A Trip to Pershore | Hywel Lloyd

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

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A Manifesto for England | Hywel Lloyd

While much of the Labour family is rightly occupied with their local election campaign for tomorrow, some of the early steps in preparing for ‘The English election’ of 2019 (elections in 192 District Councils, 47 Unitaries and 33 Mets on 2nd May ’19), began last week.

Labour:COAST&COUNTRY (LCC) brought together seven of our newer MPs for a policy dinner, along with a small group of coast & country stakeholders, kindly hosted by Baroness Jan Royall, and supported by Calor UK.

A wide ranging discussion highlighted many of the issues that non-urban CLPs also report to us at branch and whole CLP meetings, in whichever part of the country they reside, including the following examples:

  • The issues of education provision, the challenges of reduced provision in non-urban areas, the lack of choice and of access, and the consequences for opportunity and social mobility;
  • Of housing, and how some of the worst housing provision, and the greatest challenge of availability and affordability occurs in coast and country areas across the UK and England;
  • If you are poor outside of a city it is much harder to deal with, and less is available to support you and your family; with these services also being as decimated by austerity as urban public services;
  • And that in many parts of the UK there is now a dearth of transport that could be called ‘public service’ transport – no trains, and few buses . . .
  • The importance of understanding that many of these issues are about how the communities, of coast and country, can thrive, and are much the same, albeit with a different scale and density, as those facing urban communities that Labour more readily represents;
  • How to ensure funding for local services properly reflects need, and how services can be delivered to reflect local settings and circumstance;
  • And finally the wider question of representation – how does Labour properly engage with, and be seen to engage with, the whole of the UK, and England, so as to have a better chance of governing the whole of the nation.

Only with such a whole nation view, and a whole nation view of what’s fair, might we get near to addressing the fundamental causes of Brexit and the divides between remainers, and leavers; those from somewhere or anywhere, so as to be able to be the next government of the United Kingdom.  Which led us to consider where policy solutions might lie:

  • As one participant put it, key are polices that will lead to change which takes a whole nation view of fairness, balance and every child, and citizen mattering;
  • So we will need to think about funding for places and local government;
  • About procurement and how it works for communities;
  • About digitisation, when connectivity continues to be an issue;
  • And about how more local decision making can support local communities more effectively;
  • And how to be the community (re) investment party;
  • Building on the assets that communities have, as well as addressing the needs yet to be met

Labour stands at a cross roads – for the first time in a long time it has hundreds of members in every part of the country, in every constituency – they could be a platform for a Labour government that could run the country for the many, that recognised the issues facing communities of coast, country and city are often the same.

May 2019 would be the time to pick up this baton to run with a Manifesto for England; helping prove Labour’s national appeal across the many and varied places that make England what it is.

LCC will be developing these ideas for the shadow cabinet and colleagues to consider in the summer, as they start focusing on the challenge of May 2019.  If you and your CLP have examples of good ideas and delivery that address these issues, or others that affect coast or county communities, please do drop us a line at info@labourcoastandcountry.org.uk.

Corbyn’s visit to Southend shows why coastal communities need Labour’s offer | Hywel Lloyd

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.

Let’s fire up Labour’s local elections campaign by twinning London members with activists in the countryside | Hywel Lloyd

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.

A ‘beyond the urban’ viewpoint of the climate challenges we face

A contribution to the ‘Challenging Times’ edition of SERA’s New Ground – a non-urban perspective highlighting the challenges of how we do politics and are governed. Labour needs to think through – devolution and localism, particularly in England; Labour’s organisation & offer to non-urban Britain; and how to work with the green groups for the long-term, as we develop our environmental policies for 2020/5

You can read the full article in the online New Ground here.

Engaging and supporting the new Leadership team

Just a few months before the former Labour Leader Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ conference speech in 2012 I discussed with colleagues the right name for what is now Labour: Coast &Country, we even wrote down  ‘One Nation Labour’ as a part of the route to power in 2015 . . . . .

Yet the results at the last General Election in target seats show how poorly Labour performed.  At least 19 of the targets had a significant rural aspect to them, while at least 17 were coastal (or both).  Labour only won one of the 19 seats.

