Energy crisis: Red Wall MPs may feel ‘betrayed’
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Boris Johnson, 57, has come under pressure to deliver on his commitment to level-up the United Kingdom, especially following the decision to cut the Universal Credit uplift and raise National Insurance contributions. In his 45-minute conference concluding speech in Manchester last week, the Prime Minister promised to “get on with our job of uniting and levelling up across the UK – the greatest project that any Government can embark on”.
Jacob Young, 28, overturned Labour’s 9,485-vote majority to become the first Conservative to represent residents in Redcar since 1959 – but since he was elected to the House of Commons in 2019, the Tory Party’s lead in the so-called Red Wall has collapsed.
A recent YouGov MRP poll found Labour could claw back up to 32 seats in the Brexit-backing constituencies that stretch from Delyn to North West Durham.
The poll also indicated Mr Young’s Teesside seat would emphatically fall back into Labour hands, with Labour reversing the Tories’ 9 percent majority to win by an enormous 23 percent.
Despite opinion polls suggesting he would lose, Redcar’s Red Wall MP defended Mr Johnson’s record on levelling-up.
He told Express.co.uk: “When anybody tells me that levelling up is just a slogan, I tell them to come to Teesside and see what it looks like in action.
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“Under Conservative leadership, we’re creating the UK’s largest freeport, attracting the new green industries like GE Renewables that will bring tens of thousands of new, highly-paying jobs to the area.”
He added: “Voters in the region know exactly what levelling-up means – the transformation of Teeside is there for all to see. That is why 73 percent of Teessider’s re-elected Ben Houchen as their regional mayor.”
However, when pushed on why the polls suggest Conservative Party support in the Red Wall has been eroded, the Redcar MP said the Government’s attempts to respond to COVID-19 ensured voters had become “somewhat fatigued”.
A significant shift in the opinion polls came after the Prime Minister decided to hike National Insurance contributions by 1.25 percent, a measure Mr Young voted in favour of.
Jake Berry, a former Johnson ally and head of the Conservatives’ Northern Research Group, warned such measures could see Tory support in the Red Wall take another hit.
He wrote in the Sunday Express: “This problem will get worse with the double whammy of the reversal of the temporary £20 per week Universal Credit uplift and an increase in National Insurance for every worker next April.”
But in defence of the Prime Minister’s policies, Mr Young told Express.co.uk: “As Covid measures come to an end, it follows that the temporary [Universal Credit] uplift should come to an end as well.
“If we were to extend the uplift indefinitely, it would cost upwards of £6billion a year. There’s only two ways of paying for that – taxes or higher borrowing and further borrowing just means higher taxes in the future.”
Unsurprisingly, figures from the Labour Party and Reform UK were far from convinced by the Prime Minister’s conference day speech on levelling-up.
Ex-Labour MP James Frith, 44, who lost his Brexit-backing seat of Bury North by just 105-votes in 2019, told Express.co.uk: “[The Prime Minister’s] speech to conference today offered nothing to improving everyday life and living in Bury or Britain.”
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Mr Frith, who suggested Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership hampered Labour’s chances in Britain’s Brexit election, added: “[Boris Johnson] loves the capital spending he can point at but this won’t be felt or believed to be levelling-up by millions who have seen their wages shrink in real terms, inflation rise and for the 5000-plus kids pushed into poverty by the Universal Credit cut launched on the same day he took to the podium for his annual clownery.”
But even though Mr Frith claimed “Johnson is exposed” and said Sir Keir Starmer “won’t worry” about the Prime Minister’s levelling-up speech, he was keen to stress the Labour leader needs to do more to “connect emotionally with the electorate”.
“Our conference was a good start by simply not being the Tories or finally recovering from ‘Long-Corbyn’ isn’t enough,” he said.
Alan Graves, a Reform councillor in Derby and a former Brexit Party general election candidate, claimed that although there is a “long road” ahead for Mr Tice’s party, it does have “the policies and ability to attract common-sense voters”.
When asked by Express.co.uk what he thought Red Wall voters would have made of the Prime Minister’s speech, he said: “I don’t think most Red Wall seat voters listened to it.”
He added: “Low and average paid working people are starting to be punished by the Conservatives through higher taxation.”
But the Reform councillor, who obtained 17.7 percent of the vote as a UKIP candidate in the Tory seat of South Derbyshire in 2015, also issued a stern warning to Starmer’s Labour Party.
“The trust of traditional Labour voters has been broken,” he said.
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