Levelling up ‘not a jam-spreading operation’, PM to say in pitch to South

Boris Johnson will insist his levelling up agenda is “win win” and will not be a case of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” as tries to keep traditional Tories in the South on side.

The Prime Minister is expected to use a major speech on Thursday to say the programme is not a “jam-spreading operation” that will make “rich” areas poorer in order to benefit the more deprived.

But, speaking in the West Midlands, Mr Johnson will seek to criticise previous leaders for having invested too heavily in London and the South East.

“It is vital to understand the difference between this project and levelling down,” Mr Johnson will say, according to an extract of the speech released by Downing Street.

“We don’t want to decapitate the tall poppies. We don’t think you can make the poor parts of the country richer by making the rich parts poorer.”

Mr Johnson will also hope the promise not to take away from wealthier areas will keep traditional Tory voters onside after the recent loss in Chesham and Amersham by-election, which was a safe seat until taken by the Lib Dems last month.

He secured his place in No 10 by winning over traditional Labour voters to make massive gains for the Conservatives in the north of England and the Midlands.

Downing Street did not say whether he would make any specific policy announcements in the speech, but a levelling up policy paper is expected to be published in the autumn.

Labour described it as an “empty husk of a speech” and said the Prime Minister would be “pitching people and towns against each other”.

The Prime Minister will seek to define the levelling up programme, a key ambition for his premiership which has so far been dominated by the coronavirus response and has seen his Government battle a series of sleaze allegations.

The former London mayor is expected to blame previous governments for having focused too heavily on “turbo charging” areas where house prices are already “sky high”.

The impact of this, he will say, forced more people to move to those regions, causing longer and more crowded commutes and leaving workers with less time with their children, who they fear will not be able to buy a home.

He will say that living standards and public services must be particularly improved in poorer regions, but he will insist that “levelling up is not a jam-spreading operation. It’s not robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s not zero sum, it’s win win”.

Mr Johnson will say that his ambition can “only be achieved with a strong and dynamic wealth-creating economy”, which he hopes will be fuelled by the vaccine rollout.

With his former chief aide Dominic Cummings referring to Mr Johnson as a chaotic “shopping trolley”, the Prime Minister will say that the Government will achieve its economic ambition by providing a consistent strategic lead “not chopping and changing”.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Boris Johnson has overseen the worst death toll in Europe and the greatest hit to any major economy.

“Two years as Prime Minister and all we have is this empty husk of a speech that shows he has no plan for the future of our country other than pitching people and towns against each other.

“Unlike Labour, he has no plan to buy, make and sell more in Britain. He has no jobs promise for young people. And he has no recovery plan for our children.”