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.

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We urge you to vote REMAIN on June 23rd

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.

Rural voters and the price of milk

In recent years my campaigning activity has been limited, but having been made redundant from local government I was able at last to play an active role at the general election this year. I hit the streets with gusto wearing my ex-council demographer hat to find out the lie of the land.

Now, being a Labour activist in rural Lincolnshire can be a thankless task. It is rare to have so much as a town councillor to show for all your hard work yet in spite of this, or maybe because of it, we are often asked to forgo our own campaigns and travel many miles to work in key marginal seats. We know that few will make the return trip and bang on the doors with us; rural areas just are not the priority.

So what has all this got to do with the price of milk you ask? Almost everything.

Knocking on the doors reveals no shortage of people who share our values, but beyond local activists these voters are rarely addressed by the Labour party. When the Tories appear ever more metropolitan and complacent in outlook it ought to present a great opportunity for those willing to meet the concerns of the unfashionable countryside and enthuse disaffected voters.

The United Kingdom Independence party has risen to the challenge already. In 2013 it won 16 seats on Lincolnshire county council, becoming the official opposition. Fourteen of these seats were in the east of the county, remote from major cities and transport links. A similar pattern emerged in Norfolk. It won in the seaside resorts, marshes and fens where seasonal work and labour intensive agri-businesses are the major employers and wages are low. It is not the chocolate-box stone and thatch villages of the metropolitan imagination but isolated settlements separated by wide-open spaces and big skies. Services are few and far between and cuts are felt deeply.

Labour is already in tune with many of the daily trials facing rural voters. Deprivation is so much greater when it is a 20-mile round trip in the car just to sign on, and if you cannot drive it can be a very desolate life indeed. With our town post office currently closed, residents are embarking on almost a day trip just to obtain the full range of forms for passports and driving licences. The price of petrol is a huge issue here as the car is such an essential part of life; so of course we have to pay more for it. Public transport is patchy to say the least.

Then there are the problems faced by small farmers too, which brings me back to the price of milk. As the big supermarkets flex their muscles, farmers are squeezed between diminishing returns and increasing overheads. Livestock farmers need constant supplies of electricity and animal feed meaning milk can cost more to produce than its commercial value so they quietly sell up and leave the industry. Yet at times of crisis for small producers it’s rare to hear a Labour politician speak out.

Often local activists do not even get responses to their enquiries as shadow ministers are more concerned with issues like animal welfare, which offend urban sensibilities, rather than the bread-and-butter aspects of marginal farming. This has left Labour looking ever more like an urban party for trendy vegetarians which talks in terms of city lifestyles where you have a choice of shops or schools and where broadband (fast or slow) is taken for granted.

For various historic reasons such as dispersed communities and lack of unionisation, country areas never engaged with the Labour movement, yet for the most part they share the same social values as the mining areas and mill towns we claim to represent. These are not the ruling classes. Indeed many country people still genuinely labour for a living in packing plants and food factories.

My belief is that Labour needs to come up with a well thought-out rural strategy which engages with country voters and meets their concerns up-front. These may not always be palatable to us but there are areas of commonality that we can address, as well as giving us the opportunity to explain why the things we stand for can bring benefits beyond the suburbs.

We have a tremendous opportunity to grow new support and sell our message in areas we have never looked at before. It is time for us to start engaging at senior level with rural voters in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Devon and Powys and show them what we have to offer. It may not deliver us many seats in the short term but it is vital to show that we care for areas where you can’t easily buy a panini.

Christabel Edwards is a Labour party activist.

This piece was originally published on Progress, here

Meeting the Knebworth Branch Labour Party

Knebworth! Scene of many historic rock gigs, and last month an excellent Labour Party branch meeting – new, old and returning members met for an evenings discussion of ‘non-urban’ issues and how Labour could approach them on the road to winning in 2020.

As is often the case many of the issues here – poor connectivity, both public transport & digital; low pay and the impact of tax credit changes; and limited accountability of the council – are issus that affect communities that Labour already does represent – these are issues of equality, opportunity and social justice and we can fight on them for these communities too.

After a wide ranging discussion quite a few interesting ideas emerged, some for the national Party to consider (how to change GOTV, boundary changes will make more seats less urban), some for LCC (how can we help Labour have a voice everywhere) and some for the branch – leading to twinned leaflet rounds covering the whole area, and a proposed listening exercise for the first mailing to the community – the sort of new politics we like to see.

Thanks to hosts Jan & John Burnell, especially for the cakes!

LCC Fringe – Conference 2015

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.

Putting the people of coast and country at the centre of decision-making.

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.

What Labour could do for Coast & Countryside Communities

With the General Election campaign emerging from the festive break every Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) is rightly concerned with building on their exposure and contact rate in each and every constituency across the UK. For those fighting non-urban seats – be that the 30+ marginals we need to hold or win for a majority, the adjacent seats where a good show will help those marginals, and the others where a good show will help with council of Euro elections – everyone is looking forward to the ‘rural’ manifesto.

Of course I would prefer a Coast and Country Manifesto to help show we understand the similar, and different, challenges these non-urban communities face – such as poor connectivity, accessibility, lower density affecting public service quality, or peripherality, a significantly aging population and undue reliance on tourism. A Coast and Country manifesto could also help ensure we avoid any stereotypical responses to the idea of ‘rural’ Britain.

Let’s reflect on the wider paradigm of One Nation Labour. This an approach that focuses on an economy and state that work for the many not the few, where Labour is seeking to address the cost of living crisis with a pro-growth rather than austerity-lite agenda and, more importantly, by rebuilding Britain to share power and opportunity to reflects the needs of the many, not the interests of the few. What could we offer people living in communities of coast or country in that ‘rural’ manifesto? Here are my benchmark pledges:

  • Labour should specifically target action to reduce the additional cost of living, of over £2,500 p.a., in non-urban areas. We should do something about incomes and costs. Labour should deliver a 10% increase in the minimum wage would help, and lets not over complicate by making it a ‘rural’ minimum, just an across-the-board increase. That would be worth over £1,000 per annum for the lowest paid.

Reducing the ECO levy contribution made by rural home owners would help on cost of living and address some of the inequities of energy pricing, e.g. the £70m paid rurally, but spent on urban ECO schemes.

  • Connectivity and access, to markets, jobs, leisure and entertainment are important to everyone, and most keenly felt by those who have least. To ensure we connect the many, physically and virtually,Labour will provide every coast and country community with a meaningful regulated bus service and affordable superfast broadband to help make the most of their talents and contribution.

Cancelling transport projects for the few, such as HS2, could actually make the UK more connected and more competitive.

  • This connectivity should enhance opportunities for young people. Labour will prioritize improved quality of provision in every country and coastal college and secondary school.

  • As Labour works with communities to develop an answer to the devolution settlement, we will take into account the widespread disengagement with politics felt by many. Labour will revitalise and empower Town, Parish and Community Councils, as the real neighbourhood forum for local decisions, from the state of the local high street, to where to build the new homes communities need.

Hywel Lloyd is a founder member 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, Labour: Coast & Country.

Originally published on LabourList at: http://labourlist.org/2015/01/what-labour-could-do-for-coastal-and-countryside-communities/