Levelling Up was first unveiled in the 2019 Conservative Party Manifesto with the goal of the policy being to bring an end to regional inequality within the UK by spreading economic opportunities more evenly throughout the country. This promise of greater investment in northern and midland communities—together with a promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’—helped win the Conservatives many seats in Labour’s traditional ‘Red Wall’ heartlands.
However, Levelling Up was always ambiguous in scope and timescale. Now, despite appeals from some of his own MPs, it appears that Rishi Sunak has jettisoned much of the policy altogether. When the Prime Minister announced his ‘Five Key Priorities’ for 2023 in January, Levelling Up was left conspicuously off the list, a decision criticised by allies of Boris Johnson.
With the next election only a year away, we at Redfield and Wilton Strategies find that a plurality of British voters are dissatisfied with the Government’s performance on Levelling Up and are more likely to trust the Labour Party on this policy area.
Crucially, in the ‘Red Wall’ constituencies at which Levelling Up was explicitly targeted, a majority of voters consistently say they do not feel like the Government has been making a clear effort to ‘Level Up’ their area.
Nationwide, voters give the Government’s performance on Levelling Up a net approval rating of -16%, with 24% approving and a plurality (40%) disapproving. These numbers have held relatively steady since February.
Disapproval is even higher in the Red Wall.
Only 18% of Red Wall voters—including just 26% of those who voted Conservative in 2019—approve of the Government’s performance on ‘Levelling Up,’ against 46% of all Red Wall voters who disapprove.
At present, Red Wall voters say they simply do not see enough Government action on ‘Levelling Up.’
61% of Red Wall voters say they feel like the Government has been making no clear effort to level up the area in which they live, a figure that has remained around 60% for most of the past twelve months. 55% of 2019 Red Wall Conservative voters feel likewise. Only 18% of Red Wall voters think the Government has been making a clear effort to do so.
When asked the extent to which they trust the Conservative Party to ‘level up’ the area they live in, a majority (52%) of Red Wall voters say they do not trust the Conservatives at all to deliver on Levelling Up, with that number including 38% of Conservative voters in the 2019 election.
In fact, in comparison to all other policy areas prompted, voters in the Red Wall least trust the Conservative Party to deliver on Levelling Up.
When asked which party they trust most to deliver on Levelling Up voters both nationwide and in the Red Wall choose Labour over the Conservatives.
Nationally, Labour has been the most trusted party on Levelling Up in every poll since September 2022, currently holding a 13-point lead over the Conservatives on the issue (33% vs 20%). In the Red Wall, Labour now holds a 19-point advantage (35% vs 16%) having led the Conservatives on this question in every poll since we started our Red Wall tracker last June.
Ultimately, when voters in the Red Wall are asked if Levelling Up has been a success or failure, a plurality (47%) say it has been a failure, while only 10% say it has been a success. Among 2019 Conservative voters, 43% now judge Levelling Up to be a failure, while only 13% deem it a success.
In truth, as we wrote a year ago, Levelling Up was always something of an empty slogan, a vague idea of increased investment for northern communities rather than a concrete set of policy proposals. Now, taking into consideration the responses of British voters in general, and Red Wall voters in particular, the Government’s chance to prove Levelling Up has been a success is clearly gone.