In July the SW Co-op Party and Devon Labour Campaign Forum in Devon held their summer conference focusing on Labour’s rural policy. Speakers included Luke Pollard MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, and local members, councillors and candidates.

Opening the conference Luke Pollard MP described three crises facing Britain right now: the climate emergency, the COVID19 pandemic, and Brexit. The combination of these three will produce such economic and social shock as to prevent us ever returning to the ‘normal’ we once knew. Brexit gives us no assurances about practices and standards creating huge uncertainty for everything from trade to food quality. COVID19 has already seen 1 million people lose their jobs, unemployment not seen since the 1980s, and there will be economic consequences of both that and the spending government has made to counteract the immediate impacts of the pandemic. And the climate emergency means that we must decarbonise in only ten years, yet we have a government which is not prioritising this. Luke highlighted the need to rebuild our country on a foundation of shared Labour values – social justice, fairness and equality.

Labour is trying to work across cabinet portfolios to join up policy for a nature-led economic recovery. It’s clear that the agriculture sector will be unable to meet net zero carbon by 2030 (the NFU target is 2040 and that will be a push) which means other sectors need to compensate. Yet the government’s 2050 target makes it easy to push this issue into the long grass and it seems clear that many Tories do not understand the scale of change required.

The Labour Party would like to see tree-planting devolved to local government to enable appropriate response in terms of locations and species. The Party wants to protect EU environmental legislation such as the neonicotinoid bans which the US wants removing from post-Brexit trade deals. Labour is pushing on amendments to ensure UK food growers aren’t undercut by food grown abroad, and would like to redistribute fishing quota to the under 10m fleet, local fishers historically cut out of much of our fish stocks. Issues such as these are under threat from a Conservative government which takes rural and coastal communities for granted.

Following on from Luke, we heard from local member and former candidate, Liz Pole, on excellent member mobilisation and campaign work being done in Axminster. Rural CLPs in a sea of blue struggle to get support for campaigning activities. Labour:Coast&Country recognises that we must win in England to win the next general election. If we go to 2024 then that’s four years to build capacity in rural CLPs and develop winning campaigns. Sharing good practice in this way is vital to that effort. You can contact Liz for a copy of the presentation by emailing her: liz@lizforlabour.org.

The final speaker was Adam Powell, parish councillor and farmer, highlighting the importance of soil health for food production and the need for us to become soil stewards. Following this there was a panel Q&A which covered a broad range of issues such as fishing policy, housing (low carbon and rural), electric vehicles and infrastructure, public transport and rural dependency upon it.

The conference was an important opportunity to hear from our Labour representation in the region, and to discuss some of the more pressing contemporary issues facing rural communities. The final thoughts from Luke were so important: Remember the Tories said they would do whatever it takes to bring the nation through COVID. We mustn’t forget that as furlough payments come to an end, jobs are lost, companies go bust, rural bus services are scrapped, and our food standards are thrown away to court the US. Labour must have a candidate in every ward to give voters the chance to voice their concern about the direction of travel.

One of the most effective ways to address these challenges is to work together locally to create the services we need. This is the ethos of the Co-operative Party and Labour members might also be interested in signing up to the Co-op Party: https://party.coop/join/.

Cllr Pam Buchan | LCC Director, Plymouth City Councillor and Co-op Party member.

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