Jack Lesgrin’s week: ‘Catch-Up Tsar’ or ‘Level-Up PM’ show Rhetoric and Reality are the new Jekyll and Hyde

by Jack Lesgrin

Eventually, the two opposing forces of rhetoric and reality will collide. They always do with Tory governments. For most of the 20th and 21st-centuries, the Tories have been better at creating and owning the narrative, at opportunistic and sometimes vicious campaigning, and some might say, for short periods, at governing too.

As with all parties, they look upon the social, political and economic consensus of the day, that was moulded by governments of different colours over decades, and adapt accordingly, seeking to shift the dreaded ‘dial’ up, down, right or left-wards. The Tories accepted the NHS and welfare state, and Labour came to accept reform of trade unions and a greater role for private enterprise. In seeking election, parties sometimes seek an armed annexation of opponents’ territory, as with Blair’s “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, or indeed Cameron’s 2006 embrace of environmentalism and oft mis-quoted literal embrace of “hoodies”.

But no amount of spinning, campaigning, Johnson-esque ‘hope-for-the-bestery’ can prevent the clash between a hardwired mentality among most Conservatives that lower spending is more important than higher achievement. This is because, ultimately, despite a few admirable exceptions such as Rory Stewart, or Jeremy Hunt, most Tories, in their heart of hearts do not believe that it is the state’s responsibility to seek to make society fairer, or safer. They will try everything under the sun to avoid admitting the obvious truth that the state is the only actor capable of affecting genuine change, hence Tory governments’ default position of seeking ‘consultation with industry’, or attempting a ‘voluntary code’ to do X,Y or Z.’ Usually, about a decade later, they have to concede that only the state, and law, can sort the issue out. Sugar tax is a good example. Perhaps the most egregious recent example is cigarette advertising. It’s no surprise that it was a Labour government, believing in the role of the state, that banned indoor smoking.

We should beware the illusory effects of the pandemic on British politics. As noted in last week’s column, the clouds parted long enough for the Magic Money Tree to be glimpsed, but the tree is already being hidden away, protected by heavily armed Conservative policy boffins. The government is to be praised for the largesse the state bestowed on people needing support during this crisis. But it would be foolish of the British people, especially the vulnerable, to infer that this is a government of an epoch changing nature akin to that of Atlee, or elements of Blair/Brown.

The Tories’ messaging, and campaigning efficiency in 2010, 15, 17 and 19, conveniently combined with their facing an ineffectual opposition, can convince large enough numbers of voters that compassionate conservatism is on the rise, as Cameron’s environmentalism, or May’s rousing initial emphasis on meritocracy and “fighting against the burning injustice” attests.

Mr Johnson won in 2019 largely on the back of his “Get Brexit Done” mantra, but no one can doubt that the “levelling up” and “Build Back Better” agenda was part of the allure. All rational voters would agree that alongside enjoying apple pie, it would be better to lift-up poorer areas and people to the level of those doing better and it would be good to build a more prosperous and fairer society post-pandemic.

However, recent evidence gives us glimpses of what will happen. Tories will not put our money where their mouths are. They will not level up, just as they won’t foist large numbers of affordable homes into the green belt or redress educational inequality. To do this would require pandemic-era levels of state intervention, the ripping up of rule books, the challenging of vested interests, radical policies, and more. There is a reason for the other name the Tories go by: Conservative.

You may think this is too harsh. “Give them a chance”, I hear you say. They have flunked their first chance. They appointed educational expert Sir Kevan Collins to be their ‘catch-up Tsar’, asked him to issue a report with recommendations, then ignored the recommendations, resulting in him resigning saying that their package “falls far short of what is needed” and that their cash offer of a tenth of the money was a “damp squib”.

Mr Hyde’s brutal ways are beginning to win out over Dr Jekyll’s idealism. There are several interpretations of the role of the potion that Dr Jekyll created and imbibed to control his alter ego. Some think he used it to suppress the dangerous Mr Hyde. Others believe that it was used to allow the respectable Dr Jekyll to act badly without remorse. Let’s hope that idealism wins the day as the government leads our country out of this crisis. We need levelling up to become a reality. Watch out for the ratcheting up of rhetoric, or the metaphorical downing of potions, as the two instincts of this government clash repeatedly.

