A warm evening and a railway station with a Betjeman poem on the platform (Pershore station, or a Liverish Journey First Class) – a very English setting from which to be picked up for an evening’s discussion with the Pershore branch of West Worcester CLP, and their guests from Evesham.
Gathering in a recently refurbished room of the Town Hall twenty or so members had come from Pershore, Evesham, Bredon and further afield, reminding us that a Labour meeting in the country is a much more complicated feat of logistics than just getting a bus, or walking in an urban setting.
After a brief introduction to the history of LCC, and some of its recent activity, the first key question of the evening was put – what are the biggest issues for your community, that you think Labour could and should address?
For these communities, the major issues are transport and housing.
For the former there are issues of the poor state of the roads; and particular concerns about the availability and accessibility of public transport. Even with a main rail connection to Worcester and to London, buses are few and far between; everyone appreciated that Jeremy Corbyn had led on buses at PMQs in the week.
Housing concerns included what is available for rent, for older people as well as for young people, and affordability; while recognising that mass developments of 500 to 1,000 homes at a time are often just dumped on a community, with little regard to integration with the existing place, building of the necessary facilities that make a community, or provision of local public services to support the doubling in size of a village. A good word is offered in favour of neighbourhood planning as a way of addressing these issues of integration and appropriate development, yet it feels that even this community-led engagement in planning can often be over-run by ‘development’ and ‘housing targets’, and even in one case the housing targets of a neighbouring county being displaced over the county border!
The NHS and health services get a mention, recognising the need to keep it local, not forcing a centralisation that then deprives people of access especially given the transport issues already mentioned; not forgetting air quality and clean air can also be a rural issue, especially if the M5 isn’t far away…. Finally, one or two other issues that shouldn’t be forgotten – poverty is prevalent here and is often overlooked, while agricultural work offers low wages and suffers a shortage of available labour.
Listening to local people, their issues and preferred solutions is a good starting point to the work of any branch or CLP, especially a growing one with new members and new opportunities. We discussed the sorts of things that could be done, drawing upon the lessons from other branches and CLPs across the country.
And then we thought ahead. May 2019 will be England’s election, nothing much urban, and no elections in Wales or Scotland (unless some hitch in Brexit demands MEPs . . . ) so what should Labour stand on in its ‘Manifesto for England”? Here’s a few thoughts:
- Labour recognises the importance of non-urban areas in re-building a successful future for the country.
- Labour recognises the individual, varied and particular nature of much of England, and will act to protect it.
- Labour will re-nationalise and regulate all of England’s bus services.
- Labour values district and local health services and will work to extend services offered as we protect the NHS.
LCC is working with the Party to create a ‘How to / collective knowledge guide’ for circulation to all those who might need it – so keep in touch, sign up, support and contribute as best befits your circumstances!
Hywel Lloyd | Co-Founder, LCC