Truck man is the new Mondeo man in British politics

For years, in rural and semi-rural areas of the North of England, the Land Rover Defender has been King of the road.  You would often see them trundling around, some bearing a sticker saying, ‘one life – live it’ or my personal favourite ‘One wife – Livid’.  The Defender culture represents the pioneering spirit of the North.  The combination of low-cost parts and the ‘built by Land Rover, improved by me’ approach appeals to people who love its spirit of self-reliance.  The pioneer spirit of the North is born out of a similar yearning for self-determination and self-improvement.  There is a sense that having been forgotten by the rest of the country, especially by our self-appointed overlords in London, through hard work we can still make our own luck. 

When Land Rover announced that they would cease production of this classic, due to environmental concerns, prices of the Defender rocketed. It’s not that Northerners don’t care about the environment, although you are more likely to see someone driving an electric vehicle in some areas of the North putting milk bottles on your door step than on the way to the office, but that the Defender is an icon to which many aspire. Currently even the roughest examples are going for thousands and before lockdown you could stand at the bar of most pubs in the North and hear grumbling about how the ‘Hunter Welly’ brigade had taken over the market.  But as Defenders have been priced off the road, many have shifted to the humble pickup truck as a replacement. 

I know this only too well, as after owning nine Land Rovers in my car career, a couple of years ago I moved to a pickup myself.  My bright yellow Ford Ranger was previously owned by a local authority and unlike my Land Rovers, the only modification I have made is the removal of the yellow strobe light from the roof.  This sad loss was at my wife’s insistence.  Pick-up trucks now can be seen with ubiquity on Northern roads and now seem more popular than the fast disappearing classic Defender.  Part of this is due to their favourable tax treatment by the Treasury. With room for your tools and four seats for the family it’s a winner with the self-employed. 

Politicians love to talk about appealing to white van man, but in the North the pickup is the new king. In the same way that ‘Mondeo man’ in the South propelled Tony Blair to three election victories in the 90s, it is the ‘Truck man’ of the North that the Chancellor must appeal to at this budget if the Government is to hold the Red Wall at the next General Election.  If Truck man, or Truck woman for that matter, has a pledge card for the Budget, keeping the cost of living low will be at the top.  To do this we must retain the weekly twenty-pound universal credit top-up. As an in-work benefit, it has been a huge help for families across the North during Covid, but it is now cash on which household budgets rely.  Now is not the time for the Chancellor to pull the rug on the Covid Support package. 

Second on the list comes levelling up the institutions that form the fabric of our communities – the high street, local pubs and improving our schools. Truck man expects results from this Government with proof that levelling up is more than a feelgood election slogan.   He is right to be sceptical, there always seems to be an excuse not to invest in the North, yet miraculously, cash can always be found for London. During austerity, there were no new trains for the North but billions of pounds were spent on London’s Crossrail. No cash was available to support the North’s failing town centres, but we could afford to provide the ‘best shown on earth’ for the London Olympics.  And just last summer, the North had been in Tier Three for several months with no support, business grants and full fat furlough were suddenly possible again when London went into Tier Three. 

So, it’s no surprise Northerners do not buy the idea that spending in the North has to wait for better economic days ahead. Just as the radical pioneering spirit of the North is captured in the freedom of owning a 4×4 it is now also manifested by voting Conservative. The time for Truck man is now and if the Government fails to deliver on its promise the Tory Party will once again, just like the classic Land Rover Defender, become the preserve of the ‘Hunter Welly’ southern brigade.

Jake Berry is the Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen