Society

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‘The Country has Noticed the Conservatives’ Lack of Levelling Up’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/03/2024 - 8:45pm in

The Government could have used Boris Johnson's 'levelling up’ project not just to transform Britain’s regions, towns and poorer cities, but also to redraw the political map of the UK. That it has failed spectacularly to do both is a key reason why it is now facing political oblivion and why the Conservative Party will find it hard to rebuild public support. 

In 2019, levelling up was a masterstroke. Even then, the public was well aware that a decade of under-investment had damaged public services and made inequality between and within regions ever more stark. 

Johnson’s pledge to level up the UK – combined with specific promises to increase the number of nurses, doctors, police offices and hospitals – signalled a radical change from the policy of austerity pursued by his predecessors. 

Had Johnson been true to his word, levelling up could have transformed Britain’s regions, investment could have poured into regional transport and other infrastructure, and the NHS and other public services could have full quotas of staff instead of record shortages. 

Instead, as we approach another general election, the failure of levelling up has been made clear in a report published by the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee last week. 

As of last September, it found that local authorities had spent only £1.24 billion of the £10.47 billion the Government promised to tackle regional inequality across the UK. 

Crucially, the committee found that the Government has nothing in place to measure this policy’s impact in the long term. In other words, as has been pointed out, there is “no compelling evidence” that levelling up has achieved anything.

As recently as 2022, the Government were talking up the transformative impact of levelling up.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said in 2022 that the economic prize was potentially huge: “If under-performing places were levelled up towards the UK average, unlocking their potential, this could boost aggregate UK GDP by tens of billions of pounds each year.”

The disconnect between this rhetoric and the reality could not be more stark.

Since 2010-11, local authorities have experienced a 27% real-terms cut in core spending power due to reduced central government funding. Eight of the 317 English local authorities have effectively declared bankruptcy since 2018.

In the most egregious example, Birmingham City Council – Europe’s largest local authority – is to severely reduce or do away with a swathe of council services in pursuit of savings of about £300 million. This is the deepest programme of local cuts ever put through by a UK council.

Cuts will impact some of the most vulnerable groups in Birmingham. Spending on children will be cut by millions, including cuts to an early help service that helps families in crisis and to transport for children aged over 16 who have special educational needs. 

Youth services will be almost halved. Spending on the arts will now be zero. Eleven community centres are being sold off. Highway maintenance, street lighting, recycling, bin collection, and street cleaning suffer. Yet residents face an increase to council tax of 21% by 2026 – a cruel fate for residents facing years of cuts to what, for many, have been essential services. 

But it isn’t just Birmingham. In 2019, the entire country was promised increased investment, public services, and a restoration of the kind of public realm the Conservatives had dismantled over the previous decade.

What the public has received is more of the same – austerity and higher taxes from the Government and, in many cases, cash-strapped local councils. 

This is one of the main factors damaging the Conservatives’ poll ratings. They have wildly over promised and under delivered in a way that is obvious to anyone using public transport, the NHS, education, or other public services, or indeed anyone walking down their local high street. 

In 2019, Boris Johnson explicitly thanked Labour voters who had ‘lent him their vote’. He said “we have won votes and the trust of people who have never voted Conservative before" and that "those people want change".

"We cannot, must not, let them down," he added. "We must recognise the reality that we now speak for everyone from Woking to Workington, Clwyd South, Sedgefield [and] Wolverhampton."

He and his successors have betrayed that trust – a betrayal that will take a generation at least to overcome.

Those voters in Sedgfield, Clywd South, and Wolverhampton will not be so quick to trust a Conservative next time, whatever their policies and whoever their leader. 

But the failure of levelling up – and the prior decade of austerity that preceded it – is doing deeper harm to our politics and public realm

Resolution Foundation research shows that living with crumbling public services undermines people’s trust in the ability of the state to effect change for the better, whoever is in power. 

“This isn’t a small problem,” says the Resolution Foundation’s chief executive, Torsten Bell. “Change requires citizens to imagine a better future so they can embrace the disruption involved in getting there.”

This warning is consistent with wider research looking across 166 elections post-1980. It found that austerity measures tend to reduce voter turnout but also boost votes for non-mainstream parties – hence, at least in part, explaining last decade’s UKIP popularity and the more recent rise of Reform. 

Labour’s task, if as expected it wins a sizeable majority in the next election, will be not just one of rebuilding public services, but of rebuilding faith that politics can make a real difference to lives and communities. 

