Devolution works – while Westminster fulminates, we’re delivering our targets and getting things done.
I was in London last Wednesday and Thursday. I’d lined up meetings with politicians, influencers and media – shaking people’s hands and looking them in the eye is all part of the process of getting a better deal for the North East.
I gave a speech to a think tank, nudging government policy on levelling up, and breaking the Oliver Twist approach, “please sir, I want some more.” Until we get more control over our own transport, education, house building and investment, we’ll always be low down Westminster’s list of priorities.
Then on Tuesday night the chancellor and previous chancellor resigned. I’m sure the PM was thinking of calling an Autumn General Election to head of a challenge. No doubt Messrs Sunak and Javid saw it too, and started the resignation avalanche. People have been trying to get rid of Johnson all year. I was in London 24 hours and he resigned. Just saying…
I’ve said all year there’s an inevitability to Johnson’s resignation, because he was actually guilty. Of lying. Of covering up his lies. Of criminal behaviour. Of brushing serious sexual offences under the carpet. And lying about it. Greased piglet or otherwise, his career was circling the drain from January. It was a Ponzi scheme: every time he was in trouble, he’d promise something bigger and bolder, and tell bigger whoppers. But he could never honour his promises: honour is not part of his character.
Many talk of honour, few live it. MP after Tory MP resigned using the same template: “The PM has got the big calls right, but integrity and honour mean I must resign.” Translation: “I knew he was a liar from the off, but while I thought he’d win us an election, I kept schtum.” Honourable members?
He did not “get the big calls right”. His version of Brexit was not “oven ready” – the Northern Ireland protocol is unravelling. Britain had one of the highest Covid death rates in Europe. Chaotic hokey-cokey lockdowns. Test and trace wasted £37 billion. £37 billion!! Officially described as “an eye watering waste of money”. Vaccine roll out? In Europe alone, the UK is behind Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Iceland, Belgium, France, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Norway, and Greece for the percentage of population fully vaccinated.
The next PM will be chosen not by the British people, but by Conservative party members. The Tory MPs choosing which two hopefuls make final ballot are the most sophisticated and duplicitous electorate there is. There will be promises made, threats, deals, and double-crosses. It makes for great drama. But terrible government.
Britain is in chaos. You can’t get a passport. NHS waiting times are out of control. Kids with good A-levels can’t get on university courses. Families can’t afford a holiday. The hard mathematical truth is people’s bank accounts are running out of money before the end of the month.
We’ll see a summer of posturing from Tory hopefuls. Feeding time at the zoo – red meat thrown to the party faithful. Culture wars, blaming immigrants. But not a peep about non-dom tax exiles. Illogical calls to lower taxes so people have more money in their pockets. The best way to put more money in people’s pockets is to give them a pay rise.
And the convoluted back-stories. We’ll see re-runs of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch – “When I were a lad…” and how they became millionaires by honest work and paying their taxes. Three of the contenders have been Chancellor of the Exchequer and have used tax avoidance to reduce their tax bills. All in it together?
Labour must look like a government in waiting. And convince the British people we have a plan to get them out of this mess.
My task is to get us the best deal for the North East. As the resignations flooded in, I was making contact with new ministers, and ex-ministers. I’ve been Mayor for three years, and I’m on my fifth local government minister. Three resigned, one sacked, one new one. It happens. We’re at an advanced stage of negotiations. New ministers will want to show government is functioning. And devolution works – while Westminster fulminates, we’re delivering our targets and getting things done.
*Originally printed in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 11 July 2022