LCC committee member James Bartholomeusz reflects on rural campaigning in the 2018 local elections.
In politics as in life, there is always a balance between the principled and the pragmatic. While Labour Coast and Country was established in 2012, its roots go back into the later days of the Blair government, and then the Brown administration, reflecting our principled ambitions then that “every child matters”, and the pragmatic reality that winning coastal towns is often the difference between winning, or losing, a general election.
This was true for elections before Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, as well as the elections since. In 2014 we went as far as to say the people and communities of our coastal towns formed the “new centre ground” where “in contrast to the days of Mondeo man or Worcester woman the common factor in many of Labour’s battleground seats today is the view: a sea view – a third of the targets are coastal”.
In addition to the postcard views, coastal constituencies have many key attributes in common. They are, by definition, at the end of the line (even if they have lost the decent rail connections that they once had); they have a smaller economy by dint of their seaside aspect, and that in turn can mean they suffer from affordability problems in housing, in transport, in energy and in food.
That is why Jeremy Corbyn and shadow coastal minister Holly Lynch went to Southend this week.
Many of the people who live in coastal towns have made a big choice about where they live. In making or sticking with that bigger choice of a coastal location (whether that is for family, work or other reasons) there is a trade-off that Labour needs to understand. That trade-off typically means the loss of choices about which school your child can attend, reduced access to healthcare, and a different more limited local economy in which to work, rest and play.
The unique nature of this means Labour has to have an offer that speaks to the magnitude of these challenges. There will be no great appetite for state handouts but equally central government cannot be absent in the future of these places. This is an ideal frame for Labour to show a modern, strategic role for the state: a role that delivers affordable public services but stays focused on the reforms that will make seaside economies work for all members of their community, for working people, for the retired, and for young people growing up beyond the glow of the big city.
Given all of that, LCC welcomes the moves this week by the party leadership to take an active role in developing a new deal from Labour for the communities of coastal towns. It is also good to see MPs and shadow ministers getting out to meet people and listen to their concerns in coastal communities.
From our many and varied conversations with people in those communities there are a few things we can reiterate. Each place requires support to boost its economy. In future, local prosperity will have to be based on more than the sea, fisheries and tourism. There is too little employment in these sectors and tourism can never be more than half an answer, such are the seasons. In some cases, research suggestss that more local economic activity is lost through energy and other bills paid to distant owners than is made from incoming tourism expenditure.
So with the future economy in mind, Labour’s offer must mean coastal towns get to access the best in digital connectivity as a basic starting point.
As a next step such communities, singularly or in local groups, should be given the devolved powers we have granted our cities so they can make the most of their setting. This ought to include devolved powers over skills, local and connecting transport and public investment, not least in energy opportunities.
Locally-owned coastal energy projects are a clear opportunity to return economic output to coastal communities directly through energy generation and indirectly through ownership of those energy assets. So, for example, every coastal town should be guaranteed a stake, of perhaps 10 per cent, in any off-shore wind farm in its view. That might even help get a few more built, on the east and southern coasts of Britain.
We look forward to hearing what our shadow cabinet colleagues propose as Labour’s new offer to the communities of the coast. We have an opportunity to re-engage with these places and show we understand their concerns, as they are often the same as those of people in the cities we already represent. The party can come up with solutions that will make a real difference to the many.
Let’s make it an offer worth more than the sum of its parts.
Hywel Lloyd is co-founder of Labour Coast and Country.
This article first appeared on LabourList here.
To govern the nation well means being in touch with the realities of the whole of the nation. To have a chance of representing the nation at the very least means being present in every community – whether you see representation as just providing a voice or an elected representative.
Both can be of help to a community, particularly if they have otherwise been forgotten, either by the Tories who take them and their votes for granted, or by Labour when we write off the Tory shires.
Right now swathes of Britain are both taken for granted by this government and will be misrepresented in the negotiations over Brexit and the future direction of the country.
While some counties of England suffer from a local selective education system, there is no mandate to force such arrangements on the rest of England. While every community suffers the consequences of a health and social care system under pressure, there is no mandate for sustainability and transformation plans that close local services and centralise provision many miles from many communities. While some local authorities benefit from city deals and new powers for new mayors, there is no mandate for massive reductions in local authority grants that put many services at risk and may make some authorities barely viable.
