Stop treating Barnsley and North as fools, Boris Johnson – Jayne Dowle

DEAR Boris. Here in Barnsley we’ve grown weary of the claptrap talked about the North of England. This mess of hubris, cliché and false promises will no doubt be a key theme of your Conservative Party Conference in Manchester this week.

Boris Johnson during a visit to Rotherham shortly after he became Prime Minister in 2019.

The Red Wall. The Northern Powerhouse. And not forgetting ‘levelling-up’ of course, bandied about as a North-South divide thing, when really, if it is to have any meaningful purpose, it should treat the country as one big happy family. Which clearly, it is not.

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There are communities in the South West and Wales, for instance, feeling 
just as left-behind as any up here in Yorkshire.

Jayne Dowle has written about Barnsley - and what the town thinks of Boris Johnson.

However, if you were to pop over to Barnsley this afternoon, Boris – warning, it’s only 30-ish miles from Manchester’s Central Convention Complex, but will take two and half hours by train, and if the traffic’s bad, almost as long by car – you’d find that people are beginning to find you irrelevant, irritating and irrational.

For a populist who thrives off adulation, this is not good. You should take nothing for granted.

Having lived through a pandemic, fuel shortages, empty supermarket shelves and the threat of huge increases in gas and electricity costs, the 2019 election already seems aeons away.

South Yorkshire mayor Dan Jarvis is stepping down next May to concentrate on his Parliamentary role as Barnsley Central MP.

It’s true that back then, Conservative Party candidates helped to rattle sitting Labour MPs in both Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), who both saw their majorities slashed. And to the west of the town, the Tories successfully took Penistone and Stocksbridge.

However, this is only one side of the story. Labour majorities were severely dented and long-held voting patterns massively overturned by the presence of the Brexit Party, which surged ahead of the Conservatives in both Barnsley Central and Barnsley East.

Now we’re living with the reality of Brexit, rather than being seduced by its dubious charms, which way will these voters swing next time around?

I know you’re not renowned for your grasp of forward planning, but I’d say that if you want your party to return to power without electoral compromise, you need to focus, focus, focus on this demographic. Every vote really does count.

Mr Jarvis, who will step down as South Yorkshire’s mayor next May, is already gearing up for a return to front-line politics. He’s not looking like a man who’s going to roll over and allow a blue tidal wave free passage up the River Dearne.

And it’s not true, as you found out to your gain elsewhere, that Northerners will vote for anything as long as it’s wearing a red rosette. It might surprise you to know that in towns like Barnsley people take their political allegiance very seriously.

Or look at is this way, Boris. In 2019 in both these key constituencies, almost a third of voters didn’t support your party when they had the opportunity to do so. And thanks to your cult of personality politics, this means that they didn’t support you.

You might argue that instead they chose to put their support behind the Brexit Party, safe in the knowledge that you were the man to get the job done. Now, however, you’ve got the job done.

So what next? Whilst Brexit is just one contributory factor – others include the pandemic, the rising wholesale price of gas, climate change causing disruption – to the mess we’re all in, you pinned your political career and the nation’s future on this one key point.

There will always be those who argue that Brexit was necessary and eventually the UK will emerge stronger and leaner, and independent of course. However, you should know that you’ve disappointed a lot of people here in Barnsley. Take our town as a bellwether, not just for the North, but the rest of the UK.

Can you make amends? Yes, but you must be honest. You might have fooled some of us some of the time in 2019, but here in Barnsley we can spot insincerity a mile off.

From now on, don’t promise us things you can’t deliver; this will simply drive our cynicism deeper.

For instance, we want urgent action on NHS waiting lists and reassurances that our GPs won’t abandon us. We want the Government to intervene as far as it legally can and prevent household bills from going through the roof this winter, and commit to a sensible, balanced energy plan.

We would like to know that state education and universities will give our children the same opportunities as their counterparts in more affluent areas.

And we would like to know that 
your government’s recent proposals on social care will be properly costed and realistic.

However, don’t play the fool and don’t take us for fools either. I can sense your attention span waning, so that’s all you need to know, really.

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