Labour must build confident communities across the UK

The 21st century UK is characterised by a paradox. The British state, business community and population are deeply connected to the rest of the world. Always an open, trading nation, we have been shaped by centuries of globalisation. However, while our networks of external engagement become ever closer and more complex, the domestic story is increasingly one of social, economic, and political fragmentation.

As globalisation intensifies it is increasingly clear that the UK must pull itself together. Internal fragmentation will dilute our national ‘brand’, weaken our soft and hard power and undermine our ability to influence international agendas. As European integration deepens and the BRICs continue to advance, the fragmentation of the UK patently runs counter to our national interest: size and scale do matter, if we wish to punch our weight in the global arenas.

One Nation Labour is based on a compelling narrative for the future of a UK that is confident on the international stage and comfortable in its skin at home - a cohesive, united country implementing the core principles of fairness, transparency and localism.

Fairness: shaping inclusive prosperity

The sense of loss and dislocation that have come out of de-industrialisation and technological change are feeding separatist sentiments and alienation and causing much of the malaise that currently blights our communities. Equally, the coalition government’s dogmatic addiction to (selective) austerity has led directly to the friction and fractures that have become the defining features of the last four years. Social cohesion is a pre-condition for sustainable economic vitality and national unity but this government has pursued the politics of divide and rule: attacking the poorest and most vulnerable while handing tax cuts to millionaires; slashing local authority budgets to the bone; freezing wages, creating mounting personal debt, increasing inequality and protecting an over-mighty finance sector.

One Nation Labour’s commitment to building a more equitable economy and a fairer society goes hand in hand with our understanding that the nations, regions and communities of the UK can and must stand together. An aspirational narrative for the future of the UK can only emerge from a shared sense of fairness. If the broadest shoulders are bearing their share of the burden then we have the basis for individual advancement. Our narrative points to a new, re-balanced economy based on high-skilled, well-paid, high-productivity jobs, created through a coherent industrial strategy that reverses the expensive and fragile concentration of wealth in London and the south-east.

Inequality generates isolation and separatism; social justice builds community, national cohesion and capability. These core messages are what underpin One Nation Labour’s commitment to fairness.

Transparency: a governance framework for the future

Separatist movements thrive on uncertainty and instability, and the governance of the UK is now unstable and riven with future uncertainties. The devolution of power to Scotland and Wales in the 1990s was the right way to go towards decentralisation, but it was a typically British bit of open-ended pragmatism which is creating grey zones all over our constitutional map. This lack of clarity leads to confusion about who is responsible for what, compounds public frustration and disengagement, and provides separatist movements such as Plaid Cymru, the SNP and UKIP with a constantly open goal.

Britain needs and deserves better: we must start developing and consulting on a written constitution that sets out the modern principles and division of powers of this country. This blueprint would define our collective future as a unified nation state, based on clearly devolved powers for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and – crucially - the English regions, with clarity about the role that local authorities will play in this new settlement.

Localism: building confident communities

There is a lot of negativism about the state of our communities, but what comes through loud and clear on the doorstep in the constituency that I hope to represent is that people care very deeply about the future of their neighbourhoods, and they are frustrated by the feeling that they don’t have the power to shape that future themselves.

For too long UK governments have addressed local challenges by setting targets and pulling levers in Westminster and Whitehall, but it has become clear that centralised, standardised decision-making and direction is not only inefficient, it also plays straight into the hands of the separatists by contributing directly to the disempowerment of our communities. By devolving greater responsibility for  economic development and managing public services to local government and communities One Nation Labour will: 

  • Address the gross over-concentration of wealth and investment in London and the south-east by spreading power, jobs and prosperity more evenly across the country;
  • Enable greater innovation and collaboration within and between public services and local communities, leading to more cost-effective solutions through pooled resources and economies of scale;
  • Empower local leaders by giving them greater control, and consequently greater accountability, over budgets and prioritisation.

When it comes to the new localism, Wales has in many ways got a great story to tell. Our towns, villages and neighbourhoods are still characterised by a strong sense of identity and solidarity, and we are also an outward-facing, pro-European nation. This combination of strong internal cohesion and positive external engagement can be a basis for further development in Wales and for the whole of the UK. 

But in spite of those qualities, the relative success of UKIP in the European elections in Wales gives cause for concern and sends a warning signal that some may be turning to the blame culture that is the UKIP drumbeat. This is why Labour in Wales must focus hard on the need to build confident communities, pursuing the following aims:

  • Stronger co-operation between service users, service providers and other interested parties that deliver better outcomes for citizens. The co-operative council model has huge potential, and is being rolled out in a number of Labour-controlled councils in England. Labour in Wales should commit to unlocking social entrepreneurship by transforming at least one of its local authorities into a co-operative council by the end of 2015;
  • Welsh cities and towns are the primary drivers of economic development, and they can be the locomotive that pulls the rest of the economy forward. Wales’ regional economic development strategy should cluster our cities, towns and surrounding areas, and should look seriously at the Adonis Review’s recommendations around allowing these economic powerhouses to retain and invest additional business rates revenue;   
  • The recently published Final Report of the Local Government Innovation Taskforce contains a number of recommendations that could be adapted and applied to Wales. One Nation Labour in Cardiff Bay, Westminster and across our local authorities should take these proposals as a basis for discussion, and should consider the possibility of presenting our shared vision for people-powered public services in the run-up to the 2015 General Election.  

In the debate around devolution and the future of the UK the proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’ gives good guidance.

If we in Wales and across the UK are to go far as a nation then we must do so as a cohesive whole, and in order to secure that cohesion we must trust and empower our communities.

One Nation Labour is the only party that has the practical vision to re-shape the UK as a modern, agile and confident nation state, fit for the challenges of the globalised twenty-first century.  

Stephen Kinnock is the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Aberavon 

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