IN America, they call it pork barrel politics. Here you could call it vote-rigging. The Levelling Up Fund – the last vestige of Boris Johnson’s disgraced regime – is being used as a Tory pre-election bribe, a blatant party political inducement, and they’re doing it in plain sight.

Labour’s Chris Bryant called it out saying: “The Levelling Up Fund is fundamentally corrupt because it is discretionary and competitive. It doesn’t allocate on the basis of need. It is politically biased because Tory MPs are secretly briefed about it and funds are allocated by party affiliation.”

There will be no money for Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester or Liverpool, but they are giving £19 million to leafy Richmond in Yorkshire – which by coincidence is Rishi Sunak’s constituency.

Lisa Nandy described the allocations system as a “Hunger Games-style contest” that pitted communities against one another and where Whitehall ministers picked winners and losers from the funding bids.

“The Levelling Up Fund is in chaos, beset by delays and allegations of favouritism – 15 months after the first round of allocations, just 5% of the money has made it to the communities who were promised it,” she said.

Nandy added: “It takes an extraordinary arrogance to expect us to be grateful for a partial refund on the money they have stripped out of our communities, which has decimated vital local services like childcare, buses and social care.”

The whole process is one which has created a “begging bowl” culture, in which regions and communities that have billions of funds slashed over years are then asked to compete for replacement funds of a far reduced level. The driving force behind the idea is, you’ll remember, supposed to make up for the cut of more than 20% in local government spending during a decade of austerity.

Diane Abbott MP said: “I welcome the £19m grant from central government to Hackney as part of the Levelling Up Fund. But this is a tiny fraction of the cuts imposed by Tory governments since 2010.

“There is nothing praiseworthy or progressive about Tory local government funding.”

But it’s worse than a funding sleight of hand, it’s actually redistributive from poor communities to the wealthy.

Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council, has said: “We’ve been analysing today’s so-called levelling up outcomes. In short, it’s nothing of the sort. It takes money away from deprived urban areas to give to wealthy towns. It blatantly targets resources away from some of the most socially and economically challenged communities ... the value of levelling up projects in Scotland is £348m of which Glasgow has been awarded 3.7%. Based on our population share it should have been three times that. Based on the proportion of people living in Scotland’s most deprived communities it should be 15 times as much.”

This fraud has to be put in the context of the post-Brexit settlement (that’s a euphemism) and the ongoing Westminster power grab.

As Paul Kavanagh has written: “In Scotland, just £177m of levelling up funding is being distributed. This money will be spent on devolved issues with no input from the Scottish Parliament. Under the EU’s 2014-2020 budget, Scotland was allocated up to 944m (£827.6m) in structural funding. These funds were controlled by the Scottish Parliament.”

When the funds were announced on Thursday, MPs and council leaders called the handouts a “slap in the face” and a “disgraceful sham”. Labour and SNP MPs who lost out voiced frustration at an urgent question in Westminster this week, saying Tory areas were having “mouths stuffed with gold” and saying the process “stinks”.

The farce of the “levelling up” experience exposes not just the corruption at the heart of Westminster politics, nor the blatant impact on democracy that spirals out as a consequence of Brexit, but the structural inequality within England’s north-south divide as well.

AS the columnist Simon Jenkins has put it: “The true gulf between local and national investment in infrastructure in Britain is obscene. Levelling up’s £2.1 billion for 2023 compares with about £5bn a year spent by the Treasury on just one Johnson vanity project, the £100bn HS2 railway. How can Sunak possibly tell nurses and teachers he is short of money? HS2’s sole merit is to offer more capacity for home counties commuters into London’s Euston station.

“In any other country these would be routine spending projects decided quietly by local politicians and officials,” he writes, stating the blindingly obvious, he concludes: “It is laughable that a London official should decide if Cleethorpes needs a new seafront or Shetland a new ferry.”

I mean sure. But have you just realised that? It’s at the heart of the logic behind the call for Scottish independence that people should make decisions as close as possible to where those decisions have an impact. Following this logic the argument for decentralisation within Scotland, both now and after independence is overwhelming.

The Conservatives are morally bankrupt and deeply cynical. But more than that, they don’t care. Whether it’s levelling up or trickling down, nothing changes.

If the latest round of corruption, like an open sewer, has been an epiphany to some – “Yes look! Britain is structurally and grotesquely unequal – and the wealth flows south to where the power is!”. Why this should be a revelation to anyone after 13 years of Tory rule I’m not clear, but apparently, it is.

But here’s the thing. Scotland has an escape clause – or at least in theory, we do. But urban England, outside the Home Counties and London, do not. How do we make common cause with Rustbelt England? If we can share the analysis that decisions should be made by the people they affect, and that Britain is massively over-centralised and regionally and nationally unequal, then what flows from that is not just Scottish independence but an uprising within England against corruption and misrule.

The state of deprivation across Britain has reached epic scale, and the scale of the task to repair broken communities and to restore a viable economy is becoming incomprehensible.

But at least in staging such a naked and flagrant exercise in corruption, the Conservatives have done us all a favour and exposed not just their own moral vacuum but the crushing reality that modern Britain is inexcusably and irretrievably divided.