Wetherspoonerism on visas

Last week saw leading Brexit cheerleader Tim Martin joining others in the hospitality sector calling for the government to change the visa system so that European workers could come to work in the sector. He told the Telegraph that “the UK has a low birth rate. A reasonably liberal immigration system controlled by those we have elected, as distinct from the EU system, would be a plus for the economy and the country.” It seems that schadenfreude is being mixed with sacred cows coming home to roost here! A new linguistic concept has thus been born – the Wetherspoonerism. Unlike the mixing of vowels and consonants made famous by William Archibald Spooner, a Wetherspoonerism is when the logic of a Brexit related concept is mangled beyond recognition. Mr Martin’s doffs its hat at a classic of the genre. Broadly it goes: win a referendum largely on the back of hostility to EU immigration; decry suggestions of the economic hit of immigrants emigrating as ‘project fear’; deny that the forewarned, now real consequences are in any way the UK’s fault; then call for more EU immigration when your own business sector or the wider UK economy is in peril. Next they’ll be calling for some form of economic union based around coal and steel…That would never catch on.

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10 Responses to “Jack Lesgrin’s week: ‘Catch-Up Tsar’ or ‘Level-Up PM’ show Rhetoric and Reality are the new Jekyll and Hyde”

  1. Tafia says:

    Why is it that Labour want the state to assume control of and responsibility for more and more of your life, making you personallty less and less responsible for outcimes and bad choices, whereas the Tories do what most people regard is the correct thing – make people personal responsible for their own lives and responsible for the outcomes of poor and stupid decision making.

    Tories believe in creating opportunities that strivers will take and exploit to their best potential. Labour try to gerymander everything with state interference, quotas and other policically correct bollock believed only by utter morons.

    Personal responsibility is ALWAYS more important than state control. The ability to strive unhindered is ALWAYS more impoirtant than state-rigging.

    Until you grasp that, accept it and persue it, you will keep losing because the very people you need to win over to wein an election want MORE control over their own lives, MORE control over politicians, LESS interference, and ‘ne-er do wells’ etc made personally responsible for their fecklessness.*

    (*a very recent example. Long term claimant & benefit fraudster found guilty of frauding over £40,000 out of the benefits system. Given a suspended jail sentence because of family responsibilities, still on benefits because – again, family responsibilities, cannot be deported because of family responsibilites, doesn’t have to pay anything back because on benefits with a family. In other words, stole that money from you and I, spent it, cost the state even more being investigated, prosecuted etc, given legaL aid (because he’s on benefits) and basically gets off scott free and is still receiving full benefits.

    To the very people Labour wants to win over (C1 & C2 tory voters), the very least he should have faced is termination of benefits coupled with immediate deportation. They would say that’s him having to take personal responsibility for the outcomes of his decisions, whereas modern Labour orthodoxy is he’s entitled to the benefit money and his right to remain here should be protected for the sake of his wife and children (and probably dog, cat, parrot and iguana).)

  2. Tafia says:

    And your “Last week saw leading Brexit cheerleader Tim Martin joining others in the hospitality sector calling for the government to change the visa system so that European workers could come to work in the sector. He told the Telegraph that “the UK has a low birth rate. A reasonably liberal immigration system controlled by those we have elected, as distinct from the EU system, would be a plus for the economy and the country.”

    Is total and utter codswallop. As even the dullest of dullards knows, by midday on the day that story was published, the Telegraph admitted it was a gross misrepresentation of what Tim Martin said, has apologised unreservedly and Martin released a statement which ALL the media carried at least part of and part of which I reproduce:-

    “I was trying to be helpful to the journalist by providing up-to-date anecdotal information on staffing, which clearly demonstrated a very positive situation for Wetherspoon. However, my comments were misreported. The false story, expressed in the headline “Wetherspoons boss calls for more EU migration as bars and restaurants tackle staff shortage” and expressed or implied elsewhere in the article, was that Wetherspoon was suffering staff shortages, which clearly isn’t true, and that I had subsequently been moved to change my stance on immigration, which, as my evidence to Parliament several years ago clearly shows, isn’t true either.”

