Reflections on GE2017 | Nia Griffith MP

Amongst Labour’s impressive gains in last June’s general election were a number of rural and coastal constituencies. David Drew re-took Stroud and is now serving as a Shadow DEFRA Minister, and my good friend Tonia Antoniazzi won the Gower constituency back for Labour.

Not only does this bring us closer to delivering a Labour government that can deliver for all parts of the UK, but it also means that the particular concerns of rural and coastal communities are more fully represented on the Labour benches in Parliament.

We have seen how new colleagues in Plymouth and Portsmouth are standing up for the maritime economy, keeping up the pressure on the Conservative government to protect the shipbuilding and Royal Naval jobs that those cities depend on.

And colleagues have also been working with our Shadow DEFRA team to make sure that any changes to agricultural subsidies post-Brexit deliver for farming and rural communities.

But we also need to take firm action to rebalance our economy away from an overreliance on London and other major cities, ensuring that investment is spread across the nations and regions and that there are opportunities for young people wherever they grow up.

The Conservatives’ push towards devolving power to metropolitan areas may well benefit the cities and the towns that’s surround them, but these solutions will not necessarily work for many rural or coastal communities that risk being left behind.

It is a good thing that cities like Manchester and Liverpool have effective Labour metro mayors to speak up for their residents, but there is a limit to how much this model can benefit all parts of our country.

Labour has been very clear that we want to see an end to the vast regional and sectoral imbalances that we currently face.

We are concerned that many coastal towns, as well as post-industrial parts of the North and Wales, have seen their economies and communities held back by an approach to the economy that has been over-reliant on London and the South East.

The absence of vibrant local economies is not only bad for growth, but it can also undermine the fabric of communities, damaging the quality of life of local people.

And so the next Labour government will put the interests of coastal and rural economies at the heart of our industrial strategy, to ensure that everyone can share in our nation’s prosperity and no community is left behind.

Nia Griffith, MP for Llanelli. 

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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.

West is best . . . fighting for a Labour Welsh Assembly

One of the familiar strap-lines of the Scarlets; and an oft repeated remark of my west coast friends and family.   Last weekend saw a significant pick up in the campaigning for the Welsh Assembly elections.  We joined comrades on the Gower, in Llanelli and in Ogmore to support their respective AM West is best candidates – Rebecca Evans (AM), Lee Waters and Huw Irrancca-Davies (MP).

Ogmore sits on the fringes of the uplands of the Valleys of South Wales, north of the M4. Its many communities have returned sizeable Labour majorities at both Assembly and Parliamentary elections.  We hope Huw will be well placed to take his place on the Assembly, and bring his undoubted skill and experience from Parliament to serve Wales more directly. Canvassing in Llanharry saw a tight knit team of ten plus cover a swathe of streets from Alder to Sycamore, regardless of the initially inclement weather (though it does rain it Wales it doesn’t always rain in Wales!)

Nearer the coast and we are in Llanelli, starting our canvas near the site of one of the  Rebecca Riots of 18430s, campaigning against unfair taxation . . . .  While the Llanelli Parliamentary seat shows a healthy 7,000+ majority for Labour Nia Griffith MP, the Assembly seat was much closer.  The retiring Keith Davies won through in 2011 on a tiny majority of 80.  Lee Waters, Director of the Institute for Welsh Affairs is working hard to secure a Nia like majority for Labour.  With her help and that of local campaigners, the Progress three seats gang and LCC.

The Gower is a seat we should not have lost in the general election. It seems on election day the Tories bussed in eight or more coaches of volunteers to help get them over the line, and yet we only lost by 27 votes!

Rebecca Evans 22Jan16

Though the Assembly seat has the same electorate and a new AM candidate, Rebecca is an existing Labour (list seat) AM so has the experience of campaigning and office. A robust two hour session with local campaigners, comrades from Cardiff and the Vale, and a Three Seats team from Progress, saw us cover a lot of ground and the great majority positively in favour of Labour for the 5th of May.

These are all seats that we need to hold in Wales for a Labour Assembly, and long term for a Labour government in Westminster. Many of the characteristics of these seats are also true of other Welsh seats (e.g. Carmarthenshire, East & West, The Vale of Glamorgan).  they are also like many English seats we need to win back.

Labour does hold rural seats – we need to get better at fighting in all of them.

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.

And so the next stage in the journey begins . . .

Sadly it isn’t a journey of engagement with a Labour led government, but a renewed period of opposition – lets hope it doesn’t become unduly introspective as we all endeavour to work out what worked, and what did not – and more importantly what’s required to win in 2020.

As a Co-Founder of Labour: Coast & Country, I’m firmly of the belief that we need to be able to engage and speak with the whole country – One Nation is a good and also positive ambition – and that we need to be able to win the majority of the new towns, the coastal towns and the market towns. They are where we have historically won majority government.  Get that right in England and we may not have to win all of Scotland back in one go, something that seems a monstrous challenge at this stage in the game.

We must play our part in the Party’s review on this election, and in plans to ensure we are as electable as possible – from Harwich to Haverfordwest, from Plymouth to Pitlochry.

