A Conservative MP has laid into Boris Johnson's government over its record on helping vulnerable children, accusing it of "failing young people" .
Christian Wakeford, the MP for Bury South, said "toxic, tribal politics" and different government departments being pitted against each other to scrabble over resources meant the prime minister's "levelling up" agenda was in danger of failing the north of England.
Wakeford told the Bright Blue and Poverty2Solutions event at the Conservative Party conference: “We’re failing our young people, we are failing their future.
“What are we doing about the health impact on our children?
"If you’re not in the right state of mind to be learning, catch-up lessons are pointless.
"We need a more holistic view on what we’re doing for our young people.”
Wakeford is part of a cohort of Tory MPs who won seats in traditionally Labour heartlands, dubbed the “Red Wall”, in 2019 and helped deliver Johnson’s thumping majority.
However, they have also become increasingly frustrated with the government's policies – particularly with regards to financial support for their regions, and cuts to benefits.
Recent polling has shown that voters who defected from Labour may already becoming disillusioned with the Conservative Party, with a survey on Monday suggesting the party would lose up to 32 Red Wall seats to Labour if an election were held tomorrow.
The "Northern Research Group", a group of 50 Conservative Red Wall MPs, wrote to Johnson in 2020 demanding a post-COVID economic recovery plan for their regions.
“[We are concerned] that the cost of COVID could be paid for by the downgrading of the levelling up agenda, and northern constituencies like ours will be left behind,” they wrote in their letter.
“We believe this would threaten to undermine the government’s hard-won mandate in December .”
Wakeford criticised the relationship between local and central government, saying the government are “crap” at working together.
“You have DWP saying this is our budget, then you’ve got Education saying this is our budget, and it’s almost like a competition on who can hold on to the most rather than how can we work better together,” he said.
“Compromise is not a dirty word.”
'Tribal politics has got so toxic'
Wakeford also spoke of attending a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference with two trade unionists and the left-wing Labour MP Barry Gardiner.
"It was weird,” he said.
“But that is what compromise looks like – that is what a meaningful adult conversation looks like.”
He added: “Tribal politics has got so toxic in the last six years pre-Brexit… we need to work together otherwise we aren’t going to achieve anything.”
He also said that he would be happy to work with Andy Burnham and Marcus Rashford on social issues concerning child poverty, echoing the Manchester United footballer and saying “it’s never the child’s fault.”
“I don’t care who I work with as long as I get where I want to,” he said. “If that means working with Andy Burnham, fine… if that means working with Marcus Rashford, fine.”
Manchester mayor Burnham and Rashford have been thorns in the side of the government during the pandemic.
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In autumn 2020, Burnham lambasted the government over what he said was a lack of fair support for the North.
He refused to lock down his region without further financial support – a move that earned him the name “King in the North”.
Last year, Rashford launched a successful campaign to secure a U-turn on the government’s plans to end free school meals for children in low-income families during the school holidays.
Rashford has also spoken out against the government’s cut to Universal Credit, something also echoed by Wakeford.
The uplift, introduced as a response to the pandemic, is to be scrapped this week, leaving those receiving the benefit with £20 less per week – a cut of around £6bn across the country, although chancellor Rishi Sunak has also announced a £500m investment to help people into work.
“It’s absolutely the wrong time to even be thinking about it,” Wakeford said, citing the end of the furlough scheme, the fuel crisis, and the rising price of food.
“There’s [a fiscal] argument for [cutting Universal Credit but] it’s just clearly the wrong time. I don’t necessarily agree with taking it away in its entirety, anyway. It’s wrong.”
Wakeford also said lessons have not been learned over the course of the past decade years of consecutive Conservative governments.
“In short, we’ve not learnt the lessons of 11 years in parliament,” he said. “We had a prime opportunity for our 10-year anniversary [of winning in 2010] to revisit… we didn’t.
“We keep talking about all these fantastic strategies moving forward, but 18 months later there’s not a pen to paper that has been put forward.”
He added: “We just need to do something about it, from a public health perspective, education perspective.
“The fact we’re having this discussion now is something to be very depressed about, it’s not rocket science.”
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