Our opportunity to give those taken for granted people the voice they deserve will soon be upon us. On May 4 we will see country-wide with local elections taking place across Scotland, across Wales and across every part of England (other than the capital).
And let us not forget that while the party is particularly concentrated in the major cities and urban areas of Britain, more people live in areas of England that are defined as rural that live in London (9.2m compared to 8.6m).
Whichever way you view the Labour Party, as part of a wider movement, or as an electoral vehicle focussed on Parliament, one thing is clear: these elections offer the first opportunity for the resurgent Labour Party to deploy its huge membership.
With 125,00 members in London alone, this is a powerful asset for winning the council seats and combined authority mayoralties that can be the building blocks towards the next general election.
That’s why Labour: Coast and Country has proposed the Get London Out campaign – an opportunity to twin the London boroughs and their local campaigners with areas elsewhere to campaign for the English and Welsh local elections.
So if your London local campaign forum wants an opportunity to make a difference to the next national election, wants to help Labour reinforce its presence in communities across the UK, and wants to put Labour in a stronger position for 2020 then drop drop us a line and we will help connect you up.
Or you can make it happen yourselves, and directly contact a local campaign forum that makes sense to your borough. For instance, it is only 90 minutes by train from Camden to Stoke-on-Trent (and Staffordshire), or from Islington to Derby(shire), Sudbury (Brent) to Sudbury (Suffolk). It is even less than that from Holborn to Sittingbourne, Kent – a CLP twinning we are already aware of.
Every London local campaign forum could make such a connection, and contribute the time and effort of London members, in person or by phone. It will help us win marginal English county council seats, Welsh local authority wards and more mayors than might otherwise be the case. It will grow our reach and help improve our position for 2020, and we members, and the party at large, might learn something about why see seek the responsibility of governing, and the needs and ambitions of those we seek to represent.
Hywel Lloyd is the co-founder of Labour Coast and Country. You can follow them @LabourCC
This article first appeared on LabourList here.
Given the momentous vote of the 23rd June, and its implications for communities of coast and country, we urge every citizen to vote REMAIN.
Labour: COAST & COUNTRY believes in the principles of cooperation and mutual support.
The public sector has a vital role to play investing in a safer, more productive, more sustainable future, and that role is equally valid in coastal and rural parts of our country. We believe that where decisions can be taken at a local level, they should be, and that includes at Parish level. We also recognize that there are decisions that need to be taken at a national level, and that there are decisions that can only be taken at a continental level.
We seek Democratic Socialist solutions to local, national and international problems, and will strive at all three levels to raise the profile of the needs of disadvantaged people and communities living outside of the large metropolitan areas.
The EU has brought significant additional wealth to UK agriculture, it has helped stimulate tourism, and it has provided growing markets for our rural and coastal industries.
At the same time, there are problems that we believe can only be adequately solved at a European level. These include: the protection of our environment; the health and safety of working people, especially in traditionally dangerous jobs such as agriculture, forestry, construction and transport; the exploitation of vulnerable workers – especially migrant workers – by unscrupulous employers; the undercutting of local rates of pay leading to lack of viable jobs for local residents; and the effects of “austerity” in cutting public-sector employment and leaving many communities with high levels of youth unemployment. All of these issues affect communities across the EU.
People across EU countries are demanding fresh approaches. As a member of the EU we can be in the vanguard of a popular and effective movement to put social and environmental wellbeing back in the driving seat of European policy.
We can only use democratic levers to influence Europe if we are part of a European democratic process. That is why we urge all progressive and radical citizens – to vote REMAIN on June 23rd.
Constituencies like the Vale of Glamorgan are exactly the sorts of seats Labour needs to win for Westminster – a mix of town, coast and country; of retired, working and not; of high skilled manufacturing, of city commuting and of local jobs.
