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Opinion

Paul McNamee: When real life meets soundbites

If Boris Johnson is actually serious about ‘levelling up’, he’d best get on with explaining how, and then doing it. Because there is nobody left to blame

Computer gaming has always been another country to me. I’ve never been taken by any aspect of it. I understand that gamers can get hooked and lose hours and days down rabbit holes. But the switch has never flicked.

I don’t believe Boris Johnson is a devoted gamer either. Given his appetites and rumoured peccadilloes, I can’t imagine him lost in a Call of Duty binge. Which is why his repeated pledge to ‘level up’ Britain rings hollow.

For a start, it’s meaningless. I know Boris Johnson likes to roll out broad and fairly meaningless epithets, but really, what’s he talking about this time? Getting a new phaser?

If Johnson is to really direct Britain to some shining new uplands, he needs to get beyond slogans and actually do something meaningful

If we give him the benefit of the doubt and we do attach actual meaning to it, let’s assume that he’s insisting he can deliver a bright future lifting the nation above the current place we find ourselves in. By implication, others, some ne’er-do-wells, have left us on the rack. Given that Boris Johnson and his party have been in power for 10 years, it’s a neat trick to be responsible for something, blame some other non-specific grouping, then claim you’re the very boys to sort the mess out.

As Brexit has happened/is about to happen for real on December 31/will keep us lashed to the mast of socio-economic and political uncertainty for at least 10 years, if Boris Johnson is actually serious about ‘levelling up’, he’d best get on with explaining how, and then doing it. Because there is nobody left to blame.

If he means uniting Britain in a One Nation future, he needs to involve the devolved nations, and opposition parties, in future planning talks. He may lead the party of government, but what will be agreed goes beyond party allegiances. To keep others shut out will only increase resentment, a sense of disenfranchisement and ultimately lead to further splits. Besides, there isn’t exactly a surfeit of political top rankers in the current Cabinet.

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He needs to sort out infrastructure too. The debate over Huawei and its licence to operate in the UK is missing a key point. The under-investment and lack of preparedness for years at a governmental level has left Britain reliant on overseas investment, frequently from state-owned entities. There is an overplayed opposition to public ownership in Britain. The idea that it is some kind of creaking, communist means of allowing statist overlords in and that it will lead to a collapse in how we live has been ground into the collective subconscious. But we remain happy to accept it from others.

Hinkley C nuclear power station is currently under construction in Somerset. Regardless of the arguments around a nuclear source as opposed to other energy production, it’s obvious we need to meet demand. However, the £20bn construction cost is being met largely by EDF, a French company owned by the French state, and China General Nuclear Power Group, owned by the Chinese government.

Northern Rail, which has failed so much it is finally coming under state control, had been run by Arriva, who are owned by Deutsche Bahn, a company part-owned by the German government.

The idea of taking back control is more complex than a simple soundbite. Who’d a thunk it?

Beyond the nuts and bolts of keeping the lights on and the trains running, there are problems with the funding of the justice system and of prisons. There are systemic issues with Universal Credit and the destructive impact on the lives of many – including, increasingly, the working poor. And it will take more to fix growing rough-sleeping numbers than untruths from Boris Johnson claiming numbers are dropping rather than rising.

If Johnson is to really direct Britain to some shining new uplands, he needs to get beyond slogans and actually do something meaningful.

The Big Issue and the Future Generations plan is ready and awaiting his call.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue

Image: Darren Staples/Getty Images

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