Three years ago in Progress I wrote about the need for what we would now call One Nation Labour. Welcome as this approach is, I remain unconvinced that we have a coherent rural and coastal programme to campaign on, that makes the new brand credible.
Whilst the Tories take their rural heartlands for granted, and ideologically reject non-market solutions, these areas feel on the periphery. They feel on the edge physically, economically, and in social policy. Without the volume of consumers, services are unviable and the market increasingly just delivers retirement and second home communities.
Labour is the party that believes that where the market isn’t working, and social injustice follows, we should intervene. However rural areas are too often on Labour’s emotional periphery. And yet the powerlessness, misery and injustice of rural poverty in Britain is as profound as anything in our urban areas.
So it should be no surprise that many in peripheral areas feel that none of the major parties offer any solutions. The cost of living means they are living on the edge financially as well as geographically. But it need not be like this.
We are now living through a technological revolution that is redefining geography. Industrialisation, and urbanisation, were driven by the new ways of connecting people by canal, then rail and then road. The digital revolution is also about connectivity and collaboration. We now have to realise this opportunity in public policy.
Some of our cities are shrinking. As this BBC article discussed, some of the iconic cities of the industrial age in the Mid-West, like Detroit, are unviable in the post-industrial age. They are being reclaimed by nature. Industrial pollution saw off beavers from the Detroit river two hundred years after the city was founded as a centre for the beaver skin trade. But fast forward another hundred years to today, less manufacturing means less pollution – and now the beavers are back.
By contrast, London increases in size by two double decker busloads of people each day. It cannot cope. Should we not be looking at how the new connectivity revolution can revitalise our rural areas as places for families to live and work, and thereby reduce pressures on our cities? Including making the Department for Transport the department for connecting people online as well as offline?
If we can change the culture of presence in our offices, as Dave Coplin discusses in this animated RSA talk, and measure productivity on output instead, then we could work wherever is convenient. If rail franchises included mandating a three day a week season ticket, some would choose to work from home or the town coffee shop instead. Mutual workspaces could be incentivised with great connectivity, video conferencing and fabulous coffee. Suddenly less pressure on the railways, on the cities, and a more viable rural economy.
We need to paint a compelling picture of change and hope. We are all working, shopping, and socialising in new ways. Equally there are new ways of doing things in government for neglected rural and coastal areas. Labour has to deliver on the politics of the periphery.
Jim Knight is a Labour peer, a former rural affairs minister and co-founder of Labour Coast and Country. See more at: http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2014/06/27/delivering-on-the-politics-of-the-periphery/#sthash.1WQk5TOG.dpufThe views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Labour: Coast & Country.