Why the South East needs Labour | Rosie Duffield MP

When people talk of the Southeast region of England, it can often come across in two distinct ways. One way people mention the area is in a pejorative way, alluding to the region’s perceived blandness, as if it were the magnolia paint of British regions. On the other hand, it can sometimes sound as if strangers are talking of a utopia when they reference the Southeast. when people say ‘Kent’, often the first thing that comes to mind is ‘the garden of England.’ When people talk of Sussex, we often think of the sunny beaches of Brighton, and certainly nobody could deny the fabulous history and academic prestige of Oxford.

The Southeast is often known to be one of the wealthiest regions in the UK, it has several prestigious higher education institutions, a highspeed rail line, and more importantly, relatively better weather compared to the rest of the UK (sorry Edinburgh, but it’s true). So, who in their right mind would want to change anything about the Southeast, let alone the current political order?

Well, according to the Care Quality Commission, Kent and Sussex have some of the lowest adult social care ratings in the country and parts of Surrey and Sussex have the worst GP practice ratings in the UK. With a flurry of cuts to the NHS, this Tory government has left health services across the country and in the Southeast under severe pressure.

Take the constituency of Canterbury, for which I am MP, as an example. Tory cuts have meant that all acute procedures from Canterbury hospital have been cancelled. This means that anybody who suffers a stroke or a heart attack must travel all the way to Ashford before they can receive the ‘urgent’ care they so desperately need. These cuts are reducing medical services, putting NHS staff under great financial and psychological stress, and risking the lives of citizens in need of medical attention. In many cases, the people most at risk are the elderly who live in rural areas. By the time an ambulance reaches those people and escorts them an hour away to the nearest hospital for emergency medical treatment, the chances of survival can be very slim indeed.

Another thing, which is often glossed over by Tory politicians, is the sheer level of economic deprivation in some areas of the Southeast. In Kent, 21 local wards fall within the 10% threshold of most deprived areas in England2 and in Sussex this number is 143. What is arguably more shocking, is that in some parts of Oxford, child poverty rates are close to 29%, in Hastings and Rye this figure is close to 32%, and in South Thanet, this figure is close to 33%4.

These horrifying figures paint a picture. The picture is that under the Tories, the Southeast is a place where there is increasingly a greater gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’ the many and the few. So, yes, while the southeast remains one of the richest regions in the UK, cuts to social welfare has meant an increasing disparity between the wealthiest few and everybody else.

Things are worse now than ever before; it angers me that this government continues its careless crusade on the public sector and on social welfare, when children are going hungry and more and more families are relying on foodbanks to stay alive. Not voting Labour is a luxury that the Southeast and the UK can no longer afford.

Speaking then of luxury, the mere concept of home ownership is something reserved for an elite few. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show not only that house prices in the southeast are higher than in most other regions in the UK, but also house prices are rising faster than most of the UK6. One of the reasons for this is that better transportation links, such as the introduction of HS1, has meant that wealthy individuals are moving out of London into surrounding regions close enough to commute to the city. With already dwindling availability of housing, any available houses are becoming more and more expensive to buy. This means a growing lack of affordable housing, and combined with the cuts on public spending, social housing availability is at disastrously low levels.

Rising house prices not only exacerbates the level of inequality between wealthy landlords and renters, but the cost of renting has also meant that more and more people cannot even afford a rented roof above their head. In fact, when population size is considered, some of the worst rates of rough sleeping in the UK can be found in Southeast towns and cities such as Brighton and Hove, Canterbury and Hastings7. Rough sleeping, especially in the terrible weather we have been exposed to this year, can be incredibly dangerous. This year alone, I was made aware of the death of two of my rough sleeping constituents over the cold winter months, and it really brought home the harsh reality of what a lack of housing and well-funded social services for our most vulnerable citizens can cause. The southeast needs more housing, but not just for the wealthy few, but for the many who cannot afford the extortionate prices that currently exist, we need more social and truly affordable housing desperately.

So yes, the Southeast is a region of great natural beauty, of ancient historical importance, and great social diversity and vibrancy. However, it would not be right to celebrate the brilliance of the Southeast without recognising the disadvantages and difficulties that many of its residents face. The Southeast needs Labour. The complacency of its Tory politicians has meant that the inequality in the region has been ignored and the plight of the many has been sacrificed for the privilege of an elite few. Only a Labour Government can rectify these issues and ensure a Southeast which serves everybody equally.

