis, in fact.
Many of the government’s policies are exacerbating Stoke’s problems. For example, it has been estimated that the failure to keep the £20 uplift in universal credit would take £30 million out of the city’s economy.
And when the Cabinet pitched up there this week, it was not to offer rehousing in listed mansions or nannies for all. The masses may look upon the away-day high bourgeoisie, but not seek to emulate their privilege.
Instead, the big message from the government was that more than 90,000 Civil Service jobs are to be axed, presumably to fund tax cuts before the next general election. How that will help level up the Potteries was left unexplained.
Likewise obscure is how Labour is going to win back former industrial heartlands like Stoke. Among his many omissions, Keir Starmer has yet to come clean about his central role in trying to block Brexit and push a second referendum in 2018 and 2019, as revealed in devastating detail in Oliver Eagleton’s new book about the Labour leader.
People notice that as much as they do Labour’s policy cupboard, bare of everything bar Starmer’s commitment to quit if his curry consumption proves criminal.
The Tories won’t level up, and Labour won’t level with the voters. Gimmicks aren’t going to fix that. Only socialist politics can make a difference in Stoke.
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