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Michael Gove made light of his nightclub dancing exploits before insisting levelling up means helping everyone “live their best life”.
The Communities Secretary was caught on camera throwing shapes on the dancefloor during a summer visit to the Pipe club night in Aberdeen.
With Abba’s Dancing Queen played in the auditorium before he arrived on stage at Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mr Gove opened by saying: “Here we are – bright lights, great atmosphere, enthusiastic young people.
“It reminds me of my last night out on the town in Aberdeen – dance like nobody’s watching they say.
“Well I did, but they were watching.
“And I know many people have recently been asking why a middle-aged man spent more than an hour non-stop unleashing a series of wildly unco-ordinated gestures in front of a bewildered audience, who were left wondering if this was some sort of bizarre attempt to go back to the ’80s.
“But enough of Keir Starmer’s conference speech.”
Mr Gove then made an attempt to explain what the “levelling-up” slogan actually means.
He initially highlighted the work of former Tory prime ministers Benjamin Disraeli and Margaret Thatcher in trying to improve people’s lives.
Mr Gove, who leads the new Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, told party members: “Never let anyone claim that levelling up and wanting all our children to grow tall is a left-wing idea.
“The left want to keep people in their place so that minorities can be patronised, the country can be polarised and ambition is paralysed.
“We want everyone to have the chance to choose their own future, to own their own home, to walk the streets in safety and to live their best life.”
Mr Gove added the slogan also means four things.
He said: “We want to strengthen local leadership to drive real change.
“We will raise living standards, especially where they are lower.
“We will improve public services, especially where they are weaker.
“And we will give people the resources necessary to enhance the pride they feel in the place they live.
“And if you want to see all four in action and see levelling up in reality come to Teesside.”
Mr Gove’s speech was light on specific policy details for the Government’s levelling-up agenda.
He stated his department would be focused on investing in urban regeneration, new homes on brownfield sites and helping more renters to own their own properties.
Local government will also be “empowered”, Mr Gove added.
Speaking later in the to a fringe event hosted by Midlands Engine, Mr Gove said he wanted to see improvements in “living standards for everyone, and not just in the hearts of our major cities and in the clusters around universities”.
He said central government would help give local leaders the tools they need, and described levelling up in terms of improving public services, education, and tackling crime and anti-social behaviour.
And Mr Gove said he saw a slogan on a wall in a further education college, “which seemed to me to some up the spirit of levelling up, it said, ‘stay local and go far’.
He added: “The places where we’ve grown up, the places that we love, the places where our families live, these are the places that we want to see succeed. That has been the principle behind the Midlands engine, that’s the approach that we’re taking through levelling up.”