THE BLOG
18/02/2016 08:34 GMT | Updated 15/02/2017 05:12 GMT

An Inclusive England, Not Nationalist Rhetoric

People feel politics is out of step with their sense of identity, values and ambitions. As a result, we are witnessing the fragmentation of the United Kingdom. Whilst we are undoubtedly 'stronger together', but we can equally be 'stronger in cohabitation'. Let's not forget that sex in a common law relationship is just as good as for married couples, if not better.

As society's attitudes have changed over time about relationships, it is now time to adjust our thinking to people's sense of place. Understanding our roots and direction of travel, along with how we connect with other cities or countries, will help to build and shape our community and wider English identity.

Constitutional reform is at the heart of this challenge. From that will flow economic, foreign and domestic policy, built on the distinct values of that place. Some places will continue to focus on industry or agriculture, others on services and London, for example, as a global financial player. Yet there are things that bind us together, such as a national Parliament potentially, greater devolution to cities and regions, our core beliefs in fairness and welfare - not least with universal health services.

The Tories clearly see devolving power as an opportunity to shield their Government from some of the fallout from austerity. Investing in target cities will leave many towns and rural areas under-developed and disconnected.

That contrasts with Labour's ambition to re-balance the economy, spreading wealth rather than concentrating it. Whilst the Northern Power House may have many attractions, Southern communities are under strain, with demographic and economic prospects that will exacerbate these pressures.

Local Government cuts have disseminated much valued services. Cameron's own mother has made that point, signing a petition against cuts to Children Centres. Closures are bad enough, but there is no consideration to the impact they have on different communities. Many people in affluent areas may be well placed to seek alternative provision, but that is less likely where poverty is more prevalent.

So Labour would have used the £300M Relief Fund to support communities that have been hit worst by austerity. Instead, the Government has allocated £255M (85 per cent) to Tory councils, with just £17m (5.6 per cent) awarded to Labour areas, which have suffered far greater cuts since 2010.

Whilst the Tories carve up the country to serve their electoral advantage, Labour needs to meet the policy challenges of an increasingly unbalanced economy, more severe hotspots of poverty and the consequences of changing demographics.

Matching the Tories by slicing more resources to traditional Labour areas doesn't offer a solution - at least not a lasting one. Instead Labour needs to apply its values of fairness and redistribution to find 'Southern comfort'. In other words, it must better understand the challenges and ambitions of 'Middle England' - yes, hardworking families, boosting small businesses and co-operative ventures and tapping into the consciousness of older people. That will not only bring votes, but help to tackle social and economic fragility of England, much of which is localised.

Progressives are latching on to these ideas, but they need not be surrendered by the 'soft left'. Coupling the re-balancing of the economy with constitutional reform provides an opportunity for a radical agenda. By addressing social and economic change, as well as connecting with people not traditionally in Labour's focus, it can govern again with renewed energy. Bringing people along will be critical, as more of a consensus on the left is needed to replace the divisive Tories and deliver a fairer deal. That means people having a real stake in change, in having confidence in their vote really counting - turning disaffection with politics, to appreciating how politics truly matters to their lives.

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