by Freddie Sayers
Monday, 23
September 2019
Reaction
15:49

Who gives a **** about England?

Well, you don’t get much more ‘unheard’ than this.

A fringe event entitled ‘Who gives A(nything) about England?’ this afternoon, dedicated to the Labour Party’s efforts to appeal to England’s coastal and rural areas, answered its own question when two of the four panellists, Paul Mason and Lisa Nandy, didn’t even show up.

Baroness Young and Lord Bassam

Tucked away in a tiny room at the top of the Friends’ Meeting House here in Brighton, the event was a heart-breaking showcase of what life must be like for the hundreds of local Labour politicians and activists from these predominantly Tory, and Brexity, parts of the country – abandoned to their fate by a centralised party that is more and more exclusively interested in cities.

I say heart-breaking; it was also heart-warming. It was also a reminder of the sincere, hard-working party workers that carry on even in the worst of times.

The B word wasn’t mentioned once. Instead, the discussion (between the two Labour peers that did show up on the panel, Steve Bassam and Barbara Young, and the host from Labour Coast and Country Hywel Lloyd) focused on ways to re-invigorate local democracy in these areas.

They talked about parish councils: Baroness Young said that by the time you get down to this most local level of government they can’t even decide what colour their bins should be; she’d like to see the pyramid upended and parish councils get real spending power. Also discussed were rearranging coastal towns into ribbon-shaped authorities of their own – ‘linear cities’ – and planting 50 million trees a year in every spare patch of land in the country.

But don’t hold your breath; worthy initiatives like these to reach left-behind voters in ‘blue’ areas aren’t exactly top of the Labour leadership agenda.

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