In December’s election we heard a lot about the ‘red wall’: previously Labour-held parliamentary seats such as Workington won by the Tories.

Soon after, there was another catchphrase – ‘levelling up’: increasing prosperity in these ‘left behind’ areas.

Britain was briefly a relatively equal society so far as people’s incomes were concerned, peaking in the 1970s. Progressive post-war social and taxation policies had a lot to do with it. But the UK is now a shockingly unequal country. Some 35% of people live in areas where the average income is 10% below the national average. Going by GDP per head, half the population live in areas that are poorer than some of Eastern Europe or the US states of Mississippi and West Virginia.

What happened? Partly, it’s the direct result of Conservative governments’ drive to de-industrialise, deregulate the financial sector, cut taxes for the highest earners, curb trades unions and skew infrastructure spending to London and the South East. Low-paid, part-time, insecure jobs have mushroomed. Prosperity in constituencies like Workington has also been held back by ten years of Tory austerity resulting in low incomes (despite Labour’s historic achievement of the minimum wage) and struggling public services. Nationally, real average weekly pay is only now equal to what people earned in 2008 before the financial crash.

We now have to contend with the impacts of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, all on the watch of one of the most incompetent governments ever. Real levelling up in our constituency is desperately needed – increases in wages, skills training and skilled employment; investment in education, health and transport infrastructure; more social housing, business support and child and social care; better funded and more powerful local government. This is what it will take, not the top-down gestures, sloganising, and cronyism of this government.

There is a very hefty price tag in desperately needed, pioneering, publicly-funded works such as a Green New Deal that should be the bedrock of levelling up and the fight against mass unemployment, one that the Tories will flinch at given their free market obsessions. It’s an approach that West Cumbria, with our manufacturing expertise and energy sector, could really benefit from.

The first test will be exactly who will pay for the pandemic’s increased public spending, let alone any levelling up policies. It cannot be those surviving on the least, as it has been since 2008. Chancellor Rishi Sunak dodged that question when he cancelled the autumn budget. But to truly level up, he is going to have to risk the anger of the Tories’ natural supporters. Workington voters will not forgive the Conservatives if there is no real evidence of levelling up by the next election.