Labour needed to engage with seats like this in 2015, while the impending boundaries changes of 2018 will mean many seats across England will become that bit more country, even where they retain a Labour leaning town – we will have to fight (mostly the tories) in the villages and the hamlets, in the pubs and church halls, on the byways and bridleways, if we are to ensure the 2018 boundaries offers little or no advantage to anyone hoping for one.
Hence our visit to support Jane Hutt and team, you can read more here.
The recent Demos Report “Talk of the Town” seeks to highlight the very different “performance” of towns from their neighbouring cities. It has selected a range of measures through which to compare aspects positive and negative, to some extent social but more economic, through which to suggest how well each community is faring. I am not competent to comment on these metrics but do see a significant opportunity missed in this analysis.
It is true that Demos’ authors allow that there is more to be done in progressing this valuable work. It is valuable in part because it is overdue; and because all political parties are exploring forms of devolution which may impact on or be affected by the truth of the findings. However, if the project sought to depict the differences between urban categories, then they have started at the wrong end of the spectrum. Yes, choose cities as the dominant regional players; but surely to select for comparison the next thing to cities – the largest nearby towns – is to compare younger siblings with their older brother or sister, rather than with children from a different family. Surely a more striking and useful comparison would be between cities and smaller, more remote market towns. Isolation is surely one of the most economically debilitating of features for individuals and communities.
Take, by way of example, the choices of Portslade and Shoreham-by-sea for comparison with Brighton. Both are actually part of the Brighton-Hove continuum. Portslade is part of the city’s bus routes and shares an MP with the Western end of the city. You will see no boundary of fields or other geographic features as you move from one to the other. Yes, they may have their own town centres; but so do different parts of Brighton and Hove. Economically they are surely suburbs; interdependent, not distinct. Some city suburbs have lower performance than others, because of the nature of their housing, history, commerce etc; but they are part of the same economy. Similarly, surely Fareham, Havant and Portsmouth are of one conurbation. Most trios selected are commuter lands.
Size too has relevance as well as proximity. Critical mass can determine just how well served citizens are by public services, infrastructure, policing, etc. Small can be beautiful when it comes to communities to live in; so long as one can afford living there. But lack of affordable rents, limited or non-existent public transport, lack of access to mains gas, healthcare, jobs and job centres make smaller rural and coastal communities very different to towns under the wings of cities.
It is, though, the combination of size and remoteness which leads to deprivation and particular needs in coastal and country towns. I suspect (and challenge/encourage Demos to go the extra miles away from their cities to find out) that the gaps between city and small and/or remote town are far greater than those shown in the work so far. What of the “performance” of Burgess Hill or Uckfield; Hastings or Hythe; Clacton or Harwich; Thirsk or Saltburn; Bolton or Fleetwood?
Far from making the case for the sort of towns selected so far being considered as distinct, as it seeks to claim, thus far it illustrates co-dependence. The true distinction must lie between city and market town or seaside resort; with these as yet being given little consideration in the devolution debate.
Tom Serpell, LCC Executive Member
Sunday lunch-time of the first day of Conference 2015 saw over 40 members from across England and Wales gather to reflect on what next for Labour in communities of coast and country. After moving to a larger room to accommodate everyone more comfortably, a wide ranging discussion occupied those present for almost two hours.
That discussion covered the issues we knew affected our coast and country communities, ranging from poor connectivity and much reduced public transport; low wages and the impact of changes to tax credits; a lack of affordable housing, and challenges of faced by many communities loosing their bank, shops or post offices. We appreciated the contribution of newly elected Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge, LCC supporter and a long serving rural campaigner across the East of England. We recognised these issues as some of the same challenges faced by communities already represented by Labour – be they in city, coastal, or country constituencies.
We touched on the challenges facing the party, with a wide-ranging contribution from Maria Eagle MP, previously Shadow Secretary for Defra, who’s team had spent the summer researching Labour’s performance across rural seats, and looked towards ‘Winning in 2020’. That work highlighted the need for a new Labour vision for non-urban Britain, that Labour does already represent some of these communities and those like them in the cities, and that Labour could win with the right organisation in place for 2020.
Finally we explored the opportunities in front of the party, and every CLP, now our membership was growing dramatically – ideas for action and organisation that we will feed into the Party.