Has Gove stolen Labour’s clothes? | Martyn Sloman

On 4th January Michael Gove made an important speech: as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs he outlined his vision for British farming after Brexit.  His speech received precious little publicity.  There has been no response to date from Labour.  There is danger here: Gove is an able politician and may well have made a smart move to support his position as a Brexit hawk.

Gove’s speech was delivered to the high profile annual Oxford Farming Conference. There were two major elements in his address.  The first was to reassure his audience that they had nothing to worry about.  Income streams would be protected whatever the changes that lie ahead: ‘we have guaranteed that the amount that we allocate to farming support – in cash terms – will be protected throughout and beyond this (transition) period right up until the end of this Parliament in 2022’.  He pandered to his audience’s endemic grumbles about regulation: ‘The ways in which we provide financial support to farmers have been far too bureaucratic – not helped by the ludicrous rules and red tape of the CAP that Defra must try to enforce’.  Telling an audience what they want to hear is always a good ploy, but note the pro-Brexit aside.

All of this was predictable.  It was the second element in his speech that needs to be taken far more seriously.  At Oxford Michael Gove signalled a shift in the farming payments system: a shift that could play well with progressive voters in rural areas.  Certainly some of the language he used will have a resonance way beyond those who attend the County Agricultural Show.

Gove argued that the current system, which involves paying landowners for the amount of agricultural land they work is ‘unjust, inefficient and drives perverse outcomes’ …‘It gives the most from the public purse to those who have the most private wealth’.  This last phrase that could have been lifted from Labour’s ‘For the many not the few’ manifesto, as could Gove’s stated intention ‘I believe that we should help landowners and managers to make the transition from our current system to a new approach for public goods over time’. Importantly and powerfully ‘The principal public good we will invest in is of course environmental protection’. This was backed up with some sketchy proposals on food chains and ecosystems – enhanced systems will be introduced to enhance natural environments through, for example, planting woodland and providing new habitats for wildlife.  

The devil will always be in the detail, but his approach could play well. Gove is clever and it was a clever speech.  Moreover we must recognise that today’s Labour Party is perceived to be weak on rural issues.  It was one of the few charges that stuck to Tony Blair when he was at his most popular in office – notwithstanding his excellent handling of the foot and mouth epidemic, which included a decision to delay the local and general elections in 2001.  In the following year the Countryside Alliance managed to bring 400,000 marchers to London in support of ‘Liberty and Livelihood’.  It was claimed at the time that this was the largest demonstration to take place in Britain since the 19th Century.  Certainly it comprised the most prosperous set of demonstrators ever seen to converge on Parliament Square.

Given all this we should be concerned. Gove’s direction of travel was consistent with some very brief passages on sustainability in Labour’s 2017 Manifesto: ‘we will reconfigure funds for farming and fishing to support smaller traders, local economies, community benefits and sustainable practices’ and ‘we will champion sustainable farming, food and fishing by investing in and promoting skills, technology, market access and innovation’.  These ideas did not feature in the election campaign, have not received any attention subsequently, and the absence of any Labour reaction to Gove’s speech must disappoint.   Gove has indicated that he will be publishing a Command Paper ‘later in the spring’ and this may be the occasion for a stronger and clearer response from Labour.

There is however a greater cause for concern for those of us who hold progressive, internationalist views.  Gove’s speech was predictably littered with disparaging asides on the EU, especially the Common Agricultural Policy.  The next stage in his argument will be the following: the UK Government stands ready to introduce more socially just payments and use them to promote eco-systems creating greener rural areas.  However continued membership of the EU will be a major constraint if not a total barrier to achieving these laudable aims.  Michael Gove took an opportunity to consolidate his platform for any second referendum where every vote will count – including those who drift towards the Greens. 

Now the issues that matter to Labour voters in rural areas are much broader than farming subsidies: as well as the national concerns here in Norfolk we face local problems on transport, youth employment and second homes to name a few.   If we are to have appeal outside our metropolitan strongholds a good start would be to have clear policy statements on all subjects rather than leaving important territory to our opponents.

Martyn Sloman
Parliamentary Agent North Norfolk Constituency Labour Party in 2015

First published on Progress – http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2018/02/15/emperor-goves-new-clothes/  


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.

Home is where the heart is, isn’t it? | LCC Comment

In this fascinating piece recently posted with the Fabians, Ruth Davis explores how the green movement became estranged from the everyday lives of most people – perhaps some lessons here for Labour, especially Labour in relating to England, or those who chose to vote leave: http://www.fabians.org.uk/home-is-where-the-heart-is/

Don’t forget Labour in local democracy even in Wiltshire!

A glorious evening of dappled sunshine, a light breeze and blue skies welcomes members of Chippenham CLP to their AGM in the Church Hall of St Patrick’s Church in Corsham.

Yet again another new community hall, funded by local fundraising efforts; a complement to local civic activists supporting the future of their community (and a remind that not only are meetings in such constituencies more distant for members, there are usually far fewer venues to choose from for meetings).

After some early AGM business to determine the chair and other officers, everyone attending introduced themselves and their part of the constituency, with members travelling from Bradford-on-Avon, Pickwick, Melksham, Chippenham and Corsham (a range of about eight miles in every direction).

Then the evening’s discussion got going in earnest – you can read more on that here.

The Vale – town, coast and country – seats we need to win

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.

Britain is a broad land, and Labour should organize to reflect that . . .

This weekend we met many members of Broadlands CLP in the Hellesdon Community Centre on the edge of Norwich to discuss the issues of policy and practice that Labour needs to best represent the communities of Broadlands, a constituency covering much of the Norfolk Broads, stretching from Norwich in the north west to Great Yarmouth in the south east of Norfolk.  You can read more of our discussions here.