The Labour:Coast&Country team
In much of our engagement for the NPF we have found that many citizens of coast and country communities are frustrated at being unheard, at being done to. They would like, and we would argue they need, a voice. A voice in the political and policy choices made for them and their communities.
As a Party seeking to win the country to govern the country, there is clearly an opportunity to be gained from giving these communities a voice in our policy process; goodness knows the Tories don’t in theirs. And voters are noticing that gap, so here’s our chance to show them what Labour can do, when so many of their issues are those we already campaign on in places we already represent.
Many of these voters will decide marginal seats across the country. Labour’s electoral position, and ability to govern, will both be enhanced by a manifesto that can speak to communities of coast and country as well as those of city.
With more people living rurally than in Greater London both country and coastal communities have a surprisingly small and limited political voice. As just one example, imagine how much sooner the sewage scandal would have been headline news if collectively coastal communities had a mayor of the standing of Mayors Khan or Burnham? And perhaps imagine whether there would even have been a referendum in 2016, if more of these voices had been heard sooner and more often….
Our deliberative engagements with the growing Community, Parish and Town Network (developed with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust), and wider Labour COAST&COUNTRY network, suggests two key steps that will help Labour take this opportunity and use it as a building block to a second term.
The first is the recognition of the importance of devolution to towns, highlighted in the Brown Commission. If every town had a more robust Town Council, then every town would be more capable of taking action to improve its place, with and for its community. In England their importance, and Parish Councils, will only increase as on the one hand much of County and District local government become unitary, and on the other more communities have to deal with collective challenges, from the cost of living to climate action. These nearest councils can be the universal glue that binds communities and helps them pull through.
In the Taking Back Control Bill Labour should commit to reviewing the powers and geography of Town and Parish Councils in England; with due regard to the devolved settlement (and Community Councils) in Scotland and Wales.
Second, Labour should reform its own constitution to give a voice to these communities, places we don’t always represent yet want to represent. We think a good way to do that would be to have dedicated seats on Regional Boards chosen from among Party members who are Parish or Town councillors in that region. This will give those communities some voice, and help the Party organise for coast, country and city. You can read more here.
We hope for a successful NPF, one that recognizes the needs of these communities we seek to represent as much as those we already represent; where amendments help empower the nearest councils to these communities, supporting them all to Take Back Control, allowing them to thrive, with good connectivity (buses and digital) and the right powers to build their contribution to a sustainable economy.