Art and Action: Benjamin Zephaniah in Conversation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 31/08/2021 - 4:49pm in

Part of the Humanities Cultural Programme, one of the founding stones for the future Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities. In his autobiography, The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah (2018), award-winning poet, lyricist, musician, and activist Benjamin Zephaniah speaks out candidly about the writer’s responsibility to step outside the medium of literature and engage in political activism: “You can’t just be a poet or writer and say your activism is simply writing about these things; you have to do something as well, especially if your public profile can be put to good use.” In conversation with Elleke Boehmer and Malachi McIntosh, he will address the complex relationship of authorship and activism in a celebrity-driven media culture and the ways in which his celebrity persona relates to his activist agenda. The conversation will tie in with contemporary debates about the role of literature and the celebrity author as a social commentator.

Pre-recorded introduction:

Elleke Boehmer is Professor of World Literature in English at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She is the author and editor of over twenty books, including Colonial and Postcolonial Literature (1995, 2005), Empire, the National and the Postcolonial: Resistance in Interaction (2002), Stories of Women (2005), Indian Arrivals 1870-1915: Networks of British Empire (2015), Postcolonial Poetics: 21st-century critical readings (2018), and a widely translated biography of Nelson Mandela (2008). She is the award-winning author of five novels, including Bloodlines (2000), Nile Baby (2008), and The Shouting in the Dark (2015), and two collections of short stories, most recently To the Volcano, and other stories (2019). Boehmer is the Director of the Oxford Centre for Life Writing and principal investigator of Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds.

Speakers:

Benjamin Zephaniah is one of Britain’s most eminent contemporary poets, best known for his compelling spoken-word and recorded performances. An award-winning playwright, novelist, children’s author, and musician, he is also a committed political activist and outspoken campaigner for human and animal rights. He appears regularly on radio and TV, literary festivals, and has also taken part in plays and films. He continues to record and perform with his reggae band, recently releasing the album Revolutionary Minds. His autobiography, The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah (2018), was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award.

Malachi McIntosh is editor and publishing director of Wasafiri. He previously co-led the Runnymede Trust’s award-winning Our Migration Story project and spent four years as a lecturer in postcolonial literature at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of Emigration and Caribbean Literature (2015) and the editor of Beyond Calypso: Re-Reading Samuel Selvon (2016). His fiction and non-fiction have been published widely, including in the Caribbean Review of Books, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, The Guardian, The Journal of Romance Studies, Research in African Literatures, and The Cambridge Companion to British Black and Asian Literature.

Q and A Chaired by Professor Wes Williams, TORCH Director.

The event is organised in association with the Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds project and The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW) and forms part of the webinar series Art and Action: Literary Authorship, Politics, and Celebrity Culture.

Me and My Beliefs: Challenges of Identity and Society

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/12/2017 - 1:54am in

Me and My Beliefs: Challenges of Identity and Society held on 28 November 2017 Bishop Libby Lane is Britain’s first woman bishop in the Church of England. In this talk - Me and My Beliefs: Challenges of Identity and Society - Bishop Libby explores the pathway that brought her to this position and addresses an area of identity not always covered in diversity debates. A panel of prominent speakers joins her in discussing what it means to be a person of faith in Britain today and impacts on diversity.
On the panel:
Jas' Elsner (Professor of Late Antique Art, Faculty of Classics, University of Oxford and project lead on Empires of Faith). Shaista Aziz (freelance journalist and writer. Founder of The Everyday Bigotry Project).
This event was chaired by Elleke Boehmer (Professor in World Literatures in English, University of Oxford)

The Spirits of Crossbones Graveyard

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/02/2017 - 4:27am in

The book's author Sondra Hausner (Professor of Anthropology, University of Oxford) will explore the issues raised in her book. Every month, a ragtag group of Londoners gather in the site known as Crossbones Graveyard to commemorate the souls of medieval prostitutes believed to be buried there—the “Winchester Geese,” women who were under the protection of the Church but denied Christian burial. In the Borough of Southwark, not far from Shakespeare's Globe, is a pilgrimage site for self-identified misfits, nonconformists, and contemporary sex workers who leave memorials to the outcast dead. Ceremonies combining raucous humor and eclectic spirituality are led by a local playwright, John Constable, also known as John Crow. His interpretation of the history of the site has struck a chord with many who feel alienated in present-day London. Sondra L. Hausner offers a nuanced ethnography of Crossbones that tacks between past and present to look at the historical practices of sex work, the relation of the Church to these professions, and their representation in the present. She draws on anthropological approaches to ritual and time to understand the forms of spiritual healing conveyed by the Crossbones rites. She shows that ritual is a way of creating the present by mobilizing the stories of the past for contemporary purposes.

The book's author Sondra Hausner (Professor of Anthropology, University of Oxford) will explore the issues raised with:
Bridget Anderson (Professor of Migration and Citizenship, University of Oxford)
Diane Watt (Professor of Medieval Literature, University of Surrey)
Chair: Antonia Fitzpatrick (Departmental Lecturer in History, University of Oxford)

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