Rosie Duffield MP for Canterbury

  1. The state of health care and adult social care in England 2016/17, Care Quality Commission, 2017.
  2. https://www.kentlive.news/news/kent-news/21-most-deprived-areas-kent-497851
  3. https://www.hastingsobserver.co.uk/news/politics/levels-of-deprivation-across-sussex-revealed-by-charity-report-1-7672973
  4. http://www.endchildpoverty.org.uk/poverty-in-your-area-2016/
  5. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/average-income-regional-variation-inequality-poverty-wages-salary-institute-fiscal-studies-a7847261.html
  6. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/housing/articles/townsandcitiesanalysisenglandandwalesmarch2016/2016-03-18
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jan/25/number-of-rough-sleepers-in-england-rises-for-sixth-successive-year
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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

 

 

Labour’s Coastal Consultation | Alex Mayer MEP

There are few more quintessentially English postcard images than deckchairs lining a sandy beach with a pier in the background. I am lucky that in my constituency there are many fantastic coastal towns that attract thousands of visitors on holiday. But for years now they have been faced with a real and growing set of problems.

There are of course special challenges for coastal communities; the nature of seasonal employment; being at the end of transport networks; poor quality housing often with a higher than average number of people living in bedsits and the threat of flooding. Meanwhile pressures on services, caused by a much older than average population coupled with austerity are just some of the harsher realities of seaside living.

After being let down by underinvestment from successive governments, a lack of hope for real change mixed with the current strand of anti-establishment politics, resulted in a strong vote to leave the European Union in many seaside towns. In my region, Waveney recorded a 63% Leave vote, Great Yarmouth 72% and Castle Point 73%.

Paradoxically, and indeed sadly, figures also show that seaside areas were large net recipients of EU funding including for the regeneration of Southend’s seafront, investment in the creative industries through organisations like Great Yarmouth’s SeaChange Arts and the Orbis Centre in Lowestoft, which has been instrumental in harnessing the opportunities of offshore wind.

European funding was rightly forward facing, using the skills of the local population and re-skilling, looking at the green jobs of the future, and moving away from the high volume day-tripper market to the under-tapped ‘staycation’ market, with more focus on visiting the natural heritage along the coast over penny machines, cheap beer and neon lights.

It is heartening that the Labour Party is currently undergoing a “Coastal Consultation” especially as is not so long ago that Labour MPs represented areas such as Clacton, Scarborough and Weymouth, and we can do so again. With Brexit on the horizon, it is now more important than ever that our party again builds an attractive offer for seaside towns, as it will fall to Labour to push a new postcard image of our seaside, where communities thrive as they look to the future.

Alex Mayer is the MEP for the East of England

A Good Experience

The local political scene in St Albans is competitive, with a District Council hanging on to a thin Tory majority, and the minority split between Labour and the Lib Dems. We also have two Green Councillors, and UKIP are fielding a candidate in every Ward. There is everything to play for as we move into the General and District Council elections.

Before moving here in mid-2013 with my young family, I’d been involved in Labour party politics for a number of years, working on the SERA Exec, and as an active member in Hackney Central. I found that in Hackney, being a Labour-dominated Borough meant that there were very few chances to run for Council seats. Incumbents were keen to stay in place, and nominations were ultra-competitive.

In St Albans it was a different story. I took on leafleting duties and joining in canvassing, and then applied to run as a candidate for the 2015 elections.

After two rounds of selection panels I was chosen to run in the town centre ward, which I was really thrilled about. It’s going to be a tight decision between all the parties. The incumbent is a Green, and I think a total vote of around 700 will be enough to win.

I’ve found the locals in St Albans to be engaged politically and happy enough to chat on the doorstep. The main local issues seem to be transport (rail, buses, car parking), local development and affordable housing (St Alban’s is very expensive) .

The biggest challenge is engaging volunteers and activists, although this is picking up the closer we get to the 7 May. We could do more with our local website to tell volunteers how they can get involved. We are working on all this and hopefully will get a good result in the election. All in all its been a great experience, and win or lose I’ve enjoyed the experience of being a candidate and learned a huge amount.

Alex Veitch is Labour Candidate for St Peter’s Ward, St Albans, and a former SERA Executive Committee member

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.