These results proved the point, that to win a general election Labour must be able to represent the whole the nation – all four corners, country and city,

Do the new Labour Party leadership team ‘get’ that to govern the Party needs to win in all parts of the country?   And need to embed One Nation approach into the Party’s organisation, policies, and communications.

The initial signs are encouraging.

In his final campaign speech for the Leadership Jeremy Corbyn MP said “If I am elected leader I will ensure that Labour is as much a party in the communities like the one in which I was born (Wiltshire), as it is for people in inner city constituencies like the one I represent.   Too often the old machine politics writes off “the Tory shires”, abandoning communities struggling with issues such as housing costs, public service cuts and social exclusion just as those in inner cities are. If Labour doesn’t offer those communities solutions, no one else will.  There shouldn’t be any no-go areas for Labour.”[1]    In turn in our own engagement with the Labour Party Deputy Leader Tom Watson MP it was clear that his experience of living and working in Dorset and Worcestershire had given him a decent insight to the issues faced by communities of coast and country.

Labour: Coast & Country couldn’t have put their shared ambition better – we exist to win the case for building Labour activism and representation right across the UK. To win in 2020 will require a swing equivalent to that seen in 1945, another election that saw Labour win many non-urban seats across Britain.

One aspect of the solution is perhaps counter intuitive, being a One Nation party is not the same as being a centrally controlled and directed party, not a party that creates and distributes all of its policy and messaging from a central team, nor a party that only focuses on ‘its people & places’.

Being a successful One Nation party must be built on an understanding of the diversity and variety of Britain, and a willingness to allow members to respond to local issues.

It is worth noting that more people live in ‘rural’ Britain (as defined by the ONS) than live in London (9.3m to 8.6m), while more people live in sparse areas (areas of very low population density, some 500,000) than live in all but a handful of UK cities, and certainly more than in say Leeds or in Bristol.

If Labour can take the ambition to be a One Nation party seriously as the Leadership team have suggested, then they have a chance to govern for the whole of the UK.  To deliver on that ambition requires many things, these few would be a good start on that journey:

  • Having a coherent vision for non-urban Britain, informed by the experiences of people who live there 
  • Recognize and reverse the view that some areas are inherently ‘tory’ and that campaigners  ‘don’t do villages’
  • Change campaigning and activism to reflect the realities of non-urban UK
  • Acknowledge that the Party needs to have a development approach to the next few years, especially with the uncertainty of the boundary review.

Many parts of Britain’s coast and country are ripe for a Labour return, but neglect the needs of rural communities and UKIP will fill the void.

Hywel Lloyd is a Co-Founder of Labour: Coast & Country.

And so the next stage in the journey begins . . .

Sadly it isn’t a journey of engagement with a Labour led government, but a renewed period of opposition – lets hope it doesn’t become unduly introspective as we all endeavour to work out what worked, and what did not – and more importantly what’s required to win in 2020.

As a Co-Founder of Labour: Coast & Country, I’m firmly of the belief that we need to be able to engage and speak with the whole country – One Nation is a good and also positive ambition – and that we need to be able to win the majority of the new towns, the coastal towns and the market towns. They are where we have historically won majority government.  Get that right in England and we may not have to win all of Scotland back in one go, something that seems a monstrous challenge at this stage in the game.

We must play our part in the Party’s review on this election, and in plans to ensure we are as electable as possible – from Harwich to Haverfordwest, from Plymouth to Pitlochry.

It is good to see that the Party’s initial steps will include Leadership Hustings in the coast and country communities, as proposed by Harriet Harman; and it is also good to see Jamie Reed making the point to all of his colleagues that “the next Labour leader must listen to the marginalised, peripheral communities of our country as the United Kingdom risks disintegrating before us.

Both interventions suggest our ambition for a Labour Party that wins in coast and country can rise from the lessons of 2015.

If you think communities of the coast and of the country are part of Labour’s 2020 government please join us, and contribute to making that a reality.

Hywel Lloyd is founder of Labour: Coast & Country

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Labour: Coast & Country