    Wetherspoon’s is heavily over-subscribed for vacancies. In addition, it offers one of the best renumeration packages of any employer in the industry. Offering staff discounts on a variety of things from insurance to holidays, higher than average pay rates and shares options. Next time the woke garbage sneer at Wetherspoons, they should remember that it’s almost certainly paying it’s staff more than their chosen hostelries are.

    Now the only question that remains unanswered is, why did you not know any of this? Was it because:-

    A. You have been in a coma until very recently.
    B. You have been living in a cave.
    C. You struggle with the English language.
    D. You were temporarily abducted by aliens.
    E. You are thicker than the thickest of my 5 cats (the one with the squint)
    F. You are this site’s resident comedy act.

  3. A.J. says:

    Unkind people say that voting Conservative doesn’t take much thinking about. I was amused, last weekend, to hear my elder daughter (Liberal Democrat, Remainer) claim she and her chap have become more ‘right wing’ during the pandemic – meaning that they have fallen for the dubious charms of Boris Johnson.
    All this ‘Tsar’ business is highly depressing – and very ‘New Labour’, no? Well, perhaps, as Peter Hitchens says, the present government is simply ‘New Labour’ minus the charm.

  4. Jack Lesgrin says:

    Good to read these comments. Keep ‘em coming.

    I’m not not in a coma!

    Re Mr Martin, it is just amusing reading attributable quotes in a respected media outlet stating his call for a liberal immigration system. It may or may not have been his long term view, but I think it is certainly not the case that large numbers of Leave voters in so-called left behind areas were voting for a “reasonably liberal immigration system.” No?

    I don’t think their campaign was built around “let us keep all these young Europeans coming to the UK to work in jobs lots of Britons don’t want to do, so long as it’s controlled by the UK government rather than being a right of EU citizens.” Not sure how well that would have gone down with the Leave voters. So it’s retrospective cake-eatery really isn’t it? “I was always for a liberal immigration system [especially for my sector]. Any impression that you got otherwise due to my support for a campaign which saw leading Brexit supporters standing in front of pictures of large queues of immigrants, is entirely misguided.”

  5. A.J. says:

    It ought to be clear by now that the Labour Party has very little purpose. If any. That fact might, I suppose, be down to Margaret Thatcher (a woman of no very sound judgement), who forced the likes of Blair, Brown and Gould onto the defensive to the extent Blair could be painted by the ‘Economist’ on their front cover as ‘The Greatest Tory Ever Sold’. My wife – public sector worker, former NALGO shop steward – mistrusted Blair and voted to retain Clause Four – yet now (slightly reluctantly) votes Tory. And she’ll not be the only one.
    Everything Tafia says is right. Labour has no winning formula. It’s not enough for McCluskey to pontificate on TV about ‘wairrkin’ pepul’ or Owen Jones to spout waffle about ‘transformative government’. Most people – like my late father – simply want politicians to leave them alone, to get on with their lives, most aspects of which no government interference can ever touch.
    Most people I know fairly well who still vote Labour are public sector/Green-leaning/still fervent Remainers or Rejoiners. The Green Party will, sooner or later, attract their votes. Labour – once the party of the oily rag and the oilier intellectual – will find itself playing third fiddle to some kind of ‘Rainbow Coalition’. Just wait and see.

  6. richard mackinnon says:

    There is no doubt about it, Jack Lesgrin is articulate with the pencil. However, he has an obvious problem. And this article highlights precisely what ‘the problem’ is.
    It is is not unique to Jack. ‘The problem’ belongs to the British Labour Party. Jack’s article suggests, it (the problem) appears to be greater than it has ever been.
    The problem is, how do you right an article in support of the BLP when no one knows what The Party stands for? That is a big problem.
    The answer is, as you all know, write a negative article about the opposition. If you cant find anything positive to say, write something about how useless and incompetent the Tory government is.
    But this approach will only work for so long before readers will ask, ok, what you would do differently? Which is fair enough. And when the Labour Party has no answers to that, then people (voters) will look else where for answers.
    That is a massive problem for any political party. I dont need to spell out why that is.
    But I think ‘the problem’ facing the BLP runs deeper than not having an alternative and credible vision for the way forward. Labour’s bigger problem is that when it has been forced into taking a position on recent important national issues such as Scottish independence and Brexit, the Labour Party has opposed the wishes of its historical support. In other words it has told its core support, ‘no you are wrong, this is what to think’.
    The BLP appears to have lost its way. In fact that is an understatement. It has. You can debate when the rudder became lose and when it will hit the rocks. That is an academic exercise. (I think it has already hit the rocks). The point is can ‘the problem’ be recovered.
    As I say, my opinion? I dont think it can. I think we are witnessing the death of a British political party.
    (For what its worth, I think British politics is in flux. There is presently no opposition to this Conservative government. It has been this way for over 10 years).
    So, Jack, if you want a bit of advice from an old man: dont take sides, keep on writing but see it for what it is. Too many negative articles like this will soon draw criticism, legitimate criticism of, ‘lazy thinking’.

  7. Joun P Reid says:

    Half way through June if it’s the same at end of the month
    The average polling will show a increase in average tory vote and no change in labour with libdems losing to the Tories

  8. Dave Roberts says:

    Three good comments which have immediately destroyed the article especially the contribution from Tafia who is on the ball as usual.

  9. John P Reid says:

    Look at why people join the Tories ,they feel it’s the only way to stop a extremist Labour Party ever winning at all costs
    And is mostly successful ,Now I’m not sure if William Hague interpreted Blair’s proposed 2nd term as extremist so when he lost he felt I’ve failed to stop utters take over the country, but then hid members said were they (nu labour) extreme ,So did tory members felt annoyed or did they felt well we don’t have to worry about winning as Labour’s not extreme or if they did feel Blair was extreme they’d have elected Ken Clarke as leader and put all The little England stuff behind them
    But at the same time they’d have concentrated on thinking how they could be selling future policies that the public could want and bury the free market stuff at the back of their manifesto while trying to find faults with Labour’s handling of The economy and for the more time apologising for black Wednesday
    Same as those in labour that wants to win
    Those who joined labour to have thatchers devil take The high toad not caring about the left behinds, Didn’t need fo have some oh those they Didn’t care about who’s going to pay for The ink in The photocopier at a executive meeting holding a grudge for a decade and the bureaucracy of all those Wednesday evening debating around when they could’ve been at home with the family with a glass of bubbly, by the fire watching coronation street
    When the end result isn’t going to be elected labour officials or a labour government For decades As if labour hasn’t wanted to win, then it is a. Failure for the labour parties exists for to let the Tories win power As such the left The Tories aren’t Thatcherite no more Despite policies like fire and re hire

    And labour Blame The electorate and spend another five years looking down at the ground saying To itself it’s the good guys as if created the nHS
    Blair winning and then the 2005 it stops we’d then bnp win I n Dagenham and it took 12years to get back to normal

  10. Tafia says:

    Jack Lesgrin – I’m not not in a coma!

    Then why did you publish something (Tim Martin) that you had either done no checking of, or that you must have know was not true. And as for your comments regarding what Leave voters think of immigration, you obviously have never spoken to one. Leave voters want roughly what Patel is bringing in to law. That immigrants can come to this country provided they do not get immediate access to benefits of any kind, the NHS, etc etc, have a job to go to and can supoport themselves (and family if with them) purely with earnings, or savings if they cannot find work. And for seasonal workers, they must apply for a temporary labour visa, have a job to go to and their employer must assume responsibility for housing them and covering their medical needs. Once their contract is finished, they leave the country (which is roughly what it used to be). Incidentally, the much trumpeted rubbish that we are suffering accute shortages of agricultural seasonal labour because of Brexit is utter bollocks. This is something that is going on all over Europe at the moment both within and outside of the EU (northern Italy has already lost it’s early crops, Spoain – heavily relaint of seasonal north African labour, is in serious problems). It’s actually being caused by the quarantine and vaccination requirements by all the countries they have to pass through and between – which migrant labour is obviously unable to comply with, and the fear of the migrant labourers that they won’t be able to get home at the end of the season for the same reason. And that’s before you factor in that in the main they come from countries where the vaccination programme is scant at best.

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