Engaging communities outside Britain’s cities

22nd January, 2014 4:43 pm

A One Nation Labour Party has to reach out beyond Britain’s cities. It’s essential electorally if we are to win in 2015, but also if we aspire to be a government that serves all parts of our country. That’s why we need a clear offer to communities outside Britain’s cities at the next election. And that means not just those living in villages in the heart of the countryside, but in our market and coastal towns too. In electoral terms, it means ensuring that we campaign and gain seats that we won in 1997 and which we must do so again if we are to ensure that Ed Miliband is leading a majority Labour government after the election.

This is why this Saturday’s Third Place First conference is so important.

It’s also essential that we have a clear plan for communities outside Britain’s cities to ensure we are ready to challenge the city-focussed, and particularly London-centric, instincts of Whitehall. There is often little understanding of the additional pressures that come from living in more isolated communities, particularly on the cost of living. The higher costs of travel, whether fares or fuel. The lack of bus services, especially early in the morning and during the evening that can be the difference between taking up a job, college place or apprenticeship. The extra heating costs from being off-grid. The lack of affordable housing, particularly driving many young people away from the communities in which they grew up. The greater impact of the bedroom tax in areas that have a smaller social housing stock and fewer one bedroom properties in particular, forcing tenants away from family and friends.

The job of a One Nation Labour government will be to ensure that these additional challenges are understood in each and every department and the experience of those living outside of our cities is listened to and addressed. I am clear that it should be a central role of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure this is the case – to be the loud voice across government for communities outside Britain’s cities. It’s a role that the hopelessly out of touch Owen Paterson is failing to fulfil, instead focussing on his failed badger cull, weakening the protection of our ancient forests and Tory demands for a fresh vote on hunting.

The One Nation Labour offer that we make at the next election will instead focus on the real concerns of those living in communities outside of Britain’s cities.  It will ensure that where we set out a clear policy agenda, we have actually given serious thought to how to ensure it benefits all parts of the country. Take energy costs and the need for fast broadband for example.  As well as our pledge to freeze energy prices while we reset the broken market, we have also committed to bringing the off-grid energy sector under regulation for the first time.  And we have made clear we will deliver Winter Fuel Payments earlier to those pensioners who are using off-grid energy, enabling them to purchase their gas or heating oil ahead of the rapid price spikes we’ve seen in the Autumn. On broadband, where the Government’s programme to connect local communities outside of our cities is now two years behind schedule and over-budget, we have committed to switch  £75 million from the ‘super-connected cities’ programme to a new digital inclusion fund that will benefit all communities.

Over the coming months we must ensure that we apply a similar One Nation focus to each area of policy. That is the best way to ensure that our candidates can engage effectively with communities outside Britain’s cities. It is how we deliver the successful campaign for a Labour majority that the country so desperately needs.

Maria Eagle MP is Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She is speaking at Progress’ Third Place First conference on Saturday, 25 January. Sign up here.

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  • robertcp

    Labour will probably not get a majority in 2015, Labour will almost certainly not get more than 40% of the vote and Labour candidates are wasting their time in most seats where Labour is in third place. We should remember that Labour has been the second biggest party for almost 100 years but has only had more than 40% of the vote from 1945 to 1970 and from 1997 to 2001 (three times in my lifetime!). Articles like this are verging on deluded!

    • reformist lickspittle

      Don’t usually disagree with you, but I do here.

      The implosion of the Liberal Democrats has provided Labour with a golden opportunity to increase its support. Yes, there are lots of seats we will *never* win (hell, there were over 200 even in 1997) but that doesn’t mean we should just give up on them. We have a decent claim to be the *only* truly national party across Britain at the moment – this is a good thing.

      • JoeDM

        But the evidence of by-elections (central and local government) has shown that in the Liberal heartlands their vote has held up quite surprisingly.

        They will lose seats but not as many as Labour supporters think. After all, you have to be a little odd to be a Limp Dumbo in the first place.

        • robertcp

          My guess is that the Limp Dumbos will get 30-40 seats.

        • reformist lickspittle

          To an extent, that is true.

          But there aren’t that many “Liberal heartlands” at the end of the day – in huge swathes of the country (including areas where they were competitive) they have basically disappeared, both in electoral and (even more telling) organisational terms.

          • JoeDM

            “Irrational” rather than “odd” was what I intended. But there again maybe not…..

        • Mark Reilly

          The Lib Dems will certainly concentrate on the seats where they have a sitting MP their strategy will be to retain seats (lets not forget they got fewer seats 2010 than 2005)

          However they don’t have a heartland in the sense that labour and the Tories do and this will be a real issue for them.

          Until now they have been able to maintain a silence about what happens in a hung parliament. This won’t happen in 2015, they will be asked constantly at National and individual seat level who they will support.

          So I see them having very different results in different regions
          In Scotland it will be virtual wipe out/
          Where they are fighting Labour, the twin threats of Left of centre voters withdrawing their support and UKIP being seen by the NOTA protest voters as a viable option. Will see them seriously damaged
          Only in the Tory facing seats where Labour hasn’t made any inroads will their vote hold up and remember they hung on at Eastleigh but dropped 16%, there aren’t many seats where they could survive that

      • robertcp

        I agree that the implosion of the Lib Dems is an opportunity for Labour.

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    You can’t lump ‘outside of the cities’ together as one area and have any useful discussion; it’s too large and the issues too varied.

    To do any realistic analysis you need to break it down much further, into the large towns, smaller market towns, coastal towns and then the villages or hamlets or deeply rural areas.

    For example, this article talks about broadband and off-grid gas and oil but for most people this isn’t an issue, it means nothing, they have broadband and gas. In reality you’re talking to a small section of ‘outside the city’, those living in isolated or rural communities, not those in towns or even many villages.

  • treborc1

    When will labour officially change it’s name, reading this it cannot be that long.

    The One Nation Party.

  • MrSauce

    Rural communities tend to be self-reliant in a way that makes the usual Labour message irrelevant.

  • Disenfranchised

    There are a number of sensitive issues that should any party champion them it would be difficult bit to support them. Firstly Child Abuse, with the exception of Tom Watson who else has come out on this atrocity against arguably the most vulnerable in society? Tom demonstrates what all of us lone campaigners continually find in so much as no one will throw in their support because of the undoubtedly catastrophic fallout. The same can be said of food banks and credit unions who have had to fill gaps that are not solely attributable to any one party. Then there’s the issue of sexual harassment be it man on woman, man on man, woman on man or woman on woman. It is all wrong. Accepting the role of an elected official or MP has to be taken as seriously as taking on the legal obligations of say marriage or a mortgage. Those who have been exposed as predictors in any guise do not represent the highest standards and erode the already flagging confidence of us mere voters. I could continue but I will say if you want my vote again you will need to state for the record that these issues of standards of behaviour and that promises made will be followed through. That is how to win, the so called big issues of wind farms are, forgive the pun, just hot or cold air swirling around. If there is no recovery of basic human decency, kindness and trust I’d soon turn my back on the politics I have supported wholeheartedly for as long as I could vote forever with so many of my friends and family.

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