LCC committee member James Bartholomeusz reflects on rural campaigning in the 2018 local elections.
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 email@example.com.
I have lived in Hampshire for a large portion of my life and worked in a local authority in a predominantly rural county, so have seen first hand the kinds of unique issues people face when living in the countryside – particularly when they are also dealing with challenging life circumstances such as unemployment, disability or poverty. Those residing in our bustling cities often have only an intellectualised, sometimes distant, notion of what it means to live in complete isolation, where there is no public transport and the nearest bank or post office is miles away along treacherous, unfootpathed roads that the local Jeremy Clarksonites like to speed down in their armoured four-by-fours.
Rural poverty is an issue that continues to be relegated to the lower echelons of the political agenda. The only time we seem to hear about the it is in relation to preserving outstanding natural beauty and the habitat of our wildlife, or about the moneyed city dwellers who are looking for weekend retreats from their fast-paced jobs. These may all be valid issues in themselves, but the majority of those residing in our countryside and coastlines are hard working people who do not commute to the city; many of these people are facing acute challenges in their lives, yet remain but a blip in the discourse of policy that directly effects the areas that they live in.
If you are poor, unemployed, elderly or disabled, and happen to live in a rural area, the challenges you face are doubly hard compared to having the same issues in a city. The likelihood of you receiving any support is dramatically diminished. What makes this cruel fact even harder to digest is that it’s the same issues that have been persisting for decades, centuries even.
Poor and expensive transport links, lack of access to basic services like GP surgeries and banks, limited mobile and internet coverage. These are all things we have heard before and keep hearing over and over again. So why has there been no progress? In fact, since the coalition government came to power, things have gone backwards; public transport in rural areas have faced huge cuts, local services are stretched beyond their limits and small businesses are struggling.
This isn’t a case of, ‘how can we do things differently?’ or ‘do we need to take a new approach to these issues?’ because we know all the answers to these questions and have been going round and round in circles, preaching to the converted, while no one listens and nothing is done. What this comes down to is something far more fundamental: who is making the decisions?
We can only begin to face down the challenges people are facing as a result of living rurally if we put those very people at the centre of our decision-making. Only if we speak to and listen to these very people and increase their real, meaningful participation in local and national decision-making, can we start to see real and meaningful progress.
The first way to do this would be to ensure that on a local level, areas that have a large proportion of rural and coastal land create panels made up of residents from these very areas, and come from a wide range of economic backgrounds. Clear processes and procedures should then be put in place to actively involve these panels in the commissioning of new services in those areas.
On a national level, we need two things. Firstly we need to ensure that we have proportional representation of residents from the countryside and the coastlines in Parliament. This will require efforts from all parties and a long-term engagement and leadership programme that intersects with other issues of representation to do with gender, socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicity. Secondly, we need to ensure that similarly to the local panel, a national panel is set up so that any policy and decision-making that happens through government departments that have an impact on rural and coastal areas, actively involves a sufficiently diverse group of residents who come from those areas.
Putting people who actually live in the rural and coastal lands of the UK at the centre of decision-making about their own areas, means we can we can finally see positive movement on the huge challenges we have been seeing in these areas for generations. But most importantly of all, it will be the kind of change that rural communities can take ownership and pride in, and make us stronger as a country.
Satdeep Grewal is a multi-disciplinary fine artist who works and resides in Hampshire.
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, Labour: Coast & Country.