It is good to see that the Party’s initial steps will include Leadership Hustings in the coast and country communities, as proposed by Harriet Harman; and it is also good to see Jamie Reed making the point to all of his colleagues that “the next Labour leader must listen to the marginalised, peripheral communities of our country as the United Kingdom risks disintegrating before us.

Both interventions suggest our ambition for a Labour Party that wins in coast and country can rise from the lessons of 2015.

If you think communities of the coast and of the country are part of Labour’s 2020 government please join us, and contribute to making that a reality.

Hywel Lloyd is founder 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, the Labour: Coast & Country

Majority government starts in west Wales

The delightful counties of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire contain four parliamentary seats, all of which have been Labour, which we need to win again if we are to have a good chance of achieving a majority government in 2015.

Taken together these seats are perhaps a microcosm of the challenge we face to win a majority across the United Kingdom. They cover industrial heartlands, former mining villages, market towns, coastal tourist haunts, small ports and a small city. As we enter 2015 we need to hold our heartland city seat of Llanelli, held by Nia Griffith, while we need to fight the Tories in both Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (last held in 2005), and Preseli Pembrokeshire (last held in 2001), while it is the nationalists, Plaid Cymru, we have to fight in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (last held in 1997).

Of the three ‘vacancies’ Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire is 62nd on the 106 target seats list, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr is 66th, while Preseli Pembrokeshire is 84th. To secure an overall majority we currently need to win 68 seats.

We have made a start on the road to winning. Having all three ‘vacancies’ on our target list means we have good candidates selected and in place.  What they need are the practical support and policies that will make sense for the people who live across west Wales, be that the market towns of Carmarthen and Haverfordwest; the coastal communities of Broad Haven and Laugharne; and the villages of St Clears and Trimsaran.

To help deliver these seats Labour:Coast&Country are working with the party to ensure that one of the manifesto roadshow meetings is held in Carmarthen. The presence of the party engaging with local people, involving them in a direct conversation with members of the shadow cabinet can only help reinforce our One Nation ambition and show that we are listening to each and every community of Britain (as well as building on work already done in West Wales by the likes of Nia, Huw Irranca-Davies and Chuka Umunna among many others).

We need to build on the commitment to a rural manifesto made by Ed Miliband at the National Policy Forum in July and ensure we respond to the issues of all of the places in the UK that are communities of coastal or country areas. These communities face many similar challenges to city constituents such as looking for and obtaining work, empowerment in their home and social lives, while facing greater challenges of greater distance, higher costs, limited public services and often minimal public transport (by city standards).

To go further nationally to secure those seats that are essential to our majority, much more coastal and rural than urban, we should encourage the party to hold its next rural (or, of course, Coast & Country) conference in the new year. That way, we can support those candidates who we need to win, ensure a challenge to the incumbents in seats who might otherwise expect an easy ride and to build a wider next work of twinning and support to these seats from other coast and country areas.

Win these coast and country seats and we win government.

This article was also published at: http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2014/11/06/majority-government-starts-in-west-wales/

Hywel Lloyd is a founder 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.

A Rural Manifesto for 2015: further calls.

In considering the particular needs of rural communities and individuals, the Labour Party must appreciate that these are as much in and of the mainstream as city-dwellers. We share the same concerns for the big issues of the national economy, defence, jobs, immigration etc. A Rural Manifesto focused solely on our special issues would be incomplete.

Having said that, our particular needs are unquestionably points of difference which should be addressed. To ignore rural and minority Labour clusters is to fail the notion of One Nation. It may seem to our metropolitan policy-makers that these minorities should not drive policy but I would argue that the issues which Labour should prioritise are highlighted by the rural reality. In leafy, green parts of England and Wales as well as much to envy there is much to improve. Isolation and higher living costs contribute to making rural life hard for many who live here.

Isolation – or obstacles to access to essentials – is occasioned by living in small communities lacking services. In towns and cities most facilities and services are to hand round the corner. In the country these may be several miles away, with no public transport links. Overcoming distance requires transport, with accompanying costs. This factor alone means that essentials like healthcare, food, education and energy are far more expensive for the rural householder than the urban. Add to this Council Tax at levels not merited by services provided – in essence subsidising urban services; and being deprived of the same level of broadband speed available to others, and isolation and cost of living can be seen to be issues of even greater impact in the country than the city.

“Move to the town, then” may be your response. Does this make sense for the country or the individual? Depopulation of villages to impose greater burdens on towns already lacking housing and school capacity will only serve to remove a workforce needed for those aspects of rural economy which can only be practiced in the countryside: agriculture, horticulture, arboriculture; let alone the workers who keep the assets of the wealthy going. And to what employment can they go if they seek affordable homes in towns because none are left in the countryside?

Affordable homes, transport, digital connection and energy for all must include rural dwellers. Without these being part of Labour thinking and action, this will continue to become 2 nations – rich and poor, divided further between the haves in cities and have-nots in the country; and Labour will fail to win the support of millions of voters living in the countryside.

Tom Serpall is a Labour Member from Wealden CLP
Twitter: @UckfieldLabour