Yorkshire’s ‘red wall’ Tories must deliver on promises - Justine Greening

As new Conservative ‘‘red wall’’ MPs take a break in their constituencies over summer recess, they must be reflecting on how different their first few months were in Parliament from what they had anticipated in December. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson poses with Conservative MPs after last year's General Election. Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

Few could have predicted the overwhelming impact that coronavirus was to have on our country and how it would utterly transform Parliament alongside so many other aspects of our lives. 

For a newly elected Government with a landslide majority, Covid-19 has redefined the political, economic and social landscape in which it operates.

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Even now, we are only in the foothills of experiencing and understanding the profound impact that Covid-19 will have on people’s day to day lives, our public services and businesses.

Justine Greening says 'red wall' Tories must deliver on promises. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

But as The Yorkshire Post recently reported, left behind areas in Yorkshire and other parts of Britain risk falling further behind. Research found 28 so-called left behind neighbourhoods across Yorkshire and the Humber, which were already suffering from pre-existing socio-economic deprivation, were being hit harder by the social, economic, and health impacts of coronavirus

There are always choices for governments, whatever the circumstances they find themselves in. The first one is whether this will be a Government shaping events or simply reacting to them.

Shape or be shaped. 

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It’s challenging because tackling the two immediate challenges – Covid-19 and the economy – pull ministers in opposite directions.

It’s why we see an announcement one week of vouchers subsidising us to shop at restaurants and fast-food takeaways in order to protect jobs, followed by anti-obesity strategy steps a fortnight later (to ban the very same businesses from advertising that encourages us to eat their food).

On the one hand we were told it was reasonable to go abroad on holiday, with Ministers agreeing ‘‘air bridges’’ with other countries to make it possible.

Then a few weeks later, British holidaymakers taking a break in Spain faced quarantine after returning – creating real financial hardship for many.

Ministerial messages to the public appear at odds with each other. It risks giving an impression of policy being made up sporadically across different Government departments. In trying to address both crises, the danger is that the Government addresses neither successfully.

Meanwhile the challenges of Brexit and levelling up Britain remain pivotal for Boris Johnson’s Government to deliver on. 

There is a political truth that all governments have to face.

You get elected on a manifesto and voters expect you to deliver on it – whatever happens.

Countless voters in ‘‘red wall’’ Tory seats ‘‘lent’’ Boris Johnson’s government their vote in last year’s election.

Many had simply run out of patience with a Labour party that had talked but never delivered for decades. 

In voting Conservative, perhaps through gritted teeth, for many electors it was to achieve an objective of a government that would ‘‘get Brexit done’’ and put levelling up centre stage. 

They expect a Brexit deal before Christmas that delivers on the promises made of a Britain free of EU red tape and with a thriving trade with the rest of the world and Europe.

And levelling up is more than just roads and rail, it’s about a fairer Britain with fairer opportunity from top to bottom – a child at a local comprehensive school in Rotherham with the same life chances as a child at Eton or Harrow.

Now we need to see all that successfully delivered. 

It may have got far more challenging, but the country needs clarity on what the Government wants to achieve, how it will do so, and how it will track progress.

A five-year term in Parliament seems a long time but goes by remarkably quickly in practice.

Mr Johnson has already had over a year in Downing Street since becoming Conservative leader in July last year.

And once Parliament returns after summer recess, for MPs the months will no doubt skip by to Christmas.

The first Parliamentary moment next month is the Chancellor’s Great Recovery Bill.

For all the flourish of its title and the rhetoric at the despatch box, what the country at large wants to see is more than just steps to stop things getting worse from the challenges Covid-19 brings. That’s not enough. 

Sometimes in Parliament, MPs feel they have done a lot by passing a Bill. Yet it’s what happens in our day to day life and how we feel about their prospects for our future that matter the most to all of us outside of Westminster.

For example, the built-in unfairness over the A-level gradings approach will have rightly been a concern for millions of students and parents this past week.

A ‘‘levelling up’’ Government should have been aware of this and addressing it with Ofqual months ago rather than what we have seen play out in the past few days.

For many people across Yorkshire, and in red wall seats especially, their Conservative vote was a rejection of a sort of politics that makes big promises that matter but then delivers too far short.

It was about no more ‘‘jam tomorrow’’ and a rejection of sloganeering politics with no substance behind it.

Red Wall Tory MPs need to prove to their communities that they and their government can deliver on their promises. Otherwise they’ll be rightly cast as just the latest lot of politicians who turned up, promised the earth and delivered far too little.

All of us deserve better than this.

Rotherham-born Justine Greening is a former Conservative MP and Education Secretary.

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