North to get new minister. Maybe

All three final candidates in the Conservative Party leadership race have promised more devolution and a Minister for the North, according to a report in the online newsletter PoliticsHome.

The pledges came when Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt and Liz Truss took questions at a hustings attended by about 50 members of the Northern Research Group (NRG) of Tory MPs.

Jake Berry, chair of the NRG and MP for Rossendale and Darwen, said after the meeting that all three remaining candidates were ‘absolutely clear that levelling up will be at the heart of the next government.’

According to PoliticsHome, all three candidates have signed up to the NRG’s levelling-up pledges, which include a commitment to a new Minister for the North, more devolution, a levelling-up ‘formula’ to ensure left-behind areas receive the government funding they need, and two new vocational colleges.

Jake Berry was himself Minister of State for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth until 2020. With the government in a state of transition, no one appears to hold a Minister for the North post at present, though there is still a Minister for London..

Between 2007 and 2010 under the Labour Government, the North East had its own regional minister, Nick Brown, MP for Newcastle East.

COMMENT

News that all three Conservative leadership candidates have promised more devolution and a Minister for the North is welcome in as far as it goes, which is not very far.

The pledges have been made in the heat of an election campaign to an audience they were calculated to please. Given the current state of distrust in politics it is quite possible that they will not become reality.

In particular, the next round in the contest, after the candidates are whittled down to two this afternoon, will be a competition for rank-and-file members of the Conservative Party, many of them are in the south of England.

Promises to northern MPs may well be diluted or even abandoned when the task is to gain votes from party members in the south.

And even if at the end of the process there is a new Minister the North and more devolution, questions remain. What powers will the new minister have? What is the new ‘levelling-up formula?’ What is meant by ‘the government funding they [left-behind areas] need?’

There is still most a summer to go, and probably much of an autumn too, before we know the answers to questions like those.