With one week to go until polling day, it’s worth reflecting on the tone of conversations so far. And not just to understand what candidates are promising to voters. There is also plenty to be said on how the messages of central government are being translated locally.
Take ‘levelling up’ – a cornerstone of the last Conservative manifesto and now high on the government’s agenda. Since the pandemic it’s been supplemented by ‘build back better’, supporting the message around recovery and the Conservative offer of investment to red wall converts. But local campaign rhetoric suggests that the general principle of levelling up – regeneration of England’s regions – is agreed across the political spectrum. Even if the message itself is being articulated differently.
In the Liverpool City Region, Labour incumbent Steve Rotheram‘s #NoOneLeftBehind campaign embodies the principle of levelling up in classic Labour packaging. His policies – a young person’s guarantee, a Covid-19 recovery fund – fit ‘build back better’, just with more focus on fairness for people and communities. This is chiming well with voters, and is also a feature of campaign messaging from Rotheram’s Conservative competitor, Jade Marsden. While backing the economic principles of national government, Marsden’s emphasis is on improving skills and job opportunities.
In Tees Valley, Conservative Ben Houchen has been able to embody his party’s flagship policy wholeheartedly. His race has strong backing from cabinet ministers and the lure of a freeport, green jobs and Treasury relocation all add to the prospect of a Conservative hold. Yet, the focus remains on both local and green recovery from Covid-19, and Labour’s Jessie Jacobs looks towards tackling unemployment and improving youth opportunities and skills as the answer. As a two-party battleground, the Tees Valley race is a solid example of contrasting messaging competing to achieve the same outcome.
Levelling up of ‘left behind areas’ isn’t exclusively northern. The West of England mayoral role has low visibility among voters, so candidates’ focus has largely been on establishing key party messages. Interestingly, Green and Liberal Democrat candidates Jerome Thomas and Stephen Williams pledge to pause road-building in favour of more affordable housing – still ‘building back better’, but with housing the key focus. This is a closer race than others and in some ways, Westminster is a more distant backdrop to the campaign. If anything, this goes even further to suggest a universal backing of levelling up, beyond its framing as a Conservative policy.
Similarly, the Covid-19 effect on all campaigns is hard to overlook. The pandemic has arguably either worsened or exposed social and economic disparities between and within regions. Candidates all promise to address these disparities and recover on a level playing field. Again, the end goal is the same.
While originally a term coined to communicate a flagship party value, ‘levelling up’ now appears to represent a shared desire for fairness within and across UK regions. But I’ll level with you – even if they’re all vying for the same outcomes, there can only be one winning version of that vision. Party lines are sure to be firmly drawn when results are declared after 6 May.
Roxanne Blake is a senior account executive at Camargue