How Boris Johnson has lost the trust of North over lockdowns – Andrew Vine

WE’VE long known here in Yorkshire that the North is a strange and unfamiliar country for a certain type of politician.

It’s there in the short-changing of our public services, whether schools or transport, in the lack of money spent on flood defences, in the neglect of rural communities.

It’s there too in the often patronising attitude towards entirely justified claims for a fairer deal, both in terms of better funding and to have our views heard.

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But even against that backdrop, any lingering doubt about how the North’s people are too often treated as second-class citizens has surely been dispelled by the appalling handling of new coronavirus restrictions.

What will be the impact of the Government's new Covid rules on Leeds and the rest of the region?

Thankfully, Yorkshire was spared the most stringent new measures which will be a source of relief to pub and restaurant owners who feared that a lockdown would sound the death knell for their businesses.

Nevertheless, the views of local leaders in Yorkshire towns and cities, along with those of our friends and neighbours to the west and to the north, have effectively been treated with contempt by Boris Johnson and his Cabinet.

It is as if we are not capable here of charting the best course in tackling the rising number of cases, that we must be led by the hand like little children. And like children, we have been instructed what is going to happen without being given a say, the measures leaked to London-based newspapers before those elected to run our communities were consulted. This is discourteous, demeaning and disgraceful.

Even though elected mayors, councils and public health officials know their patches intimately, that priceless knowledge has been disregarded. Instead, there has been a “we know best” attitude from London. Months have been wasted.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is accused of betraying the North.

As if that were not bad enough, the jobs at risk in the North have been officially classified as being worth less than those in the South, with support for businesses forced to close receiving a lower level of support than when furlough was introduced.

When Boris Johnson stood up in the Commons to announce the new three-tier system of local restrictions with Liverpool City Region facing the most serious rules, he did so a much-diminished figure, for it is increasingly difficult to view him as a Prime Minister who has the interests of all areas of the country equally at heart. Over-promising and under-delivering have seen to that.

In March, when the national lockdown was introduced, Mr Johnson had the overwhelming support of the North for the measures he announced. There was an unspoken bargain struck between people and Premier – we’ll suffer the privations of having our everyday lives limited on condition you ready the country to make sure it doesn’t happen again. He assured us his Government would do just that.

The people stuck fast to their part of the bargain. The Government didn’t. On the key issue of test, trace and isolate, it has failed miserably.

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That’s at the heart of why there is a lack of trust in what we’re being told now, especially here in the North. Assurances that London-centric politicians know what’s best won’t wash any more. We’ve seen the effrontery of a Prime Minister shifting the blame for an increase in infections in the North on to its people for not observing restrictions stringently enough.

That is both insulting and unfair. A clutch of pictures of a few hundred drunken revellers spilling out on to the streets here and there from pubs shutting at 10pm in no way reflects the conscientious behaviour of the vast majority of the 15m people who live here. Families and individuals have done all that has been asked of them, not gathering in groups of more than six, and in the already locked-down areas of Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees not visiting each other’s homes.

At every step of the way, the Government has demonstrated a woeful misunderstanding of the North’s particular difficulties amid this pandemic, and that is entirely attributable to its failure to listen those on the ground who have done their best to help.

Fewer people here are able to work from home than in the South East because the North has more traditional industries. A job in a factory doesn’t exist unless a person goes in to do it. How hard is that to understand for a minister? And how hard is it to understand that we have areas of deprivation and densely-populated housing where illness spreads all the more easily?

So why not harness local and regional expertise to target the problems and drive down the rate of infections? But no. Instead, there have been confusing and contradictory edicts from London. Yesterday, Mr Johnson sought to clarify them. But the growing suspicion that he and this Government cannot be trusted by the North is going to be much harder for him to dispel.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson