A Manifesto for 2019 | Towns of England, your time has come!

Britain’s towns had a higher profile at Labour Conference 2018 than they have ever had.  In addition to both Labour: COAST&COUNTRY (LCC) fringes, they were on the agenda of a Fabian fringe, a CPRE/Hastoe event, as well as other sessions where Lisa Nandy MP among others had an opportunity to speak up for towns everywhere.  And then post conference Labour’s party political broadcast jointed the party and spoke up for ‘your town’.

The local elections of 2019 offer Labour a real chance to land some of this understanding, as that election is almost exclusively being held at the district council tier, the councils that service many of the towns we are seeking to win.

LCC has always campaigned for the district and country council elections to have a bespoke national agenda that properly spoke to those places, and wasn’t a re-tread of a general election or urban take on life.  As one speaker at our fringes said “these elections aren’t about saving the NHS!!”.  No indeed, they are about the issues of rural and coastal communities who are less access to services than their urban friends, that have fewer choices of secondary education or primary care services, who see austerity making their town or village suffer, dis-connecting them with the almost abolition of bus services, and leaving them a dumping ground for the 1,000 new home estate.

With the ‘your town’ PPB we can see the powers that be are getting it; to help them set the right tone for Labour’s campaigning in 2019 at conference we launched ‘A Manifesto for 2019’  Please read or download it here; share it widely with your CLP, your district council candidates, and of course send us and the shadow front bench your thoughts on it!


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

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.

Taking back control in Plymouth | Pamela Buchan

The local elections are fast approaching across the UK and Plymouth City Council is one of two key targets for Labour outside of London. Only two seats are required to take control back from the Conservatives in this historic coastal city. Since its formation as a unitary authority in 1998, control has swung between Labour and Conservative leading it to be viewed as a bellwether council. Consideration of its coastal culture and location nestled between sea and rural Devon and Cornwall, might shed some insight as to why Labour has not managed to hold on to Plymouth, a city whose population would elsewhere be considered natural Labour.

A recent roundtable with Sue Hayman, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, saw Labour councillors, educational, research, environmental, and business representatives, come together to discuss the economic and policy challenges in a coastal city. One of Plymouth’s key difficulties is lack of adequate transport infrastructure to the rest of the UK which is frequently cited as a barrier to companies moving in. Similarly, graduates see it as a mark of success when they move away from the city for work. This produces a chicken and egg situation of insufficient human resources and infrastructure deterring companies, then a lack of opportunities for residents and graduates leading to low-pay employment and net migration of skilled employees. Without a substantial injection of investment – and coastal cities fare badly with the funding formulas used by government – the stalemate can only be cracked with innovative approaches such as co-operatives, startup hubs, and community enterprise. But this can only be successful if it brings the community with it and complements the values of the city.

The traditional conservatism of the rural surrounds of this city, combined with a strong naval and maritime cultural and economic history, has not been well understood by the national Labour Party. Recent research by the Fabians uncovered a prevailing perception of Labour as an urban party that views rural and isolated communities as simple-minded and does not value or understand our challenges. In Plymouth, Labour faces a constant challenge to not be viewed as “anti-defence”, creating a conflict of values for those who value independence of individual and nation, but for whom neo-liberal conservatism and austerity has only done harm. It could be argued that this found an outward expression in one of the highest Brexit votes in the country.

Standing in a ward such as Honicknowle, where deprivation is high and there are residents who have never seen the sea, it’s clear that a Labour council is urgently needed to provide innovative approaches to creation of opportunities and improvement of wellbeing. To make a substantial and lasting difference we need to not only take the council in 2018 but to hold it for years to come.

Pamela Buchan | ‎@Asterinidae



It’s a long way from Islington North | Tobias Phibbs

Helen Goodman MP’s rural constituency is the geographically largest that Labour holds. To walk around Bishop Auckland’s 356 square miles, taking in the hill farms in the north Pennines to the west and the former mining towns to the east, would take around a week. It is a long way from Islington North. Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency is the smallest in the UK, at around two square miles. You could wander from Dalston Junction in the east of the Labour leader’s constituency, round Holloway and up to Crouch End before heading south-east back to Dalston in around three hours without pushing yourself.

This same dynamic will be at play in the local elections in England on May 3 2018. In the course of the research that went into the recent Fabian Society report Labour Country, we spoke with council candidates in rural wards 14 miles long. Before we come to any of the cultural or political reasons for Labour’s relative lack of success in rural England, this basic fact of geography places a substantial obstacle to Labour’s efforts to make progress in rural parts of the country. Organising and canvassing in urban areas is easier and more cost-effective in the short term.

But only in the short term. At present the Conservative party is the natural party of most of rural England. Challenging the deep-seated, largely instinctive rural Conservative vote will take more time than the time before local elections allows for, but it must happen if Labour is to become a truly one-nation party capable of speaking to and for the whole country.

This will require a national effort to centre rural culture, concerns, language and imagery at the heart of Labour. But it will also come down to the effort of rural Labour activists on the ground, who have long been encouraged to head to the nearest town or city to organise and canvas because their rural patch was considered a waste of time or a lost cause. Those who have campaigned in rural areas will know how surprised and appreciative residents can be at the unusual sight of a red rosette on the doorstep, even if they don’t plan to vote Labour (and especially if there isn’t an election round the corner).

Our report recommends that rural local branches be given greater support from CLPs, regional parties and the national party so that they may throw themselves into local campaigns and community life – whether that it is a campaign to save a village pub, or helping to organise the local fete. Practical activity and an active local presence demonstrate that the Labour party is a party for rural people and their concerns rather than a party of, by and for the cities.

Likewise, rural activists should be encouraged to stay and campaign close to home rather than travelling to their nearest urban settlement. There could be swaps within and between CLPs, with those in larger settlements taking the time to campaign in rural areas. This may mean fewer doors get knocked. But in the long run it will be more valuable than stacking up votes in urban wards with big Labour majorities where you can’t move for Labour activists.

Labour may well be heading for a successful 2018 local election night. However, if Labour’s gains come only from London and the other big cities, it may indicate that Labour’s resurgence is failing to extend beyond the city-gate. The real test for Labour in England, and rural England in particular, will come when Labour contests the district elections in England in 2019.

Tobias Phibbs | Researcher and Assistant Editor at the Fabian Society