Saturday, May 08, 2021

Hartlepool levelling up: Was that it?

What did 'levelling up' mean in the Hartlepool swing to the Tories?  The Hartlepool constituency, returned a Tory MP Jill Mortimer, 'farmer and business woman', after a 50 year run for Labour. That day was also the vote for the Tees Valley mayor and Ben Houchen won a resounding victory. Perhaps the Mayor Houchen factor was at work. Perhaps it was that in  Hartlepool with the Labour candidate still an EU fan who wants a second referendum, and with Hartlepool  very strongly Leave, maybe that prompted the strong rejection. Who allowed that to happen?

Ben Houchen, in winning his first Tees Valley contest in 2017 as a Tory promised to nationalise the local airport which he did and it created many new jobs.  Nationalisation is a policy borrowed from Labour.  Houchen has always said he is locality oriented and the use of socialist policies shows he is a non-ideolgical Tory.  The Boris-Rishi government has supported his Tees Valley projects - including environmental climate change schemes - by directing spending to the area. Also Treasury North, which is a partial government departmental move to Darlington, is a rather socialist, state planning idea. It probably helps in all these local changes that Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak holds a nearby constituecy.  

Freemarket conservatives wanting small government (don't move but reduce the Treasury?), low borrowing and 'let the market rule'  are rare these days. Covid-19 financial support has meant Tory central government money is now always on tap for lots of schemes. The (allegedly) penny pinching austerity gloom of the Cameron-Osborne era is well gone, and now seen merely as anti-Labour sound bites, but which helped dampen expectations of government-directed productive investment which now the New Tories are unashamedly borrowing from Labour.  But remember: the high priestess of the free market, Margaret Thatcher secured a deal for Nissan in Sunderland in the 1980s with a  special central government money deal for Nissan.     

So the Conservatives are doing what is needed to remain in power whilst favouring neglected voters by boosting their local economy with cash handouts. Old fashioned pork barrel politics, as ever. The latest scheme is the Community Renewal Fund which will share £220m with 100 favoured places in a year and five of those are the five towns of the Tees Valley. Red Tories are in town.

The problem with such politics - sensible enough given the limited vision - is that only some groups of voters are favoured rather than producing a fairer outcome for all. Under Old Labour it might be such as union members,  managers of state institutions, and home renters; under Old Conservatives it might be shareholders, capitalists eager for state grants and home owners. 

When will overall fairness prevail? Instead of a hope that a trickle-down of government money may come my way via my Mayor, why not each citizen respected as contributer and beneficiary of a good recovering economy?   The previous blogpost on Universal Basic Income  illustrates how that idea of a payment to everyone unconditionally is well researched to be affordable - 'revenue neutral'. Even better an extra measure would be the funding of UBI to include land value tax charged on the land value underlying all homes, and allowable against income tax,  along with a reform of council tax. Renters would benefit as they would pay no charge, the landlord would. 

We need a re-set in our politics and economics in favour of fairnes for all, not just for instance the homeowners who are benefitting  from a housing boom. That would be better levelling up. Our society is becoming increasingly divided as defined by owning or renting a home. Renters are being sidelined as they have no unearned nest-egg accumulating on the value of the land with their house as homeowners do. We all contribute to our economy as we work and run things and a healthy economy raises house (actually land) prices, but that value is soley due to land ownership. Too bad if you rent your home, no level playing field for you from your contribution, it all gravitates down to the owner. What's fair in that?

Posted by Charles Bazlinton author The Free Lunch - Fairness with Freedom


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