The ‘Red Wall’ sounds like something out of a fairy tale, right up there with the yellow brick road. While it held for decades, its recent collapse means it now occupies a similar place in reality. This long-held bastion of Labour support broke with voting tradition in a move which undoubtedly helped propel Boris Johnson into Number 10. Why would these communities, which have suffered under years of continued tory policy now support the very party which is to blame for much of their suffering?
Since the fiscal year 2009-2010, councils in the North of England have seen drastic cuts to funding, more so than anywhere else in the UK. This is partially due to their decision to freeze council tax rates at a 2010 level in return for block grants equating to 1% rise from the government – a policy which has only stopped in the last year or so – but much fault remains with the government, who have failed to provide adequate funding to struggling councils.
Back in 2018, the Local Government Association warned that government cuts combined with increasing demand for social care and housing would result in a £3.9 billion blackhole in terms of funding. At the time, Labour blamed Tory austerity policies which they said had pushed councils to the brink. Then, in 2019 the County Councils Network warned of a shortfall of over £50 billion in funding for councils over the next six years. It is clear this problem is not getting better; local government can only achieve its purpose and protect the communities it represents when given the powers and funding necessary to do so. Otherwise, the entire project is a sham which only provides a scapegoat for the Government’s failings. But this does not have to be the case.
At a time when over a third of councils in the North of England have had to cut spending on social housing by more than 50% (and in the Greater Liverpool area alone, council funding has been cut by £816 per head since 2011) support for Labour in 2019’s General Election crumbled – more like a hastily thrown-up pile of rocks than a wall. People chose to stick with the government and the party which has been in charge of the entire shambles. Conservative policies are largely responsible for the underfunding of the region’s councils, yet it is support for Labour which has dwindled.
The Communities Secretary, James Brokenshire (which isn’t ironic at all) claims that councils will receive an extra £1 billion of funding this year, indeed a move in the right direction. However, it fails to account for the other £49 billion which the CCN claims is required to protect local communities. As we watch funding for these areas plummet and the government’s high speed rail link project, HS2, becomes less realistic by the day – with experts claiming it could now cost anything up to £200 billion as opposed to the mere 10s of billions of pounds it was supposed to cost – it is time to ask the question, do the Tories care about the North of England? Or do their interests stop at Watford Junction?
So, have the people of the North of England been had? These Labour heartlands held for decades, does this signal a permanent shift in people’s personal politics, the blossoming start of a new relationship, as old allegiances are thrown away in the hope that Supreme Leader Johnson keeps his promises? Or is this a one-off, an embarrassing one-night-stand from people desperate to finally ‘Get Brexit Done’? The North of England is struggling, without more support from the government this problem will only get worse. The question now is: will their fealty be rewarded by this new Conservative party, or will the Tories stick with their long-held policy of ignoring everything North of London? Only time will tell.