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